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, January 31, 2015

Alas, Poor Romney, I Knew Him

A Romney Redux never made the least bit of sense to me.  Americans don't really care for losers and they prefer that you would just go away with all your loserness getting all over everything.

There is some speculation that the Bush Crime Family put out a hit on Romney, but that's just speculation.

It will be interesting to see how the GOP primary plays out.  On the Democratic side it will be Hillary vs Not-Hillary.  In 2008, there were really only two credible Not-Hillarys: Obama and Edwards.  If Elizabeth Warren stays out, there isn't an apparent Not-Hillary who can mount a truly credible challenge.

But on the GOP side, the closest thing to a frontrunner is Jeb Bush and there are a ton of reasons why I have a hard time seeing the GOP line up behind another Bush. Jeb is arguably more like Poppy than Dubya, and so he's going to have to act like Dubya, which is...yuck.

I'd have to think it will be a Governor, and Scott Walker makes a ton of sense.  Will the Texas oil money resurrect Rick Perry?  Will an insurgent like Ted Cruz or Rick Santorum catch fire?  Will spinster aunt and inveterate bedwetter Lindsay Graham be the neo-con/Southern candidate?

Fascinating open field, as it was four years ago.  And that worked so well...

Friday, January 30, 2015


I finally got to see Foxcatcher, and it was pretty impressive.  I met Dave Schultz a few months before his murder at the World Freestyle Championships in Atlanta.  I was with Jeff Buxton, the Blair wrestling coach, and Schultz came up and plopped down next to us.  He had that sort of live-wire energy a lot of wrestlers do, and Mark Ruffalo completely captured that about him.  In fact, the wrestling was completely credible.  I saw Invictus, and all I could think was, "Clint Eastwood does not understand rugby."  Bennett Miller understands wrestling.

There is a scene early in the movie where Dave and Mark (Channing Tatum) are warming up their necks and shoulders by doing duck unders and hand-fighting.  It's tender and caring, and we sense Dave's really paternal care for his younger brother.  And then - as things with brothers do - it escalates, gets rougher as they start to raise the intensity.  Mark then brings his head up into Dave's nose and causes it to bleed.  Dave walks around, wipes the blood on his shirt (this was before the elaborate blood protocols we have now), blows a bloody snot rocket, hocks a bloody loogy and then they get back at it.  Dave then takes Mark down.

It's simply a brilliant, wordless scene about brothers. rivalries and the way truths are revealed on the mat.  The long shadow that Dave casts over Mark is what allows John DuPont (Steve Carrell) to manipulate and exploit him.  Carrell gives one of the creepiest performances since Anthony Hopkins sat in that jail cell in Silence of the Lambs.  His menace is completely wrapped up in his stillness.

There is an airlessness in the movie.  It's very chilly and deliberate.  Unlike the ferocious and fast wrestling scenes, the scenes between these three men (but especially the scenes between Mark and DuPont) are incredibly slow, quiet and unnerving.  In a film landscape where almost every other movie is a cartoon, a comic book or a sequel/remake, Bennett's remarkable restraint makes for something that feels more like a small art house film than a major studio release with three major stars.  He allows the slow feeling of dread to infuse scenes that other directors would feel the need to pump up with jump cuts, simmering glances or a bombastic score with minor chords.

As a result, Bennett gives the viewer a portrait of psychological need and predation that won't appeal to many viewers.  The final act of violence is never really "explained" in a pat way.  DuPont shares some characteristics with Norman Bates, but Carrell doesn't have the coda scene that Tony Perkins had at the end of Psycho.  We know why DuPont kills Dave Schultz, but at the same time, we have no idea why he did it.  There is a small amount of text at the end that shows us that Dave Schultz was inducted into the wrestling Hall of Fame, Mark Schultz has returned to his life of "quiet/silent desperation" and John DuPont died in jail.  There is no redemption or moment of moral clarity at the end.

In the end, Mark Schultz was a damaged, fragile man whose only real gift was not valued by the world in any monetary way.  He was given a certain gift of athletic grace and violence, but he had no place in the world.  Dave was better adjusted.  He was a coach, a thinker, a father and husband.  John DuPont was a monster created out of privilege and familial dysfunction.  Perhaps it was Dave's very ordinariness, his human warmth and compassion that led DuPont to kill him.

At the moment of his death, Dave Schultz was working on his beater car, working in the snow on a fuse or wire with a goofy hat and fingerless gloves.  DuPont drives up and shouts, "You have a problem with me?"  Dave is perplexed because Dave didn't have a problem with anyone.  It, of course, was DuPont's problem.  He had created a grandiose myth of himself and Dave highlighted what a lie that myth was.

Foxcatcher is a movie about a lot of things: fraternal love and rivalry, the delusions of a mad man, the broken emptiness of men like Mark Schultz. But it's also a movie about America in the new Gilded Age.  As DuPont's mother says, "Wrestling is a low sport."  It's a sport from farming communities and coal towns.  DuPont tries to buy his way into the reality of that, and when he can't he thinks he can erase that failure by erasing the man whose very existence points out the folly of his thinking.  And why wouldn't he think that.  He's a DuPont.

The rich are different than you and me...

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Eminently Sensible, Completely Impossible

Check out the chart on Obama's Tax Reform proposal.  It's pretty damned mild, compared to what we really need to do.  We should tax all capital gains over $200,000 a year as income, not capital gains, for instance.

But it's a start, a marker, I guess.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Welcome South Brother

Google Fiber is expanding from three cities (Kansas City, Austin and Provo) to four more (Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham).  Timothy Lee suggests that this is good news for everyone, because other cable providers will feel the need to keep up.  Fiber optic internet is 10-50 times faster than other forms of internet, and America's internet infrastructure is a joke compared to other comparable economies.

It is interesting to me that Google has picked Southern cities (KC and Utah are close enough) to pilot Google Fiber.  Is this because those cities have poor internet and therefore the improvement will be most profound?  Is this because those states have lax regulatory oversight, which makes Google's task easier?  Is this a cost issue or a benefit issue?

The four Southern cities are all pretty well integrated into the global economy, so maybe they feel the benefit will be higher.

If this works, they will expand next in Portland, San Jose, Salt Lake City and Phoenix.  Curious that they don't want to hit New York, Boston or Chicago.

And of course, the really underserved areas are rural.  As always.

Veiled Criticism

An interesting piece about why criticisms of Michelle Obama's decision not to wear a head scarf are racists.

However, in coordination with the Chait piece - which is everywhere today - I have to question the use of the word "racist."

Saudis are not a race.  Even Arabs aren't really a race.  In fact, the more we discuss race from a biological point of view, the more we realize race is an artificial social construct.

It strikes me there is a poverty in the language to describe what Fisher calls racism.  It's a form of ethnocentric ignorance, but that's a mouthful.

So it's tough to conflate ethnocentric ignorance with, say, the legacy of chattel slavery or the treatment of Chinese and Japanese immigrants.  The word starts to lose its edge.


Jon Chait wades into it, with a column about the perils of political discourse that political correctness poses.  This has unleashed an avalanche of counterattacks on Chait - a white man - who, in the words of one critic, Chaitsplains things to people.  Amanda Marcotte levels one of the less strident criticism, as she admits that "there is a need" for this sort of article, but that Chait is a poor vessel for that argument and his argument is problematic anyway. I still found that Marcotte overlay emotions onto Chait's argument that I didn't see ("furious", "outrage") and that she generally agreed with his argument, but not the specifics.  She also lambastes him for not taking conservative versions of this to task.  Given that the article is about liberalism, I'm not sure why that's relevant.

John Hodgman wrote a Twitter essay that was pretty darned good, too.  Except that he gets into Gamergate, which was not on Chait's menu.  Gamergate is a pretty good example of a situation of what looks like speech becomes threats of violence.  What started as a debate ends up as a cesspool of threats and real-world peril.  Those that engaged in hateful speech are exactly what Chait complains about.

If I were to summarize Chait's argument, it would be thus:

Liberalism is an Enlightenment philosophy that believes in the free exchange of ideas.  Political Correctness is a radical philosophy that intends to remove certain aspects of the debate from public discourse entirely.

And I pretty much agree with him.  I can't speak to the specific instances of Hannah Rosin or the Binders of Women forum.  I was a part of the debate over the demolition of The New Republic, which was pretty much the same thing.  TNR produced some articles that people didn't like.  The Bell Curve was the most famous example and Marty Peretz's relentless war-cheerleading was another.  But the purpose of the Bell Curve, for instance, was to spark the debate.  The result was a wide-spread condemnation of Murray's work, but also wide-spread condemnation of TNR, and that condemnation prevailed unto this day.

The point of liberal discourse is to debate ideas freely and then apply reason to those ideas and see if they can withstand scrutiny.  The Bell Curve did not and does not meet the scrutiny of serious criticism.  From a liberal point of view, the article accomplished its goal: it brought an issue to the fore, had the debate and rejected it.  From the radical or PC point of view, publishing the article at all was an act of intellectual aggression against people of color.  Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a pretty scathing take on this.

Liberalism believes in gradual, evolutionary and progressive change.  Radicalism believes in immediate and fundamental change.  The PC impulse is basically radical.  Racism has to end now, so we are going to ban certain ideas or expressions in a hurry to change the culture.  That's how we get "the N Word".  And that's a great example of PC success, making that word essentially beyond the Pale for whites to use.

However, banning the word "nigger" has not ended racism. It has made a difference on the margins and made it harder to express outright racism publicly, but it hasn't done much to change people's minds.  The point of liberal discourse is that your mind must be simultaneously open and critical.  If you simply ban an idea - the fractured nature of poor African American families is a critical problem - then you can't engage with whatever comes out of that argument.  Yes, the fractured family is a process of centuries of racism, institutional discrimination and perverse incentives under the welfare system.  It isn't close to being entirely African American's fault.  But if we engage with it as a problem, then we can look for solutions.

The problem I have with PC culture is that it is inherently married to its grievances.  There is nothing wrong with grievance, and in the case of many groups of people, it's entirely justified.  But if grievance is all you care about, you do two things.  You cut yourself off from other people, and you find yourself constantly looking backwards and not forwards.

I'll use a non-American example.  In Northern Ireland, you have Republicans and Unionists.  Republicans were not always all Catholic, some of the earliest Republicans were Protestant.  But as Republican grievance married to sectarian grievance, for some the grievance became the point.  The Good Friday Peace Accords made an effort to end the cycle of grievance, but only to a point.  And there are plenty of people who are ready to reignite the powder keg because they remember every grievance.  I saw a sign on a pub in Belfast that said, "A country that keeps one eye on its past is wise, a country that keeps two eyes on its past is blind."  And to be a Protestant Unionist first, foremost and always is to cut yourself off from the potential for growth, compromise and progress.

As an educator, I am almost be definition a liberal.  Not in the cartoonish way Rush Limbaugh defines it, but in the belief that reasoned inquiry can enlighten and create a better future.  Recently, much has been made of the relative "liberalism" or tolerance of the Millennials.  I would argue that decades of inculcating the teachings of Martin Luther King every January has had a greater impact on this than anything.  If I heard a student using the word "fag" I would call them on it.  That's not appropriate.  But if I only called them out on it, I'm not sure what victory would be won.  Prohibition is not the same as learning.

In some ways this comes back to the speed of change that liberals and radicals want.  King said that the arch of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.  Malcolm X was less patient.  I'd argue that King was more successful, but that X wasn't entirely wrong.  In our hurry to create a better world, we can simply short-circuit the debate over issues and terms we find uncomfortable.

And we can get sucked into endless nontroversies and poutrages that do nothing but feed our own sense of grievance.  The phenomena of "mansplaining" that Chait is accused of is a real thing.  I've seen it, and I've done it.  Having the value of listening rather than lecturing explained to me was really important in my evolution as an adult and a husband.  I think engaging with that idea is really valuable.  But shouting down every instance of a man offering any opinion on women isn't helpful either.

The conflict between Liberals and Radicals - or the Left - isn't new.  It tore apart the Left-of-Center coalition in the '60s over issues of Vietnam and Civil Rights.  It punched great holes in that coalition in the '90s - Ralph Nader comes from the Radical camp.  And at the moment when a new electoral coalition of liberals and radicals could change the country, it's opening again.

The worst facet of the Tea Party is their fascination with ideological purity over practical concerns.  I worry about a similar problem on the left.  If you're far enough out there on the Left, then Obama might very well look as bad as Bush.  The Right, we know, is psychologically different from the Left. They are more bound to the past.  The Tea Party Reactionaries have essentially captured the GOP and conservatism in general.  The Radical Left can't "conquer" the Liberal Center, it can only fracture it.

If the Obama Coalition dies, it will be by suicide and not by murder.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Well This Is Good News

Increasingly, I am convinced the only allies worth a damn over there are the Kurds.

Got A Snow Day

I've had two snow days in 20 years of teaching in boarding school.  The first was a legit 2+ feet of snow.  This one?  Please!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Faux News

There is an old saw that if you place a frog in a pot of water and slowly raise the temperature, the frog will boil to death because it won't notice the slow increase in temperature.

James Fallows conclusively proved this old saw is bullshit.

But it perseveres, because it feels true.

Leonard Pitts makes a very interesting point about Fox News today.  He notes that we have become inured to a network that routinely lies and willfully distorts the truth, and it took Europeans - namely the French and David Cameron - to call them out in such a way as to force Fox to apologize repeatedly for the lies about Muslim "no-go" zones in Europe.

But Fox doesn't care.  The lie is out there, and the "27%" will cling to it even in the face of a retraction.  We are learning that we would rather cling to our prejudices than accept evidence that contradicts those prejudices.

This is why American Sniper is the number one movie in America right now.  It tells us a lie about Iraq that we really want to hear.  It tells us Muslims are "savages" and we are noble.  We would rather be lied to than face uncomfortable truths.

This isn't anything new, I guess.  But it's a sad knowledge nonetheless.

Way To Go, Boehner

When Fox News calls you out for being, in Chris Wallace's phrase, "wicked" for calling in a foreign leader to undermine the American President, I think you may have gone too far.

Again, I really like the idea of letting a small sanction on Israel pass the UN.  I think it's time to play hardball with Netanyahu.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

American Sniper

Thing One and I went to see American Sniper last night in a packed theater.  It's an interesting movie and cultural artifact.

I can understand some of the consternation from people who think the movie whitewashes the Iraq war.  What's more, I can understand the criticism because a much better, deeper, more resonate movie lies just under the surface of the one Clint Eastwood decided to make.  And that's leaving aside the rather shoddy technical aspects of the film - obvious dolls for babies, fake looking blood.

The central "Sheep, Wolf and Sheepdog" metaphor that organized Chris Kyle's life is an excellent example of the warrior's code.  Some people need protecting and those that can protect them have a duty to do that.

The movie, however, creates a simplistic image of Iraq where the American soldiers are sheep.  One of Kyle's closest mates slowly comes to think that maybe it's the Americans who are the wolves, and he dies - in Kyle's opinion - for entertaining that belief. Certainly from an Iraqi point of view, the invading Americans could be seen as Wolves.

Instead, the two main (and fictional) antagonists - Mustafa and "the Butcher" - are presented as one-dimensional villains.  Iraqis are largely absent, except as targets in Kyle's scope.  The film misses an opportunity to explore one of the main problems with the Iraq War, that we invaded a country for bogus reasons.  Instead, the movie shamelessly conflates the invasion of Iraq with 9/11.

It's pretty apparent that Chris Kyle never lost his vision of being a Sheepdog to American soldiers.  But he needed that clarity - as all soldiers do.  It was the breakdown in that clarity that created such problems among many servicemen and the public at large.  America has to think of itself as morally right, it is part of our national myth.  Rather than wrestle with this, the movie simply creates an Iraq were almost every Iraqi character is "evil" and every American is "good".

It's a lost opportunity, but it's probably also accounts for the film's popularity.

Even if Eastwood wanted to avoid making a statement about the cause and consequences of invading Iraq, he came very close to making a more interesting movie about the cost of the war on those that served.

Kyle benefited from his moral clarity, and that is perhaps why he clung to it, after many others came to see the invasion of Iraq as a tragedy.  It gave him an animating purpose.  But the film touches on a very important problem that the war created.  The long deployments, the constant state of threat created a generation of soldiers who are having a very hard time "coming home."

Kyle struggled with this, too.  He struggles to separate the warrior from the husband and father.  He suffers from PTSD, though he refuses to admit that he does.

He ultimately finds his way back by becoming a mentor and ally for wounded soldiers.  He becomes a different form of Sheepdog.  It is in many ways the most heroic part of the Chris Kyle story.  He was undeniably a masterful killer, the 160 confirmed kills is routinely considered to be half of the actual total.  But to return to being a citizen, he had to become a healer.  He had to protect other veterans from the Wolves they carried inside of him.

And it was THAT service that cost him his life.  Not the multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, but helping out a troubled veteran who turned on him and killed him.

Kyle himself believed that American soldiers deserve the unquestioned support of the American people, because "they don't choose the wars they fight in."  This is undeniably true, but a more honest depiction of the complexity of the invasion of Iraq would demonstrate the true moral costs and consequences of military service during America's Long Wars.

The story of Chris Kyle is a tragedy.  It's a tragedy because the military took in a mentally troubled man who then became homicidal and who then killed Kyle.  Kyle's greatness was in his desire to protect his fellow servicemen, but he was left blind to the fact that Iraq turned some of his fellow servicemen into the very Wolves he thought he was fighting against.  His steadfast belief in the righteousness of the American use of force created a blindspot that was filled by bullets from Eddie Ray Routh.

Tellingly, Eastwood leaves that entire scene off camera.  No one knows precisely what happened that day when Kyle was killed, but so much of the film was already fictionalized, that there couldn't have been any scruples against making stuff up.  If Eastwood had explored that moment, he could have come closer to the nuanced portrait of violence that he offered up in Unforgiven.

The movie was intended as a memorial to Chris Kyle's life and service, but by leaving out his death, it glosses over the true complexities of what happened.  It elides the true cost that this war of choice had on people like Chris Kyle and Eddie Ray Routh.

The movie is, of course, popular because it tells a comforting fiction about our actions in Iraq and the heroism of men like Chris Kyle.  But as good a genre example of war movie as it is - though not as good as Lone Survivor, I'd argue - it's an incredible missed opportunity to tell the story of a man like Chris Kyle and the burdens we ask our soldiers to bear.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Window On Israel

America has largely been bound by its relationship with Israel.  While the Jewish electorate is fairly small and remarkably concentrated, they have a disproportionate pull on the electorate, in sort of the same way Cuban-Americans do.  Their importance to the Democratic party is unquestioned and their alliance with evangelical Christians, who want a unified Jerusalem to hasten the Second Coming, helps cement them with the GOP on neoconservative foreign policies.

But Netanyahu's brazen decision to inject himself into an American political debate has led him to be allied with the GOP at a moment of extreme partisanship and polarization.  The closer he gets to the Republicans, the more - by definition - he pushed the Democrats away.  And if he loses support from US Jewish groups, that could give Democrats a chance to distance themselves from Netanyahu's government while still plausibly supporting Israel.

I'm really fond of my UN sanctions idea, but it is dependent on the lack of a Jewish Democratic revolt.  Has Netanyahu gone far enough to allow that space to develop between himself and American Jews?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Time For Obama To Honey Badger Netanyahu

Boehner's invitation for Bibi to address Congress is a remarkable break with all sorts of protocol and precedent.  The nearest I can recall to what is going on here is when Revolutionary France sent Edmund Genet to appeal to the American people over the head of George Washington.  The result was the breakdown in American support for France, except for a few hard core Jacobins.

Obama has gleefully signaled that - as the above article notes - he is currently out of fucks that he is willing to give.

This move is designed to bolster both the GOP and Likud's efforts to scuttle the nuclear talks with Iran.  It is about helping the GOP with its base and Netanyahu's with his.

If Obama wants to counterpunch - and I sincerely hope he does - he should ask an ally (France comes to mind) to introduce a very, very mild sanctions bill against Israel for settlements in the West Bank.  Isreal exports $119M worth of prefabricated buildings.  Who knew?

If France introduces a bill that slaps sanctions on this highly symbolic sector of the Israeli economy and the US responds by voting against the sanctions BUT NOT VETOING the sanctions...I would think this would shock Israeli politics to its core.

Israel depends on US patronage in the UN.  Netanyahu should be reminded of that.

The 2016 Presidential Field Is Making Me Sad

It seems that Hillary is having the path cleared for her.  I don't know if Elizabeth Warren will be able to resist calls to run for President, personally, I think she sounds like a better Senator and agenda-setter than presidential candidate.  Martin Malley?  Bernie Sanders?

And so Clinton, with all of her husband's DLC, Third Way baggage, is likely to be the Democratic nominee.  If she can get beyond the Mark Penn/Larry Summers Axis of Weasel that surrounds her, she could be a very good president.

But looking at the GOP field gives me the heebie jeebies.

Mitt Romney? Do we really need to go down that road (that ends at a car elevator) again?  Yglesias tries to make the case for Romney, but really all it does is boil down how ridiculous the 2012 field was and how ridiculous the 2016 field is likely to be.

Mike Pence?  He was a conservative radio host, before becoming a far-right GOP House member and then becoming a right wing GOP governor.  According to the late Doghouse Riley, Mike Pence might be the dumbest elected official in Indiana.  That usually doesn't play well over a year long campaign.

Jeb Bush? Do we really need a Bush-Clinton tilt again?  Do we really need a third Bush in the White House?  Could the GOP accept his immigration heterodoxy?

Rick Perry?  Hey, love the glasses.  But he's still dumb as a box of rocks.

Ted Cruz? While he might make an interesting insurgent candidate, Cruz is so reviled by the institutional party they won't let him get the nomination.  This is still the party of Nixon when it comes to campaigns. They will cut his balls off.

Rick Santorum? While he's the putative "next man up" having finished second last time, he's so devoid of both charisma and the milk of human kindness, that I always expect his skin to fall off to reveal a robot programmed by the Family Research Council.

I'm sure we will see a host of other guppies pop up from time to time.  But there is only one GOP potential candidate that I think has a shot at taking down Hillary, and that's Rand Paul.  However, Paul is also just kind of a bizarre person.  He has skeletons in his closet and he's also occasionally heterodox enough to get party leaders to cut his nuts, too.

Barack Obama lit a fire in 2008.  It was pretty remarkable.  That is not who Hillary Clinton is (and why she lost).  The GOP is hampered by the fact that people hate their policies and the electoral college is structured against them.  The only way they win is if you get 45% voter turnout.

American politics is sad-making.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The South Is Different, Episode 4,820

This map (explained here) shows the number of people who fall into the "Medicaid Gap" because their state governments won't expand Medicaid.  Despite being offered 100-90% of the cost being covered by federal subsidies, these states won't help insure their citizens.

Why?  I'll let the author of the map offer an explanation:
Why have southern states have taken such a hard line that punishes so many people? I suspect the best explanation is complicated. Political party, the region’s historic legacy of racial inequality, the limited political influence of poor people–not least the word Obama in ObamaCare–all surely play a role. Whatever the explanation, millions of the nation’s poorest people are locked out of basic health coverage.

I think that pretty much covers it.  Or to wrap it up: the South has a profoundly different political culture than the rest of the country, and it has since 1680, when Bacon's Rebellion prompted the planter elite to foster an alliance with poorer farmers based on the idea of racial solidarity.

The degree to which we can drag the South into the 19th century (forget the 20th) the better the country will be.

Float Like A Butterfly

I've stopped watching the State of the Union, because I never cared for kabuki.

But I also have come to find the GOP response to the SOTU to be hilarious.  This morning, NPR had Ted Cruz (R-Butthurt) among others complaining that the president was being political in his political address that Cruz was now making a political attack on for political advantage.

If I took what the GOP was saying as being anything other than cynical, I would question their basic grasp of American governance.  As Josh Marshall writes, Obama basically has denied them the moment of humility that the GOP thinks they are owed because of the midterm elections.  He admitted a "pasting" in 2010, but in 2014, he's basically over all of that.

Obama is talking past the GOP Congress, which is sure to cause Ron Fornier to complain about Obama's "lack of humility" (how long before the word "uppity" slips out somewhere). But at this point, there is no point in pretending that the two parties can come together and do anything.  Even when Obama put forward GOP programs from the past, even when he abused the Left with his "Grand Bargain" scheme in 2011, the GOP repeatedly refused to deal with him.  They wanted capitulation not compromise.

So, Obama is basically saying, "Fine, let's stop pretending.  We don't agree on practically anything.  But I've been right and you've been wrong."

Frankly, that's a form of theater I can tolerate.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

SCOTUS And Obamacare

By all accounts, the legal arguments in King v Burwell are bullshit.  The political arguments are bullshit, too.

But the Roberts Court has certainly not been shy about embracing bullshit arguments before.  Probably the only reason Roberts himself didn't want to overturn ACA the first time was because of the political effect it would have on the legitimacy of the Court.

The same dynamic is true here, but will the recent Republican gains in the Congress - as ephemeral as they may be - embolden Roberts to overturning ACA and throwing millions of Americans off their health care?

It seems a stretch, especially since a preferred outcome for the court would simply be the election of a Republican president in 2016.  Then a Republican Congress and White House could overturn the ACA without damaging the legitimacy of the Court.

We shall see, I suppose.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Your Thoughts For The Day

If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow.

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Let's Wage War On Coal

This article makes an interesting point about jobs and energy.  Recently, the solar industry has become roughly equal with the coal industry in jobs.  Since solar is less efficient than coal, this is a way of saying that solar is still to expensive per KWh.

Of course, the article doesn't seem to account for the fact that solar is sort of a one time cost.  You install the panels and then...well, once they're paid off, that's sort of free energy.

But what's missing is the political piece of this.

Coal is a cheap, filthy fuel that pollutes our planet and tends to enrich a small sliver of the populace - mine owners - at the expense of everyone else.  The article does mention the social costs of pollution associated with coal, but it does not mention how incredibly crappy being a coal miner is.

But the "argument" against solar - and Obama, really - is that he's waging a war on coal to benefit solar companies (hence the Solyandra nonsense).  And this means hard-working coal miners are suffering.

But the reality is that fewer and fewer people are necessary to mine coal.  The article cites the number 174,000 as the entire coal workforce.  So if every coal miner, tender and train operator were to lose their job tomorrow, it would only make a small dent in the national employment picture.

We see something similar with the Keystone pipeline debate.  The pipeline will create a few thousand jobs to build it and then a few dozen to maintain it.  Yet, Republicans are trying to sell it as a "jobs" program.  In return, we can threaten the world's best growing region by laying a pipeline of filthy tar sands through the Oglalla aquifer.

The "war on coal" and the "war on Keystone" are not about jobs for working class Americans.  They are about climate change and a bassackwards energy policy that subsidizes filthy forms of energy.

So, yes, the labor intensive process of installing solar panels adds to its cost economically, but it could be used to make it more politically appealing, if it was done right.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Crazy Saturday

Three (long) classes, three wrestling meets to watch/coach, dinner out where I have to be witty or at least civil.

Thank god for the weekend, eh?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Couldn't Happen To A Bigger Asshole

The NYPD is turning against Patrick Lynch, whose confrontational style with de Blasio has caused a continued erosion of support for the NYPD. Plus, the police slow down of exactly the sort of low level harassment  - stop and frisk, broken windows style policing - that upsets minority communities is not leading to more crime.

Well played.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

SCOTUS Versus The Governors

As the Supreme Court considers invoking a bizarre and twisted interpretation of American law to strip away the Obamacare subsidies, more and more GOP governors are warming up to the idea of expanding Medicaid in their states.  Even freaking Texas is considering it.  Wyoming really wants it.

We were discussing the Pragmatists in class today as a uniquely American philosophical movement.  Does it work?

And yet one party increasingly is divorcing itself - at least at the Congressional and Judicial level - from this important current in American thought.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

I Might Have To Quit Being An Atlanta Sports Fan

The Falcons are currently squandering their franchise QBs best years and now the Braves have gone into Florida Marlins Firesale territory.

As if I wasn't in a foul enough mood already.

That's Not Going To Work

Republicans cannot pivot and become the party concerned with the economic conditions of the poor (or Hispanics, or African Americans).

They are who they are, and that ain't them.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bob Herbert Tells A Story

Today, former NYTimes Op-Ed journalist, Bob Herbert, came to our school to talk.

In what has become something of a January tradition for me, I teach the Gilded Age and Communism and post-Communism simultaneously in two different courses.  I therefore spend a lot of time talking about wealth inequality when the thermometer falls below zero.

I was therefore grateful when Mr. Herbert spent the meeting - and the post-meeting discussion photographed above - discussing the real problems that the profound inequality can bring to a democratic society.  Among the anecdotes he shared was that if Michael Bloomberg gave away $10,000 every day, it would take over 8,000 years to gave away all his money.  Meanwhile, 20,000 children go to sleep in homeless shelters every night in the city that he was mayor of.

The essential problem, of course, is that a profoundly unequal society - even one that is fundamentally wealthy - is a society rife with potential violence.  The protests in Ferguson and elsewhere have turned violent, and these issues are largely tied to race, and they should be.

But they are also tied to poverty.  When you are poor and there is no easy route out of your poverty, when in fact the deck seems mercilessly stacked against you, you are simply not interested in the social contract of America.  That social contract is primarily middle class in its values - work hard, play by the rules, and your children will have a better life than you - and it is increasingly impossible for the poor and disappearing from the horizons of the very middle class that created it.

Herbert likened the state of America today as having a new aristocracy and a new peasantry.  Increasingly, that can't be argued against with any compelling evidence.  Meanwhile, the rich think the poor have it easy, lulled to sleep in their safety net.  Herbert told the story of a young woman who had to work an 8 hour shift from 4 to midnight every day, while trying to graduate from high school.  It was impossibly hard and impossible to imagine her graduating.  College?  Please.

What was interesting to me was how Herbert approached a solution.  Not prone to ideological dogmatism, he simply suggested talking across lines, looking at problems and trying - in good faith -  to address those problems.  He also suggested that his generation - the Baby Boomers - had it very easy and proceeded to make things much worse.  I would add that I find most Boomers cling to precisely those ideological dogmas that have failed us in the past.  Right or Left, the Boomers are still fighting the ideological fights of the '60s.

Hopefully, a new generation - the so-called Generation X, prone to pragmatism - can find a way forward.

Monday, January 12, 2015


There is something about a dreary, icy, rainy day in January that just makes me want to punch a kitten in the face.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Lindsay Graham Is A Coward

Seriously.  This guy would pee his pants if you snuck up behind him and whispered "Allah u akbar."

Three people shoot up a French publication and he wants to go to war?

How about we deal with the fact that many more Americans die each year to our own deranged assholes with guns?  You want a war?  How about the war Americans are waging on each other.

Last I checked, the last Islamic militant to claim a life on American soil was at Ft. Hood, but I could be wrong.  Regardless, more Americans die in school shootings than in terrorist attacks.

You want a war with a radical agenda, Senator Huckleberry?  How about one on the NRA?

Je Suis Chuck

There is an interesting debate over the limits of satire prompted by the horrific murders at Charlie Hedbo.

On the one hand, freedom of speech - while not absolute - should not be fettered because someone finds what you say offensive.  We should be able, as a society, to say to someone who calls a person a "fag" or a "nigger" that we find that offensive and don't wish to associate with people who useful hateful language dripping in a slimy history of abuse and persecution.  But we also shouldn't ban that speech.

And the tricky part is that our efforts to "clean up" our speech by converting these sort of terms to "N-word" and the "C-word" and so on, is that we seem less able to cope when those delicate boundaries are breached by someone who is offensive.  I have less and less patience with pearl clutching by everyone, Right and Left.  I found the NYPD's politicization of the slain officers' funeral a poor choice and don't care for it, but that's their choice.  I can say that it makes me less not more sympathetic to their points, but I'm not going to get the vapors over it.  Similarly, there is no "War on Christmas" or Christians.  Talking about white privilege is not an assault on someone's delicate sensibilities.

On the other hand, good satire is a razor not a sledgehammer.  Skimming through the Charlie Hedbo cartoons, I was struck by how unfunny and needlessly crude they were.  Maybe if I was French, I would get the humor, but given how few people read the magazine, maybe not.

Satire to work must be funny.  There wasn't much funny about the Charlie Hedbo cartoons.  Using American counterparts, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report were two great examples of satire, because they both mocked and needled, all the while being hilariously funny.  It is the humor that takes the sting out of the attack.  It turns the attack from a sledgehammer to a well-aimed dart to pop the pretensions of the subject.  That was as true of Swift's A Modest Proposal as it is of Bill Maher's show.

The cartoonists at Charlie Hedbo did not deserve their fate.  Even Hezbollah has condemned the attacks as being inimical to Islam.  And mocking the pretensions of the cruel is a powerful weapon.  But to mock, you must be funny.  To laugh at their barbaric ideas, you must provoke laughter (this was the failure of The Interview).

There should be no censorship of offensive ideas beyond the ability of those offensive ideas to shape our opinion.  An open mind is not a cesspit.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Third Time Is The Charm

Unbelievably, Willard "Willard" Romney is considering running for President again.  Usually losing twice is enough, but every once and awhile a William Jennings Bryan or Adlai Stevenson comes along who feels that "this time will be the charm!"

With Bryan, he was clinging to an America that he thought could provide him with an electoral majority long after that moment had passed.  Stevenson was convinced that his ideological purity was enough to unseat a popular president.

Neither one won.  And Romney is no Henry Clay, who suffered from bad timing and a few poor policy gambles that backfired.  Willard was a governor once.

However, I don't think he has a snowball's chance in hell of winning the nomination.  The GOP tends to blame its losses on the person, never the ideology ("Conservatism never fails, it can only be failed.") And Romney has the stink of failure on him.

Hopefully this helps elevate a Talibangelical like Huckabee or a Teanderthal like Cruz.  Because that would be fun.

Friday, January 9, 2015

And Now They Are Dead

So, we've killed the killers in France.  And what, exactly, did they accomplish?

Islam isn't responsible for these assholes, but what is it about a world that marginalizes these Muslim men and makes them think that shooting people is a legitimate form of political expression.  We have the same problem in the country (these assholes have nothing on Timothy McVeigh).

Consistently, we are living in a world that leads some young men to think violence - especially ideological violence - is a solution to their problems.  That has to change.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Potentially Big Deal

Obamacare was designed to be too good of a deal to pass up for the states.  And yet many did because Obama.  Perhaps the overwhelming incentives have finally sunk through.  Perhaps the lack of a need to obstruct Obama relentlessly since he's no longer on the ballot has given some GOP members leeway.  Perhaps the states really are more practical than the national government.

But if Texas and Florida do adopt the Medicaid expansion, this could drop the uninsured rate well under 10%.

Thanks, Obama!

Yesterday I Was Charlie

Today I am Elsa and Anya.

Thing One actually had a school delay because of cold.  Just brutal outside.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I Think This Is Right

I think those of us who are left of center need to be more comfortable with uncomfortable speech.  I realize "hate speech" is problematic, and I'd like to try and educate people past that.

But I can't support blaming the editors at Charlie Hedbo for what happened.  I can't support allowing those who are targets of satire to have a veto point over it.

The Third Rail

The GOP just can't seem to help itself.  It's first order of business - after beating back the challenge to Boehner's "leadership" - was to basically cut Social Security disability payments.  They will try to make a semantic argument to the contrary, but that's what they have done.

They aren't touching the old folk's SS, because old folks is about all the GOP has left as a voting bloc.  Instead, they are going after people on disability.  Compassionate conservatism is SO fourteen years ago.  No doubt they will find some people who abuse the disability payments, and no doubt those people will be black, because that will play better on Fox,

But the deadline for this transfer is 2016, and last I saw, this was an election year.  As Tim F notes this is exactly the sort of issue that can define an election year.  Personally, I think we are looking at a sustained economic boom for the next four years or so, but that will only make the GOP look more heartless going after people on disability.

So... please proceed, dipshits.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

O'Reilly Straddles Fence, Crushes Own Balls

A) Bring noted white supremacist David Duke on your show.

B) Argue with noted white supremacist David Duke on your show.

C) Say that noted white supremacist David Duke will not get a "fair shake" from the liberal media.

D) Say that noted white supremacist David Duke is in fact a noted white supremacist.

And this dance with noted white supremacist David Duke is called the Fox Trot.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Collapsing Governments

It does seem that you either reach for the "Tiananmen Solution" early or simply wither quickly away.  With a regime dependent on force, you have to maintain a careful balance.  Too much force and you crush the society or make it so that there is nothing to lose by opposing it.  Too little and you risk losing the fear that keeps you in power.

It will be interesting to see if Russia reaches a similar crisis point.  At what point do the siloviki turn on Putin?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Don't Know Whether To Laugh Or Cry

Louie Gohmert will challenge Boehner for Speakership.

Democrats should support his candidacy, just to show the logical conclusion of Republican politics.  Seriously, let the Dumbest Person In Congress run the House.

It's not like they do anything anyway.

An Economic Model For Our Times

They call it "calculated misery" and it's the term for how airlines continually make air travel miserable so that you will shell out more money for better amenities.  Like food and water.  Or the ability to extend your legs on a four hour flight.  Or being on time.

Airline deregulation has been a textbook example of why we should deregulate.  Regulations protected monopolies and created perverse pricing systems.  Once we deregulated, the innovation of the market took over.

Except the market is son of a bitch and doesn't give a shit about human beings or their needs.

I hate air travel.  As a kid, it was one of the more exciting experiences you could have.  It was special.  Today it is a bus with wings.

We are still recovering from our 16 hour drive home from Georgia, but we got to stop when we wanted to, we got our dogs to come along, we slept in a decent motel, we got to listen to the Bloggess' new book.  It was tiring, but - except for some poor conditions on the Saw Mill Parkway - was not stressful.

I'm going to fly to the AP reading this year, because I probably have to.  But flying remains more misery than calculation.

Welcome to the "market society."

Friday, January 2, 2015

Our Revels Now Are Ended

After 48 hours of wretched and blessed excess, the New Year's celebration ends again.

Back in the car....

Thursday, January 1, 2015


GOP base: We need more Southerners in leadership positions.

GOP establishment: Steve Scalise is a team player, let's make him Whip.

News wire: Steve Scalise spoke to a racist, white nationalist organization.

GOP base: Mission accomplished!