Friday, November 21, 2014

Today in All Sides Do It

Over at his blind tiger, Brother Charles Pierce laments the fact that one more professional Conservative liar is being given one more chance to lie to the Great Wad of mentally underclocking headcheese. who watch the ongoing externalization of Roger Ailes' Id on Fox and think they are seeing News.
Media Matters is upset because [Lucienne Goldberg's demon whelping Jonah] Goldberg didn't disclose that AEI is lousy with oil money. I don't much care about that and, if you're counting on Neil Cavuto to adhere to traditional journalistic ethics, you are barking up the wrong network there. I do care that someone who knows so transparently little about an important issue is brought on to make through comic-opera erudition an argument that you can hear from any barstool, and for free.
But what does that have to do with the Both Sides thingy?

Well hold on a minute, pard, and I tell you.

See, for reasons that completely escape me, yesterday was Doughy Pantload Day on the Internet. And to celebrate, Andrew Sullivan joined Jonah Goldberg in having a good cry into a giant beer over how rude and uncivil everyone is:
We really are back to the 1990s when I find myself agreeing with Jonah Goldberg:
We live in an age of diversity, defined not merely by gender and race, but by lifestyles and values. That’s mostly a good thing — mostly. Like all other good things in life, diversity comes at a cost. And a big part of the tab is a lost consensus about what constitutes good manners and propriety. So instead of knowing how to behave, we spend vast amounts of our time worrying and arguing about it, with combatants on every side insisting it’s “Live and let live” for me but “Shut up! How dare you!” for thee.
Translation:  I am getting creamed for waddling into the middle of a controversy I did not remotely understand, and made matters worse by lashing back with every hoary Conservative cliche about political correctness that I still keep in my 1980s "Memories of Reagan" go-bag.

Mr. Sullivan continues
I wonder also if our digital life hasn’t made all this far worse. When you sit in a room with a laptop and write about other people and their flaws, and you don’t have to look them in the eyes, you lose all incentive for manners.
Mr. Sullivan is self-aware enough to realize that he is, in fact, one of the people who makes the world into the mannerless Thunderdome he deplores, but, see, he can't really help it what with hysterically overreacting to every internet twitch and tic being so busy blogging how he feels about stuff and keepin' it real, yo!
I’m as guilty of this as many. There have been times – far too many – when my passion for an idea or revulsion at a news story can, in its broadness of aim, impugn the integrity or good faith of other individuals. If I had to speak my words to the faces of those I am painting with too broad and crude a brush, my language would be far more temperate (and probably more persuasive). And so restoring manners to online discourse is a hard task – especially in an era of instant mass communication and anonymity. It’s hard for a blogger or writer not least because you don’t want to sink into torpor or dullness or vapidity. You want to keep the debate fresh and real.
Uh, OK, but what was the point again?

Oh yeah.  Here's the point (with emphasis added):
But all this means, of course, is that we actually need a set of manners for this age more urgently than in many others. Our web silos – from the Jihadists to the left-blogosphere to the right-media complex – make it easy to thrive and succeed without manners, and even easier to fail in the marketplace by upholding them.
Tell you what -- when Conservatives stop destroying my country behind an zombie army of brainwashed dolts and bigots, I'll stop being rude about it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Even David Brooks...


Our Mr. Brooks finally comes home:

If this was 1864 instead of 2014 and David Brooks was reporting on the capture of Fort Pillow by the Confederate cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest instead of the results of the lowest-turnout midterm in modern American history, Mr. Brooks would be insisting that the tide had turned definitively against the President and his Party, and that it was high time for the high-handed Mr. Lincoln to recognize the will of the people and end the all the partisan dysfunction by capitulate to the Confederate demands for his unconditional surrender.

What Mr. Brooks will never bother to mention is that the direct cause our current state of complete governmental dysfunction has been the focused ignorance, congealed bigotry and agglutenated lunacy of Mr. Brooks' Republican Party. What Mr. Brooks will never bother to mention  (even as he insists that only proper response when the GOP tells the President of the United Stated to "Jump, boy!" should be "How high?") that Mr. Brooks' Republican Party paid no more attention or respect to the clear mandate Barack Obama was given in after his election 2008 and re-election in 2012 than the Confederates paid to Mr. Lincoln's election in 1860 or his re-election in 1864.

The Confederacy had their common foot soldiers, their generals and their politicians.

They also had their spies, their sympathizers and their fifth columnists.

The Republicans have their Teabaggers, their Fox News and their Congress.

They also have their David Brooks.

Because Purity

The latest in my award-ready series, Rand Paul Running Away From Things.

From The Daily Beast:
Rand Paul Beats Ted Cruz, Saves NSA From ‘Reform’

One wants to fix the spy agency from the inside. The other wanted to block watered-down reforms of the secret state. The winner just might get to be president.

The fight to rein in NSA surveillance stalled in the Senate Tuesday evening—meaning the lasting impact of the months-long reform effort will be less about the agency and more about the presidential aspirations of Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.

Ironically, it was Paul, the libertarian icon, who helped sink the bill to curb America’s most notorious intelligence agency—all in the name of deep-sixing the surveillance state. And he did it with arguments that many civil libertarians found disingenuous, at best. Meanwhile, Cruz, the senator with the reputation as a political arsonist, was suddenly thrust into the role of the insider, looking to fix the NSA from within the system. It didn’t work.

The NSA reforms, known as the USA Freedom Act, are championed by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner. On Tuesday evening, it failed to reach the 60 votes required to advance the bill procedurally.

The bill would have ended the NSA’s bulk collection of metadata, first brought to public knowledge by Edward Snowden; created a special advocate position to argue against the government in the FISA courts; and allowed tech companies to release statistics about government demands for information. Cruz is a co-sponsor of the bill, along with libertarian-minded Sen. Mike Lee.
Even if the law represents naught but a teeny, tiny baby step or two, the news that Brogressive Hero Rand Paul helped kill this particular bill is news which you might reasonably expect to ignite a patented ballistic HaterCon freakout from the Purity Caucus, complete with the wailing and the rending of garments and hordes of The Usual Suspects flinging words like "tyrannical" and "jackbooted" and perhaps even the dreaded "Obot" around like so much Twitter monkey poo.

Clearly you don't know the Purity Caucus...

Dude, governance is sooo 1977.

Because Purity.

The Ringman

Always Posts Twice

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Mother of All Executive Orders

Abraham Lincoln's Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction was a charitable and humane offer issued by Mr. Lincoln on December 9, 1863 during the height of a bloody Civil War which he never wanted but was by God not going to lose for the purpose of giving the traitors states yet one more chance to end the slaughter by reestablishing "national authority and loyal state governments" as quickly as possible.

But of course, the Confederates, being Confederates, told him to pound sand  Or, as today's Washington Post would have reported it if they had been on the scene (via Brother Charles Pierce, with one amendment made by me):
Courtesy of our guest chefs today here at the Cafe, the editorial board of The Washington Post, the absolutely perfect Beltway word-souffle.
He has tried compromise, and the Republicans Confederates spurned him. We will not relitigate that last contention except to note that behind the legislative disappointments of the past six years lies fault on both sides.
Just. Fking. Wow.
And with that, ladies and gentlemen, the 16th President of the United States of America:


WHEREAS, in and by the Constitution of the United States, it is provided that the President “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment;” and

Whereas, a rebellion now exists whereby the loyal state governments of several states have for a long time been subverted, and many persons have committed, and are now guilty of, treason against the United States; and

Whereas, with reference to said rebellion and treason, laws have been enacted by congress, declaring forfeitures and confiscation of property and liberation of slaves, all upon terms and conditions therein stated, and also declaring that the President was thereby authorized at any time thereafter, by proclamation, to extend to persons who may have participated in the existing rebellion, in any state or part thereof, pardon and amnesty, with such exceptions and at such times and on such conditions as he may deem expedient for the public welfare; and

Whereas, the congressional declaration for limited and conditional pardon accords with well-established judicial exposition of the pardoning power; and

Whereas, with reference to said rebellion, the President of the United States has issued several proclamations, with provisions in regard to the liberation of slaves; and

Whereas, it is now desired by some persons heretofore engaged in said rebellion to resume their allegiance to the United States, and to reinaugurate loyal state governments within and for their respective states: Therefore–

I, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States, do proclaim, declare, and make known to all persons who have, directly or by implication, participated in the existing rebellion, except as hereinafter excepted, that a full pardon is hereby granted to them and each of them, with restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves, and in property cases where rights of third parties shall have intervened, and upon the condition that every such person shall take and subscribe an oath, and thenceforward keep and maintain said oath inviolate; and which oath shall be registered for permanent preservation, and shall be of the tenor and effect following, to wit:–

“I,                  , do solemnly swear, in presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Union of the States there under; and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all acts of congress passed during the existing rebellion with reference to slaves, so long and so far as not repealed, modified, or held void by congress, or by decision of the supreme court; and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all proclamations of the President made during the existing rebellion having reference to slaves, so long and so far as not modified or declared void by decision of the supreme court. So help me God.”

The persons excepted from the benefits of the foregoing provisions are all who are, or shall have been, civil or diplomatic officers or agents of the so-called Confederate government; all who have left judicial stations under the United States to aid the rebellion; all who are, or shall have been, military or naval officers of said so-called Confederate government above the rank of colonel in the army or of lieutenant in the navy; all who left seats in the United States congress to aid the rebellion; all who resigned commissions in the army or navy of the United States and afterwards aided the rebellion; and all who have engaged in any way in treating colored persons, or white persons in charge of such, otherwise than lawfully as prisoners of war, and which persons may have been found in the United States service as soldiers, seamen, or in any other capacity.

And I do further proclaim, declare, and make known that whenever, in any of the States of Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina, a number of persons, not less than one tenth in number of the votes cast in such state at the presidential election of the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty, each having taken the oath aforesaid, and not having since violated it, and being a qualified voter by the election law of the state existing immediately before the so-called act of secession, and excluding all others, shall re√ęstablish a state government which shall be republican, and in nowise contravening said oath, such shall be recognized as the true government of the state, and the state shall receive thereunder the benefits of the constitutional provision which declares that “the United States shall guaranty to every state in this Union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and on application of the legislature, or the executive, (when the legislature cannot be convened,) against domestic violence.”

And I do further proclaim, declare, and make known that any provision which may be adopted by such state government in relation to the freed people of such state, which shall recognize and declare their permanent freedom, provide for their education, and which may yet be consistent as a temporary arrangement with their present condition as a laboring, landless, and homeless class, will not be objected to by the National Executive.

And it is suggested as not improper that, in constructing a loyal state government in any state, the name of the state, the boundary, the subdivisions, the constitution, and the general code of laws, as before the rebellion, be maintained, subject only to the modifications made necessary by the conditions hereinbefore stated, and such others, if any, not contravening said conditions, and which may be deemed expedient by those framing the new state government.

To avoid misunderstanding, it may be proper to say that this proclamation, so far as it relates to state governments, has no reference to states wherein loyal state governments have all the while been maintained. And, for the same reason, it may be proper to further say, that whether members sent to congress from any state shall be admitted to seats constitutionally rests exclusively with the respective houses, and not to any extent with the Executive. And still further, that this proclamation is intended to present the people of the states wherein the national authority has been suspended, and loyal state governments have been subverted, a mode in and by which the national authority and loyal state governments may be re√ęstablished within said states, or in any of them; and while the mode presented is the best the Executive can suggest, with his present impressions, it must not be understood that no other possible mode would be acceptable.

Given under my hand at the city of Washington the eighth day of December, A.D. one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-eighth.


By the President:
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

Silly Shit Andrew Sullivan Says, Ctd.

"Comeuppance, Schmumuppance" Edition.

The Harvard-educated-skolliwolled* Andrew Sullivan still does not understand how his adopted country works (emphasis added):
I know that my reader and I were legal immigrants trying to find our way through a maze of prejudice and prohibition; but I’ll never forget the radical insecurity of building a life knowing that it can always at any time be taken away from you. For parents of children legally in the US, the experience is unimaginable to me. Deferring the deportation of these parents is a basic act of compassion. And if the Republicans unleash rage over it, and still refuse to provide any legal remedy, their insensitivity will resonate for decades to come.
In 1994, the Limbaugh/Gingrich GOP swept to power and wrecked everything they touched.

In 2004, the Limbaugh/Bush GOP swept to re-election with a 60 million vote majority and proceeded to continue to destroy everything it touched.

In 2014, the Limbaugh/Cruz/Walker/Ernst GOP swept to power and are gearing up for two years of witch-hunts, government shutdowns, vastly more sabotage-from-the-inside, impeachment and, generally, killing everything they touch by making the 1994 Limbaugh/Gingrich GOP look like the Algonquin round table.

In between Republican power surges, Democrats limp back into power where we are largely limited by the catastrophes all around us to grabbing a mop to clean up the last disaster the GOP  left in its wake!  And, invariably, before we have barely begun binding up the latest wounds the Crazy Party has inflicted on this country, the Crazy Party gets very busy sugaring the gas tank and cutting the brake lines of the cleanup crew in every way their brain trust of hostage takers and arsonists can dream up.

And the idea that in that country -- a country which can't remember which Party builds jobs, expands opportunities and provided health care...and which Party blows up the economy, savages the middle class and wants to take health care away -- the idea that anything the GOP does anymore ever "resonates" longer than ten minutes anywhere outside of the despised and ignored precincts of the Liberal blogosphere is ludicrous.

So, Mr. Sullivan, you came to my country -- about which you clearly knew fuck all -- burning to save us from the blight of horrid little Liberals like me by helping to advance the cause of Genuine Reaganite Murrican Conservatism?

Well congratulations!

You're soaking in it.

Meanwhile, it hilarious to see that only now is Mr. Sullivan sloooowly beginning to notice that his fellow leading lights of Conservative Public Intellectualizin' tend to upholster their grotesque ideas with big, soft, pillowy cushions of lying (emphasis added):
Immigration And Precedents

Ramesh Ponnuru writes today:
There’s no evidence that any president, up to and including Barack Obama earlier in his tenure, ever thought that it would be proper to grant legal status to several million illegal immigrants unilaterally.
I agree with him that Obama should press the GOP (yet again) to pass comprehensive immigration reform rather than issue a mass deferral of deportation. But we should also be able to agree on some facts. And that sentence misleads – just as Ross’ latest column misrepresents the truth. Obama is not able to grant legal status to millions by himself. At best, he can grant temporary legal status by deferring deportation. But such a status would expire with his presidency. As for no precedent, granting 5 million immigrants a deferral of deportation is more expansive than 1.5 million under Reagan and the first Bush. But again, if we’re talking about mass deferrals of deportation in the millions, there sure is a precedent. And it was set by that icon of conservatism, Ronald Reagan, in an era when large swathes of the right actually believed in open borders.
Because who could have predicted that the author of "The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life" might not be above advancing his career as a Big Wingnut Thinker by just making shit up about us vile, life-hatin', baby-killing' Democrats?

Which Mr. Sullivan seemed perfectly capable of momentarily grasping all the way back in 2006 when he wrote this review of Mr. Ponnuru's bilious trash which read in part:
To call half the country "a party of death" and to assign that label to one's partisan political opponents is not, whatever else it is, an invitation to dialogue. It's demagoguic abuse. It's worthy of Ann Coulter (who, tellingly, has a blurb on the cover). It is one thing to argue that you are pro-life, to use the positive aspects of language to persuade. It is another to assert that people who differ from you are somehow "pro-death," (especially when they may merely be differing with you on the moral status of a zygote or the intricacies of end-of-life care). To smear an entire political party, and equate only one party with something as fundamental as life, is a new low in the descent of intellectual conservatism from Russell Kirk to Sean Hannity.
Does any this mean Mr. Sullivan will stop sending internet gravy to his friends Ross and Ramesh?

Oh fuck no.

In fact, it only underscores my point that it does not matter how horribly Conservatives behave, because nothing ever sticks,  Nothing ever "resonates".  At worst, per The Gingrich Rules, they go into the penalty box for 30 days, after which their records are expunged and they are restored their former positions, shriven, with perks and benefits fully intact.

Because there is still a Club.

And you are still not in it.

And thus it shall be until the end of days.

* Correction notes

Page 33 Obit

Buried in an article about ACA we find the first line of the obituary for American journalism:
But most reporting on these numbers has lacked a critical bit of historical context. 
In case you hadn't noticed, most reporting on everything lacks any historical perspective.  Because we have reached the point where dragging history into any conversation about anything important would make most of the people who shine the seats of the Beltway Media swivel chairs look like liars and idiots.

This is me, from a long time ago when I called this phenomenon Meme-ento (an inability to form any new political memories after 1997):
I have long entertained the fantasy of taking down the deans and duchesses of the MSM with a trank gun and rendering them off to my own, private “Come To Jesus” camp in the wilds of Hintervania. There they would be shocked, shivered and dosed to their hairplugs with scopolamine until someone explained to me why the entire fucking media has lost its fucking mind.

Why has the Fourth Estate – right before our eyes -- become a bunch of cowardly Fifth Columnists?

Why, when confronted with clear and overwhelming proof of their complicity and gutlessness -- when asked the simple question “Why?” -- do they go all squirmy and twitchy and outraged?

Why do Conservatives get to stand on desks with their hair on fire and shriek the most ludicrous, vile and mendacious hogwhiz – year after year after year after year after motherfucking year -- unchallenged? Why do these same howler monkeys -– who have been not just wrong but spectacularly, catastrophically wrong about everything, every time -- keep getting invited back in front of the cameras and onto the pages of major newspapers?

And when they rise from their crypts yet again to spackle yet another layer of Conservative lies on the wounded world – to send another wave of our kids off to die for no good reason, circle the wagons around another corporate monster, piss another precious pint of what’s left of our nation’s good name down the sewer, tax-cut-and-spend us further into debt – why do the same “journalists” who were ever eager to carve another slice out of Clinton’s ass over trivia, now piss themselves in like puppies in a thunderstorm and hide under the bed as Conservatives rape the truth two feet in front of them and them rub their noses in it?

Why is it that if Dick Cheney were caught sodomizing an underage manatee in the triforium of the National Cathedral, the first three words out of any MSM haircut’s mouth would be, “But the Democrats…”?
Later, I started calling it Strategic Forgettery.

It is a strange thing to watch whole swaths of history being effaced out of existence before our eyes.  I think of this as the tragedy of Liberalism -- being doomed to remember all the inconvenient truths that our politics and media Etch-a-Sketch energetically away and then being cursed to argue with crazy people who have no memory of what they themselves purported to believe -- loudly -- only moment ago.

For me personally, this amounts to a 100% certain dead-bang guarantee that the minute I stop stomping around the outskirts of town banging my little tambourine and shouting about Both Sides, everything I have ever written will vanish like the proverbial snowflake in a cyclotron.

Interesting feeling.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Radical Transparency For Thee But Not For Me

Make whatever you want out of this substance of this article ("Journalists + eBay Billionaire = Chaos. The Troubles at Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media") in the Daily Beast. I just find it hilarious that at the heart of journalism's most conspicuous and lavishly funded attempt to pry open everything, everywhere... (emphasis added):
Even New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen—who in October ended an 11-month paid consultancy with Omidyar and First Look Media—tweeted that Cook’s departure is “bad, bad news.” (Rosen declined to comment further.)

"We obviously knew some media types would try to link John's departure to Matt's as a means of depicting us as unraveling, sinking, etc.,” a source at First Look Media emailed The Daily Beast.

The Daily Beast reached out to a number of First Look Media figures—some of whom are not on staff but are independent contractors—and none would comment on the record.

Cook, who didn’t respond to a message left on his cell phone, is returning to his longtime professional home at Internet entrepreneur Nick Denton’s Gawker Media, overseeing investigative projects ...

Other than saying he’s “sad” at the way things turned out, the normally voluble Taibbi has consistently refused to discuss his defenestration. “I really can’t talk about it, unfortunately,” Taibbi told Huffpost Live—suggesting that he’s constrained by one of the strict non-disclosure agreements that Omidyar is said to insist upon for First Look employees (unusual for an operation ostensibly devoted to the journalistic values of openness and transparency). ...

“It sounds like he’s a terrible manager,” says a knowledgeable digital media maven who spoke on condition of not being identified. ...
-- ain't nobody talking about nothin'.

I'm not mad, I'm proud of you. You took your first pinch like a man and you learn two great things in your life. Look at me, never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.

-- Jimmy Conway, Goodfellas

Know Hope

The issues could stock a Sunday talk show: body cameras for the police, Ebola panic and more. Yet the points and rebuttals came not in shouts from politicians and pundits, but from pre-teenagers formally debating topics that occasionally hit close to home in their disparate neighborhoods.

This past weekend, about 100 middle school students from 10 schools in the New York City area — members of the New York Debate League — convened at the Hackley School campus in Tarrytown, N.Y., for a monthly tournament. The league, which includes elite private institutions like Hackley and the Dalton School as well as charter schools like the Harlem Success Academies, with a large proportion of poor students, is in its fourth year of teaching children of all backgrounds the fading art of civilized dissent.
“To me, the debate league is kind of an extra kind of education — it’s preparing you to go out into the world,” said Brianna Scott, a seventh grader at Harlem Success Academy West. “Plus,” she added with a smile, “it’s just fun.”
The reason I roll my eyes almost every time I hear someone calling for a "public conversation" or a "national debate" about anything is that we don't have the slightest idea how to do public conversations anymore, and what passes for "debate" in the public arena makes Jersey Shore seem like the Cambridge Union.

Back in the days of my youth, if a debate team were ever caught making shit up, the consequences for both them and their entire school would be swift and severe.

Today, they'd be offered their own show on Fox.

It it simply not possible to maintain a functional democracy if we cannot argue on the square and then shake hands afterwards.  And these days I will take good news wherever I can find it.

The Different Between Burning Down The Forest

and Settin' The Woods on Fire.*

But first, a little bit of one of the greatest science fiction epics ever.
Since we decided a few weeks ago to adopt leaves as legal tender, we have, of course all become immensely rich.

No really? Really?

Yes, very good move…

But, we have also run into a small inflation problem on account of the high level of leaf availability. Which means that I gather the current going rate has something like three major deciduous forests buying one ship’s peanut. So, um, in order to obviate this problem and effectively revalue the leaf, we are about to embark on an extensive defoliation campaign, and um, burn down all the forests. I think that’s a sensible move don’t you?
-- Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
As most of your clever dogs know, "Settin' The Woods on Fire" is the title of a PBS documentary about how George Corley Wallace, Jr. came to hold and exercise political power

It is also the title of a Hank Williams Sr.** song about having one hella raucus good time
Comb your hair and paint and powder you act proud and I'll act prouder
You sing loud and I'll sing louder tonight we're settin' the woods on fire
You're my gal and I'm your feller dress up in my frock and yeller
I'll look swell but you'll look sweller settin' the woods on fire
We'll take in all the honky tonks tonight we're having fun
We'll show the folks a brand new dance that never has been done
I don't care who thinks we're silly you'll be daffy I'll be dilly
We'll order up two bowls of chili settin' the woods on fire
It's a real thing, this kind of infectious charisma.  I don't have it, but I recognize it when I see it. Traditionally it's what moves people out of the pews and into the aisle at church and off of the couch and out the polls in politics, but we don't see a lot of it anymore now that microphones have made everyone equally loud, teevee has made everyone the same height, and every political event is calibrated for the benefit of the cameras rather than stem-winding speeches to wow the crowds.

"Burning the forest down" -- a phrase from the Dark Knight

 (and "The Hitchhiker's Guide...") -- is a different animal entirely.

It means to change the terms of an engagement by radically altering the environment of the battlespace.  Think Hannibal crossing the Alps.  Or the Romans building an artificial mountain to get at the rebels holed up on top of otherwise-impregnable Masada. Or Alexander's Siege of Tyre.

And this is where I think Michael Lewis' review of Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust misses the burning forest for the burning trees.
It’s an obvious point: people’s behavior can be changed. But it’s largely absent from the growing and increasingly heated discussion about the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else. The grotesque inequality between the haves and the have-nots is seldom framed as a problem that the haves might privately help to resolve. Instead, it is a problem the have-nots must persuade their elected officials to do something about, presumably against the wishes of the haves. The latest contribution to the discussion comes from Darrell West, a scholar at the Brookings Institution. “Wealth—its uses and abuses—is a subject that has intrigued me since my youth in the rural Midwest,” West writes in the introduction to his study of billionaires. From his seat in Washington, D.C., he has grown concerned about the effects on democracy of a handful of citizens controlling more and more wealth.

Drawing on the work of Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, West notes that the concentration of wealth in the top 1 percent of American citizens has returned to levels not seen in a century. One percent of the population controls a third of its wealth, and the problem is only getting worse: from 1979 to 2009 after-tax income for the top 1 percent rose by 155 percent while not changing all that much for everyone else. By another measure of inequality, which compares the income controlled by the top 10 percent with that of the bottom 40 percent, the United States is judged to come forty-fourth out of the eighty-six nations in the race, and last among developed nations. But the object of West’s interest is not the top 10 percent or even the top 1 percent, but the handful of the richest people on the planet—the 1,645 (according to Forbes) or 1,682 (the Knight Frank group) or 1,867 (China’s Start Property Group) or 2,170 (UBS Financial Services) people on the planet worth a billion dollars or more. (The inability to identify even the number of billionaires hints at a bigger problem: how little even those who claim an expertise about this class of people actually know about them.)

Billionaires seems to have been sparked by West’s belief that rich people, newly empowered to use their money in politics, are now more likely than usual to determine political outcomes. This may be true, but so far the evidence—and evidence here is really just a handful of anecdotes—suggests that rich people, when they seek to influence political outcomes, often are wasting their money. Michael Bloomberg was able to use his billions to make himself mayor of New York City (which seems to have worked out pretty well for New York City), but Meg Whitman piled $144 million of her own money in the streets of California and set it on fire in her failed attempt to become governor. Mitt Romney might actually have been a stronger candidate if he had less money, or at least had been less completely defined by his money. For all the angst caused by the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson and their efforts to unseat Barack Obama, they only demonstrated how much money could be spent on a political campaign while exerting no meaningful effect upon it.
Yes, billionaires have a hard time buying up politicians or running for office themselves...which is why this direct approach is often the least effective.  Although the idea that lobbing giant bales of money into political races has no effect on the race just because your candidate in a given race lost is ludicrous. I mean, sure, Romney lost despite being made of money, but so what?   Yes, big Republican donors spent hundreds of millions on Romney...and they lost.  

But big Democratic donors spent an assload of money on Obama...and he won.

Because somebody always wins.

However the collective effect of making access to fabulous riches a barrier entry to politics is that Big Money dramatically narrows the range of issues that anyone will feel comfortable discussing.  But ever more important than the effect of wealth during an election cycle is the power of great wealth to alter the course of our national conversation about everything, every day leading up to election day.

Like a great river, reshaping the topography of a continent, Rupert Murdoch doesn't win bend public policy to his will by coaching Herman Cain how to talk on camera.   He does it by hammering together the fears and bigotries and grievances of tens of millions of ignorant peons -- night after night, year after year -- until they are forged into a mighty electoral sword.

The Koch Brothers don't win elections by stuffing more money into Mitt Romney's campaign coffers. They win by patiently investing decades of time and billions of dollars in an army of publications, think tanks, front organizations and fake grassroots movements...gradually altering the basic American political and economic vocabulary so that "debating" anything outside of the very slender aperture of their interests becomes nearly impossible.

Finally, this area -- working the refs and working over time to change the political gravitational constant to favor Liberal positions -- is something the Left really sucks at.  This needn't be true, but the big dollar donors on the Left have chosen to investing virtually nothing in changing the rule of the game and the language of the rules.  And this, more than anything else, is why we lose.

*(Graphic is from my original Boehner as Trashcan Man post here)

** Thanks for the correction, Anon!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Morning Comin' Down

“Christ, what an imagination I've got“ Edition.

America's Sweetheart Chuck Todd gave noted healthcare con man Avik Roy access to vast and influential audience.


This happens often enough that one might assume Chuck Todd --

-- is deeply concerned about people who don't sling bullshit for a living being over-represented on his show.  Well I am here to tell you not to worry your purdy head, Chuck Todd: I have absolute faith that your Meet the Press panels will never suffer from an overabundance of honest brokers and tellers of truth.

And since high-powered, high-dollar operation like Meet the Press are clearly 100% cool with rolling on cracked retreads like Mr. Roy week after week, I see no reason why a dime-store nobody like me should go to all the trouble of recapitulation the internet's objections to Mr. Roy when I have a perfectly good archive available for plunder.

So let's let July, 2014 driftglass do the heavy lifting!
Anyway, one of the small and comically bizarre juxtapositions that routinely transpires under the capacious wings of the NBC peacock happens when someone on The MSNBC reports something which lays waste to the credibility of the same person who, three floors away, is being feted as Credible and Serious at by some establishmentarian testicle cozy at The NBC.

Of course the most famous examples of corporate media cogitative dissonance come every year when the Neocons are in bloom and one, teeny tiny division of the NBC corporation takes it upon itself to flay unindicted war criminals and bloodthirsty lunatics like, say, Paul Wolfowtiz, while other divisions of the same corporation dutifully fellate them, but it happens all the time.

Like, for example, the case of Avik Roy.

Mounted handsomely in the rolling disaster that is the Meet the Press video cavalcade, we find Mr. Roy being given a MTP Credibility Tuck-and-Roll: reputations reupholstered while you wait, in this case by pairing him off with actual heath care expert, Howard Dean, and calling the exchange a "debate" under the imprimatur of "NBC News".

The problem?

Avik Roy is notorious for just making shit up to score political points.

And how do we know this?

Well it was kinda all over the internet, and most of the links and analysis were collated and reported by Steve Benen at MSNBC back in 2013:
Avik Roy and the wonk gap

By Steve Benen

Among conservatives who care about substance and policy detail – not just everyday pundits and columnists, but genuine, grade-A wonks – Avik Roy has a reputation for being a pretty serious guy. He advised Mitt Romney on health care policy, for example, and has written extensively on the subject for a conservative think tank.

With this in mind, note that Roy was on “All In with Chris Hayes” last week, and as Kevin Drum noted, Roy “offered up a criticism of Social Security’s disability program that was so misleading that Michael Astrue, a former commissioner of the Social Security Administration appointed by George Bush, nearly had a heart attack on the air.”

Shortly thereafter, Roy weighed in on the latest report on California’s exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. While most of us saw the news from the Golden State as excellent news and proof that “Obamacare” implementation is proceeding apace, Roy published a remarkably dishonest piece arguing the opposite, deliberately omitting relevant details. 
The always-mild-mannered Jonathan Cohn explained in detail why Roy is plainly, demonstrably wrong, but added an important point about the larger issue.
If you want to know why we can’t have an honest debate about Obamacare, all you have to do is pay attention to some recent news from California – and the way a highly distorted version of it, by one irresponsible writer, has rippled through the conservative press.
Right. JonKrugman, and Ezra, among others, have detailed reports explaining why Avik Roy’s analysis simply doesn’t make sense – I won’t recreate the wheel here – and I hope folks will follow the links to understand the underlying policy dispute. It’s not just of a gray area; Roy is simply wrong.

But it’s the point about “why we can’t have an honest debate” that resonates with me.
Indeed, it reinforces the “wonk gap” thesis I’ve been kicking around for a while.

Remember, Avik Roy isn’t just some guy who shows up on Fox to rant and rave about “death panels”; Roy is one of the conservatives who hopes to prove that serious policy scholarship still exists on the right. He publishes content with a credible tone; he doesn’t fly off the rhetorical rails; and he genuinely understands the policy details.

But when it comes to advancing a partisan/ideological agenda, Roy is nevertheless willing to publish “Obamacare” criticisms that are transparently ridiculous.

I believe this is yet another data point that highlights the wonk gap. As Republicans become a post-policy party, even their wonks – their sharpest and most knowledgeable minds – are producing shoddy work that crumbles quickly under mild scrutiny...
Mr. Benen concludes that "[c]redible policy debates are rendered impossible, not because of the chasm between the two sides, but because only one side places a value on facts, evidence, and reason."

I would only add that credible policy debates will remain impossible as long as the credibility of people like Mr. Roy continue to be propped up by Mr. Benen's parent company.
America's Sweetheart Chuck Todd also gave Piyush "Jim Bob" Jindal (that "battered bit of old presidential timber presently warping out behind the bait shoppe")  an opportunity to dribble a basketball on his face.

And Jim Bob took it to the hole! (h/t Heather at Crooks and Liars)

Finally, Senate-never-been and Destroyer of Companies, Carly Fiorina, proves that if you're in The Club and willing to flash a little 2016 leg, Chuck Todd'll definitely ask you over to Luke Russert's parent's basement for a sloppy round of Seven Minutes in Chris Matthews' Idea of Heaven:
Oh, ouch. Ouch. Carly Fiorina, before I let you go, how serious are you about running for president?

That'll be something I consider at the right time.

So are you considering?

Well, when people ask you over and over again, you have to pause and reflect. So I'll pause and reflect at the right time.

Bathed in his currents of liquid helium, self-contained, immobile, vastly well informed by every mechanical sense: Shalmaneser.

Every now and again there passes through his circuits a pulse which carries the cybernetic equivalent of the phrase, “Christ, what an imagination I’ve got.“

Friday, November 14, 2014

Whig Decomposition


Shorter David Brooks:
Screw you Dolores!  You are not getting the boat.  I will burn the fucking thing to the waterline and sink the wreckage into the Potomac before I let your or your ratfaced lawyers see one fucking nickle...
What he actually said:
George Eliot was an emotionally needy young woman.
Oh lord.  Really?

Seven.  Paragraphs. Later.
The letter didn’t solve her problems. Spencer still rejected her. She remained insecure, especially about her writing. But her energies were roused. There was growing cohesion and, at times, amazing courage.

I’ve been thinking about moments of agency of this sort because often you see people who lack full agency.
And then we move on with, Jesus, who the fuck knows?  Just slow river of humid tapioca meandering between various outcroppings of adjectives and punctuation marks.  Even Brother Charles Pierce -- peering into the slurry of tepid flapdoodle ahead -- gave up at this point and went back to the lodge so hang out by the fire and drink hot toddies with the ladies.

Sage advice, but I pressed on a wee bit further to test my theory that no matter how loose a heap of stool an given David Brooks "topic" may be, you will virtually always find a glintly, little Both Sides razor buried in it somewhere.  And lo and behold, lookity what we have here...
Sometimes you see lack of agency among the disadvantaged. Their lives can be so blown about by economic disruption, arbitrary bosses and general disorder that they lose faith in the idea that input leads to predictable output. You can offer job training programs, but they may not take full advantage because they don’t have confidence they can control their own destinies.

Among the privileged, especially the privileged young, you see people who have been raised to be approval-seeking machines. They act active, busy and sleepless, but inside they often feel passive and not in control. Their lives are directed by other people’s expectations, external criteria and definitions of success that don’t actually fit them.
Legend has it that the rest of the column is basically a microessay of Mr. Brooks refracting various aspects of his trainwreck personal life through the lens of other people who he is alleged to have known who all solved their "agency" problems with stiff upper lips and sudden flashes of something or other.

At least that is the story I was told by the few hardy souls who slogged through the rest of it and made it back alove.  As for me, I quit around here -- "I once knew a guy who was batted about by people who should have supported him..." -- so all I can report for sure is that back at the lodge the toddies are indeed hot and the ladies 'round the fire are charming.

Professional Left Podcast #258

Many thanks to Kevin for creating this terrific video!
Frank: Listen, man, I don't like anyone following me if I don't know why they are.
Nada: Well, I don't join up with anyone, unless I know where they're going.

--  They Live


Da' money goes here:

Stop Trying To "Debate" These People

Start taking on their enablers

Even when those enablers work 200 feet from you..

Today In Both Sides Do It

Mr. Andrew Sullivan faults the GOP for trying to blow up a bridge (all bridges, actually) and faults the Obama administration for not 'splainin' the bridge -- which was the subject of endless hearings and public discussion which Mr. Sullivan apparently missed --  well enough for the hoi polloi to understand what the bridge was and where it would go:
The only reason Americans are ignorant about the ACA is that they were never clearly told what it was designed to achieve and how it would work. The debate was had among elites, using often technical language – who really knows what a vague “public option” means, for example? – and then sold to the public with either blanket reassurances (if you have an insurance policy, you can keep it) or terror stories about a government take-over (which it wasn’t). The reason for this failure by both sides to lay out the actual plan in ways anyone could understand was political. Neither side wanted a free-wheeling debate with unknown consequences; one was aiming for passage (something never achieved before), and the other was rooting for failure (for rank partisan reasons). Neither side was really interested in a real debate about the pros and cons.
Actually, Andrew, the Side of the Angels was was fucking begging Republicans to help them out just a smidge.  Just a jot.  Give us suggestions.  Any suggestions.  Any suggestions (which
which aren't designed to kill the thing in it's crib) at all.




And while the Side of the Angels was trying to gavotte through several, interlocking foreign policy and economic minefields simultaneously. the Bad People were equally busy shouting  Death!Panels! in crowded old folk's homes.  And strutting around in tri-corner hats, waving Gadsden flags and keening at town hall meetings like a billion banshees that they din't wunt Murrica to B'come Russia!

(Historical note:  Ms. Abrams has successfully parlayed yelling at Arlen Specter about The Encroaching Tyrant into a gig with...wait for it...Americans for Prosperity!  But you already guessed that because you are very smart.)

I know it's vewy, vewy hard to see the real world from the uppermost bartizan of Mr. Sullivan's Ivory Tower, so i'll be as simple as I can be:  There is no possibility of a "real debate about the pros and cons" about anything until the Republican Party is put down like the rabid animal that it is, and replaced by something like the Imaginary Reasonable Gated Suburb Tory-lite Party that David Brooks is always fapping on about in his Whig fan fiction.

And the GOP is not going to budge one inch until the Both Sides Do It retaining wall that keeps it propped up is blown to smithereens.