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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Republicans Should Start Sweating

If this graph represents a trend, they are so very, very screwed.

Look at "Whites Under 40."  If the GOP loses that demographic, they have zero hope left.

Violence As A Societal Tool

This is a really interesting read.

It basically argues that murder is higher in the Americas as a legacy of forced labor - slavery and otherwise.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Perfect End To This F-ed Up Year

Can we just arrest these assholes?

I mean, we can't just shoot them, because they aren't a black 14 year old with a toy gun, but can't we just throw them in Gitmo or something?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Thanks, Obama!

Iran has turned its enriched uranium over to Russia in the first major step of compliance in the nuke deal. 

But that's not scary, so don't expect it to lead the news. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015


I haven't seen the new Star Wars yet, but I imagine it will be decent to good, because it has good source material.  However, the "prequels" were so god awful, that I won't believe it until I see it.

Dan Diamond at Vox has a good illustration of just how awful the prequels were by suggesting how easy it would be to "reboot" the sequels and make them unsucky.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Working Class Revolt

David Frum has penned a deservedly much lauded piece on the current revolt going on within the Republican party.  Of course, it has an analog in both Sanders' campaign and Clinton's move leftward on many issues.

As Charlie Pierce wrote about the Occupy Movement: At least they are shouting at the right buildings.  Increasingly, working class Republicans are starting to shout at some of the right buildings, too.  Whether that can penetrate the Republican elite as defined by Frum is another question.

More Words Than You Need To Read On Schlong-gate

Josh Marshall goes DEEP into the Yiddish linguistics of "to get schlonged."  Shorter version: seems like in the time and place of Trump's youth "to get schlonged" meant to lose a sporting event badly.  However, the word is clearly of Yiddish origin from the word penis, and "to get schlonged" meant to get raped.

Of course, what Marshall seems to miss is that fans and athletes alike used to use the term "rape" to describe a particularly bad loss, until the casual use of that word became frowned upon.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


So, let's go with the thought experiment that either Trump or Cruz wins the GOP nomination.  I think you'd have to give better than even money right now that it will be one of them, but maybe Rubio wakes up or Bush...No, it would have to be Rubio.

Let's go with Trump first.  Recently, he has vomited forth another Trumpism about Hillary Clinton, schlongs and the overall disgustingness of her taking a piss.  Again, normally, this would sink most candidates, but Trump is gonna Trump.  His numbers will likely rise.  If so, what do the John McCains and Mitch McConnells and Charlie Dents do with this guy as their party's standard bearer?  He's not going to win, and he's going to possibly inflame so many elements of the American society that it could actually imperil GOP control of the House.  Same goes for Cruz, with the added spice that pretty much everyone in Congressional Leadership hates Cruz with a white-hot passion.

Which will make them contorting themselves to find nice things to say about these assholes all the more fascinating to watch.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The DNC Brouhaha

The kerfuffle over the breach in the firewall at the DNC is interesting, because it exposes the flaws in both campaigns.

For Clinton, the impression that she is using her institutional advantages to crush the upstart Sanders isn't what she has been trying to convey.  She has gone out of her way to demonstrate her respect for Sanders and his supporters, because she knows - rightly - that she will win the nomination and need Sanders supporters in the general election.  If there is one thing that could happen that would benefit Clinton and the DNC while defanging Sanders' arguments against her is to get rid of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.  She is a terrible face for the party and apparently not much of a player.

For Sanders, his entire appeal is that he isn't a typical politician.  That narrow similarity is why some lazy reporters tie him to Donald Trump, but unlike Trump, Sanders is a policy wonk with substantive positions.  He's a man of pure motives and incorruptible. And suddenly, his campaign is using Nixonian tactics?  This is exactly the opposite of how he has conducted his campaign, and while he was always a long shot, this is a dagger in the heart of his political philosophy.

I suppose this could be rupture in the party that Clinton has been trying to avoid.  It seems more like a death knell for Sanders though.

Friday, December 18, 2015


The American right wing infatuation with Vladimir Putin is both revealing and disturbing.

Putin is a poor leader.  He benefited from high gas prices earlier in the century, but as oil prices have fallen, his economy has cratered.  The other reason that the economy tanked was international sanctions over his adventure in Ukraine.  In other words, circumstances beyond his control benefited his country, whereas his actions have hurt his country.  His Syrian expedition originally targeted our allies and only switched to ISIL after they blew up a Russian airliner.

But Putin has mastered optics in the creation of his cult of personality.  And the Republicans are currently entirely about optics.  Certainly, Donald Trump is entirely image and devoid of thoughtful policy thinking.  But they all talk tough.  They all swagger.

And like Putin, they are likely to make our country incontrovertibly weaker.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Your Free Market

Pharma Bro Martin Shkreli has been arrested and charged with security fraud.  He was the douchecanoe who jacked up the price of a critical AIDS drug.

Some people on my Facebook feed held him up as simply following the dictates of the free market.  But the "free market" is increasingly a monopoly, not a market.  It's increasingly a rigged game.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Why Trump Is Worse Than A Clown

Donald Trump will not be the next President.  He could win the nomination, but I can't see him winning the presidency.

But he does matter, and part of the reason is this study.

One of the most discouraging things as a teacher and historian/political observer is that there is apparently a deeply ingrained human tendency to ignore facts that contradict a priori assumptions.  In the words of an old t-shirt: "If the facts do not conform to the theory, they must be disposed of."  This basic insight - that emotional, irrational beliefs are impervious to facts - undermines a great deal of previously held political and economic theory.

If you believe that guns make you safer or immigrants are overrunning this country or crime is on the rise or climate change isn'y real or ISIL poses an existential threat or Obamacare is tyranny....then there is no set of facts that can change your mind apparently.  Without anything to back me up, I would say that the one thing that MIGHT change your mind would be broad based social approbation.  You might be a racist, but if enough people shame you on that subject, you will at least keep those thoughts to yourself and perhaps fail to influence others to believe the same thing.

Trump exposes all those ugly thoughts that we have labored to suppress via social shaming.  He's ripping the lid off the national id.  He's giving voice to the irrational fears of the Trumpenproletariat.

But he's hardly alone as last night's debate demonstrates.  The combination of Fox News scaremongering and the visceral belief that Obama is secretly opposed to the very idea of America means that 47% of the population is deeply wedded to a belief system that is verifiably false.

And it won't make a damned bit of difference to point this out to them.

Maybe We Needed Dubya After All

The Republicans - and conservatives as a group - are tremendously motivated by fear.  Fear of change, fear of the "other."

And when Bush was president, they had to keep a lid on their fears, because they couldn't criticize "their guy."

But now that there is a Democrat in the White House, their paranoia and lack of critical perspective is on broad display.

If you honestly believe that ISIL is a threat to the existence of America, then you are a paranoid coward with no sense of perspective and should be barred from holding elective office.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

My Debate Prediction

One candidate will come out strongly against Trump's racism. (Christie?  Kasich?)  That candidate will drop out by New Year's. 


My first Coen brothers' movie was Raising Arizona.  It was so gonzo in concept and so unsentimental about family and children that I was hooked.  My favorite Coen movie is Miller's Crossing, again it stretched the rules of drama - the story really kicks off with a murder that they never bother to explain - and unflinchingly unsentimental.  As Tom Regan say, "What heart?'

What was so impressive about Fargo was how they transferred this artistic tone to television.  It was gonzo - "It's just a flying saucer, Ed, we gotta go." - and bracingly unsentimental.  Characters were killed almost at random and in the blink of an eye.  Peggy was so bonkers and Ed so placid, that you almost hoped Peggy would snuff it to free Ed from this whack-job.

And this is why the finale was so unbelievable.  Unlike a two hour movie, a ten hour miniseries allows you to get really close to the characters.  The final gave us two indelible, emotional moments: Lou talking about the helicopter pilot of the coast of Vietnam and Hank talking about his attempts to create a universal language.  Both scenes were about family, and how maybe in the end family is all you have in a violent, chaotic world.

As Lou says about taking care of your family, "We act like it's a burden, but really it's our privilege."  And Hank says, "You'll know the angels when they come for you because they will have the face of your children."  and when told by his daughter that he's a good man, he gives an unbelievable line reading for: "Oh, I don't know about that, but I'd like to think I at least have good intentions."

The season ends with Lou and Betsy falling asleep in bed - Betsy dying of cancer - but there is a peacefulness that feels both earned and precious.

Top notch. You betcha.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Accurate But Incomplete

Josh Marshall notes that we are more scared of terrorism now than even after 9/11 and that seems nuts.  He suggests, accurately, that ISIL is better at mass media and social media than Al Qaeda ever was.

The difference between then and now is simply that there is an entire news network and really a few more fell travelers who are beating a constant drum of panic.  It was Ebola a year ago, now it's ISIL.

Meanwhile we are observing the 3rd anniversary of Newtown and doing nothing about mass shooters.

Fear makes you stupid, but for some people it's a short trip.

Three Years After Newtown

Preach it TBogg:

What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown wasn’t a tragedy. It was a horrific event that should have galvanized the American public to begin taking the Founding Fathers at their word when they wrote about a “well-regulated militia,” and stop the sale of weapons of war and high-capacity magazines — that have absolutely no reasonable reason to be available– to the general public.
What is an “American tragedy” is that we are not doing one fucking thing to make sure another Sandy Hook or a Charleston church and, yes, even a San Bernardino shooting never happens again.
Shame on us.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Those French Elections

Everyone was freaking out when the National Front did well in the first round of regional elections.  But anyone who knows the French electoral system knows that's irrelevant.  It's a two-phase election, with the first round being olly-olly-oxen-free and then the top two run off against each other.

It's a great system frankly.

Today, the French population rallied around whomever the person running against the National Front. Instead, French voters flooded the polls and handed the FN a resounding defeat.

Just as there are Trump voters in the US, there are Le Pen voters in France.  But there aren't enough of them.

This Is Brilliant

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Climate Talking

There is - as previously noted - only one major political party in the developed world that denies the science of climate change.  This forces them into strange arguments, because they can't engage the scientific merit of change, so they make political arguments about China or India or they make spurious economic arguments that switching to renewables will bankrupt...someone.

They will no doubt crap all over the current accord, because they really have no other alternative.  They have backed themselves into a corner and like the toddlers they are, they won't budge until everyone agrees to watch SpongeBob.

Ultimately, the climate talks will succeed or fail based on the technological advances that we seem to be creeping up on.  Hopefully at some point, the 47% American people will move past their Oppositional Defiance Disorder if non-fossil fuels get cheap enough, because I have few illusions that the party that is bought and paid for by the coal industry will budge in time.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Carson Has No Cards To Play

While Bennie the Knife has threatened to pull a Trump and leave the party if the Establishment tries to manipulate a brokered convention, his leverage is significantly less than Trumps.  Trump voters are invested in Trump and all that Trump "stands for."  If Trump runs as a third party candidate, half of his voters go with him.

Carson's voters are mostly evangelicals and people who like their outsiders with a touch less racism.  They aren't leaving the GOP.  They will simply move to Ted Cruz, as many of them are already doing.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


The Republican Party is the only major political party in the developed world that rejects climate science.  This leads them to assume that other parties - all the other parties - accept "fake" climate science for nefarious Underpants Gnome-type reasons.

Which leads to the phenomenon that Chait talks about.  It isn't that China is legitimately worried that Shanghai and Hong Kong might cease to exist, it's that blahblahblah, magical thinking, PROFIT!

Occam's Razor is a hell of a thing.  The simplest reason why China and even India are accepting climate science is because climate science is right, and if climate science is right, then we'd better get off our ass and do something about it.

But if you argue the science is wrong (and you are universally alone in arguing this), then you have to constantly change your bullshit arguments to keep up with actions.

It's like Ptolemy's spheres within spheres, when you just need to accept the Copernican Solar System.

Trump Is A Boggart

In the world of Harry Potter, a boggart is the manifestations of your worst fears. Whatever you fear most, a boggart assumes that shape.

Trump is a real life boggart, except he doesn't exactly take the shape of his audience's fears, but rather gives voice to them.  The white hot fear that the Trumpenproletariat has of brown people and brown Muslims and Mexican Muslims and "teh blacks" and "those people" are perfectly distilled by Trump and projected back for the audience to experience.

While we're at it, Ted Cruz is Lucius Malfoy, Marco Rubio is Gilderoy Lockhart, Hillary Clinton is Hermione Granger, Bernie Sanders is Mad-Eye Moody and Jeb Bush is someone who died before the book even began.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Blood Lust

As a country, we sure do like executing people.

And it turns out, these executions have little to do with justice and might have everything to do with career advancement.

Ponder that for a minute.

You have various counties in the US that produce the most of the executions.  There is no correlation that murders are worse in those counties.  Obviously, urban areas will have the most murders because they have the most people.

But there are places in Texas where basically your job as a prosecutor is to kill people.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Missing The Point

Donald Trump continues to front his George Wallace Tribute Band Tour, now calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.  And, you know, maybe rounding up Muslims and putting them in camps, while we close their mosques.

Even Darth Cheney is all, "WTF?". Fox News has actual people calling him out on it.

And it just doesn't matter.

Trump's numbers will likely go up in the primary field.  There was an inevitable pattern in 2012.  Romney would flag and some goofball like Michelle Bachman or Herman Cain would briefly surge ahead.  But then the goofball would implode, and Romney would rally.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

This cycle the pattern is a little different.  Trump has held a fairly consistent lead.  But as a candidate creeps up on him, that candidate says something stupid, but more importantly, Trump says something offensive.  The combination of these two dynamic leads to a Trump-Bump.  Throughout his campaign, Trump has crossed all the usual lines that should sink a politician in 2015.  Saying those things actually reinforces his poll numbers.

The response of people is to criticize Trump.  But Trump - reality TV star that he is - is simply giving the audience what it wants.  Roughly a third of all Republican voters - maybe two thirds if you factor in Carson and Cruz's supporters - WANT to kick all Muslims out of the country.  They WANT to close the mosques and kick out all the brown people.  They WANT cops to use excessive force to keep THOSE PEOPLE in their place.

Trump isn't the problem, except to the degree that he normalizes things that this racist 27% of the America couldn't say out loud before.  But they felt it.  And every time Trump creates a controversy, they love him all the more for it.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Leftovers

I've struggled with HBO's The Leftovers, as I'm sure the other 47 viewers have.  It's a bold, complex, unyielding drama that takes on huge metaphysical questions and weaves them with personal drama and compelling characters.  Last night's season (series?) finale was able to simultaneously bumfuzzle me, put a lump in my throat and leave me with dozens of questions.

I don't know if HBO will bring it back, but it should.  And if you have an HBO/GO account...take the time.  It's not an easy road, but it's worth it.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Islam In America

Josh Marshall touches on an important point.  Muslims in Europe are much more estranged and therefore alienated and susceptible to radicalization than are Muslims in America.  We are still trying to sort through what radicalized the San Bernadino pair, but it seems to center more on the wife - who was herself alienated and estranged in this new country.

I say this because literally almost every word out of a Republican politicians mouth on this issue is guaranteed to make this issue worse, not better.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Trump Stands Alone

Performance artist and amalgam of "mummified foreskin and cotton candy," Donald Trump has once again surged to the top of the GOP field.  He holds 36% support, with his nearest competitor being Tailgunner Ted Cruz with 16% and Bennie the Knife Carson at 14%.

Two significant things. First, Carson's support has collapsed as his "not-ready-for-prime-time" political intellect and skills has become apparent.  And that support looks to have migrated - unsurprisingly - to Trump and Cruz.

The second and more important point is this: Trump, Carson and Cruz account for exactly two-thirds of current Republican voters' preference.  I spoke to a prominent aid to a prominent Republican Congressman who is aghast that his party is going to nominate an experienced clown.  My guess is that sentiment is widely held among the so-called "party elites" or, alternately, Republicans with higher brain functions.

These three guys are guaranteed losers in November 2016.  Trump would be so toxic that we might see the same surge in Hispanic votes that we saw with African American votes in 2008 (though for different reasons).  Cruz is such an unctuous gasbag that Hillary might win by 10 points or more.  Her problem is "likability."  She's Beyonce compared to Cruz.

Martin Longman has an interesting thesis that the Republican Party is sort of where the Democrats were in 1971.  Their insurgents have taken over the party nominating process and are trying to cough up a candidate who appeals to no one outside their own political clique.

If this is true, we could be headed for a long period of real turmoil.  Like the party system of the '70s and '80s, one party will control the House and the other the White House.  But unlike that party system, the parties are so ideologically separate as to make governing impossible.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

I'm Just Going To Copy And Paste

This is from Josh Marshall:

Based on what we know today we don't have any evidence of jihadist terrorism beyond the suspects' surnames and religion (not terribly good evidence) and their apparent stockpiling of pipe bombs (better evidence). If every guy with a few weapons and tons of ammo was a jihadist, we've have quite a few jihadists in the US - not to mention various lifestyle magazines to cater to them.
But let's assume, for the sake of conversation, that subsequent investigations show contact with foreign jihadists and radicalization as a key motivator. Even with that, these sorts of attacks are not often targeted against coworkers -especially after what seems to have been an argument with a coworker at the party that was subsequently targeted. That sounds a lot like a workplace rage rampage.
And yet, it's clear that even on the basis of what we know now, Farouk and his wife did quite a lot more planning than they could have done in the 20 minutes or hour it took Farouk to leave the party and come back in body armor with guns blazing. So clearly Farouk and his wife, whatever their motivation, had seriously considered and made elaborate plans for killing a lot of people. Guns themselves might not confirm that - given that this is the USA. Pipe bombs do.
And then we have the further disconnect. We didn't they bring their pipe bombs? If the plan was always to attack the coworkers, why didn't they bring them? Did they plan to get away and mount further attacks? Or had they planned some separate attack only to have Syed get angry with coworkers and jump the gun by shifting the massacre target to them?
We'll probably have explanations for many of these questions soon. My only observation for now is that the various genres of DIY catastrophic mass violence we have become familiar with may not be as hermetically sealed as we imagine. A homegrown jihadist radicalized by some crazies in Yemen can also be a working stiff pissed off about work. I'm sure we'll soon learn more.

Good Read

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Just Sickening

We live in a sick fucking country, because we won't do a damned thing about these shooting.

All we do is wait to see if this time the shooter is non-white, so we can decide whether to launch a pogrom.  Of course, in the end, it always turns out to be some white guy, doesn't it.

UPDATE: Oh, crap. He's an Arab. The shrieking of the monkeys will be unbearable. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Most Important Thing You Can Read Right Now

I just gave a school meeting on race. I was trying to give a broad overview of America's tortured racial history in conjunction with our summer reading and current events.

After completing it, I read this piece by Josh Marshall about a new study delineating the increased mortality among non-college educated whites age 45-54.  Unlike every other cohort in the developed world, this group has since its mortality rate increase rather than decrease.  The fascinating thing he notes is that this cohort of people are killing themselves.  The three main drivers of this trend are alcohol and drug overdoses/poisoning, suicide and liver disease.

Think about that for a moment.

There was an interesting article about why rural whites oppose welfare.  The common assumption - which I've shared - is that rural whites oppose money going to "those people," mainly minorities.  But there is some purely anecdotal evidence that a main driver of hatred of welfare is not the "welfare queen" but "cousin Merle" who is addicted to Oxycontin and living off welfare checks while dealing pills from his double wide.  It is not the faceless "other" but the nearby ne'er do well that makes this group of rural whites oppose social spending.

And yet, we see in this study that opposition to action - whether more economic opportunity or better health care - is literally killing this group of people.

The rage that animates a Trump rally is only part aimed at Mexicans and Syrians and blacks.  It is really aimed at a country that is crushing these people where they live.  Lacking education and opportunity, America is broken for these people.  And they drink and smoke and snort themselves to death.  The rage against "others" is certainly real and certainly virulent, but it's an externalization of a sense of their own failure and the "loss of my country."

Read Marshall's take on it.  It's worth the time.

Donald Trump And Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais is pretty far to the left politically.  But he made his bones as a comedian who pushed discomfort so far that it threatened to move past comedy into genuine human pain.  He was a performance artist specializing in human pain and discomfort.

Donald Trump seems to be cut from the same clothe.  Except, where Gervais made himself the target of the pain and discomfort, Trump projects it outwards.

Trump, in effect, takes all the darkest things in the recesses of the American mind and thrusts them outwards into the light.  He does all the things you absolutely should not do and sees himself rewarded for it in the polls.  He is the perfect manifestation of the American Id.

It all seems more and more like an elaborate performance than a presidential campaign.  As if Trump feels the need to slaughter more and more sacred cows before people finally turn on him.  As if he is exasperated that he has to keep doing this.  As if he hopes maybe THIS time the rubes will turn on him and he can go back to playing golf.

I don't know.  Can you explain it?