Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Realistic Limits

So, Vladimir Putin has pretty much invaded - slowly - Ukraine.  He has rhetorical designs on most of the country.

And there's really not a whole lot we can do about it, for the same reasons there wasn't a whole lot we could do about Stalin seizing Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and East Germany.  While it could possibly lead to a new Cold War with Russia, there's really not much we can do without risking a global war - same as in 1945-6.

Putin is smart enough to realize that and this is why he knows he can seize a great deal of eastern Ukraine without risking a wider war.  Nationalist radicals in Russia - like Vladimir Zhirinovsky - have argued for launching nuclear attacks on Poland.  While Putin is unlikely to go this far, he's creating the necessary doubt in European capitals to allow him to annex more of Ukraine.

Russia's economy is weak and overly reliant on the sale of commodities, especially energy.  And Europe is working on ways to replace Russia energy, but that could be a long process.  Putin is also not an ideologue so much as a nationalist.  Like most Russians, he's not a fanatic intent on burning down the world or risking his own privileged position.

The inevitable comparisons to 1939 are making the rounds, but it seems to me we are looking more at a 1914 situation.  After a long peace, European nations need to weigh the risks of potentially catastrophic war.  Only this time it could be the horror of nuclear weaponry rather than trench warfare.

Just as World War I "changed everything" a potential World War III would completely upend history.

So while Zhirinovsky and Lindsey Graham may beat their war drums and issue bellicose statements, it will be up to wiser, calmer heads to make sure that we aren't suddenly faced with a nuclear war over a country that sits on the periphery of Europe.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What Really Matters?

Hint: This is not one of those things.

Republicans since Reagan have consistently overvalued symbolism over substance.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Some Times, The Good Guys Win

You have demonstrated that everyone here has a purpose. You have demonstrated that everyone has meaning and no one person is better or more important than another, and no one person holds a position of privilege.
Whether it’s a full-timer or a part-timer. Whether it’s a sacker, or a cashier, or a grocery clerk, or a truck driver, or a warehouse selector, a store manager, a supervisor, a customer, a vendor or a CEO—we are all equal. By working together—and only together—do we succeed.
I have always believed that we are born into this world and at a certain place to be with certain people for a reason and a purpose. Everyone has a destiny, and because of you, I stand here with a renewed vigor and a sense of purpose. May we always remember this past summer first as a time where our collective values of loyalty and courage and kindness for one another really prevailed. And, in that process, we just happened to save our company.
As you gave generously to those who had less than you, the public watched in awe and admiration, because you empowered others to seek change.
You all have demonstrated to the world that it is a person’s moral obligation and social responsibility to protect the culture which provides an honorable and dignified place in which to work.
Damn straight, man!

All We Need Is Polyester Pants And Disco On The Radio

When you have an economic catastrophe - and it bears repeating that technically 2007-8 was a depression - it takes a LONG time to revive people's confidence.  Reagan's great trick was in reviving confidence, even when things weren't really improving all that much for many people.  He as great at the atmospherics of pride.

This decade feels very much like the '70s.  The hangover from a bad war, energy concerns, environmental apocalyptic warnings, economic stagnation.  My guess, also, is that if you asked people in '79 or even '91 if they thought things would get better, they would've been pretty pessimistic.  I know the early '90s felt like shit to me.

The economy will bounce back.  And as long as Democrats can gain control of Congress and the Courts, it might even bounce back for working class Americans, too.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Stewart On Ferguson

I think in 2008, there was a lot of self-congratulatory thinking from liberals and conservatives that we had passed some sort of racial barrier and America was now a racism-free country.

It was a bullshit fantasy then and it's a bullshit fantasy now.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Can We Agree On THIS? (Probably Not)

US cops fire a ton of bullets.  It now seems as if ten shots, not six were fired at Michael Brown.  Basically, he emptied his clip at the kid.

And US cops do that all the time.

Cole links to Mark Steyn of all people who notes that German police fired 85 shots in an entire year for the entire country.

Why do cops unload their weapons at people?  Because they are afraid.  Because we live in an armed country.  Because we insist on guns to assuage our fears.  Because we all think we're action movie heroes.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!

This is what we came home to.

When Frost wrote:

Good fences make good neighbors

Apparently few people realized he was being ironic.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Molten Salt Reactors

Any discussion about energy production that ameliorates carbon poisoning has to include nuclear.

And any discussion about nuclear should start with Molten Salt Reactors.

Sadly, the MIT group wants to make their first MSR in the US.  Given our sclerotic regulatory regimen and our obstinate (and well funded) carbon industries - including shale gas, they should be looking at Europe, Japan and China as the place to make this happen.

And by tomorrow would be nice.

Pierce In High Dudgeon

The man can lay some wood.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Thug Life

Michael Brown has been called a "thug" in the various cesspools of the Internet.  I dare you to go into a Yahoo comment section and return with your sanity intact.

Want to know what a thug looks like?

Try this.

The Nixon-Reagan Coalition

Nixon began the process of stripping white Southerners away from the Democratic Party, and Reagan pretty much completed the process.  The scope didn't become truly apparent until Clinton won the White House and all those Southern Democrats in the House flipped from blue to red, but that's what happened.

Reagan built his coalition with intellectual support from neo-conservatives and demographic support from neo-confederates.  He wedded the old Main Street/Wall Street Republicans with the church pews of the Moral Majority. Aside from Cubans, his was a mostly white party and it could win massive landslides with white votes.

Those days are gone, and the panic that it has unleashed in the GOP is palpable at the highest levels.  Louie Gohmert may be too stupid to walk and chew gum understand how nativism plays among the growing share of Hispanic voters, but the mandarins of the party understand.

Rand Paul is only possible in a party that is struggling to re-articulate a vision that is both true to the Reagan Coalition and endeavors to address the coming demographic irrelevancy it faces.

But Booman is right that Paul is anathema to so many constituent parts of what remains of the Nixon-Reagan Coalition that his success is highly unlikely.  My guess is that whatever Clown Car chugs over to Iowa, they are all going to attack Rand Paul. Santorum, Perry, Ryan, Cruz, Tweedledee...they can all take easy shots at Paul's heterodox positions.

It's going to be very, very important to limit losses in the Senate this cycle for the Democrats.  While I have my issues with a Clinton Restoration, she does have the potential to create a landslide, especially if the GOP throws up a Caveman like Perry or a Sociopath like Cruz.

And as we've seen, having enough votes in the Senate is crucial to accomplish anything that a Clinton Presidency might want, especially immigration reform.  That goes for the House, too.

The sixth year of a presidency is always brutal, but it's REALLY important for the Democrats to turn out their base in 2014, because 2016 could be a very good year.

Friday, August 22, 2014


Remember that what this asshole wants to "kill" is healthcare for millions of Americans who don't have it.

Obamacare continues to work about as expected, when it's allowed to work.  The short-sighted failure of GOP governors to not accept Medicaid expansion is the only true hiccup in the law, and that is solely motivated by partisan and ideological concerns.

So the virulent hatred of Obamacare is based entirely on partisan and ideological reasons.  They want it killed because they don't want Obama to win and don't want government-supported private health care to work.

And screw the millions of people who currently have health insurance for the first time.

These people are sociopaths.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My Newest Earwig

The Police Need To Chill

Yes, someone will always do something stupid.  Throwing a water bottle at police is stupid.

But police can't continue to escalate every little provocation.  There are people - the majority of people - in Ferguson who want to be heard not seen.  They want to protest firmly but peacefully.

Every time the police escalate as a group against the actions of a single provocateur they take a tense environment and make it 100 times worse.

Right now, it looks like the police are the biggest instigators of violence in Ferguson.  No matter how cool Capt. Johnson is.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Legitimacy underpins all good governance.

We pay our taxes, mostly obey the speed limit and don't kill each other because we feel the government is legitimate in writing those laws to control our behavior.

What is happening in Ferguson is that the government has become illegitimate in the eyes of many of its citizens.  Capt. Johnson made some nice rhetorical efforts to calm the situation, but at this point there are people who have simply decided that they are in open revolt against the state (and I don't mean Missouri).

Those that seek to excuse the police behavior at its worst are in some ways naturally drawn to coercive authority.  This is the authoritarian personality at play.

I'm not sure at this point what brings Ferguson back.  How does a community in which a large part of the populace no longer acknowledge the legitimacy of the police or the government reintegrate itself into the commonwealth?  And what's more, why should any of them believe that they have an avenue of re-entry?

If there is a greater cost to the invisible phenomenon of white privilege, I don't know what it is.

For many African Americans, their government is no longer legitimate.  And I don't see how it gets better soon.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Legacy Of Michael Brown

We will probably never know with absolute certainty why Michael Brown was shot.  The autopsy results released are somewhat inconclusive.  Brown was probably not shot at close range, but he also wasn't shot in the back.  If he wasn't shot at close range, then the story that he was shot reaching into the police car is wrong.  The final "kill" shot to the head could have happened as he rushed the officer or was falling from the other bullet wounds.

Six shots - none at close range - does seem excessive no matter what.  Especially for jaywalking.

But Michael Brown was not an angel.  The efforts by the Ferguson police department to point this out by releasing the tape of him perhaps shoplifting cigars and shoving a clerk - if true - suggests that Michael Brown was not Gandhi.

The reason why Ferguson re-erupted after the surveillance video is African Americans are pissed about the idea that there are legitimate reasons to shoot 18 year old black jaywalkers.  The references to Brown's taste in hip-hop or his size make him out to be a threat to society that had to be put down.  And blacks are legitimately enraged by this.  It sits at the very heart of modern racism.

The segregated lunch counter is gone, but in the place of the black man who feared the lynch mob, we now have the idea of the black man run amok.  He has morphed from Uncle Tom to Stokely Carmichael in the minds of white Americans.

When looting broke out in Ferguson, many of the protesters made a human chain to block the stores from further looting.  They understand that much of modern racism is based on the fear of baggy pants wearing black men.  Looting only muddies the moral clarity of their protests.

We are a remarkably fearful nation - a nation of bedwetters.

We are afraid of ISIS and Al Qaeda.  We are afraid of young black men like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.  We are afraid of black helicopters and the NSA.  We are afraid of kidnappers and child molesters.

And so we arm ourselves and our police forces to the teeth to combat these threats that really don't exist.

Decisions based on fear are almost always bad ones.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Capt. Ron Johnson Is A Man

State Of The Field

As the Democrats wait for Hillary to make it official, the Republican field promises to be another clown car cavalcade.

Rick Perry's indictment may be a joke, but it's still an indictment.  Scott Walker probably deserves to be indicted more, and maybe that will happen.  Chris Christie has become something of a punchline.

Rick Santorum is laying the groundwork, but he's so remarkably devoid of charisma, it's tough to see him excelling beyond his Christianist base.

Rand Paul is the most interesting GOP hopeful, but it's very tough to see him winning the GOP primary.

The past few cycles have seen the Tea Party Right push the GOP's moderate candidate so far to the right that the election is over before it begins.  So that the GOP winds up nominating a McCain or a Romney, but saddled with Santorum and Steve King's ideas.

So it's likely that the GOP will again settle on a "moderate" Republican who will spend the primaries saying things that makes him unelectable.

Jeb Bush is always a possibility, but he's about as politically relevant as Al Gore at this point.  Grasping for another Bush seems an act of desperation as much as anything.

Which leads me to look at Paul Ryan as the likely Wall Street Republican who will be saddled with the Tea Party baggage.

The wild card is Ted Cruz.  Unlike Santorum, he has a modicum of charisma; he's the de facto Speaker of the House and voice of the Tea Party and he's laying the groundwork for a White House run.

He's also certifiably unelectable.

So in that sense, he fits right in.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Beyond Awesome

Is This A Tipping Point?

Rand Paul's commitment to demilitarizing the police is perhaps to be expected, given his libertarian leanings on some issues.

But when Erick "Son of Erick" Erickson says we need to think about demilitarizing police, that's a major sea change in political thought.

Last night's community-engaged, empathetic policing by the State Patrol also shows how police work should be done.

Finally, I don't really care if Michael Brown shoplifted some cheap cigars.  That doesn't deserve a death sentence.  And it's not like the Ferguson PD never did something like this before.  Plus, when you grab something and don't pay, it's called "shoplifting" if you're white, robbery if you're black.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

To Protect And Serve

Hopefully, Capt. Johnson's new strategy of engaging the protesters as people rather than as a problem to be dispersed will lead to the first night of real peace in Ferguson.

This is what policing should look like.  It should be about a relationship between the police and the community.  What should be clear is that this relationship doesn't exist in communities where you have a mostly white police force in a mostly black community.  It's not impossible for this relationship to work, but it requires real effort to make sure that the officers don't become outsiders.

I mean, when even Kurds in the middle of a war zone feel bad for the people of Ferguson, you have to question what the fuck is wrong in this country.

And it's not just a simple matter of Johnson being black himself, though that undoubtedly helps.  In the instant we meet someone, we take in cultural signifiers that include race.  It's not an accident that Gov. Nixon selected Capt. Johnson.

But it's also something that could have been done on Sunday by white officers.  Certainly the actions of the police in Ferguson made a tricky situation into an explosive one.

Police don't have to separate themselves from the communities they serve.  They don't have to retreat behind the Blue Wall of Silence.  But it requires work, especially empathetic work.  And the cowboys who want to "dress up" and play soldier and pretend their beats are Fallujah or Gaza aren't very likely to do that hard work.


Marshall makes a good point: crowd control by the military typically shows more restraint than was shown by the police in Ferguson.

It's not that militarization isn't an issue.  The pictures of heavily armored police arresting reporters for, you know, reporting suggests that they've lost sight of the idea of "protect and serve" at least as it relates to the communities that they work in.

John Cole has been talking for years about how giving small town police access to military hardware is a bad idea.  Most of the police in smaller town have less training and less experience to use this stuff wisely. (Although the NYPD is hardly a picture of restraint.)

Let's face it.  Someone who chooses being a police officer does so for one of a few reasons.  Maybe they are genuinely concerned about the safety and welfare of their community.  Maybe the appeal of a public servant's payroll and benefits appeals to them.

Or maybe they like looking butch in the uniform and being able to tell people what to do.

And frankly, it only takes about 5-10% of police acting that way to create a situation like Ferguson.  Because then the Blue Wall of Silence clamps down and you start putting on the riot gear.

Soonergrunt makes the essential point.  If you think this isn't about race, then consider what happened at the Bundy Ranch.  A bunch of yahoos point loaded weapons at law enforcement and law enforcement leaves.

In Ferguson, the population holds their hands up and gets tear gassed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


All in all, this is another good piece from Vox, but oddly there was no talk of re-drawing the borders of the Middle East.

If the major problem is a swirling maelstrom of ethnic and sectarian tensions that leads to civil war, then why not change the borders?  If the US can only influence state actors, why not create states that reflect those ethnic and sectarian realities?

This will likely lead to an unpleasant Sunni fundamentalist regime in the Levant - even if they could get rid of ISIL.  But eventually, a Sunni state in that region would need to govern.  The Morsi government failed to govern and was overthrown.   The Al Maliki government couldn't accommodate the Sunni and collapsed in the face of civil war.

But if a government was secure in its ethnic and sectarian composition, then it could address political and economic questions, rather than tribal, ethnic and sectarian questions.

Having a more homogeneous populace can great help the creation of more stable, representative governments.  Slovenia is doing just fine thank you.  And while Bosnia still requires the presence of IFOR, it's a far cry from 1994.

Europe redrew its borders for centuries before they could create stable nation-states.

Why are we denying the rights of the Middle East to do the same?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hillary...Itchy...And So Forth

This is really good analysis of the problems Hillary Clinton could face.  In an ideal world, she could rack up a 38 state win and bring the House with her in 2016.  But there is also something worrisome about what she chooses to fight for and where her allegiances really are.

I'm also not convinced she has great political chops, which could make some of her troublesome tendencies worse - kind of the way it did for Kerry and Gore.  The country has changed and I think she would still win.

But Democrats need legislative majorities, because the GOP simply isn't interested in governing.

Ezra Klein has more:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Booman's Right, But...

The GOP has many structural advantages in 2014.  Many of the Senate seats that are up are in red states with retiring Democrats.  He's right that if they can limit the damage to 1-2 seats net loss, they can be in great shape in 2016 to enable a wave of progressive legislation, including immigration reform, voting rights and perhaps some sort of action on climate.

And the Democratic strategy seems to be very "Chicken Little".

I can't decide if scaring people will get them to the polls and perhaps win a few seats here and there or whether it will depress them and they won't vote.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Another Reason Hillary Makes Me A Little Itchy

In addition to being naturally hawkish, she's also going to feel the need to prove that a woman can be tough - to have her Margaret Thatcher moment.

I worry that we have created such a low threshold for wars among the DC chattering classes, while the rest of the country - who actually fights and dies - is done with the whole idea.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The United States Of Fear

These two pieces above are perfect companion pieces.  One explains how the constant drumbeat of doom from news creates an unrealistic picture of the news.  The other shows the real world consequence of having a screwed up mental picture of the world we live in.

America is safer than it has been in decades.  Almost all forms of violent crime are down.  Maybe it's the Broken Windows policing, maybe it's abortion, maybe it's unleaded gasoline.  But violent crime is way down.

But stories of violent crime are obviously very attractive to news editors.  The old adage, "If it bleeds, it leads" isn't fiction.  And so we have a picture of a world where there are drug addled child rapists behind every bush.  So we support the increased militarization of our police forces.  The idea that a police force needs a fucking tank is ridiculous.

For all the caterwauling over Obama's tolerance of the NSA and CIA's aggressive and probably illegal snooping on Americans, the fact is that every day a SWAT team is blowing the doors off someone's house to arrest a pot dealer.

The police themselves are not immune to the drumbeat of fear.  Here's a chart for you:

This charts the number of law enforcement officers killed in felonies.  Each year has some "noise" but the trendline is pretty clear, despite the fact that America's population has grown by 100,000,000 people over the same time period.

Still, police officers feel under attack from mythical drug lords that they saw in the latest Steven Seagall movie.  (Actually, I'm joking, there are no more Seagall movies.  Thank God.)

The same calculus applies to our foreign policy.  There are a lot of simmering conflicts around the world.  Israel-Gaza is a sad tragedy for both sides, as the Israelis become the thing they once despised: bullies who unjustly subjugate the weak.  Meanwhile, the Palestinians cling to their hatred more than their future.

And yet the fatalities in this conflict will likely settle around 2,000.  That may be 2,000 too many, but that would have been a day's worth of casualties in a past war.  The Ukrainian civil war has also lead to fewer than 2,000 deaths.

There are obviously horrific things happening in Iraq, Syria and Nigeria.  But we are slowly weaning ourselves off the steady diet of wars between nation-states, even as we replace it with civil wars and ethnic violence.  These smaller conflicts are numerous, but ultimately less fatal.

Yet, we are constantly treated to a steady drumbeat of "this is a new Munich" and a steady stream of new "Hitlers".

The world IS a violent place.  Some places are more violent than others.  America does have a violence problem and a gun problem.  It seems daily that a kid shoots someone with Daddy's gun by accident.

But the reason Daddy has a loaded gun by his bedside is because he carries in himself a picture of the world that is false and frightening.

And it's driving us all insane.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Dogs Of War

As usual, a good job by Ezra Klein explaining complicated issues in a brief space.

The dynamics of ISIS/ISIL are directly rooted in the Iraq War, as Klein notes.  And while ISIL is not especially popular among Iraqi Sunni, they are more popular than the execrable al Maliki.

The push by ISIL into Kurdistan will hopefully be a case of overreach.  But the US clearly overestimated the abilities not just of the Iraqi Army but of the Peshmerga.  The current plan of airstrikes and humanitarian aid seems an acceptable middle ground, but they need to be considering alternatives if it is insufficient.

This seems an opportune moment to use this leverage.

The key is the Kurds.  They want independence, but they are currently playing a waiting game largely because of Turkish objections, which the US has been sympathetic to.

The US should go to Turkey and ask for troops to attack ISIL or else we will have to recognize Kurdish independence.  The Turks should be concerned about ISIL (everyone should be) and keeping the US from recognizing Kurdistan could be the boost to get them off the sidelines.  One would also think that Turkic minorities in Iraq are being persecuted by ISIL.

ISIL is the new Khmer Rouge.  The world did nothing when a US war created a force of pre-modern savagery the last time.  We shouldn't make that mistake again.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

This Is Really Good

Obama's presidency, once viewed through the telescope of history rather than the microscope of the press, will look pretty good.

But it's clear that part of his fundamental message - "We can change Washington" - was hopelessly naive.

Gang Violence

When crime peaked in the late '70s through the '80s, we moved as a society to address that through more aggressive policing.  A large part of Clinton's first term was tied up in a "crime bill" that is sadly remembered more for an early example of ginned up right wing nontroversy: Midnight Basketball.

As we arrested everyone who was evenly marginally criminal, crime rates dropped.  They are exceptionally low right now.

But we have gotten to a point that the police have become a focus of violence unto themselves.

I've weighed on the NSA and CIZ spying and torturing scandals enough, but I will reiterate that I find their abuses troubling, but not existentially so.  The NSA has a record of that phone call you got from your friend who was visiting the Pyramids.  Not great, not a huge deal.

But the continued use of extra-legal violence by the police in this country is a real problem.  It has a real impact on people's lives, but many of those people are of a darker hue than Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and the Libertarian Left.

There are good cops out there, but the problem today is not the "corrupt" cop taking bribes on the beat.  It's the cop who thinks this is Baghdad circa 2005 and he needs to use lethal force.  It's the cop who thinks he a praetorian and everyone should bow down before his will.

We've turned the police from public servants to public intimidators.

It has to stop.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Please Proceed, Dipshits

Obama should go on a binge of executive order issuing on every hot button topic that the GOP House has punted on.

Force their hands, the cowards.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Screw You, Bibi

Netanyahu and a host of other Israeli apologists get around the barbarity of their actions by simply labeling every countervailing atrocity "Hamas".  The three dead Israeli teens that sparked this thing?  Hamas.  Every militant who attacks an Israeli soldier?  Hamas.  That nasty residue in your tub? Hamas.

I don't know a ton about the politics of Gaza, but I know there are dozens or more radical groups, all trying to establish their hardcore bonafides.  Just as Bibi Netanyahu has to appease Avigdor Lieberman, Hamas has to placate Islamic Jihad.

Both sides have now traveled so far down the road of demonizing and de-humanizing their opposition that it's almost impossible for them to see nuance.

So if Netanyahu doesn't want our advice or our help, maybe he can do without our weapons and our blanket get out of jail free card at the UN.


UPDATE:  This is an excellent account of the true complexity of the Palestinian - and some of the Israeli - politics at play.

Friday, August 1, 2014