Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, July 28, 2014 5:51 pm

The shadow of the U.S. Constitution crosses our state line

Today, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. The 4th Circuit’s jurisdiction includes not only Virginia but also from West Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas.

Thus, as of today, North Carolina’s shameful Amendment One has a bulls-eye on its back. Judges in pending and future challenges to it now have guidance from the 4th Circuit. That guidance will make the bigots, the homophobes, and the sincerely misguided alike unhappy, but it is essential if my native state is to become its best self.

Saturday, July 26, 2014 9:56 am

Happy birthday …

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 9:56 am

… to a proud, successful small-business owner and a great American, my brother Frank!

Friday, July 25, 2014 7:12 pm

Journalism = bullshit detection, and it’s not like we couldn’t use more of that.

Apparently some people have questioned the value of high-school journalism, including some who teach it. I didn’t take part in it myself, and despite 25 years in the newspaper bidness, I would not recommend that a bright young person today go to work for a conventional newspaper — for reasons pertaining to vision, finance and management, not journalism. But I digress.

Anyway, to set the stage, here’s a piece by Angela Washeck, who sought certification as a high-school journalism instructor in Texas. I won’t quibble with her facts, but here’s her conclusion, which also is OK on its own terms but misses a very important larger point:

The [certification] test, though, whose competencies reflect the content journalism teachers are expected to teach, is not current or especially relevant, and it’s a far cry from the state of current university-level journalism education. The test’s biggest strength is probably its photojournalism and design section, which requires that teachers know the uses of digital imagery and principles of basic composition.

Not all students who enter college journalism programs are coming from high school newspaper classes or staffs (myself included), but high school journalism class serves as a foundation for many young writers and photographers. I am not saying either that high school journalism teachers aren’t knowledgeable or capable of developing a more digital-first curriculum at the school or classroom level. In many schools, they have complete freedom, and in some high schools, journalism instructors are choosing to forgo the print newspaper and go all online.

My observation is simply that we live in a digital world, where journalists are expected to excel technologically regardless of print success. Texas high school journalism educator standards outline old-school tenets that don’t paint an accurate picture of what defines today’s media industry. In a journalism space where social media, mobile journalism and video content prevail, state curriculum isn’t doing students favors by ignoring new technologies. Yes, large state bureaucracies tend to move slowly in updating curriculum, but teachers who go above and beyond the assigned standards would find ways to integrate these technologies into classroom instruction.

Ma’am, high-school journalism should not be intended as vocational training, although if some vo-tech training happens along the way, that’s cool. It is, rather, more about the process than the product, as Adam Maksl points out:

The product of high school media classes, in many cases a yearbook or newspaper, is no more the central purpose of a scholastic journalism program than winning a football game is to team sports. Instead, it’s about the process, how students engage and work together, and the level of responsibility teachers encourage throughout.

Exceptional parents and educators know this. We don’t encourage our children to play with blocks from a young age because we expect them all to be architects and builders. We do it because we know the seemingly simple task of stacking diverse, colored objects into myriad shapes encourages cognitive development and problem solving. So it is with scholastic journalism.

In the comments to Washeck’s piece, Betsy Pollard Rau, a former Michigan high school journalism teacher whose students have won many reporting awards, said that some students went on to careers in journalism, but many more used skills learned in high school journalism in other professions like science, medicine and business.

“Yearbook, digital and newspaper experiences are merely the vehicles,” Rau wrote in the comments. “It is the destination that matters. High school journalism classes teach students higher level thinking skills, prepare them to deal with stress, give them opportunities to work as a team, meet deadlines, problem solve, write, shoot and edit.”

In fact, conflating the purpose of scholastic journalism with any single tangible product is tantamount to the misapplication and misuse of standardized testing as benchmarks for student learning. It’s exactly this logic that has reduced our students to the sum of their test scores, excluded teachers from educational policy decisions and made our schools prisons for creative and energetic young minds.

Journalism is, then, a process — what New York University’s Jay Rosen has called “the discipline of verification” — and a mindset, which is that power of all kinds, be it governmental, religious, or corporate, must be held to account if our society is to remain free. Athenae at First Draft elaborates:

You’re teaching people to use the bullshit detectors God gave them, and I don’t see anything wrong with that at the high school level. In college [journalism], you’ve got people who plan on practicing the craft, and that requires a little more focus and specialization and fine-tuning, but you’re still teaching people to take a look at what an authority figure tells them and start from the assumption that it is a complete falsehood. You’re still teaching people to find out that which no one wants known and tell as many people as possible through whatever means are at their disposal.

For some kids that instinct is a natural one. Some of us have authority issues from the start. [That'd be me -- L.] Some of us have a sociopathic ability to step outside the normal human experience and immediately begin processing how to communicate the horror around us in such a way as to advocate for its cessation, without being overtaken by that horror ourselves. Some of us just naturally run toward the sound of explosions instead of away.

(Some of us are just nosy, annoying [expletives]. A good 40 percent of the best reporters I know are absolute [expletive] loonballs unwelcome in polite society. Our suspicious minds, greedy for more more more information and unable to prioritize anything higher than satisfying our curiosity, make us unreliable dinner companions. It’s why we tend to socialize with one another. Anybody else would object to her date being perpetually two hours late and constantly jabbering about TIF districts.)

Some kids, though? Some kids should be taught that the world is different under its skin, that if you’re going to love your society you have to make it worth loving, and that means ripping it down to its ugly bones. Some kids need to be pushed to criticize the ropes that hold them up. Some kids should be shown the way change happens, all change: Somebody stands up and yells that the way it’s always been is total horseshit and knock it off.

Those lessons don’t have to come in journalism classes, but: In how many high school subjects are you encouraged to take something apart and put it back together again? In how many high school classes do you get to make something, really really make something, with your own hands? In how many high school classes can you learn to stand up for yourself and your right to know something, at an age when the adult world thinks you’re either a moron or a wuss?

If high school journalism classes aren’t creating journalists, then at least they are nurturing the instinct to call bullshit on the whole world. Student A might not end up a reporter, but he’s gonna be on the phone with his insurance company arguing a denied claim all night because he’s learned not to take no for an answer. Student B might not end up a copy editor, but she’s sure as shit going to make sure the company she works for has all its signs spelled right. Student C might not end up a producer but the annual report will be delivered on time, no matter how many hours of overtime it [expletive] takes.

Student D might not do anything more engaged with society than overhear something on the radio and think, “That sounds like a lie.” And that’s enough to justify a thousand high school papers.

In other words, done right, high-school journalism teaches a student at a young age to think critically. In an age in which government, the church and, especially, corporations are insisting upon increasing their intrusion into our personal lives and lying shamelessly about the reasons, we cannot cultivate this instinct enough if we want to remain a truly free country.

 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 8:13 pm

If only the public flaying were not metaphorical

So recently, Politico, not known for either journalistic ethics or simple human decency, sat down to have a chat with Dick Cheney, his harridan erstwhile-lesbian-porn-writing wife Lynne, and his inept erstwhile political-candidate daughter Liz.

To talk about foreign policy.

With “noted mortgage fraud concern” Bank of America as sponsor.

I’m sorry to report that fricassee of feces was not on the menu, but the “chat” was utterly full of it. So, boy, howdy, was I happy to see Charlie Pierce at Esquire give the unindicted war criminal, his vile relatives, and Politico the hiding they so richly deserved. I’m delighted to say that no one was spared, not even the children.

NoOneWasSpared

Just a few gems:

[Politico's] puerilty has finally crossed over into indecency. Its triviality has finally crossed over into obscenity. The comical political starfcking that is its primary raison d’erp has finally crossed over into $10 meth-whoring on the Singapore docks.

… and …

It’s not just that TBOTP["Tiger Beat on the Potomac" -- Pierce's epithet for Politico] invited the Manson Family of American geopolitics to come together for an exercise in ensemble prevarication. It’s not just that the account of said exercise is written in the kind of cacophonous cutesy-poo necessary to drown out the screams of the innocent dead, and to distract the assembled crowd from the blood that has dripped from the wallet of the celebrity war-criminal leading the public display. And it’s not as though this was a mere interview—a “get” that could help you “win the morning (!).” In that, it might have been marginally excusable. No, this was one of [Politico editor] Mike Allen’s little grift-o-rama special events—a “Playbook lunch,” sponsored by that noted mortgage fraud concern Bank Of America. There’s an upcoming TBOTP “event” in L.A. that is sponsored by J.P. Morgan. I know what Mike Allen is, but I am so goddamn tired of haggling about the price.

… and …

That’s the freaking problem? That Dad and Mom and Exemptionette got together, but The Gay One didn’t show up. The problem was not that your publication decided to publicize itself, and suck up some of that sweet sponsorship cash from Wall Street, by putting a coward and a torturer on display with the more unpleasant members of his family? The problem was not that the alleged journalists running your place decided to give a platform to a man whose only public appearances in the near future should be unsponsored events at the Hague?

It goes on like that, a righteous rant to rank with the best of Thompson and Taibbi. I didn’t even quote the best parts.

I have not had a lot of energy or attention for blogging of late. (I’m actually finally reading “The Count of Monte Cristo,” and I also just discovered “Breaking Bad.” Sue me.) But I’m glad that Pierce is on the job. And some of the commenters give as good as Pierce does; I particularly liked the notion that Cheney will outlive even Keith Richards for all the wrong reasons.

Anyway, go read and get mad all over again — at the war criminal, his family, and the whores who give him a platform. They’re all deserving targets of wrath. For as Liz Cheney says herownself, “You can’t be responsible about the future if you don’t understand what happened in the past.”

 

Sunday, June 29, 2014 10:26 am

Ready for my close-up, I guess.

Filed under: Housekeeping — Lex @ 10:26 am
Tags: , ,

One of Greensboro’s best blogs identifies this here establishment as one of Greensboro’s best blogs. Inasmuch as I do far less original reporting than some of the other folks on the list, and have devoted far less time to blogging in general lately, I’m humbled to be included. Thanks, Liv!

Monday, June 23, 2014 7:01 pm

In which John Oliver shows Dr. Oz how to pander without making potentially life-threatening medical claims

N.C. seeks to immunize pension-fund managers, banks from criminal liability

Really, that’s about the only way you can read this:

In the last few months, there has been increasingpressure on public officials to stop hiding the basic terms of the investment agreements being cemented between governments and Wall Street’s “alternative investment” industry.

That pressure has been intensified, in part, by twosets of recent leaks showing how these alternative investment companies (private equity, hedge funds, venture capital, etc.) are using the secret deals to make hundreds of millions of dollars off taxpayers. It is also in response to the Securities and Exchange Commission recently declaring that many of the stealth schemes may be illegal.

And yet, as the demands for transparency grow louder, a potentially precedent-setting push for even more secrecy is emerging. Pando has learned that legislators in North Carolina — whose $86 billion public pension fund is the 7th largest in America – are proposing to statutorily bar the public from seeing details of the state’s Wall Street transactions for at least a decade. That time frame is significant: according to experts, it would conceal the terms of the investment agreements for longer than the statute of limitations of various securities laws.

In other words, the legislation – which could serve as a model in state legislatures everywhere – would bar the disclosure of the state’s financial transactions until many existing securities laws against financial fraud become unenforceable.

A growing scandal in North Carolina

If the North Carolina Retirement System and its sole trustee, Treasurer Janet Cowell (D), seem familiar to tech readers, that is because the NC system is one of the lead plaintiffs in the class action suit surrounding Facebook’s initial public offering. Additionally, as part of her career in the financial sector, Cowell was the marketing director for the tech-focused VC firm, SJF Ventures.

Like other states, North Carolina has been redacting and/or refusing to release the contractual terms of its pension fund’s massive Wall Street investments, even though the contracts involve public money and a public agency.* In recent months, that practice exploded into a full-fledged political scandal when the State Employees Association of North Carolina released a 147-page report from former SEC investigator Ted Siedle.

The report asserted that under Cowell, up to $30 billion of state money is now being managed by high-risk, high-fee Wall Street firms, and that the state could soon be paying $1 billion a year in fees to those firms. The report also noted that the investment strategy “has underperformed the average public plan by $6.8 billion” and it alleged that Cowell has misled the public about how where exactly she is investing taxpayer dollars. The union has called for a federal investigation, while Cowell has publicly denied the allegations.

Note that it’s state employees, a majority of whom are presumably Democrats, calling for a federal investigation of a Democratic state official.

I don’t know whether the state’s Republicans just haven’t had this issue on their radar, or whether they see a payoff in insulating investment banks and other financial institutions with which the state does business from criminal liability. But either way, their silence is puzzling. And since banks are about as popular with Americans right now as strychnine, this down-low approach by the GOP doesn’t even make political sense.

*This practice appears to this layperson to be a clear violation of North Carolina’s Open Records Law. No exception recognized in the statute to the presumption that a record is public applies to this information. This practice appears to be the equivalent of your stockbroker refusing to tell you where and how he has invested your money: Would you find that arrangement acceptable?

Additional, deeply scary and infuriating background via Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism:

North Carolina’s investment performance in alternative investments is terrible. Of 23 reporting public pension funds, it ranked 21 in real estate and 23 in private equity. Whether due to corruption or incompetence, it is clear the state would have done better and at lower cost buying a mix of index funds. So the notion that these persistent bad results are due to payola is worth taking seriously.

However, the overwhelming majority of abuses Siedle cites [in the report linked above -- Lex], such as charging of dubious fees, pervasive broker-dealer violations, pension fund consultant conflicts of interest, various securities and tax law violations, also take place with investors who have no potential for pay to play to be operating, such as private pension funds, life insurers, and endowments like Harvard that also invest in private equity. We’ve written about many of these bad practices in earlier posts, and have had to stress the degree to which limited partners have deeply internalized the idea that they can get better returns from private equity than from other investment strategies, and therefore they can’t cavil about the terms, since otherwise they won’t be allowed into this club. In keeping, the SEC has said, with uncharacteristic bluntness, that supposedly sophisticated limited partners have entered into agreements which are vague on far too many key terms and weak on investor protections.

Disclosure: Never having worked as a public employee in North Carolina or anywhere else, I have no direct interest in the state’s pension fund; nor, so far as I know, do I have any indirect interest beyond being a North Carolina taxpayer.

Thursday, June 19, 2014 10:40 am

And while we’re on the subject of Iraq …

I see now that bloody-handed GOP foreign-policy apparatchik John Bolton has leaped into the fray as well, joining the Cheneys, Lindsay Graham, Paul Wolfowitz and all the other bloody-minded neocons in arguing that we need to KILL KILL KILL in Iraq because MURCA!

And news-media outlets of all political stripes are giving these effups a platform.

Yo, media: Stop. Just. Stop.

Every one of these people was wrong, wrong, WRONG about Iraq. They lied us into a war, they lied to us about how much it would cost in blood AND treasure, they lied to us about how we would be received, they killed thousands of American troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi troops and civilians for a lie, and in the process they mismanaged the whole thing to the point at which it would have been impossible to mess it up worse if they had been trying, if in fact they were not. ANY news outlet giving ANY of these people a platform anymore is committing journalistic malpractice, full stop.

(As I’ve said before, I, too, was wrong about Iraq. I supported the invasion because I believed the lies about a possible nuclear program and not for any other reason. I knew damn well that the case was far from conclusive, but the idea of Saddam with a nuke combined with my belief that no administration would deliberately lie this country into a war to overcome my misgivings. To borrow from “Animal House,” I fucked up. I trusted them. But my mistake, however naive, at least was honest. These people, with far more information, fabricated a casus belli, which is a war crime by definition.)

Media, if you truly want to help your readers/viewers understand Iraq rather than just beating the drum for MOAR WAR, you might do well to consult some of the people who were right about Iraq. Just for starters, here’s Athenae, who predicted in 2006 what’s happening today:

It occurred to me this weekend, listening to family and others talk about the war, that really what we’re doing now as a country is looking for some answer that doesn’t make us wrong, doesn’t make us [expletive]s, doesn’t make us the people who screwed this up so catastrophically that there’s no way out.

You see that with McCain and his troop plans, you see it with various Bush officials and their whole “we have to give it time, just like Vietnam” schtick (which, way to lose the five people you still had on this issue, Genius McMensa), and you see that with every single person around the Thanksgiving table that talks about how “we can’t leave now, it’ll just turn into chaos.” And I think the liberal war supporters are most swayed by the last argument, because c’mon, they clung so desperately to their hope that Bush wouldn’t cock this up, plus they were the ones screaming about US sanctions and repression in the Middle East long before we needed those excuses to blow some stuff up.

Things will be horrible if we leave. The answer to that last is always, unequivocably yes, yes, it will. Iraq will continue to be chaos, civil war, a breeding ground for hatred of America and a place of misery for those who live there. When the bough breaks, the cradle of civilization will fall. It’s time to stop dancing around that and just admit it. If we leave, it will be awful. For us, for them, for everyone.

BUT THERE’S NOTHING WE CAN DO TO STOP IT ANYMORE.

We lost this war three weeks after the invasion; we lost this war two and a half years ago at least. Those of you who read this blog just to be pissed off and think I take some pleasure in that can just go [expletive] off, you don’t know how much I wanted to be wrong about the sick feeling in my gut at seeing the looting start. We lost this war before it even began, with the piss-poor excuses for planning that gave us the Ballad of Dougie Feith and His Sidekick Ahmed Chalabi, that gave us Curveball and WMDs and letting libraries burn. We lost this war when we marched in with our own ideas about how to run Iraq and as much as said to the locals, [expletive] off now, let us play with our new toy. We lost this war long ago, while the majority of Americans were still waving flags and singing “we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way.” The only way to fix it, the only way to win, is to build ourselves a time machine and go back and not invade in the first place.

What’s more, I think the people saying we can’t abandon the Iraqi people, I think they know it, too. I think deep down they know there’s no way this is going to end well, considering how it began. I think deep down they know there’s no way to turn this around, but they don’t want to look at it yet, stare themselves in the face, see how completely and utterly taken they got. Take responsibility for the collective American failure. Take the weight of that on their souls.

I do get it: It’s not wrong to want the best. But it is selfish and small and downright immoral to allow your wanting the best to put others in danger when you know your delusions are just that. You have the right to pretend. You don’t have the right to ask someone to die for your puppet show. You don’t have the right to keep thinking it’ll get better, not when you know it won’t.

And so the answer to the statement, the desperate excuse, the Hail Mary: “We can’t just leave, it’ll be chaos.”

Yes. Yes, it will.

But American news media still insist on dividing their potential sources into the Very Serious People like Cheney and Bolton and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and so on, and those of us who disagree with them, who are dismissed as “unserious” or, in Internet parlance, Dirty [Expletive]ing Hippies. And those media ignore the fact that the “unserious” people, the DFHs, have been right all along.

Sadly, this phenomenon of providing platforms to people who have been proved wrong repeatedly isn’t limited to the subject of Iraq. It also applies to the economy and jobs, global warming, and just about every other major public-policy issue. I believe Driftglass said it best:

LIBERALS

Harry Reid on Dick Cheney on Obama on Iraq; or, All mistakes are created equal

Harry Reid voted for war with Iraq. He now says he shouldn’t have, but he did. Unlike some people, however, he at least takes advantage of the benefits of hinsight to admit his mistake:

If there’s one thing this country does not need, is that we should be taking advice from Dick Cheney on wars. Being on the wrong side of Dick Cheney is being on the right side of history. To the architects of the Iraq War who are now so eager to offer their expert analysis, I say, Mr. President, thanks, but no thanks. Unfortunately, we have already tried it your way and it was the biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of the country.

Some foes of the Iraq War complain that because Reid voted for war, he’s somehow just as guilty. And why not? Because believing that no administration would intentionally lie us into a war is EXACTLY as bad as the actual lying, right?

Friday, June 6, 2014 1:33 pm

The things they carried

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 1:33 pm
Tags: , ,

Ernie Pyle, on deadline:

NORMANDY BEACHHEAD, June 17, 1944 – In the preceding column we told about the D-day wreckage among our machines of war that were expended in taking one of the Normandy beaches.

But there is another and more human litter. It extends in a thin little line, just like a high-water mark, for miles along the beach. This is the strewn personal gear, gear that will never be needed again, of those who fought and died to give us our entrance into Europe.

Here in a jumbled row for mile on mile are soldiers’ packs. Here are socks and shoe polish, sewing kits, diaries, Bibles and hand grenades. Here are the latest letters from home, with the address on each one neatly razored out – one of the security precautions enforced before the boys embarked.

Here are toothbrushes and razors, and snapshots of families back home staring up at you from the sand. Here are pocketbooks, metal mirrors, extra trousers, and bloody, abandoned shoes. Here are broken-handled shovels, and portable radios smashed almost beyond recognition, and mine detectors twisted and ruined.

Here are torn pistol belts and canvas water buckets, first-aid kits and jumbled heaps of lifebelts. I picked up a pocket Bible with a soldier’s name in it, and put it in my jacket. I carried it half a mile or so and then put it back down on the beach. I don’t know why I picked it up, or why I put it back down. …

 

“Like waiting for an earthquake.”

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 6:15 am
Tags: , , , , ,

D-Day and its aftermath in Bedford, Va., home of Company A, 116th Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, the first wave on Omaha Beach:

On July 4th, 1944, the Bedford Bulletin reported that Company A had been commended for their actions on D Day – but still, no news about individual Bedford Boys. It was about this time that letters written to the men came back as undeliverable.

Bette Wilkes would be the first to get some news, a month after D Day, and it was much less than official. She was standing on a street corner when called to by a woman across the street. “Bette, did you hear about John?” Then the woman crossed the street – “he was killed.” Bette rushed home in a state of shock. Family tried to convince her that surely the government would have told her if anything had happened. Bette Wilkes never revealed the name of the bearer of bad tidings.

Another letter followed to the Fellers family that Taylor had been killed, but still no word from the Army. According to Helen Stevens, “it was like waiting for an earthquake.”

On July 17th, twenty one year old Elizabeth Teass reported to her job at Green’s drugstore where she was the Western Union Operator. She switched on her teletype machine and sounded a bell heard in Roanoke twenty-five miles away. She typed the words, GOOD MORNING. GO AHEAD. BEDFORD. Words came chattering back. GOOD MORNING. GO AHEAD. ROANOKE. WE HAVE CASUALTIES. Teass watched as one telegram, then two, then three came through. She waited for it to stop but it didn’t, not for a long time. Teass was in shock, why so many? But she knew her job. The families must be the first to know. …

There could not possibly be a more appropriate place for the National D Day Memorial that was dedicated on June 6th, 2001.

Of the thirty five Bedford Boys who went away to war, thirteen came home.

How the most important day of the 20th century began

Filed under: Salute!,Say a prayer — Lex @ 12:16 am
Tags:

From the prologue of Stephen Ambrose’s book “D-Day”:

At 0016 hours, June 6, 1944, the Horsa glider crash-landed alongside the Caen canal, some 50 meters from the swing bridge crossing the canal. Lt. Den Brotheridge, leading the twenty-eight men of the first platoon, D company, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Regiment, British 6th Airborne Division, worked his way out of the glider. He grabbed Sgt. Jack “Bill” Bailey, a section leader, and whispered in his ear, “Get your chaps moving.” Bailey set off with his group to pitch grenades into the machine-gun pillbox known to be beside the bridge. Lieutenant Brotheridge gathered the remainder of his platoon, whispered, “Come on, lads,” and began running for the bridge. The German defenders, about fifty strong, were not aware that the long-awaited invasion had just begun.

As Brotheridge led his men at a fast trot up the embankment and onto the bridge, seventeen-year-old Pvt. Helmut Romer, one of the two German sentries on the bridge, saw the twenty-one British paratroopers — appearing, so far as he was concerned, literally out of nowhere — coming at him, their weapons carried at their hips, prepared to fire. Romer turned and ran across the bridge, shouting “Paratroopers!” at the other sentry as he passed him. That sentry pulled out his Leuchtpistole and fired a flare; Brotheridge fired a full clip of thirty-two rounds from his Sten gun.

Those were the first shots fired by the 175,000 British, American, Canadian, Free French, Polish, Norwegian, and other nationalities in the Allied Expeditionary Force set to invade Normandy in the next twenty-four hours. The shots killed the sentry, who thus became the first German to die in defense of Hitler’s Fortress Europe.

Seventy years ago today. I’ve read avidly about this day, and the war of which it was a part, since at least as far back as 1970. I can recite a lot of facts and anecdotes about D-Day, I can talk about Eisenhower’s strategy, the effort and luck involved in the Allies’ scheme to make the Germans think the landing would come at Calais, and so forth and so on. And yet there remains a part of me that just can’t even imagine …

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 11:21 pm

Rigged

Nine years ago today, my father died. He was 75 and a self-employed financial consultant who was still working about 30 hours a week right up until his final illness (acute pulmonary fibrosis), which lasted a couple of weeks before his death.

From an early age, I heard Dad talk about the importance of saving and investing, and I did the best I could to follow his advice. As I got older and better able to grasp the mechanics, he talked about the stock market as the best long-term investment vehicle for retirement (although he did say that once I hit 50 I should start swapping some equities for bonds).

To the best of my abilities, I have followed his advice. I won’t give you numbers, but I’ll tell you the following: I don’t have a ton of ready cash and never have. But were I to die tomorrow, my family would be pretty well fixed, especially considering I was a journalist, and thus not particularly well paid, for most of my career. Like many Americans, I haven’t gotten a dime in retirement matching for coming up on about seven years now, but — although no one can read the future — I think my family and I will be OK assuming I live to 67 and actually get to retire.

But Dad didn’t live long enough to see the mortgage bubble burst. He didn’t live long enough to hear all the revelations about bank and nonbank and insurance-company and security-rating shenanigans on a scale that dwarfed the crimes of the S&L crisis two decades prior. He thought repealing Glass-Steagall was a bad idea, but he didn’t live long enough to see just how bad. For that matter, he didn’t live long enough to see high-frequency trading and the ease with which the practice makes front-running a trade possible.

So although I’m remembering Dad today with warmth and his passing with sadness, for some reason the Dad thought that has been most on my mind today has been: I wonder what he would make of today’s financial markets? Would he still consider it possible for a single, well-informed investor to do OK? Or would he be convinced, as I have been, that most of the market is a rigged game — that there is a club and that most Americans like me aren’t in it?

(And I’m writing from a middle-class prospective. My problems don’t even begin to touch the problems of the working poor, who are being robbed outright.)

I don’t know what he’d think. All I do know is that while he certainly wasn’t perfect, in his professional life, to the best of my knowledge, he acted with integrity and took seriously his fiduciary duty to his clients. I’m struggling to name a commercial or investment bank that exists today that I’m confident does the same thing.

Monday, June 2, 2014 6:18 pm

Fred Gregory, great American, receives N.C.’s Order of the Long-Leaf Pine

Filed under: Cool!,Salute! — Lex @ 6:18 pm
Tags: ,

For the dozen years that I’ve been running this joint, Fred Gregory has been so much a part of it that despite our frequent disagreements we have been the (dys)functional equivalent of co-hosts. In real life, we met in the late 1980s when I was a cops reporter for the News & Record and he was a Drug Enforcement Administration agent. We’ve been friends since and spent 11 of those years as neighbors besides, and my daughter and his granddaughter became great friends.

The sneaky SOB didn’t tell me this in advance, but this morning he was honored with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of North Carolina’s highest civilian honors, for his career service with the DEA, the Drug Tax Division of the N.C. Department of Revenue, and as a magistrate in the 18th Judicial District here in Guilford County. I congratulate him, and so should you.

 

Sunday, June 1, 2014 11:26 am

Please do me a favor: Read “The Case for Reparations”

You don’t owe me a favor, but I’m asking for one anyway: Go read the essay “The Case for Reparations,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic.

(Yeah, I’m late to it. I was on vacation. Sue me.)

I concede right up front that this isn’t a simple request. Consequently, as you’re about to see, this is the longest “y’all go read this” post in this blog’s 12-year history.

Likewise, “The Case for Reparations” is a long article — 15,000 words or so. And it deals, obviously, with race, a subject that makes most people uncomfortable and, in the U.S., should discomfit everybody.

But there are some other things you should know.

First, the title is a little misleading — perhaps deliberately so — in that most people probably think that “reparations” means cash payments to make up for black people’s having been slaves. In point of fact, Coates does not call for any such thing, let alone specify an amount, an eligibility standard for individuals, or a distribution mechanism. (This fact, should you see the article discussed elsewhere, will be an easy way to tell which commenters have read the article and which have not.)

Second, even if one brings to the article a broader understanding of “reparations,” one should know that Coates, who is black, has only the vaguest idea of what reparations of any kind might look like, that he sees the concept as too complex to be defined by any individual. Moreover, he opposed the idea in principle himself until only a couple of years ago. Even today, he thinks, for example, that affirmative action doesn’t really address the needs created by the circumstances he describes.

Third, the article is less an argument for some form of reparations — though it is that — than it is a piece of historical investigative journalism that explains the widespread, longstanding, and ongoing, theft of wealth from black Americans. Coates’s work, as he himself points out, is not entirely original and builds on the work of professional historians. Unless you’re in academia, you’ve probably never heard of many of those he credits. But Coates adds original reporting to the research of his sources to create a plain-English piece of journalism that would be a shoo-in for a National Magazine Award even if it weren’t advocating a thing.

And let me emphasize again his subject: the widespread, longstanding, and ongoing, theft of wealth from black Americans. This piece isn’t just about slavery, and another way to separate those commenters who have read the piece from those who have not will be that the extent to which a commenter dwells on slavery likely will be in inverse proportion to the likelihood that that commenter has read the article.

The article does several important things. Primarily, it outlines the economic case for some form of restitution for black Americans. But in explaining the basis for that restitution, it also points out how utterly inconsequential arguments about “pathological culture” (my words, not his) as a cause for the woes of black Americans are in this context, like arguing the merits of a rezoning case when the sun is about to explode. And it shows in striking granularity how some ordinary people lived long lives in an era of supposed equality and fairness while still being robbed blind — not just by slavery, not just by private corporations, but also by their own government even as that government claimed to be working for fairness and equality of opportunity.

To call this article a home run would be to grossly understate its significance. Some home runs barely clear the fence. A few reach the upper deck of stadium seats. This one won’t fall back to Earth for years.

So go read it. I’m not asking you to do anything about its subject, not least because I myself have no idea, at this point, what should be done. But just read it and think about it and ask yourself what should be done. The article suggests one starting point, one that wouldn’t result in the transfer of a single dime from anyone to anyone. But every thinking American ought to think about this.

It’s been said in many places by many people that slavery is America’s original sin. That’s true, but it’s only part of the truth, in that the original sin actually encompasses more than slavery. Americans who truly want this country to be what it told the world almost 240 years ago that it wanted to be must grapple with this original sin and how we go about expiating it. I cannot think of a better place to start than this article.

Thursday, May 15, 2014 9:25 pm

In which Michael Gerson notices that we have a Republican problem without using the word “Republican”

Gee, he says, no one trusts science anymore, even though not trusting science is going to lead to some very bad things.

This man wrote speeches for arguably the most antiscientific administration since before the Civil War, if not ever, and he wonders why “we” have a problem?

We don’t have a problem, Mike. The Republican Party, for which you shamelessly whored, both has the problem and is the problem. And you know it. So stop pretending you’re stupid. And for God’s sake stop talking to us as if we are.

 

Throwing our children’s still-beating hearts into the stone mouth of the free-market idol; or, you’ll never guess whom economist Steven Levitt tried to bullshit.

Anyone who has sat through Econ 102 and higher understands that while lots of things work well in theory, in real life they bump up against human beings who are not nearly as rationally self-interested as theory would have us believe.

Noah Smith likens belief in free markets to idolatry and calls its unblinking supporters “the free-market priesthood.” The good news, he says, is that among econ academics, a little nuance is finally starting to creep into an area of thought that had been dominated for decades by the free-marketeers. The bad news, though, is that popular economics, which is the only kind most Americans are aware of and espouse, hasn’t gotten the memo.

One guy who should know better is Steven Levitt, co-author, with my acquaintance Stephen Dubner, of the “Freakonomics” books. Their new book is called “Think Like a Freak” — i.e., like them. I haven’t read it and so won’t pass judgment on it, but the behavior of Levitt himself is, by his own description in the book, apparently … questionable.

In their latest book, Think Like a Freak, co-authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner tell a story about meeting David Cameron…They told him that the U.K.’s National Health Service — free, unlimited, lifetime heath care — was laudable but didn’t make practical sense.

“We tried to make our point with a thought experiment,” they write. “We suggested to Mr. Cameron that he consider a similar policy in a different arena. What if, for instance…everyone were allowed to go down to the car dealership whenever they wanted and pick out any new model, free of charge, and drive it home?”

Rather than seeing the humor and realizing that health care is just like any other part of the economy, Cameron abruptly ended the meeting…

So what do Dubner and Levitt make of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which has been described as a radical rethinking of America’s health care system?

“I do not think it’s a good approach at all,” says Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago. “Fundamentally with health care, until people have to pay for what they’re buying it’s not going to work. Purchasing health care is almost exactly like purchasing any other good in the economy. If we’re going to pretend there’s a market for it, let’s just make a real market for it.”

Smith brings the pain:

This is exactly what I call “free market priesthood”. Does Levitt have a model that shows that things like adverse selection, moral hazard, principal-agent problems, etc. are unimportant in health care? Does he have empirical evidence that people behave as rationally when their health and life are on the line as when buying a car? Does he even have evidence that the British health system, specifically, underperforms?
No. He doesn’t. All he has is an instinctive belief in free markets. Of course David Cameron didn’t “realize that health care is just like any other part of the economy” after a five minute conversation with Levitt. Levitt didn’t bring any new ideas or evidence to the table.
And it’s not like Levitt’s idea was new or creative or counterintuitive. Does anyone seriously believe that the question of “why is health care different from other markets” had never crossed David Cameron’s mind before? Obviously it has, and obviously Levitt knew that when he asked his question. He wasn’t offering policy advice – he was grandstanding. Levitt wants to present himself as “thinking like a freak” – offering insightful, counterintuitive, original thinking. But if this is “thinking like a freak”, I’d hate to see what the normal people think like!
Surely it has not escaped Levitt’s notice that the countries with national health systems spend far less than the United States and achieve better outcomes. How does he explain this fact? Does he think that there is an “uncanny valley” halfway between fully nationalized health systems and “real markets”, and that the U.S. is stuck in that uncanny valley? If so, I’d like to see a model.
But I don’t think Levitt has a model. What he has is a simple message (“all markets are the same”), and a strong prior belief in that message. And he keeps repeating that prior in the face of the evidence.
I’m am not arguing, nor would I, that free markets are always and everywhere wrong. But Levitt is arguing pretty much the opposite, even though 1) he knows damned well it’s untrue, 2) he knows damned well that control of markets exists on both a quantitative and qualitative spectrum, and 3) he knows a world of empirical evidence derived from both this depression and the last one proves him wrong. I mean, dude, if Alan Greenspan admitted that, much to his surprise, free markets were not always self-regulating and self-correcting, surely you could concede the same?
But no.
I don’t know whether Levitt is insane or just has books to sell, nor will I speculate. But the fact is that he is intentionally saying things about the economy that he knows are false, and the fact is that he knows that these falsehoods that have real and painful consequences for tens of millions of Americans and make America look ridiculous in the eyes of the world. He had the ear of perhaps the second most powerful person in the free world, and he bullshat the guy.  I don’t care why. I just want him to stop.

Stressing the country out; or, Tim Geithner should have been fired about umpty-‘leven years ago

Tim Geithner, the guy President Obama inexplicably put in charge of the bank bailouts, has a new book out called “Stress Test.” (The term derives from the laughably phony “tests” endangered large banks were put through to see whether they had so many crap assets on their books that they needed to be liquidated; the fix was in, so not one large bank was broken apart of liquidated. Instead, we gave them bazillions of taxpayers’ dollars which they spent on bonuses for themselves instead of lending money to businesses to create jobs.)

The consensus seems to be — unsurprisingly, to me — that it sucks. Particularly, it’s incoherent where it’s not downright dishonest. The Washington Center for Equitable Growth rounds up some of the responses:

Glenn Hubbard:

About housing… I must say I split my side in laughter because Tim Geithner personally and actively opposed mortgage refinancing…. And now he’s claiming this would be a great idea…

David Dayen:

The guy who handed hundreds of billions of dollars over to banks with basically no strings attached [was] suddenly worried about fairness when homeowners get a break on their mortgage payments…. Even as he says in the book “I wish we had expanded our housing programs earlier,” he completely contradicts that to Andrew Ross Sorkin, saying [that his own] statement is “unicorny”…

Amir Sufi and Atif Mian:

Multiplying $700 billion by 0.18 gives us a spending boost to the economy in 2009 of $126 billion, which is 1.3% of PCE, 10 times larger than the estimate Secretary Geithner asserted in his book. So Mr. Geithner is off by an order of magnitude…

Economist Brad DeLong concludes:

In the “real world” Geithner did have full control over the GSEs and the FHA–because Paulson nationalized them in the summer of 2008.

In the “real world” Geithner submits his recommendation that Glenn Hubbard be nominated as head of the FHFA to President Obama on January 21, 2009, it is approved by the senate in February 2009, and thereafter there are no constraints on technocratic use of FHFA and the GSEs to rebalance the housing sector and aggregate demand.

Geithner should not say “I wanted the FHFA to act but I did not have the authority to get the FHFA to act” and at the same time say “having the FHFA act would have made no difference”; Geithner should to say “you cannot blame me because of the constraints” when we know that it was his own actions and inactions made those constraints.

Look: Tim Geithner did much better as a 2009-2010 finance minister than any of his peers. Look: the stress tests worked, and worked very well. (I disagree — Lex.) Look: Christina Romer and company say that if you need a bank rescued in 48 hours, Tim Geithner is your man. But the purpose of Stress Test is to explain to us what Tim Geithner thought and why he thought it, and thus why he did what he did.

And in Stress Test, on housing policy, he doesn’t.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 7:20 pm

How utterly debased New York Times reporting is in two simple blog posts and why that matters to people who don’t read the Times

First, a key paragraph from the offending Times article:

Few issues ignite such passion among the base of both parties. Democrats argue that the laws are intended to keep poor voters away from the polls because they often have difficulty obtaining identification. Republicans contend cheating is rife in today’s elections.

Now, an analysis of that paragraph by Felix Salmon, formerly with Reuters and now a senior editor at Fusion. Here’s the money quote:

I’m sure that if you look hard enough, you’ll be able to find a member of the Republican party who believes that cheating is rife in today’s elections. Hell, you could probably even find a member of the Democratic party who believes the same thing. But in general, I don’t think that Republicans believe — or even contend — that cheating is rife.

It’s certainly true that a lot of Republicans support voter ID laws. But you don’t need to think that cheating is rife in order to support such measures. In fact, you don’t even need to think that cheating exists in order to support such measures. It’s entirely rational to support a voter ID law even if cheating is rare or nonexistent, on the grounds that cheating is just too easy right now and that you want to make it harder.

In other words, Peters’s formulation actually does Republicans few favors. If you know anything at all about the voter ID debate, you know that (2) is true and (4) is false. Which means that if you know anything at all about the voter ID debate, and you read Peters’s article, you’ll come away thinking two things:

A) In order to support voter ID laws, you first need to believe that cheating is rife.

B) In general, Republicans are liars.

After all, if you contend that cheating is rife, as Peters says Republicans generally do, you are lying.

And, finally, Jay Rosen at PressThink, with the larger context. Money quote:

So what is that exceedingly crappy paragraph doing there on the newspaper-of-record’s front page? Salmon says it’s laziness. (“He-said-she-said is so easy, for a journalist on deadline, that both journalists and editors tend not to really thinking about exactly what they’re saying.”) Certainly ease-of-use is part of the device’s fading delights.

Here’s how I described the appeal of he said, she said in 2009. It makes the story writable on deadline when you don’t know enough to sort things out. In a “he said, she said” classic:

* No real attempt is made to assess clashing truth claims in the story, even though they are in some sense the reason for the story. (Under the “conflict makes news” test.)

* The means for assessment do exist, so it’s possible to exert a factual check on some of the claims, but for whatever reason the report declines to make use of them.

* The symmetry of two sides making opposite claims puts the reporter [and the user] in the middle between polarized extremes.

I question whether that between-two-extremes territory, the “you figure it out/for us partisan polarization rules” space is valuable turf in the news business. I doubt that it’s “safe,” either, if you mean by safe: won’t do the brand harm. I think it’s likely to corrode trust over time. A conventional explanation for he said, she said says: it may be lazy or incomplete, but it is also a safe middle ground place to land so you can get the damn paper out!

But it’s not that safe. Democrats argue/Republicans contend/We have No Idea… increasingly won’t cut it for the Times, or its competitors like the FT, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Bloomberg. The upscale, high-information readers the Times wants to charge more money to, the core loyalists who are being asked to finance more of the operation— these users are increasingly likely to know about various preponderance-of-evidence callsindependent of whether the Times knows enough to include that review in its reporting. When this kind of reader comes upon he said, she said reporting on a big story where it’s CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE, as with the right to vote: bad moment for the Times brand.

On the surface, this example appears to favor Republicans. Salmon argues that upon closer inspection, it favors Democrats by demonstrating that Republicans are liars on this issue. My big picture is that any one example isn’t the issue; the phenomenon is the problem. Some days I want to grab every publisher, executive editor, and executive producer in the country, slap them across the face and say what Jonathan Stewart famously said to then-“Crossfire” co-host Tucker Carlson: Stop it. You’re hurting the country.

Several different things can cause this kind of false-balance, he-said/she-said reporting to be published. Time pressure and byline-count requirements can tempt reporters to slap it down and file it without taking the trouble to see whether there is, in fact, a preponderance of the evidence (or preponderance of LACK of evidence) that would allow a reasonable conclusion to be drawn. Editors and publishers, in an era of dwindling circulation and readership and viewership and, correspondingly, ad revenue, don’t want to risk alienating a large segment of the public, even if that segment has been aboard an accelerating handbasket toward intellectual hell for the past half-century.

But you know what? Those are only excuses. If enough consumers of news demand it, news outlets that genuinely want to stay in business — not all do, but that’s a subject for another day — will respond accordingly. That said, those consumers need to target publishers, executive editors and managing editors, not the reporters who write this stuff or their assigning editors. Reporters write this stuff, and assigning editors send it on through to the copy desk, because they believe they can and/or must. If publishers, executive editors and managing editors — and, yes, I’m talking about my friends at the News & Record, among others — send the strong message that this kind of fake-ass reporting cannot and must not be published, then it won’t be. It’s that simple. So apply pressure in the right place; if nothing changes, then you know whom to blame.

Facts matter. Facts have consequences. And, dammit to hell, in the lives of real people, policy trumps politics. Journalists need to be committing journalism like they understand these things. Too many aren’t, and that crap must stop.

And Adkins v. Martin apparently is over

As I said originally, the lawsuit by the Adkinses, Riddlebergers, and Conservatives for Guilford County against my friend Jeff Martin was about Jeff, not me. So if this account is accurate, I will neither criticize nor second-guess.

I had hoped for a more broadly beneficial outcome. But that’s just me. Jeff has been through hell for the community’s benefit in this particular arena, and at his best he was, as Ed Cone observed earlier, as good as Mencken. So if he decides it’s time to step out, I will not just respect but support that decision.

And I would respectfully remind anyone inclined to do otherwise that in all likelihood you haven’t been through what he has, and your experience probably isn’t as similar to his as you think.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 12:09 am

Radical conservative morons try to shut down local blogger; or, An even more special kind of stupid, cont.

So it turns out that the political action committee Conservatives for Guilford County and four of its principals are suing local blogger Jeff Martin, who blogged under the pseudonym Fecund Stench, for defamation. If I liked popcorn, I’d be buying some.

First, the obligatory disclosures: Jeff and I have been friends online and in real life for years. (Less relevantly, his wife and my ex-wife used to work together at the old TriadStyle magazine, which is, indirectly, how he and I first met in real life.)

Second, for those of y’all not from ‘Round Here: C4GC is a local Tea Party outfit, with all the ideological baggage that that term implies. And Jeff Martin, a more traditional Republican, despises it and everyone associated with it. And Jeff plays hardball. To extend the baseball metaphor, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him intentionally hit a batter, but when a batter crowds the plate, Jeff will throw a 99 mph brushback pitch and not lose a second’s sleep. I like him, but I don’t agree with every last thing he says. And fellow Greensboro blogger Ed Cone, who is more dispassionate about Jeff, says this about him: “At his best, Fecund Stench is Guilford County’s own, digital H.L. Mencken (and like Mencken, his use of racial and religious stereotypes can be an issue). At his not-best, duck.” I think that’s fair.

Now, the complaint, which you can read for yourself. (Jeff has 30 days to respond.)

Now, the obligatory disclaimer: I Am Not A Lawyer, and I don’t play one on the Internet. However, I did publish a fair bit of potential lawsuit bait about some incompetent and/or bad people during my 25 years in print journalism, consulting with lawyers many times in so doing, without ever being sued at all, let alone successfully. And my just-completed master’s program included a media-law course just a year ago. (Much of what appears below is adapted from the text for that course, The Law of Public Communication, by Kent R. Middleton and William E. Lee, published in 2013 by Pearson.) So I’m in a position to do a little analysis without attempting to say who will win.

Now, the caution: Jeff has taken the Fecund Stench blog down, apparently as a result of the lawsuit, so the posts quoted in the complaint are absent any context. That caution is important no matter which side of this case you’re inclined to come down on at the moment.

In plain English, the first question is: Are the plaintiffs — that is, C4GC and the four named individuals — public figures? The answer determines what they have to prove in order to win the suit. The answer is that they almost certainly are. They are not public officials — the least ambiguous type of public figure. But they are public figures. The PAC has attempted to play a role in local elections. Jodi Riddleberger is an occasional op-ed columnist for the News & Record. And so on.

I’ll explain why the fact that they are public figures is important in a minute. First, you need to know that to win a libel suit, plaintiffs must prove, at a minimum, all of the following six things:

  • defamation: that what was published damaged plaintiffs’ standing in the community or professional reputation via attack on plaintiffs’ character or professional abilities, and/or that it causes people to avoid the person defamed. (Fun fact: The law does, indeed, recognize the possibility that someone’s reputation might already be so bad that they can’t be damaged any further by being libeled.)
  • identification: that what was published specifically identifies each plaintiff (it need not do so by name if the description clearly identifies a particular individual).
  • publication: defendant made the allegedly defamatory statements where at least one other person besides defendants could see them. Blogging on the World Wide Web meets this definition.
  • fault: defendant published the information either knowing it was false or with reckless disregard for whether it was true or false.
  • falsity: the information must be provably false, and the burden of that proof falls on plaintiffs.
  • injury: plaintiffs must prove some form of actual damage, financial or reputational.

Remember, the plaintiffs must prove all six to have a chance of winning.

Now, the public-figure status of the plaintiffs matters because of the level of fault they must prove as public figures, noted in bold above. In North Carolina, private figures under the law need not prove quite as much — merely that the allegedly libelous material was published negligently. But, as I noted, I’m pretty sure that C4GC and the named individual plaintiffs qualify as public figures because of how they have injected themselves into public debate on issues of public import, e.g., elections. If the court finds that they are in fact public figures, they’ll have to prove that Jeff knowingly or recklessly published false and defamatory statements about them.

Here’s the thing, though: Defendants in libel cases have several defenses available to them under the law, and if the defendant employs any of those defenses, the burden of proof is on the plaintiffs not only to prove the six things listed above but also to show that those defenses are inadequate or don’t apply.

Some of those defenses that might relate to this case are:

  • statute of limitations: Even if a statement is libelous, a suit must be filed within a certain period of time after its publication to be allowed to proceed. If a would-be plaintiff waits too long — typically a year — to sue, the plaintiff is out of luck. Some of the statements at issue date to 2011.
  • truth: If the plaintiff alleges that the defendant has published something false and the defendant can prove that the statement is true, the plaintiff is out of luck.
  • neutral reportage: If Candidate A says something potentially libelous about Candidate B, Newspaper C may be able to report what Candidate A said without committing libel, even if it knew or suspected that Candidate A’s statement was false and defamatory, as long as it reports what Candidate A says in fair and disinterested fashion. Candidate B might, just maybe, have a libel case against Candidate A, but not against Newspaper C.
  • First Amendment opinion defense: Statements can’t be libelous if they are opinions based on verifiable fact or if they are opinions whose truth can be neither proven nor disproven.
  • exaggerations and figurative terms generally are not libelous.

Obviously, we can’t even begin to know until the discovery phase of the suit is complete whether plaintiffs can prove the six things they need to prove. Publication is a slam dunk, and for the sake of argument, let’s give all five plaintiffs the benefit of the doubt on identification. That still leaves falsity, defamation, injury, and fault, specifically that the plaintiffs must prove that Martin published false and defamatory material either knowing it was false or with reckless disregard for whether it was true or false.

Which raises another issue. Is it provably false, for example, that plaintiff Brett Riddleberger “suffers from a medical condition known as Erectile Narcolepsy, by which loss of blood to the brain when aroused causes him to lose consciousness.” To this layman, a better question would be: Who, among those older than 9, would believe this to be true in the first place? This is arguably an example of the kind of exaggeration that cannot be considered libel.

Anything is possible in a lawsuit, particularly if a case actually gets tried in front of a jury. But few libel cases get that far. The farthest most ever get is that after discovery (in which each side is obliged to provide certain evidence to the other), both sides move for summary judgment — they ask the judge to rule for their side without even letting the case go to trial — and the judge grants it to one side or the other after determining that there are no real issues of fact for a jury to determine.

But even more likely than that is that the two sides settle or one side, usually plaintiffs, realizes that it has no case and cuts its losses. A letter from Jeff’s counsel, Ron Coleman, strongly suggests to plaintiff’s attorney that that is where this case should be headed:

Although we have only passing familiarity with the litigation pending in Guilford County at this point, we see no reason to doubt that a cooperative resolution of this matter is the likely outcome. In light of your own experience and considering your level of practice, we would expect that you see it the same way. If so, you will probably agree as well that we should make every effort to skip the stupid steps and get to that point now.

Rationally, I agree that that’s exactly where this case should be headed. But I’ll be honest: Part of me wants to see what plaintiffs have to say, under oath during depositions in the discovery phase of the suit, about the businesses of the Adkinses and the financial backing of C4GC. As a longtime Republican living in N.C.’s 6th Congressional District, I must vote in a runoff between the top two finishers in the May 6 GOP primary, one of whom, Mark Walker, is backed by C4GC. If one of the candidates is backed by money from strip clubs, I’d certainly find that relevant. It might or might not affect my ballot — past performance, more than anything else, generally dictates my voting decisions — but it might very well affect those of other Republican voters in the 6th District. It’s certainly germane. And, frankly, given the Christofascist nature of some of the candidates previously supported by C4GC, the possibility of exposing great hypocrisy is attractive to me.

In short, part of me wants to see plaintiffs spanked so hard their appendixes come flying out of their mouths.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about Jeff and his constitutional right to publish factual information, criticism, and even parody, and about the same rights for other bloggers, perhaps, one day, including me. Assuming everything he has published is either true fact, protected opinion or parody, not only does he need for this suit to go away, America needs for the plaintiffs to be driven away with their tails between their legs and lots of bright red bruises on their asses so that robust political commentary and criticism can continue unabated.

Saturday, May 10, 2014 10:46 pm

An even more special kind of stupid

SpecialKindOfStupid

It takes a very special kind of stupid to inherit peace, prosperity and a budget surplus and explode the deficit, allow a horrific terrorist attack, launch a war both illegal and unnecessary (killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in the process), order Americans to carry out exactly the same kind of torture for which we hanged Germans and Japanese after World War II AND push policies that allowed the worst economic crisis in three-quarters of a century.

But it takes an even more special kind of stupid to say, on the subject of George W. Bush, to intelligent Americans, “Who ya gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?” Naturally, these days we do not lack for that very special kind of stupid; we need only turn to Matt Bai, formerly of the Times Almighty and now with Yahoo, to find it:

A graphic this week on FiveThirtyEight.com showed how fewer and fewer Americans blame Bush for the country’s economic morass, even though his successor, Barack Obama, won two presidential campaigns based on precisely that premise.

Bush’s critics will argue that this is testament to how quickly we forget the past. But it has more to do, really, with how we distort the present.

The truth is that Bush was never anything close to the ogre or the imbecile his most fevered detractors insisted he was. Read “Days of Fire,” the excellent and exhaustive book on Bush’s presidency by Peter Baker, my former colleague at the New York Times. Bush comes off there as compassionate and well-intentioned — a man who came into office underprepared and overly reliant on his wily vice president and who found his footing only after making some tragically bad decisions. Baker’s Bush is a flawed character you find yourself rooting for, even as you wince at his judgment.

Not just no, Matt, but hell, no.

I don’t need to read your buddy’s slobbery hagiography: I know what I saw and heard, out of the man’s own mouth, for eight long, painful, and disastrous years. For sheer incompetence, only Buchanan comes close, and in terms of the consequences of his stupidity, he is without peer or even parallel. America is vastly poorer, dumber, less free and yet more vulnerable today than it was in 2000, and the blame for that can be laid squarely at the feet of Li’l Boots McDrydrunk and the monsters he hired. I heard the man talk, so I know for a fact that he is an imbecile. I heard him admit on ABC News that he ordered torture, so I know for a fact that he is an ogre. And you, sir, can go straight to hell with him.

The only thing I’m rooting for where Bush is concerned is a seat in the dock at The Hague. And while oral sex is no longer a crime, public oral sex still is, so, Matt, buddy, next time you sit down to write about Bush 43, I’d look around for cops first.

 

Actually, only PART of the 1% is the problem. But we don’t know which part.

OK, strictly speaking, it’s the top 8%: CNBC commissioned a poll of U.S. households with $1 million or more of investable assets. And to a significant (and, to me, surprising) extent, they think a lot like you and I think on the economy:

  • 51% believe income inequality is a “major problem” for the country.
  • 64% support higher taxes for the wealthy.
  • 63% support increasing the minimum wage.

Now, they don’t think exactly like us; they’re likely to overestimate the effect of a good education and hard work (America tops only the U.K. in social mobility among the 20 wealthiest nations), and they tend to underestimate the effect of inherited wealth and luck.

But the fact remains that close to two-thirds of millionaires think they, themselves, should be paying more taxes and that the minimum wage should be higher. Just thought you should know we have some support among their ranks.

 

 

The problem with the “new economy” — and how the media make it worse

Ed at Gin and Tacos:

Things like airbnb and Uber (a car sharing service, for those of us who don’t live in a city large enough to make the prospect of paying a stranger to drive you somewhere viable) are “building trust” among Americans, bringing them together and facilitating economic activity. Plus, they make the economy more efficient, partially eliminating the dead airtime in daily life. Why leave your house empty when you can get someone else to pay you to stay in it? Why sit around watching TV all evening when you could make money driving people around?

It all sounds great, at least according to the fawning sycophants who provide all of us out here in the provinces with such worshipful coverage of the amazing achievements of the Techno-Demigods. And it is great as long as you don’t bother to ask (or care) why people are suddenly employing themselves as improvised innkeepers and taxi drivers. After all, does anyone really want to let some strangers stay in their home for a few bucks? To drive some trust fund asshole to the airport on Saturday after a 45 hour week? I doubt it. People turn to the “Trust Economy” because they’re somewhere between financially stressed and desperate. They don’t make enough or they’re without any steady source of income at all. They do it for the same reason that people go to work at a temp agency or loiter in a Home Depot parking lot to do day labor: because they have no better options.

The tech media work hand in hand with the mainstream media to put the brightest and prettiest coats of paint on economic developments of this kind, but who really benefits from this kind of arrangement? Hold on to your hats, kids, but it isn’t you. The beneficiary is the guy who can get people like you to perform for pennies on the dollar all of the tasks that a driver, personal secretary, and butler would do. It’s remarkable how many of the recent Big Developments from the omniscient men of the Valley have managed to make the lives of the well-off easier without actually creating any jobs that pay a livable salary or have benefits. Oh, and they convince the media to cover these breakthroughs in a way that makes it sound like they’re doing you a favor. You’re free at last, free at last. Say goodbye to the chains of full time employment and hello to the boundless freedom of working piecemeal, making phone calls on Mechanical Turk for a quarter and driving Damon the Junior Content Developer to the airport so he can spend the weekend in Cozumel with his frat bros.

The problem with the fact that the economy created a robust 288,000 jobs in April is that it needs to keep doing that for many, many more months to begin to undo the damage wrought by the Crash of ’08. And in the meantime, people are doing whatever they have to do to get by. Ignore it if you like, sociopaths of the world, but for God’s sake do not try to romanticize it. There is some shit even Americans won’t eat.

The future is here, and it blows.

 

Friday Random 10, Saturday cleaning-out-old-files edition

Filed under: Friday Random 10,Fun — Lex @ 11:07 am
Tags: ,
  • The Black Crowes — Don’t Wake Me
  • The Connells — Dull, Brown and Gray
  • U2 — Fire
  • Lyres — I Want to Help You Ann
  • Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs — Stay
  • Trammps — Disco Inferno
  • Velvet Underground — White Light White Heat
  • Cheap Trick — So Good to See You
  • Toots & the Maytals — Sweet and Dandy
  • Warren Zevon — Rest of the Night

lagniappe: Old 97s — Oppenheimer

Sunday, May 4, 2014 5:42 pm

“This town needs a better class of racist.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Cliven Bundy, Donald Sterling and related events:

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” John Roberts elegantly wrote. Liberals have yet to come up with a credible retort. That is because the theories of John Roberts are prettier than the theories of most liberals. But more, it is because liberals do not understand that America has never discriminated on the basis of race (which does not exist) but on the basis of racism (which most certainly does.) … Ahistorical liberals — like most Americans — still believe that race invented racism, when in fact the reverse is true.

Thursday, May 1, 2014 8:30 pm

War, huh! Good God, y’all. What is it good for? Gun sellers’ bottom lines.

Well, that and right-wing seditionists.

At its convention in 1977, the NRA rejected its history as a club for hunters and marksmen and embraced activism on behalf Second Amendment absolutism. Rejecting background checks and allowing “convicted violent felons, mentally deranged people, violently addicted to narcotics” easier access to guns was, said the executive vice president that year, “a price we pay for freedom.” In 2014, 500 days after Newtown and after a year of repeated legislative and judicial victories, the NRA has explicitly expanded its scope to the culture at large.

The NRA is no longer concerned with merely protecting the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms – the gun lobby wants to use those arms on its fellow citizens. Or, as the NRA thinks of them: “the bad guys”.

It is useless to argue that the NRA is only targeting criminals with that line, because the NRA has defined “good guys” so narrowly as to only include the NRA itself. What does that make everyone else?

I’m actually a gun guy. Grew up with long guns, did target shooting. Carried concealed earlier in my career when I was covering some people I was worried were serious bad guys, and I still support the right of law-abiding citizens to carry concealed — if they’ve been properly trained in the use of a firearm. Problem is, a serious percentage of gun-holding Americans either have not or have decided not to care what they were taught; as several years of covering the Knife & Gun Club for various newspapers taught me quite well, the American public is in no way, shape or form a well-regulated militia.

Now, that position puts me well to the right of pretty much all my liberal/Democratic friends and not even on the absolute left fringe of the pro-gun crowd. (Some people support gun ownership but want strict limits on concealed carry, for example.) But to Wayne LaPierre and his minions, it makes me the enemy, someone they’re trying desperately to find a way to shoot legally — not me personally, understand, but people like me, anyone who disagrees with them.

You can call that Second Amendment absolutism. You can call it fanaticism. You can call it irrationality. I call it batshit freaking insane, flirting with treason. And if you want to know why police chiefs historically have favored gun control, it’s because they have to clean up after the messes that the Wayne LaPierre disciples of the world, whether or not they are, in fact, NRA members, tend to create.

LaPierre has decided to use this nightmare apocalyptic vision he outlined in his speech at the convention to get people to buy more guns, grow more paranoid, be prepared to see any reversal as an existential threat, to be met with deadly force, even in the teeth of the lowest homicide rate in decades. This is the behavior of a man who is neither sane nor law-abiding, and more innocent Americans are going to die because of it.

One rookie-of-the-year teacher walks away

My friend Robert Bell once worked with me at the News & Record before becoming a middle-school teacher. He was, and remains, one hell of a writer. But he’s no longer a teacher. He posted on Facebook to that effect earlier today, and with his gracious permission I’m republishing his post in its entirety. I’ll add nothing except to say that when a teacher of this caliber walks away, our children lose, and too many teachers of this caliber — some of whom teach or have taught  my own kids — are walking away.

* * *

It is odd, surrounded by all this quiet. Oh sure, if you listen – I mean really listen – there’s noise. The hum of the air conditioner, the muted taps of a keyboard outside my office, the distant laugh down the hall. But for the most part there is nothing but quiet, and that is new to me.

There is no Elijah in my face, laughing so hard milk explodes from his nose. There is no Destiny or Tyra to ask me what a boy likes in a girl. I haven’t seen Ben or Brooke in three days. Who will I tell to pull up his drooping pants if there is no Wade? Where is Kevin to politely remind him to keep his feet to himself?

I resigned from my middle school job last month. Looking back, the only thing more difficult than leaving my students was the job itself. On my first day of teaching – an exhilarating, uplifting nine-hour whirlwind of joy – I wondered where this job had been all my life. On my last day, I sat fell into my chair wondering how I lasted so long.

This is not a rant against how teachers are treated like lepers by our governor. His actions and inactions speak for themselves. This is not a screed against our legislators. They are perfectly capable of explaining how, in one session, they cut funding to our children’s education and gave precious tax money to for-profit charter schools while my students are using science textbooks that claim Pluto as the ninth planet.

Instead, this is an elegy to the folks I left behind, the hardest working and least understood professionals I know – your child’s teacher.

Like most jobs, teaching has two versions: The chestnut Hollywood portrays and reality. I fell hard for the Hollywood version. You know, the one where the teacher walks in and instantly a hush falls over the classroom. This is followed by students dutifully pulling out their notebooks and, pencils in hand, wait for those pearls to tumble from my mouth.

Oh, the places we’ll go! The stories we’ll read. There will be lively discussions of Whitman and O. Henry and Poe. Hands will shimmy in the air, their owners eager to share their own wisdom and connections.

Then there’s the other version of teaching I like to call reality. On my first day at my middle school, a father choked his son for leaving his lunch at home. Another student whispered to me she wasn’t wearing any underwear – and that she didn’t have any for the new school year. A third raised his hand and asked me to pronounce the word on the whiteboard: Welcome!

Welcome, indeed. After that first day I realize Whitman and his friends might want to come back in a few months.

Someone a lot smarter than me once described teaching better than I ever could. Imagine a lawyer (or banker or accountant or doctor) showing up for work one morning and finding 32 clients in need of their services. Each client had a different problem and was unable to articulate it. Some were angry they had to be there. Others were thrilled to get away from their homes if only for eight hours a day. Some were quick to explain their needs and desires, but became frustrated when it took so long to get to them. Others were easily distracted. Ready? Learn!

Don’t get me wrong, teaching is not an impossible job, just an incredibly difficult one. I’ve worked with many wonderful teachers who meet the needs of their students every day. And while the high test scores and rookie-of-the-year award were nice, my heart told me I wasn’t one of those teachers.

I dreaded telling my students I was leaving. At the start of the school year I brought in a cake and candles for each class. We closed the blinds and turned off the lights and made a pact around the flickering candles: For better or worse, we were in this school year together. I told them some might grasp the lesson that day and were welcome to move forward. I told them others might need more time – and that was fine, too. But one thing was certain: We were in this together. Nobody was being left behind.

After hearing that I was leaving, Elijah tearfully told me I was breaking up our secret club. I told him he was right. I told him I was sorry. I told him the only reason I would ever leave him was for Kate (a fixture during my after-school tutoring) and the rest of my family.

At the end of the day, Rion scribbled a note and put it on my desk before hurrying out the door to her bus: “Please don’t go, Mr. Bell. I know this letter is not fancy, but it was made with care. You were once like my white father to me. Now you’re like my father. I wish my mom had met you.”

CJ, who never met a lesson that couldn’t be put on pause so he could sketch, drew me a comic strip. I am swinging an oversized pencil at a dragon named Stupid. By the end, Stupid is sprawled out on the ground. Mr. Bell and his full head of hair are smiling and the children are cheering. “Do you get it? Do you get it? Mr. Bell! Met-a-phooor!”

I’m staring at his metaphor right now. It is in my office, my incredibly quiet office, next to the picture of the two of us at a school dance. CJ was nervous about going to the dance. He said the only way he would go was if I went with him. He clung by my side the first 15 minutes. Never saw him the rest of the night.

I knew I would miss CJ and the rest of the kids. I just didn’t think I would miss them this much.

When people asked me what I did for a living I gave them what they wanted to hear: “I’m a teacher,” I’d say.

What I wanted to say is, “What do I do for a living? Every day I walk into a classroom and discover worlds I never knew existed.”

Like CJ’s world, in which his mother keeps him home whenever she’s feeling lonely and depressed. Like Remy’s world, in which he came to this country after watching a warlord shoot his father to death back in Africa. Like Tyra’s world, in which she writes letters every week in class to her father in jail. She’s still waiting on him to write back. Like Angel’s world, in which he has a perfect attendance and regularly stays after school for tutoring – if only to escape going home to Mom and Dad’s arguing. Like Justin’s world, in which he and his two brothers and cousin take turns sleeping on a single bed each night.

A teacher is more than just someone who fills your child with knowledge and makes them “globally competitive,” whatever in the hell that means. They make many of their students happy, well-adjusted human beings and instill in them the audacity to believe they can be more then what they ever dreamed they could be.

Maya Angelou, whose stories we read in class this year, once wrote “of all the needs a lonely child has … the one that must be satisfied, if there is going to be hope and a hope of wholeness, is the unshaking need for an unshakable God.”

I’ll count those 19 months in a classroom a success if just one of my students thought I was their Kingdom Come.

Charlie PIerce on the “states’ rights” argument’s ugly history

A lot of conservative politicians are arguing for a smaller federal government and more “states’ rights.” Unfortunately for them, that argument has a history, and, yes, that history is ugly:

This view of things was litigated at the Constitutional Convention. It failed. It was litigated over the tariff. It failed. It was litigated at Cemetery Ridge. It failed. It was litigated prior to the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. It failed. It was litigated at Central High in Little Rock. It failed. It was litigated on the campus at Ole Miss in 1962. It failed. It was litigated at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It failed. It is the connective tissue that binds modern conservativism inextricably to the remnants of American apartheid because this view of the nature of the nation always was the expression of threat that the slaveholder felt about his way of life. It camouflaged itself in a number of ways involving a number of different issues, but always it was about the fear that, sooner or later, the federal government was going to come and take away the chattel from which you derived your personal economy, and so even what might be beneficial to the nation as a whole must be resisted on the pretext of sovereign states.

Mike Pence is one of the more prominent politicians to make this argument lately, but he’s far from the only one. And any student of American history, whether Republican, Democrat or unaffiliated, ought to know that this argument has been dishonest since 1787.

Sunday, April 27, 2014 11:02 pm

Happy birthday, Dad

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 11:02 pm

Hooper Alexander III

April 27, 1930-June 4, 2005

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