BEDROCK

Posted in Rants on December 13th, 2017 by Ed

The most significant failing of American foreign policy during the Cold War was the pervasive unwillingness to establish a limit to the value of anti-communism. There was no conception that the returns of anti-communist policy was, at some point, not worth the cost. That is why, to make a very long story short, the U.S. supported one vile dictatorship after another for four decades – choices that we are paying for in the most visceral terms to this day.

Among the worst regimes we supported (and suffice it to say the contenders for that title are many) was the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. It had it all – brutality, corruption, repression, and above all the cockiness to not even try to hide its crimes. If you were alive in 1983 you remember that Marcos had the opposition leader, Benigno Aquino, assassinated the moment he stepped off a plane at the country's major airport. Just walked up to him, shot him in the back of the head in the full view of anyone who cared to look, and walked away. That's ballsy. Your average dictator arrests him and does it in a dark jail cell. Only someone fully confident that nothing he does will ever have consequences would do it this way.

People were pretty horrified all around the world, and even the Pentagon started to get a little queasy about being associated with the regime. But – and I will never forget the first time I read this many years after it happened – Ronald Reagan made an admission in a press conference that was, if nothing else, startlingly and unusually honest. Referring to the two massive U.S. military facilities our country maintained with the blessing of Mr. Marcos – Subic Bay Naval Station and Clark Air Force Base, both cornerstones of the global reach of American military power into Asia – Reagan said, instead of defending Marcos's actions, "I can't think of anything more important than those bases."

And that was the problem. When literally nothing is more important than achieving your goal, you are inevitably going to do some pretty reprehensible things to achieve it. There has to be a line. A limit. Some point at which you say, OK, we are paying in prestige, dignity, and human decency more than the goal of presenting a strong military face to Global Communism is worth. Maybe we could put the bases somewhere else. Maybe we could stop backing this guy and find someone equally amenable but considerably less awful.

During the Cold War, that almost never happened. American policy under leaders of both parties and of different generations was, "No cost is too high if we can convince ourselves that it is fighting communism." And that is why it was, in so many ways, horrible policy. That is why we are embroiled in wars and conflicts that are, in direct and indirect ways, consequences of the repressive regimes we propped up.

I'm going somewhere with this. The history lesson is just a bonus.

It is trendy for people, myself certainly included, to feel hopeless about the future of American politics right now. It is equally trendy for commentators to predict "the beginning of the end" of the current group of people in power. Time will tell where that turning point truly is. But I believe that the decision made two weeks ago in the White House, in the Senate, and in the Republican National Committee to reverse course and endorse Roy Moore was a mistake that in the long run will turn out to be very significant for the right. By failing to make what was a very easy play – disown Moore and claim some sort of moral high ground – they signaled that literally nothing is more important to them than maintaining power. Nothing. There is no "bridge too far." And if you will support a pedophile if you think it will help you pass some legislation, then why should anyone believe that collaborating with a foreign power to influence an election is beyond possibility?

Why, for that matter, should anything be considered beyond possibility? Moore was insane and a borderline joke candidate even before the 14 year old girls stuff came out. He had a strong challenge in the primary. The national GOP was not happy about his candidacy. Rather than following through with what, in whatever they have that passes for a soul, they knew was the right thing to do, they instead convinced themselves that Triggering Libtards was a more important goal than basic human decency.

I'm not a huge fan of arguments based on moral authority. The argument that gay marriage is wrong because "it's immoral," for example, is sophomoric and unpersuasive. But if you have no line you're willing to draw based on morality, you will pay the price in the long run for the terrible decisions you make as a result. If you can't say what is beyond the pale for you or your party, it raises the very strong possibility that nothing is.

This should have been a slam dunk for the GOP. Disown the guy, throw him under the bus, and say "Look, one Senate seat that will be on the ballot again in 24 months is not worth embracing this piece of shit." Then boast about how you're willing to draw the line somewhere and bask in the rewards. Instead, they doubled down on a question that was already lingering from their decision to embrace Trump – what, if anything, won't these people do to get what they want?

History is littered with examples of what happens when the answer is "Nothing." Over time, none of them work out especially well.

NO PASSING FANCY

Posted in Quick Hits on December 12th, 2017 by Ed

In many ways the Roy Moore phenomenon is a harsher indictment of all the things wrong with this society than Trump's victory 13 months ago. As many observers have said all along, Trump is only a symptom of what the GOP has done to embrace nationalist, racist, clannish right-wing populism and xenophobia since the 1980s (but accelerating sharply during the W years when "court the evangelicals at all cost" became party dogma).

Moore's campaign is also doing a lot to give the lie to the centrist mantra that there are Good People on all sides and we will overcome our differences with dialogue. As Charles Pierce (hi!) said after his attempt to take in Monday evening's Moore rally:

You grow exhausted from the effort it takes to keep mockery at bay long enough to explain that what Moore and Bannon are selling is a dangerous blend of religious extremism and McCarthyite bombast, Roy Cohn in Torquemada drag. You grow exhausted by the effort it takes, over and over again, to remind yourself that there are good people in the crowd cheering this river of sludge and nonsense.

Finally, you give up. Roy Moore is a vehicle for collecting suckers, for liberating them from their responsibility as citizens in a self-governing republic, and anybody who thinks this waterheaded theocrat belongs in the United States Senate is a dupe and a fool. Finally, you don’t care if the people behind Roy Moore, and the people in the crowd in front of him, believe you are a member of the coastal elite or an agent of Lucifer. Finally, you grow weary of the smug condescension of religious bigots. Finally, you decide to put down the twin burdens of excusing deliberate ignorance and respecting the opinions of people who want to light the world on fire to kill their imaginary enemies. And you give up and tell the truth.

These people deserve what they get.

tl;dr – At some point you have to recognize that these are adult human beings making a choice, not hapless Good People being "bamboozled" (that word is all the rage lately) into supporting a theocratic demagogue. It's exhausting and unnecessary. Eventually we have to call this what it is: a bunch of really shitty people getting exactly what they want.

In the long run, they will deserve every bit of what happens to them.

NPF: DISRUPTED TIMELINE

Posted in No Politics Friday on December 8th, 2017 by Ed

One of the 20th Century's most famous photos depicts Lyndon Johnson taking the Oath of Office on Air Force One after the assassination of JFK. The (now-former) First Lady is at his side, with blood on her clothes.

Most people don't notice that the person swearing him in is a woman. She remains the only woman to swear in a president. Her name is Sarah Hughes, and she was just the third woman ever appointed to the Federal courts when JFK appointed her in 1961. She began her career on the bench as a state district court judge in Texas in 1936 – 18 years before women were even allowed to sit on juries in Texas.

Also, note that anyone over 65 was alive at a time when some states didn't allow women on juries. Is America great again yet?

PATRONIUS

Posted in Quick Hits on December 5th, 2017 by Ed

In response to some big changes that will be taking place in the near future – more on those presently – I've yielded to the suggestions of "You should start a Patreon."

When I said I would podcast if I got 500 people to sign up I was 78% kidding. But it looks like the goal is…not exactly in sight, but plausible? I suppose that after many false starts and hesitation wounds, I may finally have to figure out how in the hell to make a podcast. But only under duress.

VICTORIAN REDUX

Posted in Quick Hits on December 4th, 2017 by Ed

For the past few years I've noticed with great interest that the modern aristocracy's attitudes are reminiscent of – and in some cases identical to – those that prevailed among the landed aristocracy in Britain prior to the agricultural depression of the 1870s. I'm sure that's neither the only nor the best historical comparison; it just happens to be a period about which I've consumed a fair amount of information. So the links stand out.

During that age of Darwinism and formalized class distinctions, the theories about the poor that prevailed among the privileged ranged from patronizing but kind of coming from a place of good intentions to legitimately contemptuous. Malthusian social and economic theories were, shall we say, quite popular among that class of privileged people who identified the main problems with overcrowded London as 1) too many people, and 2) too many people with character flaws that kept them poor (drunkenness, licentiousness, etc.)

And more than a few people still think that way: too many people, and too many people who lack the Character and Good Breeding to avoid poverty and the loving embrace of Charity. Here's a quote from Chuck Grassley (R-IA) after the tax bill vote:

I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.

And here's Thomas Malthus from An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798):

The laboring poor, to use a vulgar expression, seem always to live from hand to mouth. Their present wants employ their whole whole attention, and they seldom think of the future. Even when they have an opportunity of saving they seldom exercise it, but all that is beyond their present necessities goes, generally speaking, to the ale house.

Can you spot the differences? Me neither.

POSTMODERN POLICYMAKING

Posted in Rants on November 28th, 2017 by Ed

Senate Republicans are promising to vote within 72 hours on a bill nobody has read but will affect every aspect of the economy from the individual to the national level for the next decade. There is a good chance that nobody has read it because it has not been written, which in turn reflects that it does not exist.

The Washington Post has a writeup of the latest "drama" and how it exposes as wholly imaginary the GOP's confident projections that the tax cuts "pay for themselves" with robust economic growth:

Several deficit-hawk senators, such as Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), are demanding that some kind of “trigger” be added to the bill, which would raise taxes later if the plan’s tax cuts end up adding to the deficit. The bill would boost the deficit by $1.4 trillion in the short term. Some Republicans have argued that the spectacular growth unleashed by the plan would offset that, but Corker and company (and many economists) are skeptical; hence the demand for a tax-hike trigger. As of now, how this trigger would work, and whose taxes would go up, are unspecified.

It offers an opportunity to put their confident predictions on the line, in other words, which means that they have no intention whatsoever of putting anything like this in the bill because every single one of the people voting to support this shitshow knows that any talk of policy or data to support their predictions is simple window dressing. Everyone knows that nothing close to these predictions will happen, but they don't especially care because they want to pass the bill anyway.

More on that in a second. But first, note the underlying flaw in this part of the same WaPo piece:

But Republicans face two challenges. The first is to sell this primarily as a middle-class tax cut, so voters accept it. They do this by front-loading a bunch of preferences for the middle class along with cuts to individual rates across the board. The second challenge is to do this while simultaneously making the case that the plan would not balloon the deficit, to hold on to deficit-hawk senators and because if it raises the deficit in the long term, procedurally it can’t pass by simple majority with only Republican votes.

It amazes me how many people in the media and political world still fail to understand that this is not chess. The GOP will sell it "primarily as a middle-class tax cut" by repeating over and over, with the assistance of its pliant media mouthpieces, that this is primarily a middle-class tax cut. That's it. There is no trick. Make it so by repeating it. They will say that's what it is and in the minds of people inclined to think anything with the phrase "tax cuts" in it is good, that will be enough. Look, here's some chart from Heritage or some interest group nobody has ever heard of. Need more proof? Have the boys at AEI whip up a white paper. Doesn't matter what's in it; nobody reads that shit anyway.

It is frustrating to watch the Democrats talk themselves in circles about policy because that word does not mean to conservatives what it means to other people. For Republicans, cutting taxes is not the means to a policy end. It is the policy. That's it. Cut taxes because cutting taxes is inherently good and right. It's not "Cut taxes to stimulate economic growth." The second half of that sentence gets tacked on to appeal to the Beltway media and certain mushy centrist intellectual types. A few Kool-Aid drinkers and dullards aside, not even the Republicans who chant the mantra believe it. They just know it's good optics to say "It will stimulate economic growth." The goal is not economic growth. The start and the end of the process for the right is cutting taxes.

This is similar to what I talked about a lot last year with public vs charter schools. The right's goal is not to fund charter schools because they believe "Charter schools are better at educating kids." They just want to shut down public schools. That is the goal, and it's a fatal mistake to go into a debate on that issue with charts and graphs and white papers on Student Outcomes and Assessment thinking that the goal is how best to educate children. They don't give a good goddamn if charter schools are better or worse or the same; they just don't want to pay for public schools and instead would like the resources of the state directed back into their own pockets.

The death of our political process is going to be a bunch of technocrats and DLC-style Liberals wonking themselves into a frenzy while the right steals or destroys everything that isn't nailed down. And they'll smile and say, sure, go do some more research and get some CBO scores or whatever, and while they're distracted the handful of interests that are returning us to the era of Robber Baron capitalism will empty the last of the till into their briefcases and laugh their asses off on the way to their offshore havens.

STONE TABLETS

Posted in Rants on November 25th, 2017 by Ed

These are the salad days of political writing on the left. If nothing else, Trumpism has been a boon for criticism. As most of you are well aware, there's more good, relevant material out there than any person with a job and a life can possibly consume.

As this American Experiment progresses, though, the better an article is the sadder I end up feeling by the end. And this is not simply because good writing today observes a sad state of political and social affairs. It stems from the gnawing feeling that none of this really matters and we're doing it mostly for the historical record at this point. In post-factual politics the most any of us can hope for is that 200 years from now, if anyone is still around to appreciate it, someone will recognize that we were right.

Mike Konczal, as some long-time readers know, is one of my best friends in the world and offers some of the best takes on economic policy that you can find at any price. His latest piece up on Vox, "Republicans are Weaponizing the Tax Code," is of typical high quality. I recommend it unconditionally. But when I first read it, by the end I felt a deep sense of futility. We are past rational politics to the extent that I don't even know who might be persuaded by a piece like this. It serves mostly to reinforce to people on the left that we are indeed screwed. Deeply, most likely irrevocably, screwed.

The older I get the more it becomes clear that technocracy is the Achilles Heel of the left and the entirety of modern conservatism is set up to exploit it. Liberals and centrists see The Economy as data – facts and figures, evidence and causality. On the right, the economy isa feeling. And that's why no amount of data parsing and research makes a lick of difference when they are in control. Strengthening the economy is as simple as screaming "The economy is roaring!" and that is precisely why The President* does it so often. Jobs are "coming back" because they keep saying "The jobs are coming back." That's all there is to it.

I don't believe that everything is hopeless, but I do believe that this is not an argument the left is losing because it lacks sufficient data and supporting evidence. There is a strong emotional component to this and we have to figure out how to appeal to it more effectively. We keep giving the correct answer to the wrong question; even if what farther left candidates propose is not all practical or feasible, there are real benefits to running candidates who have passion and appear to stand for something. Focus less on what is being said – as hard as that is for us to do – and more on how it is being said and what the speaker can make an audience feel. We can sort out the details with time. One thing is for certain: wonkery, despite being important and having a crucial role, is not enough.

To expect anyone with a pen or a keyboard to "change things" is unfair and unrealistic, but I can't shake the feeling lately that all these "Look how bad this thing is" takes are not serving a purpose (Even as, yes, I add to that pile myself). When we realize how little reality, facts, and logic matter to the current implementation of policy, maybe we should all stop cranking out material highlighting the flaws and consider what we might do that is more productive.

If I had the answer, I'd be out there peddling it. If I knew what would help, I would do it. But if there were a chart or graph or white paper that could win this fight, it would be won by now.

THE OFFICIAL SHIRT OF 2017

Posted in Rants on November 20th, 2017 by Ed

Back by popular demand, I'm doing another run of "Everything is Terrible All the Time" shirts. Switching things up, also by request, to do 3/4 sleeve baseball-style tees instead of plain black. As usual there will be men's/unisex and women's shirts. And rounding out the list of demands, I'll also have 3x this time in addition to XL and XXL.

This is a pre-order! You will not be receiving your shirt for 3-4 weeks from the date of this post. However, you will have them before Christmas for those who might want to buy them as gifts for that Gin and Tacos fan in your life, or maybe just someone with depression. I'll get these to you by Dec. 24 if I have to drive it to your house personally.

These are Canvas brand, as with previous shirts. Check out their sizing guides (men's and women's). Note that USPS shipping outside of North America now costs over $13. I'm sorry the international shipping is so high, but otherwise I'm paying you to buy these. Understand that I'm not making money from gouging you on shipping.

You can embiggen that preview image. Paypal only (yeah yeah, Peter Thiel owned it 15 years ago, sue me). Be sure to choose the proper button below. First is Domestic ($4 shipping), second is International ($12 shipping). Don't dawdle – the sooner you place your orders, the sooner I can have these on their way to you.

If you require 3XL, please contact me via Facebook for instructions (the number of options per order button is limited, sorry!)

Domestic


Sizes and Options




International (including Canada)


Sizes and Options




*CHICAGO STADIUM GOAL HORN*

Posted in Quick Hits on November 20th, 2017 by Ed

My proudest professional – possibly human – achievement to date is getting something published on Deadspin. It's about hockey. It's about the 80s/90s Blackhawks and their miserly SOB of an owner. Enjoy.

DEATH TO DISCOURSE

Posted in Rants on November 19th, 2017 by Ed

This political environment requires us to get pretty creative in the search for silver linings. If anything positive can be extracted from the Roy Moore situation, it could be the beginning of the end of the discourse fetish that afflicts far too many people on the left.

Look, talking things out and being willing to compromise are clearly the best ways for a political system (and society) to resolve differences. No one disputes that. Unfortunately, some people have let raging optimism or self-interested motives blind them to the fact that the modern conservative movement is made up largely of people who have no interest in any kind of good faith conversation. Over and over we've heard that if we are just nicer to the White Working Class Trumper, he and she will eventually come to the light, and the discord in our political system can always be resolved by Reasonable People coming together and talking it out.

It's a fantasy. It just isn't true. Obama fell for it, insisting that he would give the GOP the benefit of doubt that they would negotiate "in good faith" long past the point at which any reasonable person who isn't a total sucker could believe that.

Some voters are won over easily by the short-term promises and tribal dog whistles of right-wing populism, easily enough that perhaps they would change their mind if presented with different viewpoints. But there are vastly more conservative voters who simply aren't going to be persuaded. Roy Moore has given us pretty firm evidence of that, evidence that future Democratic candidates may do well to keep in mind.

It is safe to say – and I'm willing to go out on quite a limb here – that a person who straight-up admits that they would rather vote for a serial pedophile than a Democrat is not a person worth talking to, nor one whose opinions will be affected by discourse. Don't reach out to them. Don't waste your time talking to them. The only way to deal with them is to out-organize, out-motivate, and out-vote them. That begins with Democratic primaries producing candidates that their base of likely supporters actually gets excited about, not candidates that the party must guilt-trip and brow-beat supporters into supporting.

Stop the Listening Tours. Stop the Cletus Safaris into Trumpland to try to "figure out" a demographic that is rapidly disappearing. Above all, stop insisting that if we all just come together and Have a Beer and talk things out we are going to bridge the divide between the pure nihilism and authoritarian tendencies of the Trump right and the rest of the world. They are not listening. They don't want to be your friend. They most likely hate your guts just for not being one of them. They've demonstrated repeatedly, and to an almost comical extreme with Roy Moore, that they are not interested in evaluating the political world objectively. They will do whatever mental gymnastics are necessary to support their team.

I do not understand what is so compelling about finding a way to save and convert vicious, obstinate white people who vote Republican when 46% of Americans of voting age do not vote and they are disproportionately Asian, black, and Hispanic. There are far more votes to be won, and it will be far easier to win them, among people who do not vote than among these mythical white conservatives who are going to become your friend and start voting Democratic because we're nice to them.