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

Friday, September 30, 2016


So, we wake to find that Donald Trump's stumpy little fingers were busy tweeting up a storm last night.  Some people took Lester Holt to task for allowing Trump to filibuster the debate, but frankly, the worst thing you can do for Hillary is make Donald shut up.

Clinton's line at the convention - "You shouldn't give nuclear weapons to someone you can bait with a tweet" - is turning into the overall campaign strategy.  At the end of the debate, Clinton dropped the Alicia Machado bait and Trump ran with it.  Because he is such a narcissist, he can't allow any challenge to go without a response.  And once he starts digging, the fucker can't put down his shovel.

There are two more debates, providing Trump shows up.  The next one, critically, is a Town Hall style debate where people will be asking questions directly of the candidates.  I think we can be certain that Trump will try and hammer Clinton over her husband's infidelity.  I think we can be certain that Clinton will be ready to respond to those attacks.

Finally, I think we can be certain that Clinton has another Alicia Machado up her sleeve.  Maybe it's his Cuban dealing, which she hopes will peel off enough Cuban votes in Florida to solidify her slim lead in that state. Maybe it's one of the numerous people he's bilked out of their rightful compensation for doing work for him.  Maybe it's new information on his taxes or "charity".

As I said back in June when the race was close to tied: Trump is a target-rich environment.  You can just lob a hand grenade in his general direction and you will hit something.  And what is probably more important, you can get Trump to respond in a way that is almost certain to damage himself.

What a putz.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

What Does Trump Believe?

A nice examination of how Trump really believes nothing in the sense of policy.  He treats every conversation as a dominance exercise, so whatever he needs to say to "win" each conversation, he will say.  It's almost as if Trump isn't lying when he lies, because he never really understood what he said before that contradicts what he said ten minutes ago.  This is at the heart of his debate "performance" where he would say things that contradicted other statements he had made within the same calendar day.

Luckily, Erotic Lovecraftian Sci-Fi writer Chuck Tingle was on hand to fact check Trump.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Everyone Hates Trade

Erik Loomis agrees that Trump won the segment on trade.  He agrees, because he goes on to say that NAFTA was indeed awful and awful for everyone.

I've liked reading him, since I added LGM to my reading list this summer, but I don't know what to make of his argument.  He calls the trade deal terrible for Mexican workers.  Here's a chart for the GINI co-efficient for Mexico.  (GINI measures the economic inequality in a country.)  Objectively speaking, inequality is better in Mexico today than it was in 1995, when NAFTA passed.

But GINI only measures the inequality in a society.  America and China have roughly the same inequality, but the American poor are measurably better off than Chinese poor - who suffer from lack of clean drinking water, food scarcity and reliable electricity.

How do we measure quality of life?  The best metric might be the Human Development Index.  This measures things like health, education, literacy and life expectancy.  In 2014, the US ranked 8th in world behind some wealthy European countries, whereas China ranked 90th.

Mexico ranked 74th in the world, between Sri Lanka and Turkey above it and Georgia and Azerbaijan below it.  It had a "raw score" of .756 on the Index.  In 1990, Mexico's raw score was .648.  In 2000, it was .699, in 2010, .746.

So, since implementing NAFTA, Mexico has seen inequality fall and quality of life improve.  The single biggest negative about Mexico at the moment is the drug cartel violence and corruption in the judiciary.  Mexico ranks 103rd out of 175 in corruption (the US was 17th out of 175). In 1996, Mexico ranked 38th out of 54, as Transparency International wasn't able to assess more than the large countries.

The Mexican middle class is growing.  While that story is complicated, it's undeniably real.  What is also undeniably real is that the billionaire class in Mexico has benefited more from NAFTA than has the middle class.  The one group has been hammered by NAFTA is NOT the middle or working classes, it's the rural poor.  The people furthest removed from NAFTA have been the ones who can't escape poverty.

The story of globalization is that the rising tide lifts the yachts a lot more than the ferries and rowboats.  But the ferries and rowboats ARE rising.

There's a tendency among the left to dismiss trade agreements on the basis that they do create more inequality.  Neoliberal economics will do that.

What isn't honest is portraying them as objectively horrible.  These trade deals are bringing increased prosperity to the working and middle classes of countries like Mexico and China.  Globalism has been really good for the global poor, a population who are shrinking.

Inequality is a real problem generated by this.  The proper question is not "How do we get out of NAFTA?" but "How do we insure that populations disadvantaged by trade deals are helped?"

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

This Is Great

One of my favorite things on the internet is when John Cole goes on a rant.

Did It Land?

Look, we all remember 2000, right?  Gore cleaned the floor with Bush; it was a game changer!  But then everyone became obsessed with Gore sighing and being snobby about facts and stuff, and eight years later, C-Plus Augustus had launched a terrible war, let a city drown and triggered a global economic meltdown.

Good times.

Last night, Clinton was smooth, polished and on-point.  She didn't make any gaffes; she smiled; she didn't take the bait; and she effortlessly stuck the shiv into Trump where you couldn't see the bleeding, but you could hear the howls.

Trump started strong and on-message, but as soon as Clinton started needling him about inheriting all his money, you could see the volcano brewing.  When she suggested his taxes might reveal he wasn't rich, he blew.  From there on, the debate was a meaningless word salad of incoherent boasting and hurt fee-fees.  When Trump said he had the "best temperament" the audience laughed out loud.

Last night was Trump in all his Trumpiness.  Here was the economic nationalist.  Here was the emotive demagogue.  Here was the person who would say the things you weren't supposed to say.

Here, also, was the guy who can't tell the truth.  Here was the misogynist.  Here was the guy who couldn't be bothered to prepare for a fact-based debate.

The idea that anyone above the 27% Crazification Factor would look at that trembling, sniffling pile of rage, grievance and hair product and conclude that he should be put in charge of anything more important than a beauty pageant...Wait, he shouldn't even be put in charge of THOSE!

Clinton, the old pro, got in the dig about Alicia Machado right at the end.  Then her campaign followed it up with a video.

Trump, being Trump, called into Fox News and called her fat again.

As I told my classes, debates are attempts to do two things: fire up your supporters and win over those fickle undecideds.  To a certain degree, Trump probably fired up his supporters, though even some conservatives admit he was weak.  I think Clinton probably smoothed the frazzled nerves of her supporters who have watched the polls narrow.

As for those undecideds...really, people?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Seriously, Enough With The Panic

Jon Chait says to panic.

Look, if you lived through the Bush Regency, it is understandable to feel panicky.  Nick Kristoff worries that this feels like another lead-up to the Iraq War, when people were flummoxed that this was happening and no one could stop it.  How could you look at Dubya and think he was presidential material?  Yet he won because people liked him more than Gore.  How could you reward him with a second term?  And we did.

So it's sort of  built in that Democrats panic.  We are pre-disposed to think that disaster is right around the corner.  We lived through Gore's sighing and Kerry's swift-boating.

But panic works better on the Right than on the Left.  The Left will respond to stirring, aspirational visions (see Obama, Barack), but fear and doom and gloom tends to work against liberals.  It's at the center of Trump's appeal and the appeal of authoritarianism in general.  "Only Trump can save us" is effectively the campaign slogan of his supporters.

If panic helps get out the vote, if it fills the campaign coffers, if it gets Hillary to 270 electoral votes...OK.  Certainly, if you're black or Hispanic, you should be afraid of what Trump would unleash on your communities.

But this election will be won or lost among Republican leaning women in the suburbs of Denver and Philly and Charlotte.  Maybe panic is the right tactic, but part of me doubts it.

Don't Panic, Vote

Yes, we are once again on a pendulum swing towards a tied race.

Marshall's conclusion is worth repeating here:

An additional thing to consider is that in recent cycles the out-party usually drives an advantage from the first debate but generally isn't able to hold that advantage through election day. In this case, Trump is the out-party. But there are so many wildcards going into this debate, I'd be slightly less confident that history is any guide. It is worth remembering that Mitt Romney moved into a tiny lead after the first presidential debate in 2012 and held that until the last week of October. The PollTracker Average had Obama moving back into a minuscule lead on October 25th. On election day he was .7 percentage points ahead of Romney. In the event, he significantly outperformed that average, beating Romney by a 3.9 percentage point margin.

The critical thing is that last sentence.  In 2012, Obama was basically neck and neck with Romney yet he won comfortably.  In large part, that was because Obama got his voters to the polls.  Clinton has basically taken over Obama's old GOTV machinery.  So, if 2012 is a guide, she very well could outperform her polls.  Or not.  She could have a Martha Coakley problem, where she simply can't get over the hump as a somewhat colorless female politician, even with an electorate that might agree with her on the issues.

Tonight?  Who knows?  Her best option is to sell her vision for what she would like to do as president and let Trump lie and bluster.  Attack him only on the issues, not his personality. Make a substantive case for her to be president, and if that doesn't work, you have two more debates to sew the land with salt.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

One Day More

Yes, the debates are tomorrow, but so is Falcons-Saints.  Priorities.

Debates rarely make much difference.  We like to think that they do, but they don't.  Not in the long run.  I suppose Trump could come out and sound like a policy briefing or urinate all over himself and light the stage on fire.  Neither one of those things is likely.

Debates suck, because they are designed to suck.  The idea that you shouldn't fact-check the candidates is so absurd that I scarcely no where to start.  Candy Crowley caught shit in 2012 for pointing out an obvious fact that was a fact.  But that's not what the moderators want to do, which is absurd.

When the media create a universe of "both sides do it" and "he said-she said" and then expect the candidates to fact check each other....What the fuck is their job?

So, bad news, tomorrow night will likely be either boring or infuriating.  The good news is that it's unlikely to matter much.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Million Dollar Question

Longman observes how the Trump phenomenon grew from the appeal to white ethno-nationalism that preceded his ascendancy in the GOP.  Left unstated is the question about what exactly IS the electoral coalition of the Republican Party.

If the old GOP consisted of the lunatic John Birch fringe, the God bothering Bible Humpers, the white ethno-nationalists (racists), the neo-conservative American Triumphalists and Wall Street, then who really benefited from that coalition over the past 45 years?

The John Birch fringe can never be appeased, so whatever.

The God Bothering Bible Humpers got rhetorical red meat, but in the end, you've got all that glittery, icky gay stuff happening.  You've still got Planned Parenthood making baby sacrifices to Ba'al.  And the god damned barista at Starbucks just said, "Happy Holidays."  They enjoyed a brief moment of ascendancy during the Bush years, but what have Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan done for them?

The Neo-Cons have abandoned Trump in droves.  Even Lindsay Graham has drawn the line.  The Neo-Cons got to run things during the Bush Regency and they screwed everything up in Iraq.  They are Case A1 in the argument that elites shouldn't be trusted with sharp objects or open flames.  But they are the intellectual ballast of the GOP.  Where, exactly, is their home?

Wall Street could jump to the Libertarians.  Especially those narcissistic Silicon Valley asshats, who see themselves as Randian Ubermensch.

Trump has exposed how potent the white ethno-nationalist (racist) faction is within the GOP.  He rode them to victory in a fractured field.  But demographically, there weren't enough votes in that cohort to elect McCain or Romney.  Why should there be enough votes now, with Trump bleeding support among white Republican women in the suburbs?

Ever since the race moved to a virtual tie, Clinton has slowly been rebounding.  Recent credible polls have her up 6-7 points.  The fact is she could be winning by 10 points, and that would STILL be too close for us to feel good about the American polity.  If Trump wins more than 35% of the popular vote, that says something terrible about us as a country.

So, Who's Corrupt Again?

Jesus, this guy.

The more you look, the worse Trump appears.  To a certain degree the opposite is true of Clinton.  Shit sounds bad, but once you dig a little deeper, there's not much there.  I mean, check out this language.

And yet, Trump is seen as the more honest and trustworthy of the two.  Good job, Media.

Jon Chait explains how pervasive and damaging this has been.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Someone Finally Took My Advice

Back with the Clinton Foundation nontroversy sprung up, I argued that the Clinton Campaign get out in front of this story and make a compelling case for why the Clinton Foundation was a global force for good.  Finally, we have a comprehensive take on that.

The press coverage of the Foundation is simply taking the status quo - wealthy and powerful people hang out with wealthy and powerful people - and turning it into something that has a whiff of scandal about it.  Absolutely no wrong doing has ever come up, that I am aware of.  Instead, we have the "Clinton Rules" in place, where there is a presumption of sleaziness, because Clintons.

The conclusion makes this critical point:

There is little to no evidence that anyone received meaningful favors from the Clintons in exchange for donating to the foundation. There is definitely no evidence that Hillary Clinton altered her policies as secretary of state in reaction to donations. There’s no evidence that the Clintons or their foundation engaged in some of the more egregious activities of Trump’s foundation, like donating to a state attorney general to deter her from an investigation into Trump’s activities, or giving to a nonprofit to fund a lawsuit against another state AG who did opt to investigate, or even paying off the legal bills of his for-profit businesses.
But there is considerable evidence that the Clinton Foundation has saved millions of lives. And there’s evidence that Bill Clinton’s work with the group would make him more useful as first spouse. Presidents rely heavily on special envoys tasked with making deals to resolve prisoner disputes, facilitate peace processes, and the like. Clinton’s time with the foundation exhibited the exact set of skills necessary for a role like that. His presence could greatly expand the diplomatic bandwidth of his wife’s administration.
The fact that Hillary Clinton’s association with a group, and a husband, with that track record has become a liability rather than an asset is a deep indictment of how skewed the press’s priorities in covering this election have become.


If Trump represents a fundamental fracturing of the bonds between "movement conservatism" and the Republican Party as an institution - if Trumpism has succeeded Reaganism as the ideology of the GOP - then what comes next?

Here's a really interesting response.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Martin Longman amazingly favorably discusses Ross Douthat's latest column.  Amazingly, because Douthat is usually so flamboyantly wrong.  Notably, Douthat was wrong about Trump taking over the GOP.  His latest conclusion is interesting, as we have seen it in other forms from other voices of the Center Right (to the degree such a thing exists anymore).

Basically, liberal created Trump by being all...liberal.  Some of this I am sympathetic towards.  For instance, I'm not a fan of speech codes or safe zones (beyond personal space) or trigger warnings.  I don't think there are a ton of those, but I'm also not on college campuses.  And I also acknowledge that taking certain words and putting them beyond the Pale has a cognitive effect on people.  If you can't say the N-Word, you are less likely to believe in the logic that creates that word.

There is also no doubt that the ascendancy of cultural liberalism is very much at the root of Trump's appeal to "make America great again."  Multi-cultural, multi-racial, sexually tolerant culture threatens the hell out of older, whiter and more rural Americans.  The economic anxiety is there.  And Longman has recently been beating the drum about the complete discrediting of elites.  But so much of Trump's appeal is cultural.  He has no policies, he has no experience: he has only cultural grievance.

And Douthat notes that the last time this happened, it created the cultural backlash that gave us Nixon and Reagan.

Arthur Schlesinger argued that American history happens in cycles of reform.  Three steps forward, two steps back.  The pendulum swings towards reform and "liberals" and then back towards conservatism, even reactionary politics.  The Reconstruction becomes the Gilded Age; Progressivism becomes the Roaring Twenties; the New Deal becomes the placid '50s; the Sixties gives us Reagan.

That is true, as far as it goes.  But even during these periods of retrenchment - Douthat references Crane Brinton's term Thermidor - progress continues.  Of course, what makes Trump different from Reagan is that Trump threatens many of our democratic institutions.

At some point, ascendant cultural liberalism could create the necessary backlash to overcome the demographic changes that are swamping the GOP.  Younger people are simply more tolerant than any comparable cohort.  Many that came of age in the '70s came to revile cultural liberalism and those Boomers became the Reagan Democrats.  As they pass from this earth, that will have an effect on our politics that could cement certain culturally liberal ideas.

If anything, the threat to the Center Left seems more likely to come from the Populist Far Left as from the Populist Far Right.  Though in the end they are pretty close together, when you think about it.


Monday, September 19, 2016

This Is Bad

We are in the middle of a full-on freakout by white men in the developed world, because they are losing their economic and political primacy.  Trump is only the American iteration of a trend across the "global north."

One of the biggest jobs in America in terms of people who are employed is truck driving.  Adding automated vehicles would destroy those jobs.

Right now, those blue collar workers who lost their factory jobs are misdirecting their anger and NAFTA and immigrants, when arguably the biggest culprit is increased automation.  So a guy who used to work on a factory floor is now driving a truck.

Take that away from him and what does he have left?

Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should.

The Zombie-Eyed Granny Starver

Paul Ryan is a fucking fraud.


Luckily no one was killed in what was clearly the work of a seriously JV terrorist.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Chris Cillizza Gives Away The Game

There is a really instructive exchange between Norm Ornstein - the Jeremiah of American politics - and Chris Cillizza of the WaPo.  To me, this is the critical line from Cillizza:
 Policy proposals are great. But they aren’t terribly instructive  at least to me  on how and what a candidate will do as president.

Here we have the great failure at the heart of political journalism.  Ornstein deftly lays out how "horse race" coverage ultimately normalizes the abomination that is the Trump candidacy.  Cillizza says that in fact "personality" is really all there is to cover.

In fact, what a candidate says he or she will do is really instructive to what they will at least try to do.  They might be thwarted in their efforts, but Obama is still trying to close Gitmo, because he said he was going to close Gitmo.  He did create the ACA.  He did get us out of Iraq.  Politicians pretty much try and do what they say they will do.  They may fail, but they usually try.

Ornstein responds that delving into Clinton's time as Secretary of State or Senator would be absolutely fair, but that would also require letting go of nontroversies like the Foundation story.  Ornstein does give high and deserved praise for the WaPo's David Farenthold who has exposed more dirt on Trump in the last three weeks than Trey Gowdy could find on Clinton in three years.

Trump HAS NO POLICIES.  That's the key point.  Aside from the Wall, most of his policies are moving targets.  Hopefully, the Clinton camp realizes that Trump will show up and the debate and make up new policies that people might like, as opposed to his actual policies.  Since the moderator is unlikely to call Trump a liar in real time, Clinton will have to, and then it's "both sides are calling each other names."

Trump has exploited this form of journalism - where facts and truth are subordinated to optics and tactics - to move into a tie with Clinton.  If it continues, he could become president.  And that scares the living shit out of me.

Read the whole exchange.  It's worth the time.

Friday, September 16, 2016

It's 2016, Trump Apparently Decides Where Obama Was Born

Today, Donald Trump took credit for debunking birtherism, the movement that effectively made him a political figure and - combined with that fucking wall - made him the GOP nominee.

Early indications is that this is a lie too far, even for CNN.

That Trump is backing away from birtherism is interesting though.  There is no question that since Conway came on board, he's been much more on message.  He continues to lie at a breathtaking volume, but he's beginning to back away from some of his most egregious statements.  Again, this isn't going to work with minority voters, but it could persuade suburban whites.

The current tightening in the polls is not a result of Trump rising, but of Clinton falling.  I don't think Trump can get much higher than 42%.  I just don't see it.  But can Clinton get to 45?  That's the question.  And this birther crap doesn't do much to move the needle.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

At What Point Should We Freak Out?

The polls are indeed tightening. As Josh Marshall explains, there are a few reasons:

1- Clinton has had a pretty brutal press cycle.  Trump, meanwhile, does seem to have fundamentally broken the ability of news organizations to keep up.  For instance, at yesterday's event in Flint, someone in the audience accused him of using racist policies in his buildings.  Trump said that was a lie, despite the fact he's been fined repeatedly for doing just that.  It's amazing and the false equivalency between Clinton's secretiveness and Trump's brazen lying is stunning.

2- Likely voter screens hurt Clinton.  This has always been somewhat true of the split between Democrats and Republicans.  Republicans are more reliable voters.  If you go with registered voters, Clinton has a pretty comfortable lead.  So, the organization and resources that Clinton is putting into GOTV is going to be critical.  But it could be insufficient.

3- Third parties are hurting Clinton, especially with the young.  While some anti-Trump Republicans are rallying around Gary Johnson, much of his support seems to be coming from young voters. Hey!  He smokes weed!  That leaves off the incredibly regressive policies that he also supports, like ending social security, the minimum wage, etc.  Younger voters have thin memories of the Nader debacle, and so they might very well tip the election to Trump by withholding support from Clinton.

All of this puts the first debate in a more important light.  Clinton is bleeding support.  The press is normalizing Trump's compulsive lying.  The degree to which Clinton can expose Trump as an ignoramus might be what is necessary to reverse the momentum.  If she has a disastrous debate like Obama had in his first tilt with Romney, then I think it's time to freak out.

The idea that Trump's fundamental unsuitability for the office might create a wave election that tips the House?  That idea seems fundamentally dead.

However, here is some information that might assuage your fears a little:

The Huffington Post poll aggregator had the race at 46.9% and 46.6% on October 9th, 2012.  Obama went on to win over 50% of the vote (51.1%).  In mid-September, he had had a four point lead that collapsed after that first debate, but he eventually rebounded and ground out a fairly comfortable win.  Clinton currently has about a 3 point lead in their aggregation of polls.  That is shrinking, but as long as she keeps leading, she keeps leading.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Obama's Third Term

Chait makes a solid point.  Republicans having been talking to their base when then fret that Clinton will be Obama's third term.  Obama's popularity is skyrocketing, unemployment numbers are very good and now household incomes are rising along with consumer confidence.

In 2000, Al Gore foolishly ran away from Bill Clinton because of blow jobs.  Luckily, Hillary won't have to distance herself from Obama.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Ta-Nehisi Coates writes a comprehensive takedown of the "basket of deplorables" statement.  While he couches it in "white grievance" it's perhaps broader than that.  Yes, there are racial components at play - as they are in almost everything - but this really a journalism story.  Combined with the Matt Lauer debacle, the lack of rigor applied to the basket statement is damning.

TNC quotes WaPo's Aaron Blake:
“Clinton appeared to be slapping the ‘racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic’ label on about 20 percent of the country,”

OK, and the next question is: Is that accurate?  The press more or less skipped that question and went to an "optics" story and a "horse race" story.  In a separate story, Coates gives us the numbers:
We know, for instance, some nearly 60 percent of Trump’s supportershold “unfavorable views” of Islam, and 76 percent support a ban on Muslims entering the United States. We know that some 40 percent of Trump’s supporters believe blacks are more violent, more criminal, lazier, and ruder than whites. Two-thirds of Trump’s supporters believe the first black president in this country’s history is not American.

How is THIS not the story?  As Matthew Yglesias keeps pointing out, Trump has broken our capacity to evaluate him on any normal scale.

Clinton is still winning, but the fact that it is close is appalling.  And the fact that we can't talk about the "Deplorables" is part of the reason why.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Fifteen years.

Our son was born the following day, so we have a walking reminder of how many years.  We have also seen him grow up and become wiser and more mature.

Have we grown past that early fear?  I know we abandoned that sense of solidarity, but have we gotten past the fear?

Saturday, September 10, 2016


Yesterday, Clinton baited the Trump campaign by describing half their supporters as a "basket of deplorables."  Deplorable is such a wonderful Victorian phrase, I'm sure it just adds salt to the burn.  I'm sure we will get some hand-wringing by the fainting couch brigade about Clinton's language, without noting that she was talking about racists, sexists and other sundry bigots.

Trump has clearly appealed to these groups and given them voice, as Clinton notes.  She goes on to note that the other "half" of his supporters are people who feel left behind and see their communities crumbling.  They have turned to this charlatan because they have nowhere else to turn.

But there is another group that exists between the Alt-Right crowd of overt racists and the struggling blue collar communities: assholes.

All this rhetoric about "political correctness" is at least in part about the fact that we don't really tolerate people being assholes anymore.  For a lot of white men, being an asshole was a real source of pride and power.  Dubya's nicknaming of people around him was a subtle power-play.  I get to name you, not you.  Taken to another level without the same deft (did I use that word) that Bush showed, you get people - again, mostly men - being assholes.  In fact, being assholes to one another is part of how men interact.  I would add it's not healthy.  I never really liked the "What's up dickwad?" mode of discourse of my formative years, and I know my son hates it.

The "alpha male" Biff Tannen type of man makes life miserable for those around him, so we are trying to curb that sort of behavior.

The railing about political correctness is only partly about safe zones and speech codes.  I don't like those either.  Much of it is because "I can't tell dick jokes at work anymore."

Enter this post.  Here, you have the perfect distillation of asshole behavior in 2016.  Coal rolling is such an obviously huge asshole move that it scarcely can be comprehended.  People will spend money to make their cars pollute.  They already spent whatever the added costs a vehicle incurs when the factory makes it compliant.  They then spend on top of that in order to signal to the entire world that they are a huge flaming asshole.

What Trump is showing the GOP mandarins like Paul Ryan is that no one really likes your "small government, Ayn Randian vision of makers and takers."  They just don't want to be told not to be an asshole.  They don't want to be reminded that other people - particularly those vagina-having, brown-skin-having, pointy-headed-intellectuals - have a legitimate voice in running this country.

Make Americans Assholes Again.  That's what should be on the hat.

Friday, September 9, 2016

What Is Aleppo?

Gary Johnson has become the go-to candidate for conservatives who can't stomach Trump and won't vote for Hillary, if she was endorsed by the risen Christ.  I've certainly seen people on my Facebook feed "liking" Governor Johnson.

The fact that he's an idiot is apparently a feature, not a bug.

Libertarianism spans a broad swath of American politics, from advocates on the Left to aspects of Paul Ryan's platform to Gary Johnson, who loves him some pot and some free markets.  In short, libertarianism is pretty much whatever you want it to be.  You can decide what you want to be freed from government constraint, and you can be a libertarian about that.

Pollution controls? Let the market decide!
Pot and prostitution? End black markets!
Regulation of the banks?  Who needs it!?

Johnson is not the raging racist that Trump is, nor does he suffer from narcissistic personality disorder, the way Trump does.

He does, however, represent exactly the same sort of contempt for governmental institutions that has constituted every conservative candidate since Bob Dole.  Republicans and Libertarians - but I repeat myself - don't think government can work, and then they devote themselves to proving it.

That Gary Johnson doesn't know basic facets of foreign policy isn't all that surprising.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Pretty Much

Donald Trump broke American politics.

The CinC Panel And Working The Refs

Apparently there was a town hall type thing with Clinton and Trump and Matt Lauer.  I was busy doing something, I guess.  But I wake up and everyone is savaging Lauer for basically letting Trump lie.  Pretty much as you would expect, Trump opens his mouth and a lie or an insult falls out.  Many noted that Lauer asked Trump about his support for the Iraq war and Trump lied.  The criticism of Lauer is that he didn't follow up by noting that there is copious video evidence of Trump saying he supported the war in 2002-4.

Josh Marshall wonders if perhaps Lauer used some sort of rope-a-dope tactic on Trump by simply letting him run his mouth.  In the course of the event Trump said the following:

- He lied about his support for Iraq.
- He lied about his support for Libya.
- He displayed ignorance about how oil works.
- He heaped more praise on Putin's leadership.
- He exposed his "secret plan" to defeat ISIS as a joke.
- He promised to purge the general staff.
- He said rape occurs in the military because that's what happens when men and women are together.

Lauer did a poor job calling Trump on this crap, and that is why he is getting savaged on Twitter and the rest of the Internet.  Clinton got much more aggressive questioning, especially on her damned emails.

The question this raises is how the media treat Clinton and Trump differently.  Clinton goes on long, detail-laden answers and gets relentlessly pressured on things that have already been asked and answered, like the email server.  OK, she needs to answer those questions.  Again.  I guess.  But she is being held to a different standard.  Trump is not pressed on issues very hard, because everyone understands he doesn't really know anything about the issues.

This will obviously have a huge spillover effect on the debates.  In the debates, we can expect Clinton to be peppered with questions about her honesty at the same time Trump is basically allowed to lie his ass off.  Because much of American politics is stupid, Trump will "win" the debate by not lighting his podium on fire and literally pissing on the audience.

At the same time, look at the material Trump has given people to work with.  Almost every answer he gave would be a disqualifying event for a traditional candidate.  Lauer, perhaps, gave Trump enough rope to hang himself with.

The problem is, as I have mentioned before, Trump has basically exploited the media's traditions of "both sides/opinions differ."  Unless a consistent barrage of reporters and pundits make a consistent case that Trump is lying his ass off when he's not talking out of it, then the "enough rope" idea won't work.

Here is the most unbelievable thing about this election.  People think Clinton is a bigger liar than Trump.

That's appalling.  And the responsibility for that lies squarely on the media.  As one of the tweets last night said, "A journalist's entire job -- literally the whole job description -- is to report what's true and what's not." It's undoubtedly clear that Lauer failed that test.

Will the rest of the media?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Pay To Play

We are having a number of discussion about how to teach in the era of Trump.  How do we avoid stifling debate and intimidating Trump supporter's voices with our well known liberal obsession with facts and context and stuff?  Honestly, we do need to create a "liberal" space - in the sense of free and open - where all voices are heard and valued.  But at the same time - having a perspective on history and government - Trump represents a truly existential threat to American democratic institutions should he be elected, in ways that Mitt Romney or John McCain simply didn't.  I can teach both sides of the question about how big should government be.  I can't teach both sides of whether we should torture people or kill their families or Mexicans are rapists and can't be judges.  I can't teach both sides of Trump's most Trumpiest moments.

As the race tightens (which I think it does every Labor Day, as poll respondents shift), we are now faced with another holy shit moment from Trump.

Despite the two decades long obsession with Travelgate, Whitewater, Vince Foster, Lewinsky, Benghazi, Servergate and now the fact that the Clinton Foundation exists and does things, we really haven't found a single verifiable criminal act by Hillary Clinton.  Investigated more than a mafia don, and she hasn't been found guilty of anything worse than poor judgment in the email server case.

On the other hand, we have Trump.  More particularly, we have Trump funneling campaign contributions through his charity - which is illegal - in order to finance the campaigns of attorneys general in Texas and Florida (natch) who were considering investigating his massively fraudulent Trump University.  And Trump has bragged about buying off politicians.

Are you aware of this?  Not if you read the NY Times or watch CNN.  This is the sort of scandal that would send much of the press into a schadenfreude orgasmic reverie if Hillary Clinton was at the heart of it.  They tried to gin up a controversy over the Clinton Foundation asking - and being denied - diplomatic passports when Bill went to free US journalists in North Korea.

Here is a case of actual pay-to-play, where Trump ILLEGALLY gave large sums to the very people who were in charge of deciding whether or not to investigate his bullshit "university."

It is pretty clear that Trump has exploited the media's penchant for "both sides" objectivity.  There is simply so much dirt on this guy, that they feel they have to inflate these acts of being a politician that Clinton does into crimes.

How the hell am I supposed to talk about Trump in class tomorrow without being more objective than the NY Times?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Nixon's Children

Matthew Yglesias has an interesting take on the out-of-date disclosure rules surrounding emails.  He notes that phone calls are pretty much impossible to have a public record of, unless you tape them like LBJ and Nixon.  And no one is going to tape their phone calls after Nixon.  

Buried within his argument is a critical point. He cites a talk by Cass Sunstein about the difference between disclosing government inputs and government outputs.  There is a difference between knowing about a secret war in Cambodia and discussions about whether or not to have a secret war in Cambodia.  He uses, as a good example, the Constitutional Convention:

By the same token, historians surely would wish that there were a complete and accurate record of what was said at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 that, instead, famously operated under a policy of anonymous discussions.
But we should be cautioned by James Madison’s opinion that “no Constitution would ever have been adopted by the convention if the debates had been public.”
His view, which seems sensible, is that public or recorded debates would have been simply exercises in position-taking rather than deliberation, with each delegate playing to his base back home rather than working toward a deal.
“Had the members committed themselves publicly at first, they would have afterwards supposed consistency required them to maintain their ground,” Madison wrote, “whereas by secret discussion no man felt himself obliged to retain his opinions any longer than he was satisfied of their propriety and truth, and was open to the force of argument.”
Here is the critical problem.  We want to know everything that our government does, but we shouldn't always know everything our government considers and talks about.

The great myth of American politics in the 21st century is that if Congressmen just sat down together and had whiskey together like Ronnie Reagan and Tip O'Neil, we would see real bipartisan comity again.  Like I said, it's a myth.

Typically, I've traced the decline of that myth to ideological partisanship.  As the parties have become more ideologically "pure" they simply have less common ground to make policy on. Add in Mitch McConnell's neo-nullification strategy and you have a dysfunctional government.

But the post-Nixon mania for full transparency - aided by the Tea Party assault on earmarks - has made it impossible to govern across the aisle.  Look at that last Madison quote again.  Right now, every politician in America has already publicly committed to her position on...whatever.  Planned Parenthood, tax rates, trade, that position is locked in.  And the incentives to change your mind are vanishingly small.  Emerson said that "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" and that is especially true in politics.  In Philadelphia in 1787, men could be persuaded, because they weren't locked into a public position.  Today, that's impossible.

And the desire for complete transparency is to blame.

You want to know exactly how a House member will vote on any issue and then you lock that person into those positions.  Let's say you've committed your House member to no new taxation and no new government spending.  In the course of being a Congresswoman, she is persuaded that we must have infrastructure repair and that it will cost billions.  So, she agrees to vote for a massive infrastructure repair bill funded by a tax on financial transactions.

Then she gets primaried and losses her seat.

In an age when we expect to have a personal say in who makes it to the next round of our favorite reality competition show, when choice is paramount in every consumer transaction, we expect democracy in our politics.

We don't live in a democracy; we live in a Republic.  We elect people to make difficult decisions for us, because those decisions are difficult.  Here's an example: Global warming is the gravest long term threat we face.  The easiest solution is to ramp up renewable energy, like windmills.  But no one wants windmills in their town.  NIMBY rules are democracy in action.  But NIMBY rules mean that critical actions are left undone.  

What's more, we need to have those discussions - private, confidential discussions - in order to arrive at the best outcome.  At the Constitutional Convention, Alexander Hamilton apparently argued for an elective king.  No one was convinced, but his argument for an elective monarch helped create space to create the powers of the president, who would be elected every four years.  The confidentiality of that space allowed for all options to be considered, which made it possible to arrive at the best possible result.  (Ironically, that confidentiality was violated in later years by Hamilton's enemies.)

What we must have - what Susstein talked about - is transparency of outputs.  And then we must hold our elected and appointed officials accountable for their policies.  We should have prosecuted those officials who made America a torture state.  In a parliamentary system, anyone who strongly disagrees with a government policy has to either suck it up or resign.  It's called collective responsibility.  We could use some of that here.

Transparency makes sense when we are talking about a Nixon or a Cheney talking about violating existing law.  But when we are discussing a transportation bill, there needs to be some measure of confidence.

This is how the legacy of Nixon poisons good government from beyond the grave.  This is why violating fundamental norms of American politics creates rules (rather than norms) that wind of stifling the ability to the government to work properly.

Needless to say, it's a powerful argument against electing a demagogic charlatan who would eviscerate whatever norms are left in our system.  It turns out Nixon damaged our politics more than we knew.  God knows what Trump would do. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Hell Or High Water

After the 2008 crash, I thought there was an opportunity to make a sort of Robin Hood type movie about bank robbers who get justice against the banking system.

It took 8 years, but someone finally made a great movie on that theme. It's called Hell or High Water, and you need to see it.  Easily the best film I've seen all year.

Sunday, September 4, 2016


Martin Longman writes a somewhat ambivalent critique of American elites and the TPP.  He accurately notes that Americans have grown weary of elite opinion after the twin disasters of Iraq and the 2008 Depression.  This reflexive anti-elitism helps explain Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and the overall wariness and weariness surrounding Hillary Clinton's candidacy.  The reflexive "throw the bums out" is viscerally appealing, if ultimately short sighted.

I had a mild debate with a friend over Colin Kaepernick on Facebook, and his rejoinder was that I was trying to inject rationality into an emotional debate.  Which...yeah.  I was.  We should.

The ultimately problem with populism is that it is fundamentally irrational and emotive.  It is entirely focused on what "feels" right rather than what might be discovered from objective inquiry, skepticism and evidence.  Thus populism can incorporate both the idea that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by scientists and also a scheme for oil companies to get rich off the misery of others.  Populism can include those who think the 2008 depression was the fault of Washington or Wall Street, often both together.

The debate over TPP has somewhat mystified me - and my elitist ways, I guess.  While I have hardly dug down into the weeds of the agreement, it's a generally positive trade agreement that brings many Pacific rim economies into greater compliance with US standards.  Yes, there are some un-democratic elements, because there are always some un-democratic elements.  The TPP is also a really important foreign policy statement by the United States as to its intentions in East Asia.  It is the central hinge of the "pivot" that Obama wanted to execute.

And it will likely die for all the wrong reasons.

Republicans will likely kill it, because it allows them to pander to Trump voters and snub Obama.  Democrats will kill it to pander to Sanders voters.  Very few Senators, I would guess, actually oppose the agreement.  But our reflexive antipathy to trade deals means that we are no longer going to "do what's right" but rather do what's expedient.

The foundations of American government were based on allowing elite representatives the distance between themselves and the voters in order to make difficult but important decisions.  I'm thinking of the Bank of the United States, Jay's Treaty and the like.  Andrew Jackson, like Trump, promised himself as the tribune of the people to personally destroy elitism.  The result was a remarkably poor presidency and a powerful political legacy.  Jackson, the first populist, showed that you can be powerful without being right, a sentiment that would have appalled Washington, who strove for proper conduct in everything he did.

Longman proposes that the elites have brought all this on themselves because of Iraq and 2008.  I suppose.  But calls to "end the Fed" predate 2008.  There has always been a strong strain of isolationism in American politics.  Elites tended to gravitate towards foreign policy not only because they tended to be more cosmopolitan, but also because they had more latitude to act internationally.  The role of the Internet in creating this populist moment is hard to define, but it is no doubt important.

In certain areas, we need elite leadership.  Jackson famously instituted the Spoils System that opened up government jobs on the basis of political loyalty rather than competency.  The horrific governance of much of the 19th century can be tied to the idea that "anyone is as good as anyone else, perhaps even more so."  I don't want Joe the Plumber managing the Social Security Administration. I don't want Sarah Palin conducting foreign policy in the South China Sea.

Expertise and competency matter.  That is Clinton's basic sales pitch at a time when anger towards experts and doubts about competency dominate the country and the world.  In addition to a certain lack of charisma (similar, when I think about it, to George HW Bush) this explains her headwinds.

At some point, we are going to have to learn to trust elites, while always holding them accountable.  And perhaps it is that last point that is critical.  The Iraq planners and the torturers walked free.  No one went to jail for 2008.  

The first step in restoring confidence in elite decision makers is holding them to the standards that they hold us.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

You Need To Read This

Here, in a nutshell is the complete and abject failure of our press corpse.

Well, This Is Nice

The Paris Accords aren't like the Geneva Conventions.  They aren't a binding document.

But it's still nice when we see SOME progress on climate change.  Especially after a summer of another round of climate related disasters.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Yes, It's Tightening

The poll aggregates are tightening.  Clinton still has a decent sized lead of around 5 points.  That is more than sufficient to win in November if she maintains it.

Of course, Trump has raised the question of just how big a loss does electorate need to deliver to Trump to kill Trumpism?  Unless Gary Johnson beats Donald Trump, you can make an argument that too many Americans voted for Donald Trump.

So, while Clinton is still likely to win, the margin of victory matters in this election for what it tells us about America.  Trump is so far out there - Josh Marshall accurately described his Phoenix immigration address as hate speech - that anything less than a truly crushing loss is a disturbing statement about America in 2016.

There are probably two reasons why the race is getting close.  One is the time of year.  People typically tune out after the conventions and before the debates.  They also tend not to spend much time answering pollsters.  That can tilt results towards people who are older and don't have kids going back to school.  I know I'm not even answering the repeated pleas from the Red Cross until next week.  I see the number and decline.

The more we pay attention to Trump, the worse he typically does.  So the relative quiet from his camp over the past two weeks means that his numbers have probably stayed the same or maybe crept upwards.  (I should also note that a lot of the polls being released are kind of suspect, like Rasmussen, Gravis or Emerson.  Emerson, for instance, doesn't use cell numbers.)

The other reason is shit like this.

Neither the Left not the Right likes the press whose favorability numbers are around that of Alex Rodriquez or Hurricane Hermine.  Liberals, though, typically WANT the press to function well, we just don't think it does.

Which brings us to the NY Times and the fucking Clinton Rules.  Clinton suffers under two liabilities.  One is the fact that she's a woman, and we struggle to accommodate female leadership styles in our politics.  The other is the presumption of guilt that the press - especially the Times, from which other, lesser outlets take their cues - routinely foists on her.

I can go back to Whitewater - which the Times flogged ceaselessly - as an example of the huge Ur-Nothingburger of the Clinton Rules.  They invested in Whitewater.  They lost some money.  From this spanned a multi-year, multi-million dollar investigation that eventually had us impeaching a president over lying about blow jobs.

This has been doubly true for Hillary Clinton, who lacks Bill's fundamental charisma.  Let's refresh:

Benghazi: Four Americans went to a dangerous place against the advice of security.  They were killed.  Original reports suggested it was tied to protests in Egypt.  Those initial reports were wrong.  We've had God knows how many investigations into Benghazi by hostile partisans and even they can't find anything wrong.

Emails: Clinton did what others before her have done and kept a private email account, even going so far as to store the server in his basement next to Chelsea's Legos.  Some of the emails were deleted.  No emails contained classified material that was classified at the time it was sent.  The presence - or non-presence - of deleted emails must indicate guilt, because she is a Clinton.

Now we have the Clinton Foundation "scandal".  Again, you have headlines that suggest that Clinton did something wrong.  Almost inevitably, those stories note that there was never any quid-pro-quo between donors and the Secretary of State.  But the headlines suggest that they do.

Frankly, this is journalistic malpractice.  Recently Melania Trump sued a tabloid for suggestion she was an escort.  She's not going to win, because absence of malice.  I wonder if Clinton could win, because the pattern of malice and presumption of guilt absent any evidence is enough to create the malice that might explain the terrible coverage HRC receives from the media.

Markos Moulitas has argued that the press is increasingly becoming irrelevant in presidential politics.  Clinton is right to focus on local media, because they do ask questions relevant to local viewers/readers/listeners.

But the national narrative of Clinton is set by the national media.  They hate her and the feeling is mutual.  The problem is that the national narrative is preventing a complete blow-out in November, the sort of wave election that delivers the House and allows for government to function again.

It matters, and the media are failing.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

So Close...

Trump went to Mexico and didn't start a war.  Finally!  The Pivot has arrived!  All Hail the Pivot!

He conducted a rather staid joint press conference with the terminally unpopular Pena Nieto, and people were amazed that he could pull it off.

Before the night was over, however, Pena Nieto was calling him a liar and Trump went full brown shirt in his speech in Arizona.

It was unlikely that he was going to be able to erase several years - even decades - of racist behavior with a single media stunt, but in the end, he only managed to step on his own dick and prove again just how unmoored he is from normal political behavior.