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

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Jay Nixon (D-For Dumbass) is not covering himself in glory.  It is difficult to find any public figure in Missouri who has, frankly.  But buried at the end of this piece is the nugget that Nixon will call the Assembly into special session to fund the overtime for police officers that the wave of protests have necessitated.

Nixon has proven himself to be the sort of moral coward that refuses to engage a fundamentally flawed system for fear of losing his job (see Schumer, Chuck for another example of this especially craven form of "Democrat").  Here's a pro top, Jay: You're not going to get re-elected.  You are - along with odious, neo-facist Robert McCulloch - the face a giant, oozing pustule of a broken system.  Since you're a Democrat, you're going to be associated with the looting no matter how hard you embrace "law and order" (so Nixonian of you!).  No one in the rural and suburban white community is going to give you a pass on uppity Negroes marching through the streets and shutting down the traffic of their metropolis.

And if you think African American voters are going to do anything for you....

So, you need more funding for the people who have been manning the barricades?  Fine, but how about including some funding - spread out over several years - for body cameras for police?

How about addressing the fundamental problem that your state, in the city of Ferguson, has exposed: Police are more likely to shoot black men than anyone else and police are rarely held accountable for shooting anyone.

There wasn't even a dash-cam in Darren Wilson's car.  We have no record of what transpired, though we have plenty of questions.  If Darren Wilson was doing his job and doing it well, then a camera on his body would answer those questions.

For years, the advocates of a greater surveillance state have hid behind the logic of "If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to hide."

But this logic applies ten fold to the people whom we implicitly license to kill on our behalf.

So, Jay Nixon, are you prepared - for the first time in this sad, angry saga - to lead?

I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday

I am engaged in my annual Black Friday protest of staying home and eating leftovers.  I've been doing this for years - a man ahead of my time.

But then I read stories like this one and realize it's not really a joke.  We have always lived in a messed up world.  And while we fix some problems, we wind up creating new ones.

How in the world can we live in a world where we let the Waltons treat their workers like dirt while they become rich beyond the wildest dreams of avarice?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Race Or Alibi?

Increasingly, people are calling Darren Wilson's testimony unbelievable.  The scuffle in the car seems especially improbable.  The provocation on the street seems especially improbable.

The simplest explanation is that Wilson ordered them on to the sidewalk, they refused to comply and maybe lipped off a little.  He threw his SUV into reverse - angry at being disrespected - and clipped Brown.  He then kicked open his door, which hit Brown and snapped back at Wilson.  Wilson grabbed Brown.  They scuffled at the car window.  Wilson shot Brown, who fled, most likely striking Wilson in an attempt to get away.  Wilson fired shots at Brown, who turned, staggered and was shot as he fell.

That's what seems most plausible to me.

Marshall suggests that Wilson's testimony reveals the aura of threat that Wilson felt from a large black man.  And certainly we see more and more evidence that simply being a black male represents a threat to police that they feel comfortable addressing with lethal force.

But I think a simpler explanation is that Wilson was saying what he was saying because an officer may use lethal force to protect his life if he feels threatened.  So all Wilson had to do was paint a picture of Brown as a threat, and he was covered by the law.

Put another way: Wilson got into the situation because Brown was young, black and disrespectful.  His testimony, however, would've been the same if Brown was a large white man.  Wilson was establishing his legal alibi.

As I've said, we've basically given cops a de facto license to kill.

The Oppositional Defiant American Male

I've been mulling over a challenge that Martin Longman has placed before Democrats: How does the Left appeal to white men?

The midterm dynamic is what it is, but there has to be an effort to blunt this dynamic.  If Democrats are going to win back the House before 2022, they need to win more white male votes than they have been.  Appeals to economic populism have not shown to have the sort of traction among men that they frankly should have.

Rather than think of what might appeal to white men, why not see what drives them away from liberal politics?  I say this as someone with a life long experience of being a white male, though I'm certain my experience is not typical.  Also, please note that I will be speaking in gender stereotypes, because I'm talking about large groups.

I think a key psychological aspect of the Y chromosome is oppositional thinking to authority.  It defines a great deal of behavior we associate with young men, in particular.  If you tell me to do "X", then I'll do "Y".  You can probably enlist evolutionary biology to explain this, as men were needed to be risk takers and boundary pushers to help in survival.  The hunters needed to push over the horizon, while the gatherers needed to protect the young, the weak and the elderly left behind.

So, you get men who feel the need to challenge authority.

When I think of Teanderthals, what I see is a giant, plaintive whine against a paternalistic state.  From the point of view of the Teanderthals, paternalism is bad, unless they are the fathers.  They are fine with paternalistic relationships with women and minorities, but they are most definitely NOT fine with a state that acts paternally towards them.

The ACA is a great example of a benign form of paternalism that comes across as tyranny to white men.  This is the same demographic that won't go to the doctor for regular checkups.  This is the same demographic that responds to global warming with "coal rolling".

Now, this is not unique to right wing males.  The Left is also anti-authoritarian, they just define authority differently.  It's corporate power or the security/surveillance state.

The fact is that on either extremes (and I'll define that as roughly the 15%-20% of the population on either end of the spectrum) you will find a great deal of hostility to authority.

But you're not going to win over Teanderthal votes anyway, so why bother?

I would argue that it's about denying the non-Teanderthal white men with easy targets.

Two things that come to mind are "trigger warnings" and the new California university sexual conduct codes.  These are well-meaning attempts to address problems, especially the epidemic of sexual violence in universities.

But the minute you create "rules" you create authority.  And you create an impulse to defy that authority.

One of the greatest successes the Left has had is actually exactly what the Right has accused the Left of doing: indoctrinating students in our schools in certain liberal ideas: tolerance, diversity and acceptance.  What works better than rules is the education of people as to why behaviors are important.

While there have been instance of successful prohibitions - the "N" word - they don't work as well as education.  Because while we say the "N" word, your oppositional figure is going to say, "Well, how come blacks can use that word and I can't?"  And if all you've offered them is a prohibition rather than an education, then you've just created an opponent instead of an ally.

Recently, we had a speaker come to address the student body.  He was transgender and had gone to Exeter (a rival school) when he came out as male.  He was a remarkably engaging and empathetic speaker, witty and open.  For me personally, I've come a long way on LGB issues, but the T was always one I had trouble understanding.  Transgender is pretty rare, so my experience was pretty limited.  I didn't feel icky about transgender issues, I just didn't understand them.

That was education.  Now, you can combine some prohibitions with education if done right.  We've told our students that the use of "gay" or "fag" as an insult is unacceptable, but we've also explained why.  Same goes for "retarded".  I've used all those terms in my life.  I don't use them anymore (at least not as a slurs), but I always responded better to explanations than prohibitions.

One of the reasons why, I think, young people are much more liberal on the culture wars is that they have been educated on why discriminating against minority groups is bad.  Why can't a gay couple get married?  The recent breakthrough on marriage equality is not a case of the Left prohibiting something, but the Right prohibiting something.  And it isn't working for them either.

So, taking the sexual violence crisis as an example, how do you educate young men about proper sexual respect?  Rather than legislating sexual conduct, as California is trying to do, how do you educate young men that not only are the responsible for their own sexual behavior, but those of their friends?  And probably some prohibitions are necessary.  Maybe it's time the all-male fraternity died.  Especially if the entire system gets put on warning and fails to live up to its responsibilities.

But when trying to reach men who WANT to rebel, maybe you need to show them why they should change certain behaviors rather than demanding it.

As Charlie Pierce said, the great thing about #occupy was that they were shouting at the right buildings.  The worst thing about #occupy was its obsession with political correctness.  Meetings would degenerate over the use of generalized male pronouns.

To me, the challenge of reaching out to white men is get them to shout at the right buildings.  It won't work to hector them or lecture at them.

You don't need to win over many white men.  The Left is crushing it with minorities and single women.  But you need to erode the GOP advantage, and at the very least, you need to stop driving them away by screaming about hetero-normative language and gender imperialism.  If you try and educate and converse with them, you'll stop driving some of them away.

And maybe then, they will start shouting at the right buildings.

(I thought this post would be better.  I've been germinating this idea for over a week.  I'm pretty disappointed at the final product...)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Chuck Schumer Can Go Fuck Himself

Obamacare was designed to fix structural problems in the economy and in the fiscal health of the government.  The idea that they "picked the wrong thing" to focus on is stupid.  I mean, Fox News level stupid.

First of all, you had the majorities.  As we saw in '93-'94, you have to take advantage of those majorities when you have them.  And if you wanted a bigger stimulus, why the fuck didn't you pass one?

This is why millions of Americans went decades without health insurance.  Because Chuck Schumer, who gets health insurance through his job, thinks that Congress can't do both things at once.

The reason Democrats got crushed in 2010 and 2014 is because Democratic voters stay home.  And who was in charge of the DSCC? Who kept sending me "booga-booga" emails about losing the Senate to raise money and depress enthusiasm?

The ACA is a monumental bill.  It's an accomplishment that hopefully over time will be recognized as fundamentally restructuring America's relationship with health insurance and its government.

Sorry we didn't help your Wall Street buddies more, Chuck.

Two Thoughts About Ferguson

When we see the smoldering remains of Ferguson's main street, we should think about two separate problems that got us there.  Separate problems, but problems that overlap.

The first problem is the endemic and persistent poverty present that plagues many African American communities.  Poverty has a cyclical nature.  It is generational and feeds off itself.  Paul Tough wrote an excellent book called How Children Succeed and it chronicles how trauma in childhood significantly messes up a child's brain.  Now "trauma" can be quite broad and applies to people throughout the socioeconomic spectrum.  But the prevalence of pervasive childhood trauma is a great indicator of later cognitive and behavioral problems.  Damaged children make for damaged adults.

We should then look at how damaging poverty is.  And it's pretty damaging.  A 2009 study by Gary Evans and Michelle Schamberg studied working memory in children.  They looked at allostatic load.  Bruce McEwen first proposed allostasis, which is way a body manages stress.  So, for instance, you nearly get into a car wreck.  Your body gets flooded with adrenaline, your heart pounds, you shake.  But you get over it a few hours later as your body "flushes out" that stress response.  But if you are constantly exposed to stress, you build up an allostatic load.  What Evans and Schamberg found was that allostatic load was the best predictor of performance on short term memory.  The higher it was, the poorer kids did on the test. Short term memory is a great indicator of certain types of cognitive abilities.

In other words, what we think of as "genetic advantage" - the upper middle class kids just have favorable genetic advantages that allow them to excel - is really a product of their environment.  The brain is a very malleable thing in early childhood and if you pile poverty onto that process - with all the stress that poverty brings - you damage that brain.

And that damage is most prevalent in the last part of the brain to develop: the pre-frontal cortex.  And it is in the pre-frontal cortex that judgment resides.  That part of the brain may not finish developing until someone is 25.  This is why college students think jumping from the roof of their garage into the pool is a good idea.

The problem is that poverty and its attendant stress makes it hard for the judgment centers of the brain to develop.  And the results can be seen in everything from 16 year old mothers to the looting in Ferguson last night.  Let's remember that 16 year old moms are not unique to the African American community but are prevalent in most poor communities regardless of race.  And 16 year old mothers are going to face stress in trying to raise a child when they themselves are children, and that only perpetuates this cycle.  The stress they feel is passed on to their children.

So when we talk about the legacy of poverty in this country - whether we are talking about urban African Americans or Appalachian whites or Hispanics along the Rio Grande or Native Americans on reservations - we are talking about a form of environmental brain damage.

The second point is that of the police.  What was most shocking about Ferguson was that the grand jury - with all the questions about what really happened - decided not to let a trial sort out the conflicting stories.  But given the current state of US law, it's pretty hard to convict a policeman for the use of lethal force.

This is tied, at least in part, to our unreasonable fears about crime.

Violent crime is falling in this country and has been for the last 20 years.  But we live in a world where the news follows the age old maxim of "If it bleeds, it leads."  If you watch the news - or hell, if you watch CSI or any police procedural - you are bombarded with the idea that we live in a world of menace, violence and death, when in fact, the world has never been safer.

That fear of violent crime has led us to militarize our police force and inculcates in them a feeling of being under siege.  Certainly, your average police officer spends most of his time dealing with the most troubled elements of society.  The corrosive effect of that, combined with the environment of fear, leads to a siege mentality.  It also increases that allostatic load in the police.  Utah recently found that the leading cause of violent death is the police.  Utah is not an especially violent place, yet the police feel they need to use lethal force more than gangs or even perpetrators of domestic violence.

So we have a system that puts stressed out police into stressed out communities and basically gives them carte blanche to use deadly force.

Everything we saw in Ferguson is a product of this flawed system.  The looters burning their own community are simply giving free rein to their anger over their long term prospects.  The police with sniper rifles tossing tear gas into violent and peaceful protesters alike are simply responding to the siege they feel.

Ultimately, we might be able to see some police reform.  Body cameras would be an excellent place to start.  They would help with evidence collection and exonerate innocent cops, while holding bad cops accountable.  All of this would help ease tensions between police and the communities they patrol.  And while police violence is increasingly prevalent in minority communities, it exists in white communities, too.  Because this isn't a racial issue - or shouldn't be - maybe we can see this needed reform.

If we are going basically allow the police to shot people and almost never be brought to trial, then we need to demand more accountability from the police.  This could unite Paulite libertarians and African American civil rights activists.

But we will continue to ignore the pervasive and corrosive effects of poverty that continues to weigh heaviest on minority communities.  Because the pictures of African Americans looting stores and burning buildings will create a comfort level in turning away.  There will be millions of people who think, "They deserve this.  Let them rot.  They don't deserve my help."

We will continue to see a cycle of poverty, handed down from generation to generation, from teen parent to teen parent.  Exceptional individuals will make it out from time to time, to give lie to the fact that a poverty-riddled environment is a poor environment to grow up in.

And we will ignore the overwhelming links between poverty, race and childhood development and watch another generation be blighted before our eyes.  And our willingness to turn away from our fellow American in this is overwhelmingly a question of race.  Not the racism of the burning cross or the lynch mob, but the racism of the great mass of people who sit by and let the cross burn and the body to swing from the tree.

John Stuart Mill said, we "should know that bad men need no better opportunity than when good men look on and do nothing."

And yet, doing nothing seems to always be the preferable course when the evil is being done to the poor.  While that's not unique to America, the elements of race are our special curse.  A curse we are eager to turn away from and pretend it's not there.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Scenes From America

What I'm watching on CNN is heartbreaking.

The lack of indictment is a joke.  Fine.

But then the police went to tear gas. And that empowers the worst elements of the crowd.  And those worst elements have certainly had their moment.  The looting and the vandalism are just infuriating.  There is a very clear and strong message: We can no longer have two different justice systems for blacks and whites.

And yet the actions of looters and vandals have trampled any hope of that.

Why did they wait until night to announce this?  Whose fucking idea was that?

Who let lose the tear gas?

Where were the community figures who wanted peaceful protests?

Our system is broken.

This Is Dumb

They are getting rid of Hagel, because they only hired him to give cover to the withdrawal from Afghanistan and cutting military budgets.  That was his job.

The idea - forcefully articulated in Fisher's analysis - that Obama's Afghanistan and ISIS policies are "failing" is just plain dumb.  Obama's Afghanistan policy is to get out.  We are getting out.  His ISIS policy is to degrade ISIS and roll back their advances.  That's what's happening.

The old "elite" foreign policy had the advantage of patience.  But the 24 hour new cycle makes everyone expect immediate results. Why haven't we destroyed ISIS/the Taliban/Ebola/Putin/cooties/all evil in the world?

Hagel was brought in to give cover to withdrawal and budget cuts.  He did that.  Now he's gone.

The bigger issue was his ability to manage the department, not policy, which Fisher correctly notes comes from the White House.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Jeff Flake wants to pass immigration reform and drop Benghazi.  Meanwhile, Huckleberry Closetcase continues to flog Chris Steven's dead body for television appearances.

Graham clearly has his trembling, sweaty fingers on the pulse of the GOP in a way that Flake does not.

How long until we get a real patriot to primary this RINO?

(Also, can we go three weeks with Graham on the TV?  Please?)

Over The River And Through The Woods...

Getting away for a week of relaxation and catching up on grading.

Eventually, I'm going to write that long post on what Democrats can do to appeal to white male voters.

But not today.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


In a shocking development, the seventh investigation of the tragic attacks in Benghazi has concluded - along with the previous six investigations - that there is no scandal there.  While Darrell Issa's committee hasn't concluded, frankly, I think we can all guess that they are just trying to run out the clock until Hillary officially wins the nomination.

When Hillary ran in 2008, I naively thought that Obama would be a better nominee and President, because he didn't bring that Clinton baggage with him.  There would be no lingering questions about Vince Foster and Whitewater and Lewinsky and the various other sundry bullshit scandals that the GOP has tried to create over the years.

But it really doesn't matter who the Democrats nominate.  It never will.  The Risen Christ could win the 2016 nomination and the GOP will call into question whether the loaves and fishes constitute violation of campaign finance law and whether the Sermon on the Mount represent Alinsky-ite communistic thinking.

Yes, politics ain't beanbag, but the GOP has taken the nastiness to a new level.  Scandals are fair game, but manufactured ones are not.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Hey, Bill...

I would bet my dog that Bill O'Reilly's ancestors were undocumented, too.

Because we didn't start documenting immigrants until the 1920s, and we did that out of naked, avowed racism.

Most citizen's ancestors came here under an immigration system that did not put any restrictions on them coming here.  America did not start keeping out ANY immigrants until the 1880s, when they excluded Chinese on racial grounds.  And then they started putting quotas on Eastern Europeans, because Slavs and Jews were considered a degradation of America's "Nordic" blood stock.

In the 1960s, they greatly relaxed those quotas, but they also moved to a system that documented and restricted immigration from the Western hemisphere for the first time.

And Bill?  They really hated the Irish back in the 19th century.  Maybe as much as people hate on Hispanics now.

Meanwhile, in other news involving Mexicans...

Since institutionalizing true democracy about 14 years ago, Mexico has suffered from poor voter turnout, anemic civil society and a lack of trust in government.  (I'm sure this has nothing to do with the fact that Mexico uses the same, FUBAR Madisonian system of government that we do.)

But there is perhaps some hope that Mexicans are fed up with poor governance and rampant corruption and are ready to take control of their country.

This could be a very hopeful moment for Mexico in the long run, even if it seems scary right now.

If You Want To Do Something, Do Something

An interesting take on Obama's executive order on deportations from the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.  Their basic argument, which is based more on legal theories than on naked politics, is that Congress should act to clarify immigration law if they are unhappy with it.

But the whole reason this is happening is that the Senate immigration bill won't get a vote in the House, because it would pass.  And if it passed - with every Democratic vote and a smattering of Republican votes - then this would hand Obama a bipartisan victory.  This would likely NOT benefit Republicans with Hispanic voters, but it would piss off their Angry, White Men base.

So, the Federalist Society agrees with Obama that Congress should act and in the absence of Congressional action, Obama can do what he's doing.

Now, the Federalist Society tends to venerate executive action, so they are at least being consistent.  But the overall points - this has been done before, this is a reaction to Congress's inaction - should be repeated.

The howling of the Right is difficult to interpret.  Are the Congressional leaders REALLY outraged that Obama is doing their jobs for them?  Are they high on their own supply?  Or is this yet more base-churning?

I guess we'll know when the House introduces impeachment proceedings.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sewing The Whirlwind

The success that the right has had in stoking and nurturing white, male grievance is pretty well documented.  It is the basic function of Fox News to provide stories about the New Black Panther party, Ebola carrying illegal immigrants and other swarthy menaces.  It is the basic foundation of "take our country back."

Tom Coburn - who shares with Rand Paul the ability to occasionally say non-crazy things - has again waded into the crazy pool.  He has suggested that the President electing to do less deporting of certain immigrant groups constitutes a call to "instances of anarchy (or) violence" and then amended that to "civil disobedience."

Josh Marshall rightly points out the absurdity of using civil disobedience to protest whatever the President winds up doing on immigration tonight.

At some point in the coming vacation (yay!) I'm going to discuss what I think the liberal movement is doing wrong in trying to reach out to white men.  But basically, white men feel besieged and oppressed.  The fact that this is a ridiculous feeling does not alter the basic reality of it.  Despite being the wealthiest, most privileged group in the country, white men have a bunch of people (mostly other white people) telling them how oppressed they are.

The fact that they would considering using a tool typically used by aggrieved, disenfranchised minorities - civil disobedience, even insurrection - goes a long way to capturing their mindset at this moment of history.  And while Obama's race is a factor in it, frankly Hillary - should she win in 2016 - will simply keep this cycle going.  In fact, if Joe Biden were to win, much of this would still keep going, because Biden would be elected by a coalition in which white men are a minority.

The parallels to 1860 are of course frightening.  The South seceded because they lost an election.  Slavery in the South was not under serious threat.  The Underground Railroad was an annoyance, rather than a mass movement of slaves northward.  The issue was the spread of slavery westwards, not its existence in South Carolina.

But the South had come to feel oppressed by the larger number of Northerners.  While the split of the Democratic Party in 1860 helped elect Lincoln, the fact is, even if Stephen Douglas had run on a unified Democratic ticket, Lincoln probably still would have won.

Today, the current electoral map means that the Republicans - who now represent the white, conservative South, which is as much a cultural marker as a geographic region - will have a very hard time winning the Presidency.  As Thomas Bailey wrote about secession, the "crime of the North was the census."  Republicans can still dominate the House, because of the rural and exurban tilt of the districts.  But winning the White House is going to be hard.

And so we have a situation where all those white men see a world where they are under attack.  But since they can't secede from their neighbors, I worry what form this aggrievement will take.  When Tom Coburn says violence could accompany the President's immigration proposals, I take him at his word.  I don't believe he's threatening violence himself, but rather conveying what the far reaches of the Right are murmuring to themselves.

The Republicans political strategy has worked well for them.  They have gummed up the work of government so that it does not work, "proving" their thesis that government does not work.  They have used a favorable map and extremely low voter turnout to win control of the Senate.  They feel they are "owed" compliance from Obama.  And he isn't going to give it to them.

But in pursuing this strategy, they are stacking tinder against the foundations of government.

And some of these idiots are running around with flamethrowers.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Erick Son Of Erick Has A Point

Erick Erickson has a very good point.

The GOP shutdown the government in 2013.  They then proceeded to rack up impressive gains just about everywhere (except policy referenda) in 2014.

What, exactly, are they afraid of?

It's not like the media will point out that one side of the partisan divide a bunch of bomb throwing, lunatic nihilists.  Instead, the GOP Congress will insist that Obama kowtow to all their demands or they will simply shutter the government.  The media will lament this "lack of bipartisanship" without ever saying that one side simply won't compromise because "opinions differ" blah blah blah.

I do think that the GOP pursuing more governmental destruction will hurt them.  There are limits even to the apathy of the American public.  But it's clear the GOP has hit on a winning formula:

Assert that government is the problem in American society.  Grind the gears of governance to a halt.  Show that this proves the ineffectiveness of government, all the while complaining about the tyranny of health care reform as a form of neo-Nazi totalitarianism.  Depress voter turnout and win rump elections.

However, the GOP - if it pursues this strategy - will definitely not be entrusted with the White House in 2016.  Watching the GOP presidential field have to own the shutdown - because heresy is not allowed - will be amusing.

But burning down Washington won't hurt the GOP control of the House.  Because assigning blame is simply too "partisan" to contemplate.


Clearly, the grand jury is not going to indict Darren Wilson.  Not even for manslaughter.  Otherwise the Governor wouldn't have basically declared martial law.

I can only hope that the protests don't create that one moment that feeds into the nasty, and yes, racial countercharges.  The news is going to cover every broken window like it's the Watts Riot, and that's going to create a narrative that doesn't really fit what's going on in Ferguson.

It's obviously proven difficult to prosecute police officers for wrongful deaths.  They are given an extraordinary latitude in their use of deathly force, especially against black men.

It is therefore time to require all police officers to have lapel cameras.  With great power comes great responsibility.  And right now, too many cops are trigger happy.  Murder rates are at all time lows.  Violent crime is down.

The streets of America are not a combat zone, and the rules of engagement should not be shoot first, ask questions later.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Yglesias Hits The Essential Truth

I've heard a few bright people reach the same "pox on both their houses" conclusion.  Which is easy to do if the people whose job it is to explain the nuances of American politics don't seem to understand what's going on.

Bipartisan wasn't "lost".  It was deliberately taken out behind the barn and killed as part of a political strategy.  And that strategy sees its fulfillment in the low-voter-turnout midterm elections.

But Obama spent most of 2009-2011 trying to reach compromises with a group of nihilists who were intent on denying him any legislative victories.

Keep that in mind when he issues his executive order on immigration.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Nail On The Head

This is another "Please proceed, governor" moments.

Obama will issue his executive order that reduces deportations in some way.

The GOP will freak out.  At this point, you can't rule out impeachment.

One major reason that the GOP did so well in the midterms was that not many people turned out to vote.  This was a direct result of GOP governance.  They pretty much gummed up the works of Congress until nothing, not even National Puppies Are Cute Day, could pass the House.

The perverse nature of American politics is that the President gets blamed for poor governance by Congress.  And the GOP were counting on that to depress his base.

Add to that the endless cycle of media stupid in October - ISIS!  Ebola! - and the election faded into a melange of apathy and fear.  And that fear was brokered by Fox News, who has been using scare quotes for the last 6 years.  The idea that Obama is a Socialist is absurd to anyone who really knows what Socialism is.

But now, the GOP has complete control of Congress.  And yet, they won't do anything on immigration, no matter how much time Obama gives them.  So he will act and the GOP will predictably overreact.

And that raises the stakes for 2016.

The preeminent moment for many progressives was the impeachment of Bill Clinton.  That stripped away any lingering idea that the Gingrich Republicans were anything but power-mad nihilists.  Impeaching Obama over this would merely reinforce that narrative.  The Congress of No.

Please proceed, Mr. Speaker...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Falcons Win Ugly

Just to make me waste time thinking they might have a run in them...

Saturday, November 15, 2014


So, I went to a workshop on creativity on Thursday, as I mentioned before.  Interestingly, the keynote speaker was Jonah Lehrer, who has his own take on creative scholarship.  While it was a very stimulating day, I'm not sure what new practices will find its way into my teaching, but the ideas were somewhat provocative, so here they are:

Creativity is "simply connecting things." That was Steve Jobs' take on it.  It's a form of problem solving, where you take things that are already known and add those connections that create a new solution to that new problem.  The reason Newton and Leibniz both "invented" calculus at the same time, was because calculus was ready to be invented.

It appears that the essential component of creativity is not focusing on the problem.  Einstein said that creativity was the "residue of wasted time".  You have to be bored or otherwise occupied for the brain to offer up that eureka moment.  Archimedes in the bath is the classic example of being relaxed, not obsessed with the question and having the answer coming to you.  Alpha waves - that state of the brain when it's most relaxed - are the neurological condition for creative insight.

The result is that you can't always work your way to a new solution.  You can work the problem (you must work the problem) but then you almost always have to step away from the problem to get the epiphany you need.

Obviously, this does not comport with our schooling system.  Little kids are incredibly creative, but we train the creativity out of them.  The success of the Montessori system is in letting kids answer the questions that they are interested in, rather than force-feeding them standardized questions with one right answer.

There was an IQ test question that asked you to say which of the following objects was not like the others: a football, a basketball, a baseball and a soccer ball.

The thing is, the right answer is: any one of them.  The football is oblong.  The basketball is the only one without stitches.  The baseball is the only solid one.  The soccer ball is the only one played primarily with your feet.  But the test wanted football.  Which is right but stupid and certainly not creative.

One thing we hear from our Asian students is that they want to come to the US to learn creativity.  They are great at memorization and computation.  They make wonderful engineers.  But their system doesn't make great innovators.  Ironically, the US seems intent on trying to make the American school system more Asian at precisely the moment Asians are trying to capture what makes the American system great.

Of course, the second component of creativity is "grit", which Angela Duckworth has been working on.  Grit was defined as "loyalty to a goal." This allows you to work past the obstacles that appear before you.  You have the "ah ha!" moment but then you do the work necessary to turn that revelation into a product worthy of the idea.

What creates grit?  Duckworth suggests you build it by "choosing easy and working hard."  That means choosing the thing you love and working to master it.  If you do that enough, you can build grit that can transfer to other areas.  This is why athletes often succeed in life.  They don't have the highest SAT scores or GPAs, but they often go on to successful careers, because they have the grit necessary to work through problems.

You can also build grit by praising process rather than result.  If you praise the work rather than the end result, you build respect for the process.  If you praise the kid working through long division for the first time, you can build grit.  Otherwise, they just pull out the calculator or turn to the back of the book.  Cheating is the ultimate anti-grit.

The other key factor is having a "self-transcendent" mindset.  If you are working to help people - your teammates, your platoon, your company, your country, mankind - you are more likely to push through those obstacles.  Grit, by definition, is intrinsic rather than extrinsic.  It has to be present.  While praise-based teaching can create self-confidence, it can't create the grit that is necessary to succeed when things get tough.

Again, we have created an educational model that is increasingly results-based.  We focus on SAT scores, Common Core testing, AP exams and the college list that a school can show to prospective families.  This flies in the face of everything we are learning about teaching.  All good teaching is creative, because we are helping our students make those connections on their own for the first time.  But if we are constantly telling them that there is one answer and it's in the answer key, we are killing the creative process of education.

One of the real advantages of a private school education is that smaller class sizes can allow for more writing and more individual attention.  Writing is entirely about process, especially thesis writing.  My students are sitting in front of me writing an essay that asks them to "Support, modify or refute" a statement.  There is no right answer.  There is only the creative process of supporting whatever answer they have come up with.

Finally, creativity is increasingly a group activity.  As problems become more complicated, you have to enlist a wider range of expertise.  You either "succeed together or fail alone."  It is intellectual diversity that forces people to step outside their normal ruts and engage new perspectives.

Learning - I've come to feel - has to be uncomfortable.  To use the metaphor of the athlete again, you never improve if you never reach a breaking point in your training and if you never lose.  You have to enter that zone where you are gasping for breath, where you can't summon the old areas of expertise, where the old solutions fail.

The job of the teacher becomes that of guide and mentor through that process of discomfort.  You make your students feel safe being lost.  And then you show them ways to find their way out.  And then you do it again.  And again.  And again.

The answer is never at the back of the book.  There is no answer key.

Friday, November 14, 2014

St. Vincent

actually went to the theaters for family movie night and saw St. Vincent with Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy.  Absolutely wonderful movie.  Surprisingly touching and what's more its sentiment wasn't cheap.  What made the characters both noble and flawed was real and earned.

If Bill Murray doesn't get an Oscar nomination this time, someone needs to hang.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Just got back from a day long conference on creativity.

If I can recover the lost night of sleep, I'll blog about it tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What To Do With Social Media

So this happened.

And this.

And this.

At a time when it increasingly feels like various elites are more distant and uncaring than ever.  When the 1% had rigged the game.  When the government can't do anything to make people's lives better.

At a time like that, we've resorted to ironic, passive-aggressive Twitter campaigns.

If we didn't have the Internet, would be taking to the streets?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Policy RX

This is a very good take on the problems facing Democrats.  They have an advantage, in that people instinctively know that the GOP doesn't care about declining real wages.  But - as he notes - simply talking about rising inequality doesn't resonate with voters.  We are an aspirational society and want to grow up to be rich.  While the "lifestyles of the rich and famous" may elicit some moral tut-tutting and some anger on the fringes, it's not enough to motivate voters to vote in midterm elections.

Marshall is right that this is a tricky sell.  Running on "class warfare" won't win as many votes as running on a positive agenda.  He claims there isn't one out there.  Raising taxes on the wealthy will only move the needle somewhat.  However, I would argue that raising taxes on the 1% would give more money to the Treasury at a time when we should look to begin paying down our debt.

The other issue that several Democrats have started to flog - including Warren and Obama - is college tuition.  While we are struggling with globally depressed wages and structural weaknesses brought on by globalization, we can agree that the only real consistent options for economic advancement are in college, even two year colleges.

But they are so ridiculously expensive that college becomes a cost-benefit problem.  In fact, we see more social mobility in Europe now than in the US.  There are a lot of reasons for this, but part of it comes down to the affordability of college in Europe as compared to the US.

The other agenda item is wrapped up in Obamacare.  There are certain things we need in life to be happy: food, shelter, family, health... There are limits to what the state can do without upsetting various markets, but we know - empirically - that our health care markets don't work.  Part of the success of ACA has been it's retraining of the markets in certain ways.  But mainly it's about getting more people healthier for less money.

The question is where else are markets not fulfilling their promise.  Education and health care have always had difficulty harnessing market efficiencies.  But then again, it's market efficiencies that are causing wage deflation.  A robot makes more sense than a line worker, and the lack of line workers leads to the lack of wage inflation.

By making healthcare affordable and making education more affordable, you can increase the quality of life for people.  Wages ARE stagnant.  The 1% ARE making too much of our GDP.

And maybe we can never adequately address that, but we can make people's lives better.  And that has to be the message.  We have to kill the Reagan Lie: "Government isn't the solution to your problem, government is the problem."

As long as people believe the Reagan Lie, we will be powerless before the plutocracy.


The above article is why I love Vox.

There is increasing research on sleep habits, and I'm pretty sure our society is set up to functionally deprive people of their health by demanding certain time parameters to work.

In my salad days, I probably got 9-10 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period.  That was marginally too much, but I do think all that sleep helped me overcome the numerous small concussions I doubtless got playing rugby for 12 years.  To the degree that I have cognitive abilities, I do think they are tied to my sleeping a fair amount in my youth.

As a parent and a professional, the idea of a 9 hour sleep is laughable.  I can't do it if I wanted to. I can max out at about 8 hours.  More typically, I get 6-7 hours and a nap during the day.  Sometimes two naps - except during wrestling season, which sucks.

A few years ago, we moved the start of our class day to 8:15 from 7:50.  A small change, but it had a profound effect.  Ideally, we'd move it back to 8:30 or later, but that eats into all sorts of other activities, including sports.  And we can't have that now, can we Precious?

Asked teenagers to get up at 7:00 and go to school and then perform is folly.  We know this.  The science isn't ambiguous.  But we still insist on it, because "that's the way we always do it."  We have the same issue with medical interns, keeping them up for hours on end because "that's the way we always do it."

The military uses sleep deprivation in training to simulate combat stress.

We do it in civilian life because we are bound to traditions that make us sick.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Coercive Non-Violent Foreign Policy

The combination of low oil prices, poor economic policy and Western sanctions are crashing the ruble.  It's inflicting real pain in Russia's economy.

Of course, a wounded Russia is potentially a dangerous Russia.  But the idea that Putin has annexed Crimea and Eastern Ukraine without consequences is simply false.

Friday, November 7, 2014

They Are Going To Screw Us

With the Senate now in GOP hands, even if Scalia shuffles off his mortal coil or Alito returns to whatever circle of hell coughed him up, the Court will not be adding any Democrats until 2017.

And it seems to me that the Supremes could be using the midterm election as cover to finally kill the Affordable Care Act.   Immune from public pressure and now protected by sizable majorities in both Houses, I can see Roberts deciding that this is his opportunity to win the fight they lost last time.

For all it's flaws, the ACA is a huge step forward for millions of Americans and millions of Americans to come.

But you just know they will try and kill it again.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

No, Virginia, There Won't Be Immigration Reform

Dara Lind at Vox suggests that the clue we won't have immigration reform is that GOP members aren't guaranteeing anything on Telemundo, where they might safely make vague promises.

OK.  Sure.

But more important is the language from McConnell and Boehner.  From the article:
What Republicans on Congress appear to agree on, however, is that any executive action by Obama on the issue of immigration is going to "poison the well" (in Speaker Boehner's words) for Congress to do anything about it. On Wednesday, incoming Majority Leader McConnell compared executive action on immigration to"waving a red flag in front of a bull." If congressional Republicans plan to make an exception to their recalcitrance so that they can get a border-security bill passed, they're certainly not mentioning it. (Bulls aren't known for only busting through particular aisles of china shops.)

What they are doing here is setting up the conditions for inaction.  Boehner and McConnell know they can't get much through the House.  The Senate passed reform and could probably pass something even with crazy assed Joni Ernst in the GOP caucus.

But the House won't pass dick.  Period.  Full stop.  They never will as long as the GOP controls that chamber.

So, they are creating a scenario where they will try and blame Obama for their own ineptitude.  As Obama notes, they can still pass something after his executive orders.  If, say, he makes it easier for DREAMers to stay or stops the deportation of the parents of minor American citizens (anchor babies!), there is nothing that can prevent Congress from passing something similar.  Or they could even overturn those executive actions through laws.

But Obama understands that all that Latino voters know is that no one is taking action on immigration reform.  And so they aren't going to vote.  And so we have Senator-elect Cory Gardner.  If he DOES take action, and the GOP works tirelessly to overturn his actions, then the GOP will cement Latino voters into the Democratic party.

McConnell and Boehner understand this.  So they are working on a procedural counter-argument.

It won't work.  And they are probably smart enough to know it won't work.  It's more CYA than realistic counter-argument.

In the days since the election, I've had some interactions with the Hive Mind on Facebook.  These are people who are dead sure they know the real truth (liberals are the real racists, it's Obama's fault there's no budget) even though that truth flies in the face of known facts.

So McConnell and Boehner are preparing the next poutrage for Fox News viewer to ingest.  They can tell themselves that Obama is the reason that immigration reform died in Congress.

Like so much else, it's a lie.  But I don't think it's a lie that will work.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

This Is The Key Question

Voter turnout was low.  It was older and whiter than 2012, and probably older and whiter than 2016.

But Democrats - especially in Colorado - were convinced they had the turnout model mastered.

Why did African American voters vote for Republicans more yesterday than they did two years ago?  Why did Hispanics move away?  Asians?  Some of it may have to do with not watching the GOP nominees call for "self-deportation" but there is something else at play.

Did minority Democrats become minority Republicans?  Or did they just stay home?

If I'm a Hispanic voter, why should I drag myself to the polls to vote for a Democrat?  It may not be the Democratic Party's fault that immigration reform hasn't passed...I mean, it's not their fault... but all you know is that it hasn't passed.

This is why Obama HAS to follow through on executive orders on immigration.  Let the Republicans attack him for that.

Please proceed...


I get Arkansas, Kentucky, Georgia, South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana.  Those are tough states for Democrats to win in.

But how does Udall lose in Colorado?  With a mail-in ballot?

How does Rick Scott get re-elected?

How does Sam Brownback run Kansas into the ground and get a second term?

How do the Democrats lose Maryland?

There were certain circumstances - scandal in Illinois, a third party spoiler in Maine - that can explain some of the results.  And certainly midterms present problems for the Democrats generally.

But Joni Ernst is a nut job and the Iowans who elected her said she's "about right" on the issues.  I think Braley tried to point that out, but political ads are ignored, so how do you get that message out?  Ernst and Gardner both support personhood amendments.  Put those amendments on the ballot and they lose.  But the candidates win?

I still think a Democrat wins in 2016.  And they likely take back the Senate.  My guess is that the Congress devolves into even more dysfunction as the Lunatic Caucus impeaches Obama over Benghazi or Lois Lerner or his executive order on immigration reform.  I could see a debt default over Obamacare repeal.  They are that crazy.

But we will see if anyone pays attention.

What Does It Mean?

I've argued that Democrats don't win by appealing to their voter's fears.  Yet that's what they did.  They ran a campaign based on "Be afraid of the GOP."  I personally was not motivated by that pitch.

The sort of voter who can bestir themselves to vote for Democrats is unlikely to be motivated by fear.  That's what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama proved in 2008.

So, once again, trying to emulate GOP election strategies has proven to be a failure for the Democrats.  They suck at politics.

But that can't explain Rick Scott and Scott Walker getting re-elected.  That can't explain a genuine whack-a-loon like Joni Ernst winning in Iowa.

Some of this has to do with the absolute failure of the media to explain the issues and the public for following them.

The GOP purposefully broke government, because they believe government should be broken.  And because it's never explained that way and because people don't give two shits, no one can see what's really at stake in these elections.

The 2014 midterms were pre-labelled the "Meh" election.  No plausible result was going to fundamentally change the gridlock in Washington.  So, who cares?

But these elections have reverberations beyond the next two years.  Senators serve for 6 years and most governors for 4.  And what happens if Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies before 2017?

All elections matter.  And there were real issues at stake.  In fact, personhood measures went down to defeat, while minimum wages were raised and marijuana legalized.  While at the same time the GOP increased their hold on the House and won the Senate?  How is that possible if people understand what the parties stand for?

The voters of Kentucky really like Kynect, but hate the Affordable Care Act.  That's fundamental ignorance.  I understand why the GOP sews that ignorance, but why aren't the Democrats fighting harder against that?  And shouldn't the media explain it?

But we spent the last three months obsessing about ISIS and Ebola.

We get the government we deserve.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014


Looks like somewhere between worst case scenario and just plain shitty.

Feels like 2002 and 2004 all over again.

Booman puts it best:

A taste:

This election is structurally tilted toward the Republicans, but anyone who's been paying even a modicum of attention should have ditched the Republican Party long ago. They'd know that if they weren't selfish, scared assholes, or if the media would focus on policy once in a blue moon rather than process and the horse race.
I don't even care if you agree with Democrats either rhetorically or on their record. They are many things, but they aren't crazy. They aren't filled with hate. They aren't trying to disenfranchise voters. They don't do things that will ruin the country's credit rating for no good reason. They actually listen to scientists.
People don't vote in this country. Why should they? What they're told about the candidates is less interesting and relevant than what they're told about their fantasy football players. This candidate over here thinks that the United Nations is going to take over this country and ban bicycles? Never mind. She's a rising star. She has charisma. That's all you need to know.

I am not just mad about the likely results tonight. I'm mad that this election was drowned out by the dumbest imaginable bullshit. I'm mad that the Republicans were able to hide their record of unprecedented obstruction and lunacy behind wall-to-wall coverage of some woman going for a bike ride with her boyfriend in Maine.
I'm angry that people are so disengaged and uninformed, but I don't blame them. At least, they are not primarily responsible because they are victims of terrible leadership. The Democrats are too passive. The Republicans never stop lying. The media doesn't do substance. The Courts give all the power to the demagogues and their funders. The legislatures gerrymand the districts into complete uncompetitiveness. Even when we elect someone on a platform we like, the system doesn't allow them to try out their ideas, and then we blame them for ineffectiveness. So, now we have a stupid, uninformed, malleable, scared populace that sees no hope and either disengages or bases their decisions on the most idiotic bullshit.
Two countries are going to the polls today, and one of those countries is overwhelmingly white and pissed off about the very existence of the other country. The Republicans continue to drive this wedge between us and we're going to see the results in how people vote in urban and rural Wisconsin or Georgia or Massachusetts.
One party has its problems, but the other is actively making us worse people who live in a worse country every single hour of every single day. And they are going to be rewarded for it.
And the press is going to treat this as the reward for savvy.
It's not savvy. It's just brokenness. It's a result of so many failures that I cannot even list them all.
We could have had hope. Our elites didn't want hope.

Your Pre-Punditry In A Nutshell

@Matt: I think the headline there is true and false. This is, at least in part, a referendum on Obama. And while the key Senate races are in red states it's not like anyone expects Democrats to make big gains in the House races. Obama is pretty unpopular! But it's definitely not a referendum on Obama's "hyperliberalism." It's a referendum on two years when Washington has been so gridlocked that nothing at all has gotten done. 2010 might have been a referendum on liberalism. 2014 is a referendum on drift and paralysis. The irony is that voters, in rejecting it, are going to get more of it.

-Ezra Klein
(Underlining is mine)

Go Vote

It's considered a given that the Republicans will take the Senate.  But KY, GA, IA, AR, LA, CO, KS, AK and NC are all close to toss-ups.  If people vote in those elections, it will make a real difference.

Governors matter. In PA, FL, ME, GA, AK, CO, WI, MI and here in CT, the governor's mansions are up for grabs.

Midterm polls are notoriously wrong by 2-3 points.  But does that mean Democrats are in the mix to win seats or lose even more?  We will only know when people start voting.

As Klein notes, this election is primarily about who will have a legislative majority in 2017.

It matters.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

I Blame The Democrats

Nate Silver is right that the only hope for Democrats is that the polls are modeling an electorate that isn't what will actually vote.  In other words, if all the polls are assuming the electorate looks like 2010, when it will actually look more like 2012, then Democrats have a shot.

That is looking less and less likely.

If it's the expected bloodbath, I blame Democrats.

My in-box is stuffed full of email using fear tactics to raise money.  Apparently these tactics work to raise that money that the DCCC, DSCC and DNC feel they need.

But it leaves me with a sense of dread and despair.  The result is that I'm not as likely to phone bank (not that I have time) or even give money.

They are basically using a fear of losing to raise money rather than a hope for winning to get voters to the polls.

There is no way Cory Gardner, Joni Ernst or David Perdue should go to the Senate for the next 6 years.  And yet that is looking increasingly likely because the Democratic Party is incapable of playing offense.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Tough To Argue With This

As we become more polarized politically, everything will become politically polarized.

I always hated PC speech codes, but I'm finding myself more tolerant of them as they become part of my political tribe's shibboleths.  As much as I care about economic issues from the left, I've found myself caring about certain gender and sexual orientation issues more than I ever thought I would.

In 1860, the issue was sectional and so secession was possible.

How do you secede from your neighbor?

How Can You Win?

How can Democrats hope to win if a douchcanoe like Michael Grimm can coast to reelection?

My guess is that voters in Staten Island hate gridlock and blame Obama for filibustering his own appointments and for not passing bills through the House.