Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, February 12, 2015 7:09 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 12

The proportion of Republicans who believe in evolution has decreased from 54% in 2009 to 43% in 2014. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a likely Republican presidential candidate in 2016, “punted” on Wednesday when asked whether he believes in it. So much for evidence-based government. And Happy Darwin Day.

Jeb Bush, another likely 2016 presidential candidate, “didn’t have time to redact other people’s social security numbers but he did have time to redact his own dirty hands.

A thoughtful, nuanced article about what can happen when two people have sex who are both so drunk they can’t remember the next day what happened. Spoiler: nothing good.

And when an Iowa woman had to go into the hospital for cancer surgery, her miniature Schnauzer tracked her down, all the way to the hospital. *sniff* Dusty in here.

Saturday, January 31, 2015 9:10 am

“Massacre” vs. “shootout”; Mike Barber drags the discussion backward

The good news, I guess you can say, is that here in Greensboro we’re no longer arguing over whether we’ll have a state historical marker commemorating the killings of five Communist Workers Party members by Klansmen and Nazis in 1979. Instead, we’re arguing over whether the sign will say “massacre,” as the state advisory committee (trained historians) recommended, or something with fewer emotional overtones, like “killings” or “shootings.”

Any of those options is fine with me as long as the city takes this opportunity to come face to face with something it would rather forget. Nov. 3, 1979, was, pretty inarguably, the worst single day in Greensboro’s history. We’ve practically had to be forced at gunpoint to reckon with what happened that day and afterward, and how it happened, and why. But now, at least, the ground has shifted from “whether” to “how.” It’s not as much progress as I’d like, but it is progress.

Today’s story reminded me, though, of something from a story last week on this same issue, and an argument that cries out for a response. City Council member Mike Barber said:

“The bigger issue for me is that in a city of almost 300,000 people, we continue to have just a handful of people who live their lives looking in the rearview mirror. Other midsize cities are concentrating on the positive, marketing the positive, attracting jobs and businesses. We continue to discuss what happened when gas was 28 cents per gallon. That’s what holds Greensboro back — a small group of people who make an industry of racism and unhappiness, marketing all that’s unpleasant and negative no matter how long ago these things occurred.”

My initial response? Two syllables of basic Anglo-Saxon.

Who in the pluperfect hell is Mike Barber (whom, by the way, I’ve known since our daughters were in day care together) to decide that trauma suffered by other people is unworthy of thought, reflection, or mention? Who in the pluperfect hell is he to tell those who suffered that trauma to get over it? If his daughter had been killed in the shootout — or had died prematurely in any other way — would he be OK with me or anyone else telling him to get over it? Somehow I doubt it.

We’re supposed to believe that Greensboro is being held back, or even could be held back, by such a small group of people? Please. It’s OK for places from Andersonville to Auschwitz to “market all that’s unplesasant and negative no matter how long ago these things occurred,” but it’s not OK for Greensboro? Please. (And, boy, “market” is a revealing word, isn’t it?)

But, much worse, ridiculing and diminishing the tragedies in the lives of others displays, at the very least, a stunning lack of human sympathy. Doing so for political gain, as here, demonstrates nontrivial amounts of sociopathy. And because this kind of lack of sympathy and lack of empathy is at the heart of so many of the issues that divide us as Americans, it’s also bad for the country. White people tell victims of racism to get over it. Men tell women who have been raped, and/or whose rights are under assault in areas ranging from reproductive health to equal pay, to get over it. The wealthy tell Americans whose wealth has been stripmined where it hasn’t been swindled to get over it. People looking to capitalize on the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the Army Corps of Engineers tell longtime New Orleans residents who lost their homes to get over it. And on and on. It goes against everything that we have told ourselves about what the United States stands for — not least, that we’re all in this together. Yet that is where Barber has chosen to place himself.

Mike Barber could argue against the marker on historical grounds. (He says he’ll go with whatever a majority of the council decides.) He could argue against the word “massacre” on the marker on rhetorical grounds. I might or might not agree with him, but these are subjects over which reasonable people of good will can disagree even if many of the arguments we’ve seen so far have been disingenuous. But Barber’s comments, uttered from a place of race, gender, and class privilege and obviously aimed at strengthening that place politically, put him squarely in the middle of a stream of American political thought whose source lies somewhere between Bob Haldeman and Nathan Bedford Forrest. If anything is truly holding Greensboro back, it’s that kind of attitude. It’s despicable. It’s evil. And I just thought someone should say so.

Thursday, January 29, 2015 7:42 pm

Open letter to John Hammer at the Rhino Times

John, if you’re going to accuse Susan Ladd of being factually inaccurate, it behooves you to point out where she was, you know, factually inaccurate.

Best,
Lex

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 7:17 pm

Boy Scouts, you keep using that phrase, “morally straight.” It doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Most days, all I ask of the world is that I not be forced to respond to outright asshattery before I’ve finished my first cup of coffee. Today, my modest request outstripped the capabilites of the Boy Scouts of America.

I received the weekly e-newsletter from my son’s Boy Scout troop, No. 101 here in Greensboro. And the very first item in it was an editorial titled, “California Supreme Court on the Offensive against the BSA.” It read:

Can we agree to disagree? Not in California, where self-appointed arbiters of public morality have chosen to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Ignoring the legacy of a century of service to the country, the California Supreme Court unanimously chose to join the ranks of those who have chosen to vilify the Boy Scouts. In this, they join the current federal administratation, which has effectively barred Boy Scouts from using military bases for camping and travel, using the same argument that the BSA is “discriminatory.” In the corporate world, Disney has not given the Boy Scouts funding for many years. The company does, however, allow employees to do volunteer work in exchange for cash donations to the charities of their choice. That is, unless their charity of choice is the Boy Scouts. I, for one, do not have to agree with every administrative edict or policy statement issuued by BSA National. The core purpose of the BSA remains the same – building young men of character who will be responsible to their families and communities. The program as it stands today seeks to carry this out in a fair and good-hearted manner. It has been an integral part of the fabric of American life for years. Can it continue to be so in the face of mounting opposition?

This editorial, which seems to be purely local in origin, appeared to be a response to the California justices’ recent, unanimous vote to bar California state judges from belonging to all organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. That rule had been in effect since 1996, but with an exception for nonprofit youth groups. In February 2014 the state bar’s ethics advisory committee recommended scrapping the exception on the grounds that there was no good reason for it, and the high court unanimously agreed.

There was a link from the newsletter to, presumably, more of the editorial on the troop’s website. When I clicked the link, it appeared, however, that the page had been taken down. (And quickly; it looks as if no cached version is available.) I presume this means that cooler, by which I mean “less oxygen-deprived,” heads prevailed.

The first thing I did was email one of the troop’s longtime leaders (a friend of mine for 35 years) to express my concerns. But I also decided pretty much immediately that I wasn’t going to let this drop.

When you wade through the flawed logic, Orwellian diction and legal ignorance of the paragraph above, what you get to is this: The author doesn’t like gay people and, for whatever reason, thinks the Boy Scouts ought to be able to discriminate against non-hetero adults in its leadership ranks even though there’s no sound legal, scientific, or sociological reason for such a ban.

And this is just one small example of a much larger problem with American conservatives: They think that when the rights of others are protected, their own rights are threatened. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Anyone who doubts the existence of eternity need only ponder the conservative capacity for playing the victim. You see it in this editorial:

  • The California Supreme Court is “on the offensive” against the BSA. Actually, it is holding itself and the state’s other judges to a clear standard of fairness that is consistent with the law and the Constitution. It is not interfering with the Boy Scouts or the organization’s mission in any way that any sentient human being would notice.
  • Duly elected California Supreme Court justices are “self-appointed arbiters of public morality” (no, that’d be YOU, jackass).
  • The justices have “thrown the baby out with the bathwater.” In fact they have protected the rights of adults not to be discriminated against by a non-church tax-exempt organization without materially affecting, let alone damaging, the organization’s mission or its ability to carry out that mission.
  • The justices have “ignored the legacy of a century of service to the country.” In fact, the justices are protecting the rights of all Americans to take part in, and add to, that legacy of service.
  • Upholding the rights of all equates to “vilifying the Boy Scouts.” (No, that’d be what I’m doing right here, and for damned good reason.)
  • The Boy Scouts seek to carry out their mission in a “fair” manner. In fact, the author is defending the right of the organization to behave UNfairly.
  • The Boy Scouts cannot carry out their mission “in the face of mounting opposition” — which isn’t opposition at all, but rather a demand that the organization comport with the laws and principles of the country it claims to love and support.

Jesus H. Christ on a turbocharged sidecar, I do SO wish stupid were painful.

I’m no one’s idea of Father of the Year, but I’ve tried very hard to raise my kids not to discriminate against people on the basis of inherent characteristics. I believe enough in fairness that I put my life on the line for it early in my journalism career. And God bless ‘em, my kids have responded very well. Indeed, unknown author, let me give you a clue about today’s Boy Scouts, and today’s kids in general.

They know that people differ in their sexual orientations, and you know what? It’s only a big deal to them to the extent that their parents make it a big deal. In other words, in complying with both the law of the land (as enunciated in the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment) and its spirit, not only are the kids all right, they’re a damn sight better than you. They are the leaders. And you need to get in line.

Scouts take an oath to keep themselves “physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” You missed on two out of three, dude: Not only do you make nonfactual, illogical arguments, you also are trying to call yourself morally straight while discriminating. That’s ridiculous.

And what’s the Boy Scout motto? “Be prepared.” Your lack of preparedness for changing times is showing.

And so’s your ass.

Sunday, January 25, 2015 11:03 am

Odds and ends for Jan. 25

I’ve had trouble finding time to blog at length about anything lately. (Working two jobs will do that to you.) So instead I’m going to return to the birdshot approach I’ve used under similar circumstances in the past. Blogging experts will tell you this is not how to maximize your audience, but blogging experts usually have only one job.

The News & Record’s Janice Carmac, a part-time employee to whom the paper wisely grants column space to from time to time, has a well-grounded, understated column today on the literally life-and-death importance of health insurance in general and the Affordable Care Act in particular, based on her family’s experience. Naturally, the paper didn’t put it online. UPDATE: It’s now online here.

Also in the N&R and of particular interest to Greensboro folks, columnist Susan Ladd righteously dopeslaps both Earl Jones and Mike Barber for their egregiously ill-intentioned dialogue over the International Civil Rights Museum and the larger issue of race in Greensboro. This is one of the few times where “both sides do it” really is accurate and contextual criticism.

My Davidson Wildcats beat George Mason on the road in OT last night to go 5-2 in the Atlantic 10 and win their second straight game (the first was against No. 22 Dayton) without their starting point guard. Someone remind me again how the ‘Cats were supposed to finish in the conference cellar this year.

If I were in charge of the Republican Party’s presidential-election efforts, I think I’d be doing everything short of human sacrifice to make sure that the first good look the nation got at my candidate pool wasn’t watching the richest of them suck up to two sociopathic billionaires right out of a James Bond film followed by watching the lot of them pile out of a clown car to genuflect in front of Iowa’s batshit insane religious-right GOP base.

Even as a final Supreme Court decision likely affirming the constitutionality of same-sex marriage approaches, some politicians — primarily Southern Republicans — continue to fight, pardon the expression, rear-guard actions against fairness and equality, as by threatening the state salaries of public officials who facilitate such marriages. The heathen rage for they know the end is near. And although I know that anecdotes are not equal to data, I must say that my own, different-sex marriage appears to have been remarkably unaffected by the advent of same-sex marriage here in North Carolina.

My Braves appears to have written off 2016, perhaps in hopes of fielding a strong team in 2017 when they move to a suburban stadium. No link; this is  just my (very disappointed) impression.

Politics 1, science and the future of humanity, 0: The U.S. Senate pretended not to be insane by voting 98-1 for a resolution stating the climate changes is real, then spoiled the effect by failing to approve (60 votes were necessary) a resolution saying that it is largely driven by human activity.

“Why do people in positions of power ask so many stupid questions?”

We’ve finally got teleporters. But still no jet packs. Grrr.

That’s all I’ve got. Time to work. A good week to all.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015 7:34 pm

In which I invite Frederick County (Md.) Council Member Kirby Delauter to sue me

I don’t want to say that Frederick County (Md.) Council Member Kirby Delauter is dumb. But, to paraphrase the late Molly Ivins, I think he has reached the point at which we must start watering him twice a week.

See, Frederick County (Md.) Council Member Kirby Delauter is zealously protective of his public image and reputation — so much so that, in the Land of Frederick County (Md.) Council Member Kirby Delauter, it is illegal to publish Frederick County (Md.) Council Member Kirby Delauter’s name without Frederick County (Md.) Council Member Kirby Delauter’s permission.

Unfortunately for Frederick County (Md.) Council Member Kirby Delauter, the Land of Frederick County (Md.) Council Member Kirby Delauter has collided with the real world. And, well, as this blog’s motto says, you can ignore reality, but reality won’t ignore you.

Frederick County (Md.) Council Member Kirby Delauter objected to the use of his name by a local reporter in a newspaper article and said on Facebook that he can sue anyone who uses his name without authorization.

And what is happening now is a perfect example of the “Streisand effect” (Google it). I’m using Frederick County (Md.) Council Member Kirby Delauter’s name without authorization. And I dearly hope that Frederick County (Md.) Council Member Kirby Delauter sues me. Because if he does, Frederick County (Md.) Council Member Kirby Delauter will get a swift and expensive education in the First Amendment and end up looking even more stupid besides. Win-win.

And, because of the Streisand effect, I’m not the only one who finds this behavior egregious even by the standards of nutbag politicians. The “offending” newspaper has publicly ridiculed Frederick County (Md.) Council Member Kirby Delauter (note the first letter of each paragraph in the editorial), #KirbyDelauter is trending on Twitter, and there’s a parody Kirby Delauter Twitter account. (Which raises the question: Did Kirby Delauter get Kirby Delauther’s permission to use the name Kirby Delauter on the parody Kirby Delauter Twitter account?)

Bad things that politicians do can move us to sadness or fury. But you’ve go to be really out there to move people to ridicule. Frederick County (Md.) Council Member Kirby Delauter has gotten out there. He needs to either eat some humble pie or get further on out there — as in out of public life.

 

Monday, November 17, 2014 8:38 am

UNC System tuition: “A failure of liberal thought” … and much more than that

Mike Konczal at the Roosevelt Institute writes:

“There was a quiet revolution in the University of North Carolina higher education system in August, one that shows an important limit of current liberal thought. … The UNC System Board of Governors voted unanimously to cap the amount of tuition that may be used for financial aid for need-based students at no more than 15 percent. With tuition going up rapidly at public universities as the result of public disinvestment, administrators have recently begun using general tuition to supplement their ability to provide aid. This cross-subsidization has been heralded as a solution to the problem of high college costs. Sticker price is high, but the net price for poorer students will be low.

“This system works as long as there is sufficient middle-class buy-in, but it’s now capped at UNC. As a board member told the local press, the burden of providing need-based aid “has become unfairly apportioned to working North Carolinians,” and this new policy helps prevent that. …

“The problem for liberals isn’t just that there’s no way for them to win this argument with middle-class wages stagnating, though that is a problem. The far bigger issue for liberals is that this is a false choice, a real class antagonism that has been created entirely by the process of state disinvestment, privatization, cost-shifting of tuitions away from general revenues to individual, and the subsequent explosion in student debt. As long as liberals continue to play this game, they’ll be undermining their chances.”

I get that it’s Konczal’s job to write about the strengths and limits of liberal thought, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if we focus only on the thought, we overlook the real-world consequences, which are: In a state in which the constitution requires UNC System tuition to be as nearly free as is practicable, we’re making it harder and harder for the state’s citizens to get a university education just so that we can keep the tax burden on the wealthy low.

That’s both immoral and, from a purely practical standpoint, very shortsighted. For 220 years, UNC has been the greatest economic driver North Carolina has. The education the system has provided has immeasurably enriched every sector of the state’s economy — agriculture, industry, medicine, tourism, you name it. The shortest way out of the problem of stagnating wages that Konczal describes is to invest in human capital. When we make it harder for the state’s citizens to get a university education, we are, economically speaking, cutting our own throats. That’s not just wrong, it’s asinine.

Unfortunately for the state, however, the GOP controls state government and the UNC System board, meaning that asininity, shortsightedness and greed are just the currency of the culture.

Thursday, October 23, 2014 8:45 pm

Someone needs to cut the legs from under Lieutenant Dan

As if we have not been subjected to far too much of Teh_Stoopid already with regard to same-sex marriage in North Carolina, now comes Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest to try to make political hay off the issue:

If you’ve been paying attention to the media, you’ve been told numerous times from opponents of North Carolina’s Marriage Amendment that the fight is over, and that they have won. That is not the case. The following is a realistic scenario that could lead to a constitutional showdown between the state and federal systems as to which court, outside the Supreme Court of the United States, has the legal authority to rule on North Carolina’s marriage amendment.

Last week, the Administrative Office of the Courts directed magistrates that they could not refuse to perform a same-sex marriage, no matter what the reason, including their personal moral and religious objections. This directive informed them that failure to comply could result in removal from office and criminal penalties. In response, our state needs but one magistrate to legally challenge the edict sent down from the Administrative Office of the Courts on two grounds.

The first ground is that the memorandum directs him to violate his religious conscience, thereby violating his right to religious freedom preserved by the North Carolina and United States Constitutions. In particular, the North Carolina Constitution provides that “all persons have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and no human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.”

The second ground is to assert that the memo directs him to contravene the North Carolina Constitution by performing a ceremony that is not recognized by law, and is in fact, prohibited by the marriage amendment. You may wonder how that is possible after Judge Cogburn’s ruling purporting to strike down our amendment. That is one of the beauties of federalism. As succinctly stated by North Carolina’s Supreme Court in the case of State v. McDowell: “A state court should exercise and apply its own independent judgment, treating, of course, decisions of the United States Supreme Court as binding and according to decisions of lower federal courts such persuasiveness as these decisions might reasonably command.” North Carolina case law is clear. Decisions of the Fourth Circuit and federal district courts, while persuasive, are not binding on state courts.

Should this case reach the Supreme Court of North Carolina, a vote by our honorable justices exercising their own independent judgment to uphold the amendment overwhelmingly approved by the people would set up the very real possibility that the United States Supreme Court would hear arguments, having a split on the issue between a state court and the Fourth Circuit.

The constitutional showdown is a very real possibility. Supporters of marriage should not lose heart. The voice of the people will be heard.

So much legal FAIL here.

Just for starters, the mere fact that the wording of Amendment One, which banned same-sex marriage in this state, nominally remains a part of the N.C. Constitution does not mean that the prohibition has any legal force. Sodomy remains a felony under North Carolina law, even when it involves married heterosexual couples, but the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas rendered that statute unenforceable. The high court’s refusal to hear appeals of federal appeals courts’ strikedowns of same-sex marriage bans has the same effect on Amendment One, and no amount of clapping by Dan Forest changes that legal fact.

It’s entirely possible that Forest is ignorant of that fact, but the likelier scenario is that he’s playing to the mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging GOP base — to primary McCrory from the right if McCrory goes squishy on the Koch/Pope agenda between now and 2016, or to run in 2020 when McCrory is term-limited out (assuming McCrory wins re-election, which is by no means a lock at this point). The fact that this approach is about as cynical and disingenuous as a politician can get anymore without bringing up voter fraud is just icing on the cake for Forest.

Unsurprisingly, his blog isn’t accepting comments on that post. The good news, my Greensboro friends, is that we have an opportunity to speak directly to Dan Forest on this issue.

He’ll be holding a town hall at 6 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Oak Branch Conference and Events Center, 23 Oak Branch Drive (map). The purpose of the event is to drum up support for a Constitutional Convention — a gathering of the states for the purpose of wholesale rewriting of the U.S. Constitution. That way lies madness — no limit need be placed on any such convention’s agenda, so who knows what insanity might get put up to an instant vote without care or consideration — but it also is highly unlikely that anyone can rally enough votes to make such a convention happen anytime soon. Instead, this town hall offers the sane among the populace the opportunity to get up in Forest’s face, live and in concert, and ask him:

Just how goddamn stupid do you think we are?

 

Thursday, October 9, 2014 8:31 pm

No, both sides DON’T do it, Part the Infinity

Every time I or anyone else correctly points out the disproportionate influence of conservative spending on the American electoral process at both the federal and state levels, someone — either a liar or a useful idiot — usually pipes up with, “But the liberals do it, too!” In point of fact, a quick visit to OpenSecrets.org will show you that while both sides might do it, one side does it far more than the other, and that just happens to be the same side that also has been working for more private money and less transparency with respect to money in the political system. That money, in turn, leads to necrosis of our one-person, one-vote system.

In particular, every time I or anyone else points out the disproportionate influence of the Koch Bros.’ spending on the system, someone — either a liar or a useful idiot — usually pipes up with, “But … but … SOROS!” And, yes, billionaire George Soros does contribute a fair bit of money to liberal candidates and causes.

But nowhere near as much as do the Kochs. From an objective, mathematical standpoint, the comparison is just silly.

So, all you both-siders: You now know that you’re wrong. If you’re going to continue to insist on being a both-sider, I’d like to know: Which are you, liar or useful idiot?

Monday, September 29, 2014 8:19 pm

Why English majors are the hot new hires. (And, no, that not an Onion headline.)

Hey, take it from the American Express website.

I never had a lot of patience with people who asked me why I was majoring in English.

For one thing, I enjoyed it. Duh.

But for another, the skills you develop as an English major are the skills American business always says it needs more of: critical thinking, analytical ability, and the ability to communicate clearly. That was true 32 years ago and it remains true today. Those skills will prepare you for jobs that don’t even exist yet. I know that’s true because they did for me.

In fact, American business’s global competitors are finding they need the same skills, and that their job-focused college educations aren’t providing the people they need who have those skills. So they’re retooling their higher education along the U.S.’s traditional liberal-arts model.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t major in STEM if that’s what sings to you and/or you’re really serious about getting a particular job in that field straight out of school.

But it does mean that an English degree has a world of applications in a broad variety of business contexts. So does practically any liberal-arts degree, because they all teach the same skills, just in different contexts. And that, Pat McCrory, is why English majors (and Art History majors and Women’s Studies majors and on and on) are the hot new hires.

Saturday, August 16, 2014 11:24 pm

Reality check, Ferguson, MO, edition

David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” points out just a few elements of the bullshit that has been thrown our way since Michael Brown was gunned down in the middle of a street in Ferguson, Mo.:

The notion that police officers are entitled to anonymity after such an action [taking a human life — Lex] is not merely anti-democratic; it is, in fact, totalitarian.  The idea that a police department, with all of its resources and sworn personnel, might claim to be unable to protect an officer from retribution, and therefore employ such anonymity to further protect the officer from his citizenry is even more astonishing.  And any police agency showing such institutional cowardice which might then argue its public should continue to come forward and cooperate with officers in police investigations and to trust in the outcome is engaged in little more than rank hypocrisy.  After all, if an armed and sworn officer — backed by all the sworn personnel of his agency, by the power of its prosecutorial allies, the law and the courts — is afraid, then why should any witness or party to any crime, unarmed and unallied as they are, be asked to come forward and participate publicly in the process?

Earlier tonight, I had an exchange on Facebook with someone claiming to be a police officer about the Ferguson case. I was polite until the point at which he suggested I do a ride-along sometime — as if I hadn’t done hundreds of hours worth in 25 years of journalism, as if I hadn’t, as he suggested, seen what they saw and smelled what they smelled.

He also argued, among other things, that the victim had been caught on videotape stealing cigars from a store (it has not been confirmed that the victim was in fact in the video), that the cop who shot him knew this (we now know the cop had no idea), that the victim was stopped for possessing the purportedly stolen cigars (again, way too many assumptions about facts that remain in question) and that the victim therefore probably thought he was going to be arrested for stealing some cigars (we have no idea what the victim thought) and thus behaved in a way that forced the officer to kill him (according to all available evidence thus far, utter horseshit).

So I called the guy out on all the assumptions he had made without any evidence. I said any “cop” who would handle a case as he was handling this one didn’t deserve the honor of wearing the badge bestowed by us taxpayers. And, because his writing suggesting that he was a lot younger than I am, I addressed him as “son.”

This gave him a case of the ass, apparently; according to Facebook, he deleted the thread. Whether he did or not, he certainly DM’ed me with a brief message: “Fuck you.”

Well, right back at you, “officer.” You made inaccurate assumptions about me, you behaved condescendingly and patronizingly, you spouted a bunch of crap about the Ferguson case that either was questionable or was flatly untrue, and then, when called on it, you accused those holding you accountable of being “rude.” Was I rude? I called you “son” because it’s statistically likely that if you’re still a working cop, you’re younger than I am, because your writing style suggested you are a LOT younger than I am, and because — I admit it — I knew it would piss you off. But you know what? As a sworn law enforcement officer, you’ve got to weigh some things sometimes, including damage to your ego vs. oh, I don’t know, BLOWING AWAY AN UNARMED MAN IN THE MIDDLE OF A STREET FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON.

And that’s before we even get into the race issue, which is deeply rooted in Ferguson, Mo.

I am not an expert at law enforcement, though I know a little more than the average civilian. But one thing I am kind of an expert on is how people respond to authority, particularly when it is abused. And that is what has happened in Ferguson, Missouri.

All you gun owners out there: What was the first rule your daddy taught you about guns? Don’t point your gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot. So if I’m a resident of Ferguson, Mo., and the police department my tax dollars support rolls up to me in an armored vehicle when I’m not doing anything and levels a machine gun at me, you tell me what in the pluperfect hell I’m supposed to think. You tell me whom in the pluperfect hell I’m supposed to trust.

Go on. I’ll wait.

Forget the racial angle, though I have no doubt it’s relevant in Ferguson, where the victim and two-thirds of the population are black and the police department is overwhelmingly white. Forget the political angle, too: I’m a white, middle-aged, male Republican. But if the cops in my city shot an unarmed 18-year-old white man down in the middle of my street, refused to answer questions about it, and then rolled an APC into my ‘hood and pointed a machine gun at me when I tried to get answers, I’d be pissed, too. I’d be wanting answers, too. And I’d be expecting somebody to be held accountable, too.

Understand, please, that anyone who actually rioted, committed vandalism, looted, or what-have-you in Ferguson should be prosecuted and jailed. But understand also that not everyone who is in the streets of Ferguson tonight has done that — indeed, most of them have not and some of them have tried to stop those who have.

But the bottom line is just as Spider-Man said: With great power comes great responsibility. Cops have the power of life and death. They have the responsibility to operate legally, competently, and transparently, and to have their transgressions treated transparently. Police in Ferguson, Mo., have been behaving as if this reality does not apply to them, and they’re taking shit for that from people nationwide (as well they should). And telling anyone who reminds you of this fact, “Fuck you,” is not going to change the situation. Indeed, it might only make it worse.

Economist: You can’t vote for a sane conservative because there aren’t any; or, Caution: Contents may have disappeared during shipping..

Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong:

THERE ARE NO ATTRACTIVE MODERN CONSERVATIVES BECAUSE CONSERVATISM SIMPLY IS NOT ATTRACTIVE. DEAL WITH IT!! (Yelling in the original — Lex)

You can see this most clearly if you take a close look at Edmund Burke. Edmund Burke does not believe that Tradition is to be Respected. He believes that good traditions are to be respected. When Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France makes the argument that Britons should respect the organic political tradition of English liberty that has been inherited from the past, he whispers under his breath that the only reason we should respect the Wisdom of the Ancestors is that in this particular case Burke thinks that the Ancestors–not his personal ancestors, note–were wise.

Whenever Burke thought that the inherited political traditions were not wise, the fact that they were the inherited Wisdom of the Ancestors cut no ice with him at all. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that they would conquer, torture, and rob wogs whenever and wherever they were strong enough to do so. That tradition cut no ice with Edmund Burke when he was trying to prosecute Warren Hastings. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that all power flowed to Westminster. That tradition cut no ice with Burke when he was arguing for conciliation with and a devolution of power to the American colonists. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that Ireland was to be plundered and looted for the benefit of upwardly-mobile English peers-to-be. That tradition, too, cut no ice with Burke.

Even in Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke doesn’t argue that Frenchmen should build on their own political traditions–the traditions of Richelieu and Louis XIV, that is. He argues–well, let’s roll the videotape:

Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France: We [in Britain] procure reverence to our civil institutions on the principle upon which nature teaches us to revere individual men; on account of their age; and on account of those from whom they are descended…. You [in France] might, if you pleased, have profited of our example, and have given to your recovered freedom a correspondent dignity. Your privileges, though discontinued, were not lost to memory. Your constitution… suffered waste and dilapidation; but you possessed in some parts the walls, and in all the foundations, of a noble and venerable castle. You might have repaired those walls; you might have built on those old foundations. … In your old [E]states [General] you possessed that variety of parts corresponding with the various descriptions of which your community was happily composed; you had all that combination, and all that opposition of interests, you had that action and counteraction which, in the natural and in the political world, from the reciprocal struggle of discordant powers, draws out the harmony of the universe…. Through that diversity of members and interests, general liberty had as many securities as there were separate views…. [B]y pressing down the whole by the weight of a real monarchy, the separate parts would have been prevented from warping and starting from their allotted places.

You had all these advantages in your antient [E]states [General]…. If the last generations of your country appeared without much lustre in your eyes, you might have passed them by, and derived your claims from a more early race of ancestors. Under a pious predilection for those ancestors, your imaginations would have realized in them a standard of virtue and wisdom…. Respecting your forefathers, you would have been taught to respect yourselves. You would not have chosen to consider the French as… a nation of low-born servile wretches until the emancipating year of 1789…. [Y]ou would not have been content to be represented as a gang of Maroon slaves, suddenly broke loose from the house of bondage….

Would it not… have been wiser to have you thought… a generous and gallant nation, long misled… by… fidelity, honour, and loyalty… that you were not enslaved through any illiberal or servile disposition… [but] by a principle of public spirit, and that it was your country you worshipped, in the person of your king? Had you made it to be understood… that you were resolved to resume your ancient [liberties,] privileges[, and immunities]… you would have given new examples of wisdom to the world. You would have rendered the cause of liberty venerable in the eyes of every worthy mind in every nation. You would have shamed despotism from the earth…

Burke’s argument is not that France in 1789 should have followed its ancestral traditions. Burke’s argument is, instead, that France in 1789 should have dug into its past until it found a moment when institutions were better than in 1788, and drawn upon that usable past in order to buttress the present revolutionary moment. This isn’t an intellectual argument about how to decide what institutions are good. It is a practical-political argument about how to create good institutions and then buttress and secure them by making them facts on the ground.

So Edmund Burke, among the most revered conservative thinkers in Western thought, would have no truck with stupidity, insanity, or even counterproductivity. Point me to a single conservative political leader in the United States today about whom we can say the same. Go on. I’ll wait.

By the way, DeLong reposted this on Friday. He originally posted it in 2008. Plus la change …

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 7:08 pm

The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves matter. So does how we tell them.

America had been involved in World War II for almost two years before the government began releasing photos of American war dead to the public. Some of the first came from Tarawa atoll, where, in November 1943, a thousand Marines died in four days as their comrades killed almost 5,000 Japanese defenders. Those images were deeply disturbing to the American public — so much so that a documentary on the battle, With the Marines at Tarawa, wasn’t released until the following year, and then only after President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself signed off. (It’s a short documentary, 20 minutes, with no actors, covering the 4-day battle and its lead-up. You can watch the whole thing online at NPR’s website.)

By Vietnam, Americans had become accustomed to seeing bloody images of friend and foe, from wounded GIs being evacuated on tanks to Pulitzer Prize-winning photos of Vietnamese children burned by napalm and Vietcong being summarily executed.

But in 1991, a photographer named Kenneth Jarecke took a photograph of a dead Iraqi soldier who apparently had burned to death trying to escape his burning vehicle. The war, remember, was not an invasion of Iraq (although U.S. forces did cross the border), but an incursion intended to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait, which they had occupied the previous summer. In point of fact, there was only one way out of Kuwait for the Iraqi military there — a road later nicknamed “the Highway of Death” — and by some estimates 100,000 Iraqi soldiers died trying run the gantlet of U.S. and allied artillery, armor and air power to get back home, a story captured some time afterward in an article in The New Republic titled “Highway to Hell.” (Doesn’t seem to be online.)

Just before the cease-fire that ended combat in Operation Desert Storm, Jarecke stood on the Highway of Death and took his photo. He thought it would be a proper counter to the prevailing narrative, fostered by images from radio-controlled bombs and night-vision goggles, of Desert Storm as a “video-game” war. But the Associated Press and Time and Life magazines refused to run the photo; the AP’s decision essentially no U.S. newspaper would ever even have the chance to decide for itself. Only London’s Observer newspaper published it.

Should the AP and Time and Life have run the photo? Of course. American citizens have a right — and, I would argue, a moral obligation and a civic duty — to know what is done in their names, with their tax dollars, by their sons and daughters. The journalists’ call was the wrong one. The managing editor of Life then said that because Life had a fairly significant number of children in its readership, a photo that was “the stuff of nightmares” was inappropriate.

At this point, I’ll let Athenae speak (mostly) for me:

A family magazine. Yet that “family” magazine had no problem humping the next Iraq war, as if that’s not offensive to anybody’s family. As if what’s suitable for a family is to wage war without ever knowing the costs.

But how am I going to explain it to my children, the gentle reader asks. Well, let me throw this back at you: If you think it’s hard to explain a photo of a dead guy to your kids, imagine that guy’s kids. Imagine the explanation they must have needed. And then quit feeling so [expletive] sorry for yourself because it’s so hard for you to make sense of the world.

Moreover? It is not the journalist’s job to protect people from [expletive] thinking. It is not the journalist’s job to shield you from the consequences of your political actions. It is not the journalist’s job to decide, in advance, how upset you’re going to get about anything around you, and manage that upset carefully so as to ensure the circulation department receives no anguished calls.

It is the journalist’s job, as it always has been, to tell a story. If the journalist is brave that story’s about something you might not want to know about, like the human toll taken by even the shortest or “easiest” of wars. If the journalist is cowardly, or lazy, or stupid, or jus’ don’ wanna today, that story’s about how we can fight a war without really giving a [expletive] about it.

Surprisingly, we end up telling that story over and over and over again.

Things have gotten better in some ways. I would be remiss if I did not point out such examples as Carol Rosenberg, the McClatchy reporter who has pursued the truth about Guantanamo and its inmates like Hell’s own hound dog. And I don’t know that such photos wouldn’t be published today, if only because they’d be clickbait.

But the larger issue here, the issue of the news media shielding Americans from the consequences of their own decisions, remains alive and virulent, from war to job-killing trade agreements to Internet-killing FCC regulation to deadly refusal to expand Medicaid to global warming. That’s wrong. In fact, it’s evil. And it’ll stop only when enough people raise enough hell with enough news outlets that it’s forced to stop. To paraphrase Fredrick Douglass, evil doesn’t stop when you say “please.” It never has and it never will.

UPDATE, 8/14/2014: I’m elevating from the comments a link provided by my friend Nick Graham to an Iraq War poem, “A Cold Coming,” written by Tony Harrison and originally published in the Guardian newspaper alongside the photo. I had not read it before. Damn if it doesn’t rank up with anything by Sassoon or Owen or Jarrell.

 

Monday, August 11, 2014 9:21 pm

Noted almost without comment, voter-impersonation fraud edition

A comprehensive investigation of voter impersonation finds 31 credible incidents out of one billion ballots cast.

I was right. Again.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hayek

I read Friedrich A. von Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” several years ago, and although it wasn’t a total waste, I couldn’t understand how a guy whose thinking was so obviously messed up in some ways could be held in such high regard. It turns out that I was missing a whole bunch of backstory (an entire book’s worth, at least), as Robert Solow explained two whole years ago (h/t Brad DeLong for unearthing this), while I was in grad school and not reading much of anything not school-related:

The source of confusion here is that there was a Good Hayek and a Bad Hayek. The Good Hayek was a serious scholar who was particularly interested in the role of knowledge in the economy (and in the rest of society). Since knowledge—about technological possibilities, about citizens’ preferences, about the interconnections of these, about still more—is inevitably and thoroughly decentralized, the centralization of decisions is bound to generate errors and then fail to correct them. The consequences for society can be calamitous, as the history of central planning confirms. That is where markets come in. All economists know that a system of competitive markets is a remarkably efficient way to aggregate all that knowledge while preserving decentralization.

But the Good Hayek also knew that unrestricted laissez-faire is unworkable. It has serious defects: successful actors reach for monopoly power, and some of them succeed in grasping it; better-informed actors can exploit the relatively ignorant, creating an inefficiency in the process; the resulting distribution of income may be grossly unequal and widely perceived as intolerably unfair; industrial market economies have been vulnerable to excessively long episodes of unemployment and underutilized capacity, not accidentally but intrinsically; environmental damage is encouraged as a way of reducing private costs—the list is long. Half of Angus Burgin’s book is about the Good Hayek’s attempts to formulate and to propagate a modified version of laissez-faire that would work better and meet his standards for a liberal society. (Hayek and his friends were never able to settle on a name for this kind of society: “liberal” in the European tradition was associated with bad old Manchester liberalism, and neither “neo-liberal” nor “libertarian” seemed to be satisfactory.)

The Bad Hayek emerged when he aimed to convert a wider public. Then, as often happens, he tended to overreach, and to suggest more than he had legitimately argued. The Road to Serfdom was a popular success but was not a good book. Leaving aside the irrelevant extremes, or even including them, it would be perverse to read the history, as of 1944 or as of now, as suggesting that the standard regulatory interventions in the economy have any inherent tendency to snowball into “serfdom.” The correlations often run the other way. Sixty-five years later, Hayek’s implicit prediction is a failure, rather like Marx’s forecast of the coming “immiserization of the working class.”

So, basically, conservatives are reading Hayek the same way they read the Bible, which is to say selectively. Hayek imposed some limits and context on some of his ideas, just as Jesus imposed the same on the Law and the Prophets, and conservatives conveniently overlook them in both cases. Moreover, Hayek, not being divine and all, fell prey to overreach, as intellectuals of all political stripes have done throughout history, and conservatives have been unable or unwilling to recognize that when it happened.

It has become an article of faith among some progressives that Hayek, like Milton Friedman after him, is the enemy. I think it’s not quite that bad: Both men had both good and bad ideas; both men had ideas that would benefit the less-well-off (guaranteed basic income from Hayek; negative income tax, which amounts to almost the same thing, from Friedman) as well as some that would turn the economy radioactive. I think it’s only fair to treat the work of both with a combination of openness and skepticism: openness to that which already has been demonstrated to work, or that might work to the benefit of the poor; skepticism toward that which already has been shown not to work or that appears likely to harm the poor. I defer to economic experts as to how much of each constitutes each man’s oeurve while reserving the right to call BS on stuff I already know from experience is BS.

Thursday, August 7, 2014 8:31 pm

“With the ACA we have placed a lot of bets.”

Berkeley economist Brad DeLong offers 10 big-picture thoughts on the Affordable Care Act’s history, politics, and performance to date. It’s smart, it’s easy to understand, and, to my eye, it’s 100 percent right — even the parts where he criticizes President Obama.

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.

Monday, June 23, 2014 7:01 pm

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

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

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

Thursday, April 3, 2014 7:21 pm

The Supreme Court’s McCutcheon ruling: Of the money, by the money, for the money.

In a sane country, the Supreme Court would recognize that the right of the people to a government free of undue influence by a tiny minority of the wealthy elite dramatically outweighs the right of one person to spend as much as he damn well pleases supporting political candidates, particularly when the spending creates at least the appearance, and almost definitely the certainty, of corruption: corruption in which the donor’s interest outweighs the public’s and the candidate, once elected, votes accordingly.

But we do not live in a sane country.

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, in the Citizens United ruling, 2010: “We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” 

Chief Justice John Roberts, in the McCutcheon ruling, just this week: “The aggregate limits do not further the permissible governmental interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption or its appearance.

To both gentlemen: Are you farking blind?

Of course independent expenditures give rise to the appearance of corruption — and to the real thing. Of course aggregate limits would make it harder for apparent or actual corruption to occur. If it ain’t the money that’s causing it, gentlemen, then, pray tell, what is?

You morons have just declared as a matter of both fact and law that water is dry, that the sky is chartreuse with emerald-polka dots, and that the country and the public interest are but offal to be fed to the nation’s honeybadgers. Because honeybadgers don’t … well, you know:

UPDATE: Actually, this metaphor might do a disservice to honeybadgers, which at least do useful things like killing and eating cobras. I thought about substituting jackals, but then, generally, they only eat the dead, while our nation’s sociopath elite are at least metaphorically feasting upon the living as we speak. I don’t know what the appropriate animal would be for this metaphor, but I know what it does: It feeds on the living, particularly the poor, brown, female, and otherwise vulnerable, and it pees fracking chemicals and defecates coal ash.

Friday, March 21, 2014 11:16 pm

An educator unworthy of the name

Long story short, a high-school publication in Fond du Lac, Wisc., is, in the words of regular contributor Doc at First-Draft.com, “being punished for pointing out that RAPE IS REAL and it SUCKS WHEN IT HAPPENS TO HIGH SCHOOL KIDS.” And, more specifically, that at Fond du Lac High School, lots of people make jokes about rape, which REALLY sucks for those students who have been, you know, raped.

The school system is imposing a sweeping prior restraint on student publications because a student magazine dared to make an issue of this. Here’s the issue in question; the story at issue begins on page 11. Read the article — indeed, read the whole issue, or at least skim it to get a feel for the kind of publication it is trying to be — and then judge for yourself who’s being responsible here and who is not.

Doc, who works with student journalists in some capacity elsewhere in that region, and his First Draft companions who are scattered around the country, are keeping the heat on, with subsequent posts here, here, and here.

I weighed in with my own missive to the school system’s superintendent, Dr. James Sebert:

Dear Dr. Sebert:

I write as a lifelong red-state Republican, the father of a high-school daughter about to turn 16 — and a former journalist who won a lot of awards for publishing unpleasant truths. And I have one very simple question for you:

What in the pluperfect hell do you think you’re doing?

It is not your job to ensure an environment full of nothing but rainbow-colored unicorns. It is not your job to try to shield students from life’s unpleasant realities because they might somehow interfere with the educational process.

In fact, the very idea that you could is laughable. By the time they cross Fond du Lac’s thresholds for the first time, nontrivial numbers of students at the high school will already have endured more unpleasantness than most U.S. adults could possibly imagine, including but not limited to starvation, bullying and other physical abuse (including from family members), sexual abuse and incest, date rape, stranger rape, psychological abuse, drug abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and pretty much anything short of a mass murder. Are you seriously arguing that those aren’t already interfering with the educational process? And if not, then why don’t you want to talk about them? Certainly we won’t stop them from interfering with the educational process until we do talk about them.

Are you seriously arguing that students shouldn’t talk about these issues, issues that are a real, and damaging, part of their lives, issues that are harming and will continue to harm their educational processes whether Cardinal Columns discusses them or not? Because if you are, you forfeit all moral claim to the title of “educator.”

It’s that simple. Sure, a misbegotten Supreme Court ruling might give you the right to censor student publications. But keep a couple of things in mind. First, this is basically the same Supreme Court that more recently has stated as a fact that campaign finance does not cause corruption, which is on an intellectual par with the high court’s declaring that the sky is chartreuse with purple polka-dots. Second, having the right to do something is not the same thing as saying you must, you should, or that it might not be a bad idea.

Anyone who seriously considers himself an educator and engages in prepublication review ought to presume news items publishable unless they are proven otherwise, and ought to require no more than the minimum change necessary to make unpublishable items publishable. Topics in general shouldn’t be reviewed at all because high-schoolers are high-schoolers: They’re going to write about what’s important to them, whether or not you like it and maybe even because you don’t. What should you do about that? Nothing. Let. It. Go.

I reviewed the article in question and found it not perfect, but excellent for high school journalism, with due consideration obviously given to the journalistic imperatives to report the truth while minimizing harm. And if you want to argue that the article was not necessary, you need only consider the results of the accompanying poll, which is about as rigorous as polls of students at a single high school can get. Rape jokes are everywhere at Fond du Lac High — and so are the rape victims who have to listen to them and are degraded by them. As an educator, you ought to find THAT intolerable, not a piece of journalism about it.

You’ve still got a chance to make this a teachable moment — for yourself, the school system, the high-school faculty and administrators, and the students. If you’re truly an educator, then that’s what you’ll do. If you need to consult outside experts — rape-crisis experts, clinical mental-health counselors, whatever — for context and advice, swallow your pride and do it.

The kids at Fond du Lac High deserve better. So do their parents. So does their community, whose taxes pay your salary. How you handle this situation going forward can make a nontrivial number of students’ lives easier than they are now — and, oh, by the way, improve the educational process. So get going.

Sincerely,

Lex

Obviously, I don’t expect either a response or a change of heart. But this sorry excuse for an educator is now all over the Internetz as a stick-up-his-butt censor, which may well give pause one day to any larger school system that might consider hiring him. And I think it’s important for reporter/editor Tanvi Kumar and her fellow student journalists, who performed admirably not only in their original journalism but also in how they have handled themselves so far in the resulting dispute, to know that there are people out here watching them with pride and admiration.

I’m sharing the story of these kids with my own high-school-age daughter. I want her to know that the adults in her life (other than me, of course) are fallible, and that this is what one very important kind of fallibility looks like. But I also want her to understand the merits of what these student journalists were trying to do, and why, and how well they went about it, and to learn from them as well — things like responsibility and curiosity and courage and judgment that to date have been utterly absent from the people running that high school and that school system.

I want her, in short, to learn very quickly at least as much as these Fond du Lac student journalists already know about how, when, and why you speak truth to power. Because everything I see in our society suggests to me that we need more of that, not less, and will need more for many years to come. I want her and her generation prepared, for one small and simple reason: The future of the country and the well-being of their fellow citizens depends on it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 8:35 pm

Today’s prayer of gratitude …

… courtesy of Esquire’s Charlie Pierce:

… thank you again, Anthony Kennedy, for telling us that “independent expenditures do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption,” a statement that should rank with Roger Taney’s disquistion on the rights of black folk as the leading examples of what abject meatheads Supreme Court justices can be.

This is just one example of how, in Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United, the Supremes’ insistence that black is white and up is down keeps bumping up against inconvenient truths. Our government is thoroughly corrupted at the federal and state levels by corporate campaign contributions, a fact that might send Mr. Justice Kennedy to his fainting couch but is fact nonetheless. (And if you liked how that worked out, you’ll no doubt love how it works out at the county and municipal levels, too.)

Monday, March 10, 2014 9:34 pm

Hey, conservatives: Here’s where personal responsibility meets gun ownership

Richard Mayhew, Balloon Juice’s resident health-insurance guru, on firearm safety:

When I learned how to shoot, I was taught the following three things:

  • Only point a weapon at something or someone that you intend to kill
  • Always assume a weapon is loaded, and the safety is off.
  • You are always responsible for your weapon until the weapon is in the armory’s gun safe.

Can we incorporate these basic assumptions into civil law where the assumption is that any discharge (intentional or accidental) is the responsibility of the owner of the weapon and therefore the owner is liable for whatever damage a bullet fired from his weapon causes.  Liability would follow even stolen weapons if reasonable efforts to secure the weapon were not made. …

There have been attempts to regulate firearms as a consumer protection issue, but the NRA is too strong.  This proposal moves responsibility down the chain to the individual owner instead of the manufacturer.

Which is exactly where it should be. Hello, personal responsibility.

The rational response of creating the assumption that the weapon owner is liable absent extraordinary circumstances instead of the current assumption that [expletive] happens is for responsible owners to buy insurance to cover their liability.  Speaking as an insurance company bureaucrat, I would assume insurance companies would offer good rates to individuals who own longarms instead of handguns, who have a gun safe, who have trigger locks, who have gone to safety classes and who have otherwise demonstrated that they actually are reasonably likely to be safe.

Individuals who think “tactical” masturbatory fantasies are reality and believe that everyone should have a loaded pistol in their unlocked night stand even if they have two pre-kindergarteners in the house would probably be rated as high risk for negligent discharge.  Individuals who have more weapons than fingers would probably be rated as risky.  Individuals who have a history of accidental discharge would be rated as risky.

I’m not a fan of using liberterianish policy making as a first best choice, but my political judgement is that this type of regulation is the only viable away forward right now.  And going back to my health policy wonkery, reducing gun woundings means lower trauma costs, and lower recovery costs to cover.

I’m sure the NRA as an organization would fight this tooth and nail, of course. But I think it would be instructive to see the number of “personal responsibility” conservatives and libertarians and the number of so-called responsible gun owners who would fight it as well. I’d be delighted to be proved badly wrong on this, but I suspect that well more than half of American gun owners, if polled, would oppose this measure even if the reasons and benefits were explained carefully to them.

Because for way too many American gun owners, it’s not about rights and responsibilities, it’s about I want what I want and [expletive] you. I saw that attitude over and over and over again while covering cops (not from cops, but from many of the people with whom they interacted), and that’s why I say this: Whatever else it is, the American gun-owning public is in no way, shape or form a well-regulated militia.

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