Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, March 21, 2013 7:35 pm

An imagination beyond one’s tribe

Quote of the day, from Sir Charles at Cogitamus:

I have been a liberal for a long time as have many of the people I’ve known.  And let me assure you, it wasn’t because back in 1980 or 1984 or 1988 all of the cool kids were doing the liberal thing and supporting food stamps.  It was because I — like most people who hung in there during the Reagan years — had the moral imagination to consider what life might have been like if I lost the lottery and was born poor.  It was because a study of history led me to understand how tenuous the climb to middle class status had been for so many people and how much the government giving people a hand up had meant to vast swaths of society.  I was a white male middle class kid, but I understood that the world was bigger than my tribe, a spirit that continues to animate most people on the left.  I did not grow up in an ideological household.  … [My parents] were both very devoted to overall notions of fairness.  (Neither has voted for a Republican since 1976 — I take some of the credit.)  I took that overall spirit of fairness and constructed a political view that struck me as consistent with it — a kind of Rawlsian view of the world long before I ever heard of John Rawls.

Emphasis added, because the concepts included therein are so critically important for a society to function.

“Moral imagination” is just another word for empathy. Without it, we are nothing more or less than sociopaths, we have way too many of those already and we are making more by the day.

The notion of life as lottery is something many conservatives and so-called libertarians find risible. But when you compare social mobility in the U.S. with that of other wealthy Western countries, you find something interesting and disturbing: Only the U.K. has less social mobility than we do.* Parents’ wealth is the biggest single predictor of offspring’s financial success. I suppose it was only coincidence that I learned today that Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget would ax the state’s inheritance tax completely.

History does indeed show that a lot of people are middle-class today only because their ancestors who were not fought to be. The labor movement of the ’30s, the right of women to vote, the civil-rights movement, and perhaps most importantly the desegregation of K-12 schools and higher education in the face of bitter resistance, all played a part in helping to increase the size of the middle class. And it’s no coincidence that all these efforts are under attack today, or that those attacks are funded by a very small number of very wealthy people who think the Constitution mandates a plutocracy. I suppose it is only coincidence, then, that the same gov I mentioned a graf ago is attacking teaching the liberal arts (such as, oh, say, history) in the UNC system.

Yes, by hook and by crook, the gov and the thugs who fund him seem bent on keeping the proles proles and turning more non-proles into proles. Sir Charles suggests above that they do not understand that the world is bigger than their tribe. I think the problem is bigger than that. I think they understand and actively seek to screw everyone who is not part of their tribe, because this hypothesis is the simplest explanation for what is otherwise a set of decisions difficult to justify on grounds of fairness, practicality or public good.

Evidence to the contrary is welcome, but I’m not holding my breath.

*Corak, Miles. 2006. “Do Poor Children Become Poor Adults? Lessons from a Cross Country Comparison of Generational Earnings Mobility.” Research on Economic Inequality, 13 no. 1: 143-188.

Saturday, March 16, 2013 10:36 am

Today’s grammar lesson

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 10:36 am
Tags: ,

… spelling version:

I before E

(h/t: Mom, who knows a little about grammar and spelling herself)

Friday, March 15, 2013 7:24 am

Short and sweet. I mean sucky.

Google is killing Google Reader, its RSS blog aggregator upon which I have relied for years. I am revising my Google stock-price projections for class accordingly. In the meantime, here’s the inevitable Hitler clip; as always, subtitles are NSFW.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 11:13 pm

Lynndie England did not die for our sins, but we know who should

I miss a lot of good stuff while school’s in session, but this was worth not leaving behind:

A United Nations investigator has demanded that the US publish classified documents regarding the CIA’s human rights violations under former President George W. Bush, with hopes that the documents will lead to the prosecution of public officials.

Documents about the CIA’s program of rendition and secret detention of suspected terrorists have remained classified, even though President Obama’s administration has publicly condemned the use of these “enhanced interrogation techniques”. The US has not prosecuted any of its agents for human rights violations.

UN investigator Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, said that the classified documents protect the names of individuals who are responsible for serious human rights violations.

“Despite this clear repudiation of the unlawful actions carried out by the Bush-era CIA, many of the facts remain classified, and no public official has so far been brought to justice in the United States,”Emmerson said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council, according to Reuters.

Kept in secret prisons around the world, the CIA’s detainees were subjected to torture including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and various other interrogation techniques that violate human rights. The detainees were often subjected to clandestine transfers to secret prisons known as CIA ‘black sites’.

“There is now credible evidence to show that CIA ‘black sites’ were located on the territory of Lithuania, Morocco, Poland, Romania and Thailand, and that the officials of at least 49 other states allowed their airspace or airports to be used for rendition flights,” Emmerson said, describing how suspected terrorists were often detained without being charged for any crimes, receiving extradition procedures or having access to lawyers.

Emmerson has urged the US to prosecute any public official who was involved in setting up the CIA “black sites” at which human rights or legal violations occurred. Even though the Obama administration has condemned those who promoted the use of such facilities for inhumane procedures, the administration has taken no steps to punish any of its public officials. Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the Justice Department would not take legal actions against those who “acted in good faith” and followed the guidelines provided by the Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush era.

But without names and details about the involvement of US officials at CIA black sites, the government is maintaining a level of secrecy and “perpetuating impunity for the public officials implicated in these crimes,” Emmerson said.  A Senate committee led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) previously investigated the CIA’s interrogation program and may have had complete access to classified information about it.

Emmerson has called for this information to be published “without delay, and to the fullest extent possible.”

He ain’t the only one. I spent long years here during the reign of Bush the Lesser, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Yoo, and my freshman hall counselor, Jim Haynes, calling for the people responsible for ordering torture and other crimes against humanity (including the unilateral military invasion of Iraq, a country with which we were not legally at war, in violation of both ratified treaties and U.S. statutes) to be investigated, indicted, tried where appropriate and punished as needed. In the case of torture or other crimes against humanity that result in the death of another human being, the punishment is execution. And I’ve been a tough-on-crime conservative my whole life.

And I’ve been consistent. I called for Obama’s impeachment barely more than a year after his inauguration when it became clear that he intended to target U.S. citizens for extrajudicial assassination,  an intent on which he has acted successfully since.

A war criminal is a war criminal. A murderer under international laws of human rights is a murderer under international laws of human rights. The Constitution makes our legal priorities plain: It itself and our ratified treaties, which define these crimes, constitute the Supreme Law of the Land. So hang ‘em all, and let God sort ‘em out.

But that’s only where it should start. If we deserve to be called free and self-governing people, we also need to look in the mirror and figure out how and why we let these crimes happen — because many, if not most, could have been prevented if we as a body politic had taken our responsibilities as citizens seriously. Instead, we knew of torture at least six months before the 2004 election and did nothing. The New York Times knew about warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens in criminal violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act a year before the 2004 election and held its story. When Democrats retook Congress in 2006, Speaker-apparent Nancy Pelosi took impeachment “off the table,” and the voters let them do it. And President Obama and Attorney General Holder have repeated their desire to “look forward, not back,” and the voters have let them do THAT, too.

Imagine the people of Germany, circa 1946, claiming that intent and ask yourself how we would have responded. And we had conquered them by force and yet wanted to rehabilitate West Germany as a bulwark against communism. How much easier should it have been, how much less should we have needed to worry about the tender sensibilities of the Washington establishment and its courtiers in the press, than it was to punish individual Germans while keeping Germany on our side?

The UN is by no means a perfect organization. But the U.S. is by no means a perfect country. Let us follow the facts and the law — which, remember, we willingly signed and ratified — wherever they lead us, and let us act as the law obliges us to act. If you want an omelette, you need to break a few eggs. In this case, incontrovertibly, if we want to restore our own honor as a free and self-governing people, we need to break a few necks.

Former “Patch” editor explains why it didn’t, couldn’t work, which anyone in newspapers could have told Patch and many did. Years ago.

Whocouldaknowed, am I right?

Ken Layne [interviewer for The Awl]: So you are a newspaper reporter and editor, and at some point you decided to “go digital” and get a job with the hyperlocal Patch.com sites run by AOL. How and when did this happen?

Sammy [Sturgeon, pseudonymous former Patch editor]: ‪Well, I’d been laid off and was desperate. I had enough connections that I was able to get an audience with the Patch people, and somebody kind of shooed me in.‬ This was about three years ago.

Ken: Patch was expanding at that point, right.

Sammy: Wildly. The news from New York—where all the MBAs who run Patch live—was that everything was “really exciting,” all the time. “Oh my god, gang, we have some really exciting news. We have launched 11 more sites this past week! We’re super excited.”‬

[snip]

Ken: But the concept was that local reporters would cover local news, like high-school sports and planning commission meetings and neighborhood police blotters, right?

Sammy : That was the concept, originally. Then the MBAs realized that that actually takes more manpower than they were able to afford. I guess they thought all that copy and content just sort of wrote itself!‬

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 6:10 pm

Quote of the Day, journalism edition, plus a couple of hard questions

Filed under: America. It was a really good idea,Journalism — Lex @ 6:10 pm
Tags:

From commenter Hidari at Crooked Timber, via economist Brad DeLong:

I am sure that Amazon are exploiting their labourers as much as they can and indeed as someone pointed out upthread, Amazon’s long term gameplan is to fire all their manual-labour staff and replace them with robots.

My point was much more basic as I am sure you gleaned…”everyone” (ie all the clever white boys) is convinced that there just must be some way to make money off the internet (long term I mean). Perhaps. But then again perhaps not. (cf. for example here; it is talking about the media but could be talking about anything on the Internet, really: “As traditional journalism disintegrates, no models for making Web journalism—even bad journalism—profitable at anywhere near the level necessary for a credible popular news media have been developed, and there is no reason to expect any in the future.” [Hidari's emphasis -- Lex]

There is probably no better evidence that journalism is a public good than the fact that none of America’s financial geniuses can figure out how to make money off it. The comparison to education is striking. When manag­ers apply market logic to schools, it fails, because education is a cooperative public service, not a business. Corporatized schools throw underachieving, hard-to-teach kids overboard, discontinue expensive programs, bombard stu­dents with endless tests, and then attack teacher salaries and unions as the main impediment to “success.” No one has ever made profits doing qual­ity education—for-profit education companies seize public funds and make their money by not teaching. In digital news, the same dynamic is producing the same results, and leads to the same conclusion.”

First, is quality journalism in fact a public good? If not, then how does one make money at it in the Internet era?

Second, if it is, what do we do about the dilemma that that condition creates? The traditional source of funding for public goods is the public (i.e., government, i.e., all of us). But the key job of quality journalism in a democracy is keeping an eye on the government. The BBC does so fairly well in the U.K., but I could easily see just one redneck committee chairman in the Senate placing an anonymous hold on funding for public journalism just as soon as one of his oxen appeared in danger of being gored.

Third, if we choose to live without quality journalism because there’s no way to support it financially, where do we end up, and what does that mean for the future of the idea of the U.S. as codified in the Constitution?

Serious answers, please. I don’t normally moderate comments to a great extent, but I really want to know what serious answers, if any, people have to these questions, and I’ll spike, with extreme prejudice, any BS responses.

Monday, March 11, 2013 6:45 pm

Morgan Freeman on Morgan Freeman

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 6:45 pm
Tags:

A little spring-break fun:

Now, in a few minutes, I’m going to sit down and, I hope, watch Davidson win the Southern Conference tournament. After that, I am taking down the Christmas tree. I only wish I were kidding.

(h/t: Mom)

Sunday, March 10, 2013 10:40 am

Happy birthday …

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 10:40 am

… to my little sister and a great American, Jane Alexander!

Thursday, March 7, 2013 8:52 pm

The forever reporter in the forever prison from the forever war

New York magazine profiles Carol Rosenberg, the reporter for the Miami Herald who has been on the Gitmo beat for 11, count ‘em, 11 years, with no end in sight:

How long do you think you’ll continue covering Guantanamo?
There are people who call the War on Terror the “forever war”; if this is the forever war, then this is the forever prison. I want to stay here for the 9/11 trial, which I think is years away. I feel like I have an institutional knowledge. Everyone else rotates in and out of here. The soldiers come and go, the lawyers come and go, most of the reporters come and go. I feel a responsibility to stay. I want to see how it ends. I’m a little concerned it’s never going to.

Camp X-ray was built for the specific purpose of getting around the Constitution, full stop. The people who created it committed crimes, full stop. And if the people who continue to defend it today aren’t criminals, they’re moral pygmies at best.

Rosenberg (who, earlier in her career, reported for the Charlotte Observer) can’t do anything about that, but she’s doing the next best thing: surrendering a significant chunk of her life, and a lot of creature comforts most Americans take for granted, to tell people what’s going on down there. Metaphorically, she’s almost as much a prisoner as the inmates. She seldom talks much about herself — her tweets tend to be about the court proceedings she covers — but I have a feeling that even if the trials ended tomorrow, Gitmo would be with her the rest of her life.

She’s not a prisoner, of course. Subject to the military’s irregular flight schedules, she can and does return to Florida from time to time. But I suspect that for the rest of her life, a significant part of her psyche and self will be living in those nasty tents, tweeting from a makeshift courtroom, knowing that every conversation, call or email she gets or receives will be monitored.

At some point, years from now, perhaps after the 9/11 trials are over, she’ll check out. But the Eagles were right, and so I suspect the only a part of her leaves Gitmo is via death or Alzheimer’s.

 

March 7 study break, “NC Medicaid IS NOT BROKEN” edition

h/t: Fec

Disclosure: Jeff Shaw of the N.C. Justice Center is a classmate in my current grad program. Further disclosure: He is not a bullshitter.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013 1:13 pm

Study break, 2016 presidential campaign edition:

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 1:13 pm
Tags: ,

Quote of the day, from Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns & Money:

Jeb Bush flip-flopping on immigration, now saying he doesn’t support a path toward citizenship for undocumented Americans, is a sign that leading Republicans can be serious about winning the 2016 Republican nomination or they can be serious about winning the general election, but they can’t be serious about both.

Granted, that’s a theory, or even just a hypothesis. But does it comport with the known facts? Yes. Does it explain current events? Yes. Was Bush’s action predictable in light of Loomis’s observation? Hell, it was inevitable.

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