Shared posts

20 Oct 14:10

Houston as Urban Ideal?

by Erik Loomis

OK, no one would really say that Houston is an urban utopia. But this op-ed in the Houston Chronicle actually does make some good points, even if it can be read as a defense of low-density, auto-intensive sprawl that many of us, myself included, reject. Because if you look at the dense urban centers exploding in the last twenty years, they are not livable for the working and even the middle classes:

The luxury paradigm has worked for some in some cities, but has failed, critically, in providing ample opportunities for the middle and working classes, much less the poor. Indeed, many of the cities most closely identified with luxury urbanism tend to suffer the most extreme disparities of both class and race. If Manhattan were a country, it would rank sixth-highest in income inequality in the world out of more than 130 countries for which the World Bank reports data. New York’s wealthiest 1 percent earn one-third of the entire municipality’s personal income – almost twice the proportion for the rest of the country.

Indeed, increasingly, New York, as well as San Francisco, London, Paris and other cities where the cost of living has skyrocketed, are no longer places of opportunity for those who lack financial resources or the most elite educations. Instead, they thrive largely by attracting people who are already successful or are living on inherited largesse.

They are becoming, as journalist Simon Kuper puts it, “the vast gated communities where the 1 percent reproduces itself.”

Not surprisingly, the middle class is shrinking rapidly in most luxury cities. A recent analysis of 2010 Census data by the Brookings Institution found that the percentage of middle incomes in metro regions such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago has been in a precipitous decline for the last 30 years, due in part to high housing and business costs.

A more recent 2014 Brookings study found that these generally high-cost luxury cities – with the exception of Atlanta-tend to suffer the most pronounced inequality: San Francisco, Miami, Boston, Washington DC, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. In recent years, income inequality has risen most rapidly in the very mecca of luxury progressivism, San Francisco, where the wages of the poorest 20 percent of all households have actually declined amid the dot com billions.

Say what you will about the ideology behind some of this language, the point is something we need to take seriously. Even in cities like Denver, costs are rising so rapidly as to squeeze people out. Are our cities to become places only for the 1%? Where do the poor go who work in New York, Washington, or San Francisco? When good public transportation is built, will it just push out the poor so that the wealthy can take it? And this is hardly just an American problem, as we see here in Barcelona.

This hardly means I think we should all be Houston, Dallas, or Charlotte. But I do think we have to develop housing policies that actually allow everyday people to stay in urban centers. For instance, one way to stop the uber-wealthy from owning 10 luxury apartments in 10 leading cities would be extremely high taxes on second homes, undermining the incentive for extreme luxury apartment building making Manhattan the home of the global elite and no one else. And maybe this isn’t a good idea, I don’t know. But we do need a significantly more robust plan to keep cities livable for everyday people if we want a) to create some level of equity in our urban areas and b) if we want environmentally sustainable urban centers that actually make a difference, as oppose to provide amenities to the 1%.

But don’t tell any of this to the real estate section of the Times, which believes a $1 million apartment is within reach for average buyers.








14 Oct 13:45

Pulling Up The Ladder

by By Charles P. Pierce
Brian Stouffer

"This is not "hypocrisy." That is too mild a word. This is the regulatory capture of the government for personal benefit"

Tout le Beltway is a'twitter about this commercial that Wendy Davis ran in her race for governor of Texas. The commercial makes the point that Greg Abbott, her Republican opponent and the state's attorney general, who is confined to a wheelchair after being paralyzed in a freak accident for which he sued and won a massive, $10 million settlement, has spent his whole career in office advocating against the kinds of lawsuits that made Abbott rich. (Here's Abbott suing to overturn the Americans With Disabilities Act, which was signed by that RINO bastard from Texas, George H.W. Bush.) It has been a tough campaign down there, but, for some reason, the Davis ad has allowed Abbott to gin up a firestorm in the mainstream media about what a terrible injustice has been done to him, Greg Abbott. Outside of the wingnut blogosphere, Aaron Blake of The Washington Post got the ball rolling, and Ben Dreyfuss in Mother Jones turned in the mother of all misinterpretations, missing the point of the ad by a mere half-a-continent or so. There's barely any room on the fainting couch, what with all this bipartisanship.

We will set aside all discussion of whether the commercial was worth the candle politically; Davis has been less of a candidate than people thought she would be, and remains likely to lose the election. And we will set aside the simple argument about whether Abbott's actions in office make him a hypocrite. The Davis ad is an important one because it strikes at the heart of what movement conservatism has made of the Republican party, which once was the party of the Pure Food and Drug Act, trust-busting, the Interstate Highway System, the Clean Water Act, and the EPA. Over the past three decades, however, beginning with that epochal moment when Ronald Reagan said, in his first inaugural, that government was the problem -- not if you were a defense contractor, one thinks, or a mullah who wanted missiles -- the Republican party has profited uniquely from a massive internal contradiction that would have given a less well-funded institution the blind staggers. And the party has doubled down on that contradiction year after year, decade after decade. Simply put, the Republican party deliberately has transformed itself from the Party of Lincoln to the Party of I've Got Mine, Jack. And it rarely, if ever, gets called to account for that. As a result, and without substantial notice or paying a substantial price, and on many issues, individual Republicans have been able to justify the benefits they've received from government activity that they now oppose in theory and in practice. This is not "hypocrisy." That is too mild a word. This is the regulatory capture of the government for personal benefit. That it makes a lie, again and again, of the basic principles of modern conservatism -- indeed, that it shows those principles to be a sham -- is certainly worthy of notice and debate. It is certainly worthy of notice and debate that the conservative idea of the benefits of a political commonwealth means those benefits run only one way. Modern conservatism is not about making the government smaller. It's about making the government exclusive. It's not about streamlining the benefits of the political commonwealth. It's about making sure those benefits flow only to those people who have proven through their ability to work all the other levers of power that they deserve those benefits.

By Charles P. Pierce

Tout le Beltway is a'twitter about this commercial that Wendy Davis ran in her race for governor of Texas. The commercial makes the point that Greg Abbott, her Republican opponent and the state's attorney general, who is confined to a wheelchair after being paralyzed in a freak accident for which he sued and won a massive, $10 million settlement, has spent his whole career in office advocating against the kinds of lawsuits that made Abbott rich. (Here's Abbott suing to overturn the Americans With Disabilities Act, which was signed by that RINO bastard from Texas, George H.W. Bush.) It has been a tough campaign down there, but, for some reason, the Davis ad has allowed Abbott to gin up a firestorm in the mainstream media about what a terrible injustice has been done to him, Greg Abbott. Outside of the wingnut blogosphere, Aaron Blake of The Washington Post got the ball rolling, and Ben Dreyfuss in Mother Jones turned in the mother of all misinterpretations, missing the point of the ad by a mere half-a-continent or so. There's barely any room on the fainting couch, what with all this bipartisanship.

We will set aside all discussion of whether the commercial was worth the candle politically; Davis has been less of a candidate than people thought she would be, and remains likely to lose the election. And we will set aside the simple argument about whether Abbott's actions in office make him a hypocrite. The Davis ad is an important one because it strikes at the heart of what movement conservatism has made of the Republican party, which once was the party of the Pure Food and Drug Act, trust-busting, the Interstate Highway System, the Clean Water Act, and the EPA. Over the past three decades, however, beginning with that epochal moment when Ronald Reagan said, in his first inaugural, that government was the problem -- not if you were a defense contractor, one thinks, or a mullah who wanted missiles -- the Republican party has profited uniquely from a massive internal contradiction that would have given a less well-funded institution the blind staggers. And the party has doubled down on that contradiction year after year, decade after decade. Simply put, the Republican party deliberately has transformed itself from the Party of Lincoln to the Party of I've Got Mine, Jack. And it rarely, if ever, gets called to account for that. As a result, and without substantial notice or paying a substantial price, and on many issues, individual Republicans have been able to justify the benefits they've received from government activity that they now oppose in theory and in practice. This is not "hypocrisy." That is too mild a word. This is the regulatory capture of the government for personal benefit. That it makes a lie, again and again, of the basic principles of modern conservatism -- indeed, that it shows those principles to be a sham -- is certainly worthy of notice and debate. It is certainly worthy of notice and debate that the conservative idea of the benefits of a political commonwealth means those benefits run only one way. Modern conservatism is not about making the government smaller. It's about making the government exclusive. It's not about streamlining the benefits of the political commonwealth. It's about making sure those benefits flow only to those people who have proven through their ability to work all the other levers of power that they deserve those benefits.

One of the clearest demonstrations of the contradiction came during the Republican National Convention in 2012, when the party gave one night of speeches over to the theme, "We did build that," a deliberate misinterpretation of something the president had said. Speaker after speaker spoke of how they pulled themselves up and built their success without interference from "government." By the end of the night, the bootstraps has been pulled up so hard and so long that they must've extended from Tampa halfway through Alabama. But there was a curious thing about these speeches. A great many of them began with, "When my Dad got out of the Army..." There was the guy who built his business who never mentioned the small-business loans he'd obtained. There was Chris Christie, railing against the dead hand of big government while nearly sobbing over how important the GI Bill had been to his Dad. There was Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma who, against all history and logic, explained how her state had been built only through the sweat of Oklahomans. It was a night of organized bullshit so epic that it stands alone in my memory. It should have been all anybody talked about for a month. It should have defined the Republican party for a generation. Hell, if it weren't for the New Deal, Ronald Reagan's father would have been the town drunk. Government wasn't The Problem then. Instead, it passed without conspicuous notice. If a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged, then a liberal is a conservative who was stupid enough to buy a Pinto. My son's industrial accident must be avenged. Oh, and we should do away with OSHA as soon as that happens. Greg Abbott deserved that $10 million, but all the people taking advantage of the Americans With Disabilities Act don't deserve wheelchair ramps or curb cuts. It's monstrous.

The contradiction never should have been allowed to grow this way. Clarence Thomas should have been defined by his hysterical opposition to the affirmative action programs that helped him get out of Georgia and into Holy Cross, and not by what he may or may not have said to Anita Hill, as egregious as those comments may have been. Paul Ryan should have had the Social Security survivors benefits that got him through high school and college hung around his entire political career and draped like an iron shroud over every dystopian "budget" he ever proposed. (And, no, his sudden tenderness towards the generosity of his fellow citizens doesn't count. You're welcome, dickhead.) Every Republican congressman who begged for money from the stimulus package he otherwise condemned -- like Paul Ryan, now that I think about it -- should have had that request become a liability, and not an asset. And, since the elite political press pretty much has chickened out on its job of highlighting how the entire modern conservative ideology is built on this kind of slippery manure, it's up to the Democratic party to do it, and the Democratic party has been terrible at the job, too. This is why Wendy Davis's commercial is not only fair, it's an important moment that needs to be replicated where applicable all over the country until the message sinks in. Either government is the problem or it is not. If it's a problem for the country as a whole, then it's also a problem in Greg Abbott's personal life, and he should have been more concerned than he was about those personal injury lawsuits that are clogging up the courts. After all, they're the real job-killers.

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10 Oct 07:22

Legal reasoning

by John Quiggin

Not surprisingly, the US Supreme Court’s non-decision on equal marriage has caused plenty of debate, including John H’s smackdown of NR’s Matthew Franck.

The discussion got me thinking about the broader problem of legal reasoning, at least in its originalist and textualist forms, and also in precedent-based applications of common law. The assumption in all of these approaches is that by examining (according to some system of rules) what was legislated or decided in the past, lawyers and judges can determine the law as it applies to the case at hand. There are all sorts of well-known difficulties here, such as how words written a century ago should apply to technologies and social structures that did not exist at the time. And it often happens that these approaches produce results that seem unacceptable to most people but for which a legislative or constitutional fix is impossible for some reason.

It’s always seemed to me, though, that there is a much bigger problem with this approach, namely the implicit assumption that “the law” actually exists. That is, it is assumed that, if the appropriate procedure is used to interpret the inherited text, and applied to the problem at hand, it will produce a determinate answer. But why should this be true? The same law might contain contradictory clauses, supported by contradictory arguments, voted in by different majorities, and understood at the time of its passage in contradictory ways. Most notably, the same constitution might grant universal freedoms in one place, while recognising slavery in another.

At a minimum, such contradictions mean that there is no determinate law on the particular points of difference. But the problem is worse than this. The law rarely prescribes an exact answer in a specific case. The standard view of legal reasoning is the principles can be extracted from case law, then applied to new cases. But contradictory laws and contradictory cases produce contradictory principles. The ultimate stopping point is the paradox of entailment: a contradiction implies anything and everything.

I don’t have a fully worked out answer to this problem but I think it underlies a lot of the disquiet so many people feel about legal reasoning (apart from the ordinary disappointment when the answer it produces isn’t the one we want).

08 Oct 13:30

A Good Faith Mistake

by By Charles P. Pierce
Brian Stouffer

"We want to feel safe. Anonymous and reckless deadly force used by law enforcement is the price we're willing to have other people pay."

By Charles P. Pierce

Apparently, another Teachable Moment has come and gone without anybody learning a damn thing. After Michael Brown got iced in Missouri for the crime of being big, black, and in the street, there was a lot of talk that the dreaded National Conversation was about to break out regarding the militarization of our police forces and the swaggering, Wild West attitude with which said militarization has imbued local cops around the country. The National Conversation came to the conclusion that, perhaps, maybe, things had swung a little too far in the direction of the late Argentinian junta than is wise in a democracy. As it turns out, again, the National Conversation has had as much impact on actual reality as two elderly fishermen chatting in folding chairs on the beach has on the morning tides.

Remember that case in Georgia where a SWAT team serving a warrant broke into the wrong house, threw a flash-bang grenade blindly into the room, and blew the nose clean off a toddler's face? Just an honest error by the boys in blue.

According to an incident report obtained from the Habersham sheriff’s office, deputies were told to anticipate a cache of weapons and armed guards at the home. A search inside turned up neither guns nor drugs. Wanis Thonetheva, who didn't even live at the house, was arrested later that day without incident and charged only with possession of methamphetamine.

The grand jury's presentment makes for interesting reading, especially for fans of the passive voice, in which unfortunate mistakes are always made. The grand jury wants to make sure that the procedures are fine-tuned so that no more noses are blown off the faces of toddlers who have committed no crimes. More training is suggested so that every precaution can be taken to keep the noses of small children where they belong. Also, parents? Make sure that nobody the police might come looking for is anywhere near your child, or else police acting on a bullshit warrant may well be forced to blow the nose off your toddler's face.

It is hard not to conclude that, for the past 30 years, in the "war" on drugs -- and in the "war" on terror that learned its basic law enforcement principles from the existing "war" on drugs -- has resulted in a culture of armed impunity within police departments, and a culture within the general community that accepts this situation, as long as it doesn't break down their front doors. No-knock warrants are inherently dangerous, especially if special tactical units are encouraged to treat every raid as though they were landing on Omaha Beach. But, as long as it Their children getting their noses blown across the room, and not Our children, that's just the way things go. Sure, there's a civil suit to be made here, and the federal government is looking into the case, but the underlying causes remain the same, no matter how carefully we reform the tactics. We want to feel safe. Anonymous and reckless deadly force used by law enforcement is the price we're willing to have other people pay.

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07 Oct 13:27

Reading, Writing, Ransacking

by By Charles P. Pierce
By Charles P. Pierce

These are tough times for education "reformers," those well-meaning, usually wealthy dilettantes who are only making their comfortable living working "for the kids." Michelle Rhee, their warrior queen, has been exposed as an intellectual three-card monte dealer, and has been forced to hand over her sword and buckler to Campbell Brown, a forgettable former CNN anchor Muppet whose dedication to democracy and "transparency" is, well, eccentric at best, as she crusades against teacher tenure so that local school boards -- like the one presently embarrassing itself in Colorado -- can make sure no inconvenient thinking manages to leach into the subject population being experimented upon by the people who pay Brown her salary. Whoever they are. The charter school movement increasingly looks like a Trojan Horse for the corporate education complex -- demanding a complete lack of accountability and ending up, in many cases, as the pedagogical equivalent of a Texas fertilizer plant. This barely concealed strain of authoritarianism -- the lack of accountability, the delicately eliminationist rhetoric aimed at public school teachers, the shadowy donors whom people like Brown decline to reveal, the kleptocratic reliance on corporate money -- is more than sufficiently similar to the way corporations generally have looted the commonwealth to make you wonder if public education isn't headed the way of the country's manufacturing base. But you won't see a clearer example of all of this than the shenanigans that went on in Philadelphia yesterday.

In a closed-door session that lasted 17 minutes and that included a single public comment, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission -- more about them later -- unilaterally blew up the contract under which the Philadelphia teachers union had been operating. In addition to socking the city's teachers for their own health care, the commission also cut off the benefits being paid to retired teachers, most of them elderly, and all of them having worked for years to earn these benefits that yesterday vanished without even the pretense of debate. If this reminds you of what happened to the pensions of firemen in New Jersey, and public workers in Wisconsin, and manufacturing grunts almost everywhere in the private sector, you are unusually sharp this morning and do not need that second cup of coffee. Anyway, the estimable Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News has gone into orbit, and rightly so. As he points out, the SRC has been after doing this kind of thing for a long while.

There are some major work rule changes, too - the one that jumped out at me was teachers no longer being able to use reasonable force to defend themselves. The district would no longer be required to provide copy machines, or "a sufficient number of instructional materials and textbooks." The district would no longer have to provide a teachers' lounge, water fountains, parking facilities, desks for teachers, a designated room for speech and language staff and psychologists or "accommodation rooms" for students with special needs.  Counselors would no longer be guaranteed to have rooms with privacy and confidentiality, a telephone, a locked filing cabinet and a door.

No water fountains? Seriously?

The politics of the move are as simple as they are grotesque. Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has the approval rating of malaria right now and, if nothing changes, he's on his way to an historic drubbing in November. Picking this fight may be Corbett's last chance. However, he has picked the fight right in the middle of an ongoing scandal regarding the state's system of charter schools which, because of the same lack of transparency that surrounds Campbell Brown's financial angels and that surrounded the meeting in Philadelphia yesterday, have become a target-rich environment for the accountability-free grifters of the "reform" movement.

For reasons that aren't clear, millions of dollars have moved between the network of charter schools, their parent nonprofit and two property-management entities. The School District is charged with overseeing city charters, but "does not have the power or access to the financial records of the parent organization," according to District spokesperson Fernando Gallard. "We cannot conduct even limited financial audits of the parent organization." That's despite the fact that charters account for 30 percent of the District's 2013-'14 budget. Aspira declined to comment. The $3.3 million that the four brick-and-mortar charters apparently have loaned to Aspira are in addition to $1.5 million in lease payments to Aspira and Aspira-controlled property-management entities ACE and ACE/Dougherty, and $6.3 million in administrative fees paid to Aspira in 2012. 

So that's what the charter school movement has come to in Philadelphia -- a "flip this school" real-estate scheme. Lovely. And that's not even to get into the scandal around the state's "Cyber Charter," an Internet-based school the founder of which is currently on trial for funnelling millions of dollars away from the school and into his pockets,  with which he allegedly bought himself a plane, and condos for his mother and girlfriend.

According to court documents unsealed Thursday by federal officials, Trombetta told one of his former associates, "I can no longer accept cash in bags in a Pizza Hut parking lot." After that, regular payments from Avanti Management Group were sent to One2One, according to the affidavit. The bags of cash, a private plane bough by Avanti but used mostly by Trombetta, a Florida vacation home and a home in Mingo Junction, Ohio, for Trombetta's former girlfriend all were described as perks enjoyed by Trombetta as part of a scheme to siphon money from taxpayers' funds sent to PA Cyber for more than four years.

Yeah, but the real tragedy was that some 75-year old retired Math teacher might have had to get her teeth fixed. Won't somebody think of the children?

They all have so very much to answer for, the people who have decided to enrich themselves by bashing public school teachers and, in doing so, putting the entire philosophy of public education, one of the lasting contributions to society of the American political commonwealth, at serious risk. No wonder they operate secretly, and in the shadows, and beyond the reach of public accountability. They are burglarizing the future for their own profit.


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18 Sep 22:31

Organized Labor and Police Militarization

by Erik Loomis

The AFL-CIO has come out pretty strongly against police militarization. Most of the unions seem fine with this. There is of course one major exception: The International Union of Police Associations. The IUPA is bickering a bit with AFL-CIO leadership over it.

And you know what? That’s fine. It’s the job of the IUPA to defend the interests of its members. In this case, that’s probably to have ridiculous armor and weapons. But it is the interest of the AFL-CIO to defend the American working class. Many of its unions are made up of the African-Americans and Latinos victimized by police violence. But the IUPA is doing its job here. We can choose to ignore it or oppose their position. I certainly am. But it’s OK that it holds that position. It is representing its members.








17 Aug 04:00

August 17, 2014


Only 5 days left to submit for BAHFest!
11 Aug 00:00

Universal Converter Box

Brian Stouffer

No XLR cable with +48V switch? Pass.

Comes with a 50-lb sack of gender changers, and also an add-on device with a voltage selector and a zillion circular center pin DC adapter tips so you can power any of those devices from the 90s.
11 Aug 08:17

Calvin and Hobbes for August 11, 2014

08 Aug 13:02

Tumblr Of The Day

by Andrew Sullivan
06 Aug 21:00

Quote For The Day

by Andrew Sullivan

“There we were, just enjoying a nice quiet Saturday night at the movies. A slow mover, Linklater’s “Boyhood.” Some popcorn. A few sodas. Nothing really happens in the film, we found. For about 90 minutes or so we stare listlessly at the screen. It’s a thinking man’s film, I say. Beautifully shot. It’s about life, and death and relationships and things of that nature. Just then, at a brief, carefully-timed cinematic pause in dialogue, an enormous fart from somewhere in the back pierces an otherwise silent movie theatre. It had the impact of a baseball bat hitting a leather couch, or George Foreman working the heavy bag. Whack. Loud, deep and masculine.The seat cushion heroically absorbed most of the blow, but not enough that each and every person in the movie theatre instantly burst into nervous laughter. The laughter continued for what felt like a good 5 minutes, until tears streamed down our faces.

Even well after the blast, we quietly chuckled to ourselves with a ‘remember the time that guy farted in the movie theatre’ gleam in our eyes. And just like that, with a soft chuckle and a deep breath, we were back into the film. Things happened, people drove around Texas, relationships came and went, there was crying, there was hope. It was as if we had all forgotten about the fart that had brought us together that night. As the sun began to set on screen, the teenage boy, no longer a boy, transitions into an adult, before our very eyes, and looks, intently, lustfully into a young girls eyes, as if to lean in for a kiss, and braaaaaaap. Another fart from the back row, like two giant hands clapping together, and the screen goes dark, roll credits. We decided, after laughing our way out of the theatre, and all the way home, that this was the best movie that we had ever seen. I imagine the lone fartist sauntering off into the sunset. His work here done.

If only I could say thank you, kind sir. You are truly a master of your craft,” – a Craigslist poster on a memorable day at the movie theater.

07 Aug 04:00

August 07, 2014


Hey geeks! The Augie pre-order page will be open for just a little while longer.
06 Aug 16:55

Who The Fck Is Campbell Brown?

by By Charles P. Pierce

To paraphrase from my grandmother, the former shepherd lass from the hills and hollows of north Kerry, who the fck is Campbell Brown when she's at home?

Well, on the basics, she's from Ferriday, Louisiana, the hometown of Jerry Lee Lewis, and she graduated from Regis University in Denver -- after a brief stop at LSU -- with a B.A. in political science. She is married to Baghdad Dan Senor, one of the most conspicuous prevaricators in the employ of the late Avignon Presidency. (This will become important later on, as we shall see.) She also spent a year teaching English in Czechoslovakia, which I guess qualifies her for her current job, being a public spokesperson for the latest attempt to privatize American public education, Michelle (Big Grift) Rhee having apparently run her course as the rake in this long con, what with the cheating scandal and the big salary and all that sweet corporate sugar. The make-education-a-business scamsters needed a new face for the operation. Enter Campbell Brown, B.A. in political science, and professional communicator.

(It's important now to mention that Senor Senor, the spousal unit in this lash-up, has been closely allied with Peter Singer, the vulture capitalist who has thrown a big piece of his ill-gotten booty into the school "reform" movement. Brown comes by her current job fairly directly.)

So Brown is now out there shilling for the latest "reform" scheme -- using the courts to bust the teacher's unions and to deny public school teachers the freely-bargained rights to due process that ensure that they will not be altogether subject to the whims of local school board fanatics. She had a bit of a time of it with Stephen Colbert the other night, declining to name the people funding the crusade for which she is the mouthpiece. (It's nice to see she's transcended that nasty transparency tic so common to the members of her former profession. Senor Senor must be very thrilled.) The answer about her donors was rendered in fluent weaselspeak...

By Charles P. Pierce

To paraphrase from my grandmother, the former shepherd lass from the hills and hollows of north Kerry, who the fck is Campbell Brown when she's at home?

Well, on the basics, she's from Ferriday, Louisiana, the hometown of Jerry Lee Lewis, and she graduated from Regis University in Denver -- after a brief stop at LSU -- with a B.A. in political science. She is married to Baghdad Dan Senor, one of the most conspicuous prevaricators in the employ of the late Avignon Presidency. (This will become important later on, as we shall see.) She also spent a year teaching English in Czechoslovakia, which I guess qualifies her for her current job, being a public spokesperson for the latest attempt to privatize American public education, Michelle (Big Grift) Rhee having apparently run her course as the rake in this long con, what with the cheating scandal and the big salary and all that sweet corporate sugar. The make-education-a-business scamsters needed a new face for the operation. Enter Campbell Brown, B.A. in political science, and professional communicator.

(It's important now to mention that Senor Senor, the spousal unit in this lash-up, has been closely allied with Paul Singer, the vulture capitalist who has thrown a big piece of his ill-gotten booty into the school "reform" movement. Brown comes by her current job fairly directly.)

So Brown is now out there shilling for the latest "reform" scheme -- using the courts to bust the teacher's unions and to deny public school teachers the freely-bargained rights to due process that ensure that they will not be altogether subject to the whims of local school board fanatics. She had a bit of a time of it with Stephen Colbert the other night, declining to name the people funding the crusade for which she is the mouthpiece. (It's nice to see she's transcended that nasty transparency tic so common to the members of her former profession. Senor Senor must be very thrilled.) The answer about her donors was rendered in fluent weaselspeak.

When Colbert asked Brown who is funding her new Partnership for Educational Justice, she said she wouldn't reveal her donors. Why? Because, she said, she thought it was important to give anonymity to donors so that they wouldn't become "a target" of people who were protesting her appearance outside the studios before the show. "They are going to go after people who are funding us," she said.

Oh, my stars. Its it possible that many people who will lose their jobs cannot see the wisdom of Campbell Brown's position and may take steps to argue their own? Won't somebody please think of the children?

Quite simply, Campbell Brown is not in this for the kids. She's running a con on behalf of some pretty shady people. (Singer, for one, has a disreputable history of looting entire impoverished countries for his own benefit.) Because of this, she doesn't really have to know what the fck she's talking about, which is good, because she pretty plainly doesn't.

Those teachers unions she's blaming? Guess who makes up the membership of those unions? That's right: teachers. There is no way around it. Whether she wants to admit or not, because she knows the bad press that would result, Ms. Brown is clearly blaming teachers. Also, not "everyone" thinks teacher tenure laws are outdated. Clearly, the protestors outside The Colbert Report do not, as they held signs saying, "Campbell doesn't speak for me." Those tweeting #questionsforcampbell before the show aired were also obviously in disagreement. In other interviews, Ms. Brown has said "tenure is permanent lifetime employment." This is an incorrect definition of teacher tenure, and both anecdotal and research evidence demonstrates that teachers with tenure are still terminated. Tenure has little to do with protecting "bad" teachers. As educational historian Diane D'Amico writes about the history of teacher tenure, "teacher tenure never really protected teachers and nor was it supposed to." Should a teacher who has been found to be incompetent work with children? Of course not. That is not what Ms. Brown's opponents are arguing. It is, despite Ms. Brown's claims to the contrary, really about due process. Job security means that teachers are entitled to a fair trial if they are wrongfully terminated, say for standing up for students' rights or whistleblowing about inequitable treatment of themselves and others.

As long as, against all logic and evidence, we continue to insist on financing our public schools through local property taxes, teachers are going to be caught between the hammer of inconsistent budgets and the anvil of local politics. What Brown and her merry band of plutocrats call "tenure" is really a safeguard to guarantee due process for teachers who suddenly find that their school board wants them to teach Genesis in biology class. (Please see Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board for details.) But that doesn't matter because what Brown is fronting for has nothing to do with improving education and everything to do with busting one of the last remaining public-sector unions that people like Scott Walker haven't yet blown up.

Here's the Board of Directors. I see a powerhouse lawyer, a private equity cowboy, and three people who are already experienced in the school "reform" movement, one of whom once worked the beat for all-around union-buster Chris Christie. (And Howard Fuller's institute at my alma mater is heavily financed by the Bradley and Walton Foundations, both huge reservoirs of wingnut welfare.) I do not see any actual teachers, unless you count Brown's year of teaching English to the Czechs. One can extrapolate from this that the corporate backers of this latest scheme are even less connected to actual education.

And, as Diane Ravitch points out, Brown has been working the system on behalf of this con for a long time. Ravitch sends us to this investigation by Mother Jones, which reveals that, in 2013, Brown went after public schools because, she said, there were "sexual predators" lurking in the halls and protected by, yes, teacher tenure.

Brown was there to plug her new venture, the Parents' Transparency Project, a nonprofit "watchdog group" that "favors no party, candidate, or incumbent." Though its larger aim is to "bring transparency" to how contracts are negotiated with teachers' unions, PTP's most prominent campaign is to fix how New York City handles cases of sexual misconduct involving teachers and school employees-namely by giving the city's schools chancellor, a political appointee, ultimate authority in the process. Shortly after it was launched in June, PTP trained its sights on the New York mayoral race, asking the candidates to pledge to change the firing process for school employees accused of sexual misconduct. When several Democratic candidates declined, perhaps fearing they'd upset organized labor, PTP spent $100,000 on a television attack ad questioning whether six candidates, including Republican Joe Lhota and Democrats Bill de Blasio and Anthony Weiner, had "the guts to stand up to the teachers' unions." The spot stated that there had been 128 cases of sexual misconduct by school employees in the past five years, suggesting that nothing had been done in response. "It's a scandal," the ad's narrator intoned. "And the candidates are silent."

So that was the thin edge of the wedge -- scare people about perverts to get your union-busting off to a fast start. The Parents Transparency Project begat the Partners For Educational Justice, and neither one of them was ever about anything except busting teachers unions.  But Mother Jones does tease out one quote from Brown that's hilarious in the context of her stonewalling of Colbert.

"If you live in the overlapping world of politics and media, as I am learning, anything less than full transparency can potentially do you in." She still managed to get in a few digs at the unions. "I failed to disclose," she wrote, "because I stupidly did not connect the teachers' unions' opposition to charter schools to their support for a system that protects teachers who engage in sexual misconduct."

(Because sexual predation is not a problem in private schools. Thank god there was no such problem in, say, Roman Catholic parochial schools down through the decades.)

Brown and her shadowy network of supporters got a big win out in California with the Vergara decision. (Scott Lemieux explained how bizarre that decision really was.) Now, they've brought their carnival of magic tricks and misdirection to New York. Remarkably, or not so remarkably, she's managed to find some disgracefully triangulating Democratic operatives to shill for the con, searching undoubtedly for their own "Sister Souljah moment." Former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs is on board, as is, as we have seen, super-lawyer David Boies. In fact, working through Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the administration has shown a deplorable level of enthusiasm for the snake-oil that is being sold here. (Duncan, who may be a worse cabinet appointee than Tim Geithner, was fulsome in his praise of the Vergara decision.) Now that the playing field has moved east, expect to hear more from Campbell Brown about how she and her unnamed benefactors are really only in it for the kids, and about how they can barely leave their homes for fear of mobs of angry math teachers, who have protractors, dammit, and they know how to use them, and enough well-funded cries of imaginary martyrdom to gag a hundred Nixons. This is about political power, and that is all it's about, and Campbell Brown is the spokesperson for grifters and mountebanks, and that's all she is. Not that it matters, because Campbell Brown is Good On TV, and that's what's most important. The only thing her Partners For Educational Justice care less about than education, is justice.

UPDATE-- thanks to the self-correcting blogosphere and apologies to Peter Singer.

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31 Jul 16:50

Words Matter

by By Charles P. Pierce

In 1776, in order to support his claims that all men were created equal, and that they were endowed with inalienable rights, and that only to secure these rights were governments established, Thomas Jefferson needed to file a brief on behalf of the notion that, in terms of his behavior toward his North American colonies, King George III had acted like a tyrant, as Jefferson and most of the rest of the Second Continental Congress understood the term, which understanding came from John Locke's opinion in his Second Treatise On Government that defined a tyrant as a "magistrate" who, in his authority, exceeds the law. This man is perforce a tyrant, and the people cease to owe him allegiance. On this definition, Jefferson knew, his whole case depended. So he laid it on pretty thickly.

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world. He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands. He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers...

By Charles P. Pierce

In 1776, in order to support his claims that all men were created equal, and that they were endowed with inalienable rights, and that only to secure these rights were governments established, Thomas Jefferson needed to file a brief on behalf of the notion that, in terms of his behavior toward his North American colonies, King George III had acted like a tyrant, as Jefferson and most of the rest of the Second Continental Congress understood the term, which understanding came from John Locke's opinion in his Second Treatise On Government that defined a tyrant as a "magistrate" who, in his authority, exceeds the law. This man is perforce a tyrant, and the people cease to owe him allegiance. On this definition, Jefferson knew, his whole case depended. So he laid it on pretty thickly.

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world. He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands. He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers. He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries. He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance. He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature. He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation: For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states: For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world: For imposing taxes on us without our consent: For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses: For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies: For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments: For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

This is quite a bill of particulars. We go on.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation. He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

He was a tyrant not only because of what he did before, but because of what he had done in reaction against the protests that had erupted over what he'd done before.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

But even then, there was debate among the delegates over whether or not the Declaration of Independence was too intemperate in calling George III a tyrant. These were educated men who knew the gravity of what they were doing, and who knew the gravity of each word they were using to say it. As is put in a collection of letters and documents from the Second Continental Congress regarding the seriousness of the deliberations, "Facing a fundamental dilemma, the delegates were immediately at odds among themselves over how vigorously to push military preparations and how completely they should place their trust in petitions and British good will."

That is the way Americans used to speak about tyrants. Once the United States was established, and political parties formed, tyrants were defined more loosely, and the charge flung about without the same deep reservoir of evidence that Jefferson mustered up against George III. Andrew Jackson was a tyrant because John Calhoun said he was. Abraham Lincoln was a tyrant because the South picked a fight it couldn't win. (John Wilkes Booth legendarily launched that very charge from the stage at Ford's Theater, shortly after launching a bullet into Lincoln's head.) FDR was a tyrant because of the New Deal. John Kennedy was a tyrant because of integration. Lyndon Johnson was a tyrant because of Vietnam. Richard Nixon did some tyrannical things, but he didn't really have the size to be an actual tyrant. Ronald Reagan was a bit too dim, as was George W. Bush. The job of tyrant is not one you can completely delegate to your National Security Council or to your vice-president. To be found to be a tyrant is a specific charge against a specific person.

Yesterday, on a party line vote, the House of Representatives, John Boehner presiding, determined that it would sue the president of the United States. The cause of action was that the president overstepped his authority by delaying the individual mandate required by the Affordable Care Act, a course of action which Republicans in this same House previously begged him to follow in the enactment of a law this same House has voted futilely to repeal over 50 times. In doing so, the members of the House majority argued that the president had become a tyrant for doing what Republicans wanted him to do in the first place. Thus are both Jefferson and Locke transformed into characters in a rhetorical Punch and Judy show. And thus is the most important question of the founding period of the country turned into a pop quiz for lightweights and fools.

Thus said Tom Rice, Republican of South Carolina: "At the end of the bloody revolution, the last thing that they wanted was another king; they wanted freedom...My friends across the aisle worry about the price of a lawsuit to protect our freedom. Our forefathers paid dearly for that freedom...We cannot stand by and watch the president shred our Constitution."

Thus said Jeff Duncan, Republican of South Carolina: "Our Constitution does not say that the president gets to write his own laws. Our Founders knew that was a bad idea. They had seen kings wield that kind of power and they knew they didn't want that for the new nation. They knew that too much power in the hands of one person, or one group of people, inevitably would lead to tyranny."

Thus said Candace Miller, Republican of Michigan: ""The founders in their genius put in place this system of checks and balances for a very important purpose, which is to make certain that no one person could both impose and enforce the law, because that type of action amounts to tyranny.  In short, we have no king in this nation."

Thus said John Boehner, Speaker of The House and Republican of Ohio: "No member of this body needs to be reminded about what the Constitution states about the president's obligation to faithfully execute the laws of our nation..Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change? Are you willing to let anyone tear apart what our founders have built?"

Recall Jefferson's bill of particulars for a tyrant: elimination of trial by jury, piracy, incitement to massacre, quartering of soldiers, elimination of entire systems of local government. Now look at the bill of particulars for a tyrant in 2014: he used what he perceived to be his executive authority to do something that the people who now call him a tyrant begged him to do for two years. Old man Marx was right: "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."

There are things that are just as bad as encasing the Founders on marble and marveling at their omniscience. For example, we cheapen our heritage when we cheapen its origins. Ever since the ongoing prion disease emerged full-blown during the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections, and ever since its symptoms became so garishly manifest thereafter, one of our political parties has chosen to cheapen our heritage, and to create a buffoon's history in which they claim to be heirs to people whose intellect and courage as far outdistances their own as a 747 outdistances a carriage as a means to get from Boston to Philadelphia.

Jefferson knew that calling the king a tyrant was an irrevocable step toward confrontation with the greatest military power on earth by a confederation of states that barely had an army worthy of the name. He knew that simply using the word was enough to get his neck stretched if things went badly. Yesterday, the House of Representatives, in one way or another, called a twice-elected president a tyrant. It said, in one way or another, that he had violated his oath of office. If either or both of those is true, then there is only one remedy under the Constitution these people claim to so revere, and it is not a frivolous lawsuit. It is to bring articles of impeachment against the president.

You don't take tyrants to court, goddammit. You risk everything to overthrow them. But the House of Representatives, and the Speaker who presides over it, knows that doing their constitutional duty is a political risk, so they don't have the sand to fulfill it. Jefferson was willing to break with a king he called a tyrant even if it meant facing down the British army. John Boehner is not willing to risk impeaching a president his House called a tyrant if it means a four-point drop in a CNN poll. When cowards try to make history, history is mocked.

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29 Jul 00:43

Inflation OCD

by By PAUL KRUGMAN

Brad DeLong does yeoman work in tracking down a veritable host of right-wing proclamations over the past five years that high inflation is just around the corner, or maybe has already landed but the feds are hiding it in Area 51. But I think he falls short in analyzing the phenomenon, trying to attribute it to bad models or just finding it incomprehensible.

Clearly, there’s something deeper at work here. After all, clinging to beliefs that have been wrong, wrong, wrong for so long — beliefs that would have cost you money if you acted on them — and remember, Eric Cantor, the lost white knight of the reformicons, did in fact do just that — shows that there is some underlying reason those beliefs are a necessary part of the right-wing identity.

What has to be going on is that the general hatred of government activism, the constant complaint that bureaucrats are taking away your hard-earned wealth and giving it to moochers and looters, carries with it an overwhelming need to see fiat money as theft. Even alleged moderate Republicans do it. It’s a form of obsessive-compulsive political disorder, and not susceptible to rational argument.

And this in turn means that the market monetarists have a hopeless task. James Pethokoukis writes about the weird obsession of his political teammates with inflation; he needs to ask why that obsession persists, in fact has gotten stronger, after five years of utter empirical failure.

As I’ve said before, there are two topics on which, in my experience, conservatives become completely unhinged, red-in-the-face angry and screaming. One is health care, where the possibility of a successful government-backed program is unacceptable despite the fact that everyone, even America for its seniors, does it, and the other is monetary policy. It’s time to stop pretending that these are rational discussions, and start looking for the roots of the compulsion.

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26 Jul 04:00

July 26, 2014


26 Jul 23:37

Hangover Helper

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

"His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum."

Morning-after alcohol misery isn’t so bad, according to Tom Vanderbilt. In a 1995 issue of The Baffler – which opened its archives to the public this week – he reviewed the then-new Skyy vodka “hangover free” advertizing campaign. For him, he says, “the hangover, that much-maligned malady of the engorging classes, [is] the clearest window onto my inner self, the one device through which all my pretensions in the material world are brought to a crashing halt”:

The hangover is a rich but undervalued element in our culture. In the literature of every age it provides a handy narrative device for slowing down the action and bringing the most elevated characters to a place we’ve all been. In Lucky Jim, for example, Kingsley Amis expertly captures the moment as the novel’s cheerfully bumbling protagonist awakens after a sordid escapade:

The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.

Amis, the poet laureate of the hangover, was one of the few to fathom its intricacies and divine its transcendent qualities—to find, if you will, the spiritual in the spirits. The hangover, he wrote once, is no mere physical affliction, but a “unique route to self-knowledge and self-realization.”

This is usually lost on sufferers of the “physical hangover,” obsessed as they are with feeling fresh again. But as they spend the morning shuffling through the Sunday supplements, unable to finish the simplest articles, drinking tomato juice as the sunlight stalks the living room floor, on come those colossal feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and shame—the metaphysical hangover. The best, and really the only, cure for this condition is to simply acknowledge your physical hangover for what it is, rather than attributing these unsettling thoughts to your job or to your relationship. As Amis puts it, “He who truly believes he has a hangover has no hangover.”

Explore The Baffler‘s back issues here.

28 Jul 00:00

D.B. Cooper

'Why on Earth would someone commit air piracy just to finance a terrible movie decades later?' 'People are very strange these days.'
25 Jul 15:05

Zombie-Eyed Granny Starving, 2.0

by By Charles P. Pierce
Brian Stouffer

"[T]he man who brought sharecropping to the welfare state"

Between 1750 and 1860, the British Parliament passed a series of laws called The Inclosure Acts. The point of these laws was to repurpose open fields that had heretofore been treated as part of the Commons by the British peasantry. Traditionally, the peasants were able to farm these large areas and graze what animals they had there. They were also allowed to range freely over what were called "wastes," which were swampy, unproductive places in which the rural poor could fish, or gather firewood, or do whatever they needed to do to keep body and soul together.

(In an informal way, this had been going on for years, as had ineffective attempts by the peasantry to assert their traditional rights. Kett's Rebellion of 1549 was a protest against the enclosure of common land by the gentry and it was centered in the unfortunately named town of Mousehold. The Midland Revolt in 1607 also had the enclosure of common land as its casus belli.)

The Inclosure Laws ended all that, destroying part of the idea of the Commons along the way. The fields were fenced in, and the most productive of them parceled off to wealthy landowners and to those with serious political connections. This was great for agriculture and a lousy deal for the peasants, who were left with a series of unpleasant options. These included emigration, or internal migration to cities that were rapidly becoming hopelessly overcrowded and in which the luckier ones among the displaced would find work in the dark, Satanic mills that were just then accelerating toward the Industrial Revolution, or, finally, grubbing out a life as a tenant farmer for the rich people to whom what previously had been common land had been parceled off. Among other things, this set in stone a grotesquely unbalanced landlord-tenant system throughout the agricultural economy of the United Kingdom. This, as we know from our history, worked out splendidly in Ireland. The basic philosophy of the Inclosure Acts was applied generally throughout the British Empire. The effect on indigenous populations was not a good one.

(A lot of the peasants who emigrated came to America, to which they brought a deep distrust of distant autocratic power. This came in handy in 1776.)

If the peasant wanted to continue to farm any land at all, he often had to sign a contract with one of the wealthy landowners to do so. This pretty much made him a serf. (In fact, some historians have likened the Inclosure system to a rudimentary experiment in what Stalin eventually would do with his collective farms.) His livelihood, and that of his family, depended on the landlord's whims. The peasant essentially was paid (poorly) in the crops he grew, and not in actual money. In 1770, Oliver Goldsmith wrote the epic poem, The Deserted Village, in which he described the effect of enclosure on the people who had lived off the land.

Amidst thy desert walks the lapwing flies,/And tires their echoes with unvaried cries./Sunk are thy bowers, in shapeless ruin all,/And the long grass o'ertops the mouldering wall;/And, trembling, shrinking from the spoiler's hand,/Far, far away, thy children leave the land...

By Charles P. Pierce

Between 1750 and 1860, the British Parliament passed a series of laws called The Inclosure Acts. The point of these laws was to repurpose open fields that had heretofore been treated as part of the Commons by the British peasantry. Traditionally, the peasants were able to farm these large areas and graze what animals they had there. They were also allowed to range freely over what were called "wastes," which were swampy, unproductive places in which the rural poor could fish, or gather firewood, or do whatever they needed to do to keep body and soul together.

(In an informal way, this had been going on for years, as had ineffective attempts by the peasantry to assert their traditional rights. Kett's Rebellion of 1549 was a protest against the enclosure of common land by the gentry and it was centered in the unfortunately named town of Mousehold. The Midland Revolt in 1607 also had the enclosure of common land as its casus belli.)

The Inclosure Laws ended all that, destroying part of the idea of the Commons along the way. The fields were fenced in, and the most productive of them parceled off to wealthy landowners and to those with serious political connections. This was great for agriculture and a lousy deal for the peasants, who were left with a series of unpleasant options. These included emigration, or internal migration to cities that were rapidly becoming hopelessly overcrowded and in which the luckier ones among the displaced would find work in the dark, Satanic mills that were just then accelerating toward the Industrial Revolution, or, finally, grubbing out a life as a tenant farmer for the rich people to whom what previously had been common land had been parceled off. Among other things, this set in stone a grotesquely unbalanced landlord-tenant system throughout the agricultural economy of the United Kingdom. This, as we know from our history, worked out splendidly in Ireland. The basic philosophy of the Inclosure Acts was applied generally throughout the British Empire. The effect on indigenous populations was not a good one.

(A lot of the peasants who emigrated came to America, to which they brought a deep distrust of distant autocratic power. This came in handy in 1776.)

If the peasant wanted to continue to farm any land at all, he often had to sign a contract with one of the wealthy landowners to do so. This pretty much made him a serf. (In fact, some historians have likened the Inclosure system to a rudimentary experiment in what Stalin eventually would do with his collective farms.) His livelihood, and that of his family, depended on the landlord's whims. The peasant essentially was paid (poorly) in the crops he grew, and not in actual money. In 1770, Oliver Goldsmith wrote the epic poem, The Deserted Village, in which he described the effect of enclosure on the people who had lived off the land.

Amidst thy desert walks the lapwing flies,/And tires their echoes with unvaried cries./Sunk are thy bowers, in shapeless ruin all,/And the long grass o'ertops the mouldering wall;/And, trembling, shrinking from the spoiler's hand,/Far, far away, thy children leave the land.

In the American South, in the aftermath of the Civil War, partly as a vehicle to re-establish a system of white supremacy over the freed slaves, there developed a distinctly American form of the enforced tenant farming that had resulted in England from the Inclosure Acts. It was called "sharecropping." The tenant was allowed to farm some land at the behest of a landlord, and his compensation was that he got to keep some of what he grew. The sharecropper bought everything he needed to grow the crops from the landlord, who extended him credit. What he borrowed was deducted from his payment at harvest time. The sharecropper rarely got ahead, which was the whole point.

As part of the sharecropping system, the sharecropper had to sign a contract with his landlord, just as the British peasants did. (The fact that many sharecroppers were illiterate was considered to be irrelevant.) The landlord would sign his name. The sharecropper would sign with an X. "His mark," the contract would say. A sharecropping contract from 1867 gives you a good idea of what the system was like.

The said parties of the second part, have agreed and do by these presents agree and bind themselves to work for the said party of the first past during the year 1867, on the farm belonging to said party of the first part near Early Grove on said County upon the following terms and conditions to Wit the said Cooper Hughs Freedman with his wife and one other woman, and the said Charles Roberts with his wife Hannah and one boy are to work on said farm and to cultivate forty acres in corn and twenty acres in cotton, to assist in putting the fences on said farm in good order and to keep them so and to do all other work on said farm necessary to be done to keep the same in good order and to raise a good crop and to be under the control and directions of said IG Bailey and to receive for their said services one half of the cotton and one third of the corn and fodder raised by them on said farm in said year 1867 and the said Charles Roberts Freedman with his wife Hannah further agrees and binds themselves to do the washing and Ironing, and all other [2] necessary house work for said IG Bailey and his family during said year 1867 and to receive for their said services fifty dollars in money at the expiration of said year 1867 and the said Cooper Hughs Freedman further agrees and binds himself to give the necessary attention of feeding the Stock of cattle and milking the cows twice daily belong to said IG Bailey, and do the churning when ever necessary during the said year.

Both in England and here, the systems described had as their basic political assumption what we now have come to know as the maker-taker attitude toward our fellow members of the human race. The systems were about control as much as they were about agriculture, and they were about the control of people as much as they were about the control of crops. Which brings us up through the mists of history to...Paul Ryan's latest scam.

On Thursday, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin went to the American Enterprise Institute -- and there's one of your tells right there -- to reboot his public image as a serious man of serious ideas. This image took quite a beating over the past decades as he produced budget after budget that were economically illiterate and politically suicidal. Then he ran for vice-president with G.I. Luvmoney at the top of the ticket, and Joe Biden laughed at him, and that was pretty much that. Since then, Ryan has been fashioning an entirely new persona for himself as the Republican who cares about the poor. On Thursday, he announced his new anti-poverty initiative. It has been received fairly well. Ezra Klein has at least one foot back on the Paul Ryan Is A Serious Thinker bandwagon.

Ryan is, at heart, more interested in reforming government programs than in simply cutting them. When deficits exploded after the financial crisis he used deficit-reducing budgets as the vehicle for far-reaching reforms. Now that deficits are lower and poverty is more salient, he's using poverty as a vehicle for far-reaching reforms. The constant thread in Ryan's career isn't his concern for budgets but his efforts to overhaul the safety net.

And I am the Tsar of all the Russias.

On his electric teevee show, Lawrence O'Donnell found 101 different ways to talk about what "a good start" this plan is. (Ryan himself is hedging, calling the plan a "discussion draft." Guess who's leading the discussion?) There are ideas within the stated plan to which I have no objection: the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, prison reform, etc. There is also one major and insurmountable flaw in the plan, and that is that Paul Ryan is a consummate charlatan, the fact that he has discovered a new formula for snake oil notwithstanding.

One must never forget when discussing anything Paul Ryan says about economics that he fundamentally does not believe that the care of the poor and the sick is a legitimate function of government. This belief is theological. It is the basis for his entire political career. And it has not changed. This is a philosophy he developed while going to high school and college on my dime and yours through Social Security survivor benefits, and you're welcome again, dickhead. Anybody who thinks Paul Ryan has "changed" in any substantive way should not be allowed out in public without a minder. In this recent scam, the tells are scattered everywhere, and they are obvious, and you don't even have to know that the more "compassionate" of his proposals don't have fk all chance of getting through the monkeyhouse Congress in which he is a leader. He knows that, too.

For example, let us look at the tinpot re-branding of block grants as "opportunity grants." (And here we once again must refer to the words of Mr. S. Spade of San Francisco: "The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.") Ryan says, yes, block grants sucked before, when Saint Ronnie used them as a means to destroy programs he didn't like, but they will work now because - Paul Ryan.

"This isn't really exactly a block grant, where you cut a check to the state and call it a day." Funds would have to be spent on the poor - "no funny business. It would be budget neutral, and not a penny less."

No funny business!

Ezra Klein believes that these might work, if properly structured,

Similarly, Ryan's "Opportunity Grants", though missing key details, might have merit if thoughtfully constructed: few think the government's dizzying array of poverty programs are perfectly structured, and in an age where Washington is deeply gridlocked, handing a set of pilot states more flexibility to experiment more rapidly makes sense. The hard questions here are how to manage the growth of the grants when the economy turns down, how to define the kinds of limits and evaluations that need to be followed (i.e., can a governor force grant recipients to submit to a weekly drug test and home inspection?), and whether Ryan is really committed to the intensely paternalistic life plan model.

First of all, block grants to the states suck. They always have and they always will, and Paul Ryan knows this, which is why he gave them a pretty new name in the first place. And, with the spectacularly cruel example of how governors turned down FREE MONEY! rather than insure the health of their poorer citizens, what pilot states would Klein suggest? Rick Scott's Florida? Paul LePage's Maine? Bobby Jindal's Louisiana? Mississippi? But it is that last part that gives the game away. Ryan suggests that, in return for the shrinking benefits available to them through the "opportunity grants," poor Americans bind themselves to a "contract" regarding how they live their lives: "a contract outlining specific and measurable benchmarks for success...sanctions for breaking the terms of the contract."

Paternalism doesn't change through the ages. It just dresses differently. And there, ultimately, is Paul Ryan's new political persona. He's the poor person's landlord, enclosing the fields. He's the man who brought sharecropping to the welfare state.

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23 Jul 22:02

Best Cover Song Ever?

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

Pointless to have a contest. This is the best cover song ever. Anyone who disagrees is clinically insane.

A reader throws down the gauntlet in our new contest (guidelines here): “For me, Johnny Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” takes the cake.” He has a point:

Songwriter Trent Reznor’s quote is worth reading:

I pop the video in, and wow… Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure

It really builds and builds …

18 Jul 07:36

Death and taxes: morality versus bureaucratic casuistry

by Chris Bertram

Killing people is wrong.

People ought to do their fair share.

Both of these seem like plausible but not exceptionless moral principles. Sometime it is ok to kill people. For example, if you need to kill someone who is attacking you to protect yourself from death or serious injury, then you are permitted to do so. But if you can achieve the goal of protecting yourself without killing your attacker, then you should. The things you do to protect yourself should be necessary and should be proportional to the actual threat. In ordinary life, it is only people like Tony Martin or George Zimmerman (or their apologists) who think that a threat or the mere perception of one gives you licence to simply blow someone away.

Likewise people should do their share to contribute towards the common infrastructure from which we all benefit. Public services, maintaining a legal system, filling in holes in the road, stuff like that. Sometimes there are excuses and justifications for not contributing. Some people have no money, some people are even too young, or old, or sick to do so. But most people should do their bit, though there may be disagreement on exactly what that bit is.

These two things—killing and paying taxes—don’t seem to have much to do with one another. But I think there are some interesting similarities. In both cases there are plausible moral principles but alongside them there are detailed public and legal codes that purport to implement those principles. And in each case there are people or bodies who think (and claim) they have discharged their moral obligations when they have complied with the letter of the codes – that the codes encapsulate all the things that they are morally required to do. What is more, in each case, many of the people who take this attitude to the rules expend a lot of effort trying to affect the content of the rules and attempting to find interpretations of the rules (“loopholes” and similar) that work to their advantage.

Take the case of killing, as covered by “just war theory”. People (and peoples) have the right of self-defence. (At least, I assume here that they do.) But under just war theory the thought you shouldn’t kill an attacker unless you really need to is transmuted into rules about necessity and proportionality that simply provide a weak constraint on states pursuing their advantage. So long as a vaguely plausible interpretation of military necessity can be cooked up and enough uncertainty shed on the general requirement of proportionality, the rest becomes public relations. You can kill, just so long as you can gesture in the vague direction of the rules. And people (lawyers, philosophers) can be employed to write stuff muddying the waters. (Some of them will even do it for free!)

A rather similar thing happens for tax. The tax laws define an expected level of contribution, but wealthy people and corporations lobby government for all kinds of exemptions and changes and then employ lawyers and accountants to minimize their own contribution. And when people object to Apple, Google and Amazon using the roads and infrastructure by domiciling themselves in Luxembourg or Ireland to avoid paying for them, they point to their compliance with the letter of the law.

There’s a further parallel too. In both cases, a fiduciary relationship with someone else is deployed by way for moral justification for the policy. In the tax case, companies have a duty to their shareholders that supposedly means the are under an obligation to minimize their contribution. In the case of war, governments pursue the interests of their citizens (supposedly) subject to the very weak constraints that they themselves have helped weaken. And in each case, the lawyers, accountants, philosophers are on hand to lobby, interpret or write op-ed pieces in the Wall Street Journal.

For both death and taxes, a moral principle that ought to guide a person’s (or a collective’s) actions has been transmuted into a matter of bureaucratic rule compliance and public relations management. Impertinent questions about whether a state is entitled to kill some people or about whether Google is paying its fair share can then be batted away with a gesture towards “the rules”. So it goes.

27 Jun 17:22

Uh-Oh …

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

How about we give him $500 million to NOT do that?

President Obama – in a huge and epic U-turn – wants $500 million to train “moderate” Syrian rebels:

Previously, US aid to the Syrian opposition that is fighting dictator Bashar al-Assad focused on non-lethal provisioning, while the Central Intelligence Agency focused on sending small arms and missiles to what the US calls the “vetted” Syrian moderates. Yet the Gulf Arab states have established an arms pipeline giving a substantive military edge to jihadist groups fighting Assad and one another. … US military training for the Syrians, three-and-a-half years into a conflict that has killed more than 150,000 people and recast the boundaries of the Middle East, is likely to take place in Jordan, where the US military already trains its Iraqi counterparts. It is also in line with Obama’s desired template for counterterrorism, as unveiled at West Point, in which the US trains foreign security forces to assault terrorists themselves.

Lisa Lundquist reviews why this is a terrible idea:

At this point, it is not entirely clear which vetted elements of the Syrian opposition can be relied upon to keep the arms out of the hands of the jihadists groups who dominate the battlefield, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front.

As The Long War Journal has documented over the past year at least, in numerous instances previous US efforts to equip ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels have been compromised by the frequent partnering of ‘moderate’ and Islamist forces, as well as by the sheer power of the Islamist forces themselves. [See Threat Matrix report, Arming the 'moderate' rebels in the Syrian south.]

It is difficult to see how throwing another $500 million into the Syrian morass will effect a positive outcome. Jihadist forces currently control virtually all of the border crossings into Syria from Turkey and Jordan (not to mention Iraq) through which Western aid would flow. It is a well-known fact that these jihadists determine the distribution of such supplies once they come into Syria.

Also, the FSA’s leadership was apparently just sacked. Aren’t these the ones we’d theoretically be helping? Or maybe it was a precondition:

Syria’s opposition government sacked the military command of the rebel Free Syrian Army late Thursday over corruption allegations, as the White House asked lawmakers for $500 million for moderate insurgents. A statement by the opposition government said its chief Ahmad Tohme “decided to disband the Supreme Military Council and refer its members to the government’s financial and administration committee for investigation”.

The decision came amid widespread reports of corruption within the ranks of the FSA, which is backed by Western and Arab governments in its battle to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The government in exile said it was also sacking FSA chief of staff Brigadier General Abdelilah al-Bashir.

There’s one silver lining. The initiative, as neocon Gary Schmitt argues, “has all the appearances of being a strategy for appearing to do something without actually doing much of anything”:

Five hundred million is a pittance when it comes to these kinds of operations. Much like the one billion for new defense initiatives in Eastern Europe in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it amounts to a smidgen here, and a smidgen there.

The truth of the matter is that the Obama team has let things get so out of hand in Syria that they have little interest now in actually removing Assad from power. Indeed, with ISIS on the move in Iraq, Assad, along with Iran, has in effect become an ally in that conflict. At best, this new effort is a campaign to keep the killing going so that no one group is finally successful. But of course conflicts are not like backfires, in which a fire is deliberately set in the path of an oncoming fire with a goal of having the oncoming fire burn itself out. These kinds of “fires” will jump that line and typically increase the conflagration—as we have already seen in the case of Syria over the past three years as the conflict has spread to Lebanon, Iraq and perhaps soon, Jordan.

Schmitt sees that as a bad thing, of course. But then he can write phrases like “the Obama team has let things get so out of hand in Syria” as if this entire crisis is simply a function of whatever America decides – or doesn’t decide – to do. Maybe Obama’s initiative is a way to fob off the hyper-ventilating hegemonists and buy some time. I sure hope so. The last thing we should want is for this kind of meddling to be in any way impactful.

26 Jun 22:47

Reverse engineering Ross Douthat

by John Quiggin

Responding to the latest attempt to breathe some life into the zombie of “reform conservatism”, Matt Yglesias noted a revealing silence on climate change. As he observed

The thought process that ended with this approach is easy enough to understand. Whether climate change is a massive conspiracy orchestrated by Al Gore, 99 percent of scientists, and a dazzling array of foreign governments or a genuine problem is hotly debated inside the conservative movement. Whether or not fossil-fuel producers should be hampered in their activities by regulatory concern about pollution, by contrast, is not controversial. For smart, up-and-coming conservatives to mention climate change, they would have to pick a side on the controversial issue. Do they sound like rubes by siding with the conspiracy theorists, or do they alienate the rubes by acknowledging the basic facts and the coming up with some other reason to favor inaction? The optimal choice is not to choose.

I made much the same point a year ago in response to Ramesh Ponnuru’s <a href=””http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/349428/missing-point-conservative-reform”>plaintive observation that “To be a good reformer [in liberal eyes] a conservative has to agree that the vast bulk of conservatives are insane.”

In this NYT piece, Ross Douthat tries to respond to Yglesias. He ends up both confirming the point regarding climate change and illustrating the true nature of reform conservatism.

Since Douthat can’t refute Yglesias’ point about the craziness of the Republican base, he doesn’t try. Rather, he dismisses the point as “silly” and moves straight to his own apologia for lining up with the crazies. This is rather challenging. As Douthat admits, its not long since Republicans like John McCain were on the sane side of this debate. And it’s not as if the recent evidence (that is, the evidence coming from science rather than the rightwing parallel universe) has changed anything.

Still, Douthat tries desperately to claim that, in following his party where it leads, he is merely responding to the changed circumstances of the post-2008 economic slump. Supposedly, a relatively modest slowdown in economic growth means that it is now imperative to do nothing about climate change.

The best way to understand Douthat’s piece is by reverse engineering his argument as a constrained minimization problem The objective is to minimize the craziness he needs to embrace, subject to the constraint that he must end up in line with the denialist conspiracy theorists who dominate the base. The best approach is to combine the most inflated estimates of the cost of mitigation, with the rosiest projections of the implications of doing nothing.

This is “reform conservatism” in a nutshell. The Republican party is a coalition of crazies, racists and plutocrats. But there is a political requirement to talk about policy in a way that is not obviously crazy, racist or pro-rich. The task of conservative1 intellectuals is to square this circle.


  1. Corey Robin would say that this has always been the true function of conservatism. I’m more inclined to believe that a genuinely conservative approach to politics has some potential merit, not realized in actually existing conservatism. 

20 Jun 15:35

Gentrification’s Racial Arbitrage

by Peter Frase
Brian Stouffer

Those last two sentences, man.

When it comes to housing and gentrification, anti-racism is about more than purifying what’s in our hearts or our heads.

Robby Virus / Flickr

Robby Virus / Flickr

This post spins out something that occurred to me in the course of writing about consumerist politics and its limitations. One of the sections concerns gentrification, and the political dead end of blaming it on what Anthony Galuzzo called “the fucking hipster show.”

Artists, students, and others classified as “hipsters” are often blamed for gentrification, rather than being understood as people who are often driven into poorer and browner neighborhoods by large-scale processes rooted in capital accumulation and government policy. This creates a divisive cultural distraction from the need to organize neighborhoods across race and class lines.

I go into that in more detail in the forthcoming essay. But I had an odd thought about the racist dimension of gentrification that didn’t fit in there. Racism is a central, unavoidable component of the whole process of gentrification in places like the United States. Landlords in non-white areas perceive that if they can bring white people into a neighborhood, they will attract more people like them.

At first, the newcomers may be the low-income hipster types, but they are the pioneers who make the area safe for colonization by the rich. The ultimate outcome is that the non-white residents get priced out and displaced, along with the original gentrifiers. It’s a process that’s been repeated so many times in recent decades that that it barely needs explaining anymore.

But what occurred to me is that the first wave of white gentrifiers are engaging in what we might call, by analogy with finance, a kind of racial arbitrage. Arbitrage is the practice of exploiting differences in prices for the same good in different markets. When such discrepancies appear, it can be possible to make risk-free money by buying out of one market and immediately selling into another.

Early gentrifiers aren’t engaging in arbitrage in this strict sense; the gains that go to early home-buyers, for instance, are consequences of the unfolding of the gentrification dynamic itself and not of some market imperfection in static comparison. But in the early stages, racism gives rise to a situation where the perception of certain neighborhoods diverges from their lived reality. A white person who notices this can exploit it to procure housing at a discount.

This is primarily because, all things being equal, white people perceive a neighborhood as having more crime the more black people it has in it. Blacks are, in fact, more likely to live in high crime areas, but white perceptions go beyond this reality (see the linked paper for a detailed study).

A white person who knows this will realize that an apartment in a black neighborhood will be systematically cheaper than the same apartment in a white neighborhood. By renting in the black neighborhood, whitey gets a discount without actually facing any additional danger.

The size of this discount is magnified by a second aspect of white racism about black crime. This one relates not to how much crime there is, but to what drives crime, and in particular violent crime. Many white people believe that rather than having a rational basis, violence in black neighborhoods is driven by some kind of cultural pathology or inherent animalistic nature. We therefore come to believe that mere proximity to black people puts us in danger.

This is illustrated in the recent, excellent debate between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jonathan Chait. (Excellent on Coates’ side, that is. Chait’s contribution consisted of digging himself into a hole, then calling in a backhoe.)

Chait, like many white liberals, tends to fall back on nebulous ideas of black cultural pathology to explain why black people face higher levels of violence and poverty. The primary difference between people like Chait and his conservative counterparts is Chait’s magnanimous acknowledgment that black pathology stems from the legacy of slavery rather than inherent inferiority.

Coates demolishes this whole patronizing and misbegotten enterprise. Drawing on his own experiences growing up in Baltimore, he shows how violence and machismo can be understandable and even necessary ways of surviving in a tough environment. “If you are a young person living in an environment where violence is frequent and random, the willingness to meet any hint of violence with yet more violence is a shield.”

But white gentrifiers moving into black neighborhoods don’t face anything like this same environment of violence. For one thing, a major source of random violence in black communities is the police, who certainly don’t treat white newcomers the same way. For another, these newcomers are disconnected from the social networks, and the legal and illegal economies, on which many urban residents depend for survival, but which can also be suffused with violence.

Certainly, white gentrifiers may be subject to property crime if they are perceived as rich or as easy marks. But the notion that they face the same murder rate as their black neighbors is simply preposterous.

Nevertheless, when I’ve mentioned the possibility of moving to a high-crime, predominantly black neighborhood, I’ve heard jokes — even from leftist comrades — along the lines of “heh, only if you want to get shot.” These are, presumably, people I won’t have to compete with for an apartment. Hence the racist perceptions of crime’s sources and targets drives down rents further and compounds the racial arbitrage.

Obviously real people don’t make such pure and conscious calculations, and white people find themselves living in mostly non-white places due to a variety of cross-cutting cultural and economic pressures. Nevertheless, it is the lower degree of racism of the early arrivals that helps start the whole process of revaluation and displacement.

There’s an almost absurd quality to it: White supremacy is so pervasive, and its structural mechanisms so powerful, that even identifying and rejecting racist attitudes can implicate white people in the reproduction of white supremacy.

It’s an important lesson that shows why anti-racism isn’t just about purifying what’s in our hearts or our heads. It’s about transforming the economic systems and property relations that continue to reproduce racist practices and ideas.

17 Jun 01:15

The Best Of The Dish Today

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

"[O]ur goal should be to prevent hell, not to create heaven on earth. The former is possible, the latter is not."

The United States Celebrates The World Cup in Brazil

It’s been a sobering day, with one paragraph I read – by Razib Khan – sticking in my mind:

“No matter what establishment voices assert, intervention in foreign lands in a ham-handed fashion to prop up our American values is bound to lead us down a path of tears. As Shadi Hamid states, the future of democracy in the Middle East is going to be illiberal. This may be inevitable. We don’t need to avert our eyes from it, and we need to acknowledge that so we were, so they will be. It took the Thirty Years war to finally purge the enthusiasm of sectarianism from the cultural DNA of Europeans (and even then, religious minorities were second class citizens for centuries). There will be no calm reasoning with Iraqis of any stripe because the march of history continues, and only sadness can convince all parties that moderation is necessary for the existence of modern nation-states. Intervention in some fashion may be inevitable in the world, but our goal should be to prevent hell, not to create heaven on earth. The former is possible, the latter is not.”

“Only sadness can convince.” An awful truth – but a deeply human one.

Today, we tried to cover every aspect of the confusing and dynamic civil war in Iraq. An alliance with Iran? The Battle for Baghdad – and how ISIS could regret it.  The welcome calm at the White House. Iran’s quagmire now? The Sunni quandary. The Kurdish exception. The impact on Syria. And, of course, the shamelessness of Bill Kristol.

Relief? A South Park superfan Book of Mormon supercut. And I answer readers on whether I can endorse (or even vote for this time) Hillary Clinton.

The most popular posts of the day was No Drama Obama On Iraq; followed by Responding To Student Groans, Ctd,

Many of today’s posts were updated with your emails – read them all here.  You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish. 14 more readers became subscribers today. You can join them here - and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month.

See you in the morning.

(Photo: Soccer fans cheer for team U.S.A. as they face Ghana during the World Cup in Brazil at Jack Demsey’s bar on June 16, 2014 in New York City. By Michael Loccisano/Getty Images.)

12 Jun 20:36

No, We Don’t Need To Go Back Into Iraq

by Andrew Sullivan

Dexter Filkins assigns three reasons for the continuing disintegration of a country destroyed by the US invasion and occupation. The first two are the sectarian implosion in Syria and the sectarian authoritarianism of Nouri al-Maliki. But he then blames the Obama administration for not fighting harder to keep a minimal force in Iraq over Maliki’s and the American people’s wishes as the occupation came to a merciful close in 2011. IRAQ-UNRESTSomehow, that residual force would have restrained Maliki in his Shiite excesses, as the US did from 2006 onward, in the middle of a swirling civil war. The old guard in Washington will jump at this conclusion – with the neocon right and neocon left (what else do we call the liberals who never see a conflict in which the US should not be involved for the betterment of humankind?) rallying behind a new interventionism or, worse, a Captain Hindsight desire to pummel Obama again, while offering no real alternative.

It’s always a tempting idea that if we had stayed a little longer, all would have been well. It’s worth recalling the neocon desire to stay in Iraq for decades if necessary, in order to somehow forcibly impose a democratic structure on a sectarian, authoritarian and pathological non-state. But this is based on the fundamental illusion that the surge achieved anything of substance in altering sectarian divisions or Islamist extremism and thereby we ever had a success to sustain. We didn’t. We were able to temporarily pacify – by bribes and military maneuvering – a civil war that had always simmered below the Iraqi surface and had flared brutally even as we had 100,000 troops in the country. The idea that a few hundred could have prevented Iraq’s return to its historic sectarian entropy strikes me as absurd. It is not crazy for a Maliki ally to air this idea to Filkins in order to exonerate Maliki in the ensuing blood bath. What’s crazy is to take it at face value.

Yes, we broke Iraq in 2003. But another eight years of occupation, and billions in expense, fulfilled what obligation we had to the place. Does its disintegration mean more peril for the US?

We cannot know. But right now, it is a classic battleground for the ancient Shia-Sunni religious war still raging in the Middle East – with Iran and Saudi Arabia deep in the conflict. We have and must have no dog in that fight. And if we were to intervene again, we would only increase the likelihood of our being a target for some of the extremists now thriving there – on both sides. Mercifully, they hate each other more than they hate us – unless we give them yet another reason to turn their attention to the West.

The interventionists, remember, wanted us backing the Sunnis in Syria and now want us to back the Shia and Kurds in Iraq to prevent a newly fanatical Sunni insurgency. It makes you dizzy after a while. After a while, we’d just be taking turns backing one side or another, all the while painting a giant target on our own back.  But the hegemonic impulse to take every problem in the world as our own remains strong – especially among elites who love the idea of throwing their weight around in a world they have demonstrated they do not understand and cannot control.

I fear that the sane, smart decision to tell Maliki that we are not coming over the horizon to save him may not hold against the interventionists within the administration or against the Washington elite’s desire to keep running the world as they used to. If Obama succumbs, as he did in the disastrous Libya intervention, then much that he has achieved in de-leveraging the US from its neo-imperial burden would be at risk.

This is their religious war, and not ours. Neither an American soldier nor an American cent should be spent to alter its trajectory.

11 Jun 21:12

Who Is Dave Brat?

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

"As an economist and paid follower of Ayn Rand, he will face the added difficulty of not being a very good economist."

Chuck Todd peppered him with policy questions earlier today:

Betsy Woodruff profiled him back in January:

Brat’s background should make him especially appealing to conservative organizations. He chairs the department of economics and business at Randolph-Macon College and heads its BB&T Moral Foundations of Capitalism program. The funding for the program came from John Allison, the former CEO of BB&T (a financial-services company) who now heads the Cato Institute. The two share an affinity for Ayn Rand: Allison is a major supporter of the Ayn Rand Institute, and Brat co-authored a paper titled “An Analysis of the Moral Foundations in Ayn Rand.” Brat says that while he isn’t a Randian, he has been influenced by Atlas Shrugged and appreciates Rand’s case for human freedom and free markets.

His academic background isn’t all economics, though. Brat got a business degree from Hope College in Holland, Mich., then went to Princeton seminary. Before deciding to focus on economics, he wanted to be a professor of systematic theology and cites John Calvin, Karl Barth, and Reinhold Niebuhr as influences. And he says his religious background informs his views on economics. “I’ve always found it amazing how we have the grand swath of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and we lost moral arguments on the major issue of our day,” he says, referring to fiscal-policy issues.

Beauchamp digs into Brat’s unpublished book on economics:

Brat clearly wants to bring to bear is the role of “values” in economics. Brat seems to believe that most economists are motivated by philosophy rather than science: they’re secretly utilitarians who believe that the goal of public policy is to produce the greatest good for the greatest number. He thinks this leads them to wrongly assert that their preferred policies are “scientifically” the best policies, when in reality they’re just the policies that a utilitarian would say are the best. “Economists from the beginning to the end, have engaged in normative, ethical and moral arguments which diverge greatly from the work of the ‘true’ science which they espouse,” Brat writes.

Timothy B. Lee focuses on Brat’s views of the security state:

In a recent interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, he argued that “The NSA’s indiscriminate collection of data on all Americans is a disturbing violation of our Fourth Amendment right to privacy.” On his website, Brat says he favors “the end of bulk phone and email data collection by the NSA.” If Brat takes Cantor’s seat, it will shift the Republican Party a bit more toward the Amash position on surveillance issues. That’s significant because Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the government has cited to justify its phone records program, will come up for renewal next year. With more Republicans like Brat and Amash in Congress, that could be a tough sell.

John Nichols highlights Brat’s populism:

Brat’s anti-corporate rhetoric distinguished him from Cantor, and from most prominent Republicans—whether they identify with the Republican “establishment” or the Tea Party wing of a party that in recent years has been defined by its subservience to corporate interests.

Ana Marie Cox fully expects his star to fade:

Congressional seats are not made of Valyrian steel; they do not remain powerful no matter who holds them. When he leaves the House, Cantor will take much of his influence with him – probably straight to K Street, where he arguably can hold more sway over national policy as a lobbyist than he ever could as a representative from Virginia.

Brat will have to build his political capital from zero: as an economist, he probably has a better understanding than most of us about just how difficult that is. As an economist and paid follower of Ayn Rand, he will face the added difficulty of not being a very good economist.

Noah Millman, on the other hand, gives Brat the benefit of the doubt:

Scott Galupo may be right that Brat is going to be “another useless crank,” but we can always hope that he will be a useful crank, the kind who demands a wildly against-the-consensus look at this or that particular issue, as opposed to someone willing to destroy the institution if he doesn’t get his way. The House of Representatives is pretty big; there’s for those who make the sausage and room for those who want to change the recipe – even radically. We’ve just had enough of folks whose idea of changing the recipe is adding e coli.

If Brat becomes a table-pounder on immigration, or NSA spying, or corporate welfare – he may make a useful contribution to shaping the debate, even if I don’t always agree with the direction. If he refuses to vote for any budget that doesn’t repeal Obamacare – not so much.

11 Jun 16:34

The California Constitution Does Not Enact Ms. Michelle Rhee’s Educational Theories

by Scott Lemieux

My colleague has already explained the most obvious problem with yesterday’s discharge from the California courts, Lochner II: This Time It’s Educational. Whether the policy preferred by Treu is preferable to the status quo is beside the point because it’s not his commission to set the policy.

It’s also worth noting, however, that as the millions of people who unnecessarily lack health insurance are well aware this kind of amateur policy-making by the courts has a strong tendency to be inept. Dana Goldstein, while acknowledging that California’s tenure system is decidedly suboptimal, notes a fatal flaw in Treu’s proposed new legislation:

But here’s where Judge Reulf’s theory is faulty: Getting rid of these bad laws may do little to systemically raise student achievement. For high-poverty schools, hiring is at least as big of a challenge as firing, and the Vergara decision does nothing to make it easier for the most struggling schools to attract or retain the best teacher candidate.

From 2009 to 2011, the federal government offered 1,500 effective teachers in 10 major cities—including Los Angeles—a $20,000 bonus to transfer to an open job at a higher poverty school with lower test scores. In the world of public education, $20,000 is a major financial incentive. All these teachers were already employed by urban districts with diverse student populations; they weren’t scared of working with poor, non-white children. Yet less than a quarter of the eligible teachers chose to apply for the bonuses. Most did not want to teach in the schools that were the most deeply segregated by race and class and faced major pressure to raise test scores.

Principals have known about this problem for ages. In Chicago, economist Brian Jacob found that when the city’s school district made it easier for principals to fire teachers, nearly 40 percent of principals, including many at the worst performing, poorest schools, fired no teachers at all. Why? For one thing, firing a coworker is unpleasant. It takes more than a policy change to overturn the culture of public education, which values collegiality and continuous improvement over swift accountability. That culture is not a wholly bad thing—with so many teachers avoiding the poorest schools, principals have little choice but to work with their existing staffs to help them get better at their jobs.

The can opener that education “reformers” always assume is that there’s a large supply of outstanding teachers just waiting there to take the most demanding challenges as soon as a school’s weakest teachers are forced out. Why we should assume this pool of brilliant teachers just waiting to take the worst jobs is…far from clear. The idea that making these jobs much more insecure will increase the willingness of these imaginary teachers to take these jobs is bizarre — but without this assumption Treu’s argument collapses. Treu is essentially asking schools who most need to attract good teachers to try to recruit them by offering them less, in the name of educational equality.  Can’t see any flaws in that plan!

And, yes, Arne Duncan’s endorsement of this decision is a disgrace on multiple levels.








10 Jun 18:19

Hillary, The Neo-Neocon?

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

"I really don’t like that hawk-dove paradigm. The real paradigm should be between those who have fully absorbed the terrible lessons of the first decade of the 21st century and those who see it as a mere, unfortunate blip in the maintenance of American global hegemony."

Hillary Clinton Awarded The 2013 Lantos Human Rights Prize

Kim Ghattas paints Hillary Clinton as a secretary of state much more concerned than her boss with upholding American power and prestige around the world, and as her new book would have it, more realistic about the need to deal firmly with international threats:

Clinton was loyal and discreet, but within the confines of that loyalty, she sometimes chafed at Obama’s policy, perhaps never more so than over Syria. In Rabat in February 2012, we chatted after an interview that had focused on Syria’s revolution and Washington’s hands-off approach. She shook her head as she told me that Russia, Hezbollah, and Iran were all in, supporting Assad.

Her implicit question was: Where is the United States? We know now she was advocating internally for more robust support for the rebels, because she understood that America was leaving too much empty space for spoilers like Hezbollah to fill (there’s a separate debate to be had about whether it would have been the right policy). And with regard to dealing with Russia more directly, Clinton emphasizes in Hard Choices that she was more clear-eyed about Vladimir Putin than Obama, advising the president to turn down a summit with the Russian leader months before Obama ended up doing just that.

For me, it’s one fundamental worry about her: an instinct to meddle, and a barely reconstructed mindset about interventionism straight from the hubristic 1990s. Then there’s the question of Israel/Palestine and the settlements that continue apace. Aaron Blake pulls from the book one key foreign policy issue on which Clinton and Obama disagreed:

Clinton says that she differed with Obama on his push for a 2009 freeze on the construction of new Israeli settlements in disputed regions. Clinton suggests she wouldn’t have adopted such a hard-line stance and says that it increased tensions between the two sides. “I was worried that we would be locking ourselves into a confrontation we didn’t need,” she writes. Still, she says she toed the line as a loyal Cabinet secretary. “So that spring I delivered the President’s message as forcefully as I could, then tried to contain the consequences when both sides reacted badly,” Clinton writes.

The upshot: Obama’s occasionally rocky relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no secret. This sounds like Clinton saying she’s a little less likely to rock the boat with the United States’ top ally in the region.

My fear is that this is tantamount to surrender to the Greater Israel lobby and to the entire project of Greater Israel. Thomas Wright praises Clinton for using her term at State to “shape the international order.” But Chotiner shrugs at her record:

It’s true that she put an admirable focus on women’s rights, and played a role in isolating Iran. But the Afghanistan surge didn’t seem to have a huge effect; Syria policy has been a failure, even if the alternatives were all bleak; Iraq has collapsed since our departure (again, good alternatives did not clearly present themselves); she was probably too cautious about the Egyptian people’s overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, although that didn’t keep him in power; she backed the Libyan campaign, which currently must count as a mixed bag …

Still, even if you want to argue that Clinton had no huge successes, her tenure had no gigantic managerial failures either. Her competence has rarely been called into question by anyone except those on the extreme right still frothing at the mouth over Benghazi. (She could have handled the fallout more adeptly, it is true.) If it seems odd that her most high-profile job tells us so little about what sort of president she would be, remember that Obama’s Senate career told us very little about his presidency.

Here’s the record: support for the disastrous intervention in Libya and for getting involved in one side in the Syrian civil war. Christian Caryl notes that Burma isn’t the success story Hillary is trying to sell it as:

After the initial euphoria of Thein Sein’s early moves toward change, Myanmar has stagnated. Aung San Suu Kyi and her small group of pro-democracy colleagues sit in parliament, but they have little real power. Aung San Suu Kyi has launched a campaign to amend the current constitution, which was designed by the military to allow for a liberalization of national political life that would nonetheless leave it firmly in charge of the parliament and all the other national institutions that count. But so far the generals show no inclination to budge — leaving the pro-democratic forces little chance of fielding a viable candidate in next year’s presidential election. In a word: The military remains firmly in control. Democracy remains a theory.

Noah Millman hopes for a dovish opponent to challenge Hillary in the primaries:

Hillary Clinton is going to run as an extremely hawkish Democrat, because that’s who she actually is. This is not what the country needs, and probably not what the country wants, but it may well be what the country is going to get. If Clinton runs essentially unopposed in the Democratic primary, and faces a mainstream Republican in the fall, voters will likely have a choice between two hawks. …

There’s good reason, therefore, for voters who favor a more restrained foreign policy to hope that Clinton faces at least token opposition in the primaries focused primarily on that issue. Then there would at least be one forum where the topic would be raised, and raised seriously, for Clinton to address. In the best-case scenario, such opposition would get more press attention than it deserved, which would force Clinton to make some kind of gesture to placate the doves in her coalition.

I really don’t like that hawk-dove paradigm. The real paradigm should be between those who have fully absorbed the terrible lessons of the first decade of the 21st century and those who see it as a mere, unfortunate blip in the maintenance of American global hegemony. And it looks distressingly likely we have have a choice between two candidates who intend to return to the meddling, expensive and counter-productive past.

(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty)

03 Jun 16:31

An Official LGM Hero

by Erik Loomis

LGM has some principles shared across writers. For one, we like booze. For two, although I guess this is not fully confirmed among everyone, most of us at least think Cubs fans are subhuman. No offense to any Cubs fans who are readers, but really, you might want to reexamine your life. Still, sometimes the first point outweighs the second. Especially when the Cubs are not yet involved. Mr. Harry Caray, ladies and gentlemen, who decided to keep a diary of his alcohol purchases in 1972 so he could expense them:

Saturday, Jan. 1, lists four bars: the Back Room, still on Rush Street, plus three long-ago joints: 20 E. Delaware, Sully’s and Peppy’s, with expenses for each $10.30, $9.97, $10, and $8.95. This in a year when a six-pack of Old Style set you back $1.29.

You needed to cite who you entertained to get the write-off, so on New Year’s Day he lists Dave Condon, the Tribune sports columnist; Billy Sullivan, who owned Sully’s; and Joe Pepitone, the former Yankees first baseman who had been traded to the Cubs.

And so it begins. A chain of old-time Chicago bars — Riccardo’s, Boul Mich, Mr. Kelly’s. A posse of early 1970s sports figures — Wilt Chamberlain, Don Drysdale, Gale Sayers. Plus a few unexpected blasts from the past: boxer Jack Dempsey, comedian Jack Benny.

“These guys did nothing but go out and have a few cocktails,” said Jimmy Rittenberg, who owned Faces, which Caray visited 14 times in 1972. “I don’t know how they did it. They were 20, 30 years older than me and I couldn’t keep up with them.”

Jan. 16 something unusual happens. Caray is in Miami, yet there are no expenses, just one enigmatic word, “Super.”

After that break, if indeed it was, comes 288 consecutive days in bars, not only in Chicago, but New York City, and of course on the road with the Sox, beginning with spring training in Sarasota.

288 days in a row. 288. This is great too,

Toward the end of the diary, on Dec. 24, comes the kicker. After spending at least 354 of the previous 357 days in bars (DePorter counted 61 different tap houses) Caray writes, in a bold hand, “Vacation in Acapulco. Then “Vacation” every day until the year runs out.

Which makes me wonder how he knew he was on vacation. I guess if nobody was playing baseball in front of him and when he looked over the rim of his drink he saw Mexico, then he knew he was on vacation.

But give Caray credit. As old-fashioned, and perhaps even pathological, as the bar-crawling seems today, there is another truth worth mentioning: Harry Caray could have taken his drinks at home. He went out because it was his job.

This is when work meant something in this nation.

I mean, really, when you put George Jones to shame, you have reached impressive heights. Harry has no concern about aging 20 years in 5. He destroyed his body as a young man and just never stopped.

Despite working for the Cubs, I think Harry Caray deserves a place in the LGM Hall of Fame.