Posted in Quick Hits on April 21st, 2014 by Ed

Short post today, working on a good long one for you tomorrow (giggle). Larry Bartels, one of the more visible and important political scientists of this generation, did a short write-up about how austerity and income inequality are uniquely linked in the United States. Whereas in most advanced industrial democracies preferences for spending cuts are relatively flat across income levels, American preferences are essentially a proxy for household income. While that should come as absolutely no surprise, the non-U.S. data are unexpected. With higher tax rates in much of Europe, one might expect to see some preference (however slight) for austerity among higher earners.

This is the latest in what seems like a daily burst of stories about income inequality, plutocracy, and oligarchy in the past few months. It's as though the Professional Writer Class just discovered that we have a problem that has been glaringly obvious for at least fifteen or twenty years. Should I be happy that it gets talked about or pissed off that it took so long that it's probably too late to do anything about it?


Posted in Quick Hits on April 17th, 2014 by Ed

Having done this for more than a decade and, at this point, thousands of posts I don't remember a lot of what I've written on here. But there are a few that I remember in detail, either because I thought they turned out particularly well or I had more fun than usual writing them. When someone reposted this Ezra Klein ode to Centrist Butthurt on Facebook yesterday – you remember the one, in which he realized that Evan Bayh was a big, bad liarface and a perfect example of all of the things he claimed were "wrong with Washington" when he retired and gave his famous jeremiad-interview with Klein – I remembered writing a response to it many moons ago with the unforgettable title, "Satisficing and Cocktail Wieners."

All of that could have been written today or twenty years ago or in 1875 and it would be equally relevant. There always have been and will be Evan Bayhs – sanctimonious charlatans who pose as crusaders to score points from decrying the system while embodying all of its worst excesses. What is more problematic in the modern context, though, is the endless supply of Ezra Kleins willing to take these people seriously and then act like jilted tweens when their heroes prove to be shallow hacks. Only the rosiest of lenses (or the most all-encompassing ignorance, which I will assume does not describe Klein) can allow a supposed journalist to look at a man as obviously full of shit as Evan Bayh, see a Good Man, and then be shocked when he's on his knees sucking paychecks out of News Corp and the Chamber of Commerce six months down the road.


Posted in Quick Hits on April 10th, 2014 by Ed

So this is what's going on over at Tea Party Nation. Mary Baker of "Conservative Moms for America" – Seriously, is there anything that makes you want to take someone seriously less than when they begin any statement that isn't about parenting a child (and a lot of statements that are) by identifying themselves as a mother? – shares some deeply thought provoking ideas about why the gays are like the KKK:

When white supremacy tried to make a mark in American history it was viciously attacked quickly put down by the people of our nation . But Gay Supremacy is becoming a monster that carries greater evils than white supremacy ever did. White Supremacy was focused on how a group of people felt about another group of people. They created various barriers for those they hated and their views about their superiority to others provided the frame work for the citizens of this nation to search their hearts and understand that God has created every person in His image. However Gay Supremacy's hate reaches much farther than a specific group of people. Their is no common ground that can be reached. Their is no searching of the heart or consideration of God's principles. Their hate is generated only by self centeredness and hate for anyone who disagrees with them.

Any person who disagrees with their evil beliefs will be viciously attacked and destroyed. I could disagree with the beliefs of white supremacist and still hold to Biblical views about life, marriage and sexuality. Many people in America fought against their own kind in order to rid us of this hateful group but Gay supremacist have bullied every sector of our nation and now sit as the giant bully against all Americans who disagree with their radical agenda. Christians are not bigots because we don't embrace immoral lifestyles. Currently gay supremacist point their anguish at Christians but anyone who stand opposed to the Gay supremacist is game for utter annihilation.

Our state government must now take the lead in protecting the religious freedoms and right of expression of the citizens of their state from this new enemy the Gay Supremacist.

I struggle to think of anything more historically ignorant and offensive that I have read. Oh, let's check out the first comment!

Both Conservatism and Christianity has no problem with the right to live the gay lifestyle, in accordance with religious freedom which all Christian churches promote, so long as the gay lifestyle is not sanctioned by the State.

You raise an interesting point about "White Supremacy vs. Gay Supremacy" – driving people out of corporations is just like the KKK driving black people out of town, and liberal bullying is just like KKK cross-burning.

Just like White Supremacism claimed "States' Rights" support their actions, "Gay Supremacism" claims "Equal Rights" support their actions.

As conservatives, we must fight both White Supremacism and "Gay Supremacism" and support freedom for all races and sexual orientations.

Yep, that's actually worse. Because the only way you can top the people who write for Tea Party Nation is by turning to the people whose days are spent posting comments on Tea Party Nation. Just remember, the Tea Party and the Republican Party are very different. No overlap whatsoever.


Posted in Quick Hits on April 8th, 2014 by Ed

Taking the night off to continue reading Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. It's not a self-help book, but I am learning some interesting things about psychology. I'm also learning what everyone who knows me already knows, namely that I am an extreme pessimist.


Posted in Quick Hits on April 7th, 2014 by Ed

There is precious little to add to what this piece over at Death & Taxes has already said, but I will make the effort nonetheless.

But Robert James Talbot, Jr. gets arrested for terrorism and I don’t see a thing about it until days later, until this weekend when I happened upon this article from the Southern Poverty Law Center. So weird! In fact, most of the other articles I’ve been able to find are from local Texas news sources. Very few national outlets have even bothered with the story.

Talbot is a white, radical right-wing conservative who was arrested by the FBI on charges of “attempted interference with commerce by robbery, solicitation to commit a crime of violence and possession of an explosive material.”

He set up a Facebook page, “American Insurgent Movement” in order to recruit five or six like-minded folks for what he called a “a Pre-Constitutionalist Community that offers those who seek True patriotism and are looking for absolute Freedom by doing the Will of God. Who want to restore America Pre- Constitutionally and look forward to stopping the Regime with action by bloodshed.” People, whom he said, must be willing to walk away from their lives to “stop the regime.” His plan was to rob banks to fund his revolution, and then also blow up mosques. He claimed to have already cased several Bank of Americas.

He wasn’t shy about his intentions, and even brazenly posted the following messages to the group’s Facebook page:

“Liberty movement starts this summer for those who are up for anything. Email the admin if your [sic] interested in walking away from your life (we have weapons if you need a weapon) to stop the Regime. We always will be recruiting. …You will be giving your life for a greater nation restoring liberty and the Lord himself. Stopping the New World Order and banking cartels.”

“That is exactly what I will have my men do during the heist. Same goes with the Muslims. Mosques are to be a blast! With three of my guys with FA [full automatic] AK’s [AK-47 semi-automatic rifles], we will send that white house worthless piece of dirt and his Muslim brotherhood a message they will never forget.”

And on March 15th…

“In a few weeks me and my team are going active for Operation Liberty. I will not be able to post no more. We will be the revolution, things will happen nationwide or in the states. They will call us many names and spin things around on media. Just remember we fight to stop Marxism, liberalism, Central banking Cartels and the New World Order.”

He was arrested after meeting with three undercover FBI agents who were pretending to be interested in helping him rob an armored car, and providing him with C-4 explosives. He also told the undercover agents that he planned to locate and kill a police officer who arrested him for drunk driving.

Now, call me crazy, but I have a feeling that if Talbot had been, instead, a Muslim man plotting to blow up Christian churches, that this is something that would have made the news cycle, in pretty heavy rotation. Despite the fact that two people with a similar ideology once committed one of the most tragic incidents of terrorism on U.S. soil, it is highly unlikely that other like-minded folks–like Larry Klayman and friends–will be put on the do-not-fly list anytime soon.

The if-he-was-Muslim point is almost too obvious to bother making – replace white with brown and Lord with Allah and we'd have a full-blown media circus on our hands. This raises two useful questions. First, is the problem that the media didn't pay enough attention to this jackass or that it pays far, far too much to other would-be terrorists? Realistically this guy posed a minimal threat to the public; anyone stupid enough to post stuff like this on Facebook is going to attract undercover FBI/ATF agents like a ham attracts starving dogs. This story isn't a big deal, and that's the point. Most of the Great Big Terrorism Scares involve bumbling dipshits who couldn't rob a liquor store without getting caught (e.g., the Fort Dix plotters in 2007) yet the media routinely turns every example into a 9/11 near miss. Lots of people plan things, yet it's only when white people do the planning that the media are able to distinguish between a plan and a realistic threat to the public. Strange.

Second, how much of the activity on the Militia/"Patriot"/Ultra-right in the U.S. is abetted by the indignant howling that conservatives do whenever law enforcement suggests that, you know, gun-toting lunatic McVeigh types pose a greater threat than Scary Foreign Muslims? Perhaps it has been too long since Oklahoma City and Americans forget what kind of people make up the survivalist Right. Maybe the terror acts perpetrated by non-U.S. citizens have simply been better executed and therefore more memorable. Or maybe a significant minority of American conservatives think that plotting to overthrow the government is a reasonable response to electing a moderate Democrat to the White House. Hmm.


Posted in Quick Hits on March 24th, 2014 by Ed

Full disclosure – not like you couldn't figure this out on your own – some of my less than laudatory attitude toward Nate Silver stems from professional jealousy. He is living quite literally a dream life and I am a professional failure who is going to die in rural central Illinois in one of those "We noticed a funny smell coming from the apartment" scenarios. He was smart enough, however, to realize that most people in the media and the public are ignorant about how math works and therefore they are likely to be extremely impressed by relatively basic statistical analysis. Yet despite the fact that what Silver does is not complicated to anyone who has some training in stats, it's often more complicated than it needs to be. It's an old academic trick – make something just complex enough that your audience won't be able to understand it and they will assume that you're correct because you're clearly smarter.

So it was that a man who called two of the easiest, least competitive presidential elections in the last few decades came to be seen as a modern oracle.

It is with no small amount of schadenfreude , then, that I watch the impending failure of his new, independent FiveThirtyEight website / media company. Proving once again that the New Media is about hits, hits, and trolling for more hits, Silver has elected to give an audience to a climate change "skeptic" to ensure plenty of outraged attention is directed toward his site devoted to "data-driven analysis." The shit has already hit the fan among some of his more high-profile liberal allies like Paul Krugman. What better way to emphasize one's slavish devotion to Data than to hire someone who has a decade long track record of consistently cherry-picking and manipulating climate data.

To paraphrase Bill Hicks, he might have been an artist at some point; if so, now he's just another set of holes at the capitalist gangbang. He'll find that making money without resorting to this kind of hackery will be considerably more difficult than, you know, calling a presidential election that one candidate ends up winning by 70 Electoral votes.


Posted in Quick Hits on March 19th, 2014 by Ed

Surprising statistics from the Department of Education; it turns out that for-profit higher education, the tip of the spear of the Online Teaching Revolution, is comparatively terrible.

Students at for-profit colleges represent about 13% of the total higher education population, but a disproportionate number of federal student loans — about 31% of all loans –go to such schools, which are popular with adult students and veterans trying to launch careers. Nearly half of all college loan defaults are from students enrolled in such programs, according to Department of Education statistics.

Half – HALF! – of all loan defaults come from the 13% of students at for-profits. The dirty secret throughout this boom is that the Phoenixes and Kaplans and Strayers are really, staggeringly bad at educating students. I don't mean that only in the "online classes are terrible" sense (although god knows they are) but in terms of basic measures like student retention, graduation rates, and post-graduation success. When 20% of your students are graduating compared to 55% across all public universities and nearly two-thirds at privates, you're barely a university.

It's refreshing to see the administration take some (baby) steps toward reining in this mess of an industry – and yes, the exact same standards and penalties should be applied to brick-and-mortar not-for-profit universities. If a four-year public school is graduating something like 5-10% of enrolled first-time students, the state legislature and university system need to consider, in a serious, non-condescending way, whether that student population could be better served by a two-year or technical school.

And while we're at it, why don't we stop requiring degrees for jobs that don't actually require a degree to do. And encouraging everyone to go to college even if they have neither an idea of why they're going nor a desire to go. And moving government employees up the pay scale based not on their good performance but on whether they buy a Master's Degree from some ludicrous online diploma mill. And allowing economic and political elites to use "Go to college!" as some kind of blanket solution to a crippled economy when what they really mean is "Hide out for four years, amass debt, and…maybe things will be better by then?"

But those are arguments for another day.


Posted in Quick Hits on March 18th, 2014 by Ed

There's nothing quite like a good on-air meltdown to highlight the kind of tension and drama that make live television so compelling. And this might be the most spectacular televised suicide since Budd Dwyer: some nitwit fronting a fake women's PAC in Texas explaining that women are "too busy" to need equal pay laws.

"We believe that Texas women want and deserve equal pay," Christman admitted. "But honestly, Jason, we don’t believe the Lilly Ledbetter Act is what’s going to solve that problem for women. We believe that women want real-world solutions to this problem, not more rhetoric."

But after Whitely asked Christman to provide a better solution for equal pay, the PAC leader stumbled with some awkward rhetoric of her own.

“If you look at it, women are… extremely busy, we lead busy lives,” she explained. “And times are extremely busy. It’s just — it’s a busy cycle for women, and we’ve got a lot to juggle.”

“And so when we look at this issue, we think, what’s practical?” Christman continued. “And we want more access to jobs. And we want to be able to go to get a higher education degree at the same time we’re working or raising a family. That’s common sense. And we believe that real-world solution is a more practical way to approach the problem.”

Where do they find these fucking people.


Posted in Quick Hits on March 11th, 2014 by Ed

Battening down for another snow-and-ice storm and about ready to capsize from fatigue, but forgive me just one more CPAC post. The only entertaining element of that subhuman zoo at this point is watching High Brow Conservatives – who mostly would not be caught dead at such a spectacle – attempt to parse the goings-on in a very Serious analytical fashion. The effect is not unlike listening to a seventh-year grad student in Cultural Studies explain at great length why Teen Wolf is actually a brilliant film.

The American Spectator – a geriatric rag of the Old Right if ever there was one – ran this unintentionally hilarious bit about the Ann Coulter vs. Mickey Kaus "debate" on immigration. In a credulous and apparently earnest appeal, the author asks, "Where's the Debate?" Apparently he tuned into CPAC expecting a serious policy debate to take place on stage…with said stage occupied by Ann Coulter and with multiple audience members dressed in faux-Colonial Patriot garb. Perhaps it was not even enough of a giveaway that the "liberal" in the debate is Mickey Fucking Kaus; for those of you not familiar with this skidmark on the underwear of American journalism, Mickey Kaus is the fake liberal you get after Alan Colmes turned you down by claiming he had too much dignity to consider appearing.

On the plus side…

(W)hen as she did at CPAC, Coulter speaks of illegal immigrants as those who lurk in "barrels" and "Pico de gallo" trucks, and (in jest?) argues that "death squads" should pursue those who approve of amnesty, two things happen. First, the media picks reports her words with gleeful rapture. Second, conservatism’s appeal takes a major hit with floating voters.

Perhaps Matt Lewis’s tweet summed it up best. "Could you blame Hispanics for hating conservatives after watching this?"

…the GOP Minority Outreach Program continues apace.

Also, there are Pico de Gallo trucks now? What an age we live in!


Posted in Quick Hits on March 10th, 2014 by Ed

Since Hollywood officially ran out of ideas ten or fifteen years ago we've been treated to an avalanche of sequels, remakes, and adaptations of source material ranging from video games to classic works of fiction to comics. When you're remaking everything all the time you have to deal with the fact that the audience's expectations are affected by the earlier versions. I mean, after you've made 10 different Batman movies the next actor to take the role is limited by how the previous actors played it.

Sometimes casting decisions complicate things when a role is handed off from one actor to another. Some casting decisions are baffling, like choosing an overgrown fratboy like Vince Vaughn to reprise Anthony Perkins' role in Psycho. In other cases the problem is that an actor's appearance does not match the viewers' image of the character. Like, for example, when the upcoming remake of beloved children's movie-musical Annie casts a black girl in the title role. Being a previous Oscar nominee, I'm fairly certain that said actress can handle the not-terribly-complex film.

Admittedly, the fictional character of Annie is pretty closely associated with the "red hair and freckles" image. It might be odd to see someone else do it. But honestly, is it that big of a deal? After all, they call the profession "acting" for a reason – it implies (stay with me here) "acting" like you're something you're not! An actress isn't Annie any more than she is Queen Elizabeth or a serial killer or a talking pig. Why I've even heard that sometimes all-male or all-female schools manage to put on plays where the people who fill some of the roles aren't even the right gender. Because it's acting, and you suspend your disbelief as an audience member. Since the role in question in Annie is a fictional character, I hardly see the problem.

Oh wait. It's that she's black, as these totally-not-racist white people helpfully explain.

Were it a biopic, the actor's race might be an issue. You wouldn't cast Wesley Snipes as Pope John Paul II or Ed Asner as Malcolm X. When we're talking about a character that doesn't exist except as a figment of our imaginations, is it really that hard to suspend disbelief to think that, for example, Idris Elba is a mythological Norse god? If you're stuck on that question, bear in mind that Norse gods are made up and never existed so no one has any idea what they look like.

Oh wait. I keep forgetting. Black. The problem is black, even though we're totally not racist.