MARGINAL COSTS

Posted in Rants on January 15th, 2018 by Ed

Here are two statements. Tell me which one you agree with, if either:

1. "If your supervisor at Wal-Mart asks you to work an extra half-hour off the clock because you're at 40 hours and they don't want to pay overtime, you should just go ahead and do it. Cut the guy a break, he needs SOMEONE there to work those 30 minutes."

2. "If you're a teacher and your class is full and a student asks to be added because he forgot to take it for 3.5 years and now he's trying to graduate, don't be a dick. Just let him into the class."

Surprise! Those statements are functionally identical.

A really, really interesting thing about teaching is the way that people are eager – even Liberals who would find the first statement abhorrent – to tell you that you're in the wrong if you refuse to agree to do more work without additional compensation. Never mind that you haven't gotten a raise or have taken a functional paycut for the last decade or two. Never mind that you very likely have too many students in your class already. Just say yes. To more work. And that's what every single person enrolled in a class is – more work. More grading, more one-on-one time, more emails, more office hour visits (OK probably not, but in theory), more of everything you're already doing.

Like everyone other than commenters on Fox News and local newspaper websites, I resist doing additional work for the same compensation whenever possible. The principle does not change because one way of conceiving of units of work is hours and minutes and another is per person.

Students, parents, administrators, and gawkers alike make a collective effort to guilt educators into doing more work all the time. Don't you care about these kids? Isn't it your duty to make sure they learn? Aren't you morally derelict if you're not working FOR THE CHILDREN all the time? Jeez I thought you cared about kids. I guess you don't.

It is a special kind of right-wing, anti-labor rhetoric – it's special because you get it thrown in your face constantly regardless of the ideological leanings of the person saying it. Why?

Part of it may be that everyone remembers the times they fucked up as K-12 or college students; the times they needed someone to cut them slack because they were too drunk, high, lazy, or immature to realize before the tail end of senior year (or Fifth Year) that they need to take College 101 – Intro to College in order to graduate. And they remember how they had to beg, plead, cajole, and bargain to get some professor, admin in the Registrar's office, or academic advisor to yield to "Cut me a break man, c'mon."

So, some of it is just projection. Most of the rest, the kind you get from Centrists and conservatives, is bog standard anti-labor rhetoric – fat, lazy, entitled teachers who never do any work and make $250,000/yr to sit on their fat lazy teacher asses and count their lavish pension money. Right-wing obedience to authority tendencies in the United States most definitely do not encompass the teaching profession.

I can't speak well to K-12, but at the university level I'd like you to keep in mind that when you're talking about the job faculty do you are talking about people who maybe, if they're lucky, have seen their salary increase 1 or 2 percent since the crash of 2008. If they're lucky. All that has happened since then is that more work, more responsibilities, higher expectations of research output, and more bodies per classroom have been thrown at them. Nothing is wrong with faculty, like any other employee anywhere else in the economy, refusing to do additional work they are not obligated to do if they receive no compensation for it.

Labor has value. Every non-teacher recognizes that if someone wants more of your labor, they have to pay for it. Think a little harder about what you're asking when you suggest that we should "be cool." You're suggesting we work more for free.

FOR THEE

Posted in Rants on January 10th, 2018 by Ed

When traveling internationally government agencies like the US State Department or the UK Foreign Office can offer valuable advice. The basics – shots, visas, potential complications – are all in one place and up to date. Their travel "advice," however, must always be taken with grains of salt. Let's just say they tend toward extreme caution. I think the State Department in particular imagines the would-be US traveler as an 18 year old college freshman who has never been outside Paramus, NJ and will be unable to handle the slightest "non-Americanness."

Come to think of it, that's a great approach. That is the modal American tourist.

El Salvador is listed by the State Department in Category 3 (Reconsider Need to Travel) which is one stage short of "Do Not Travel Here." The Embassy warns that the crime threat in El Salvador is "critical" and notes, as it does for many countries, that law enforcement is corrupt and as likely to rob you as help you. Poor rural sanitation, Zika outbreaks, and political unrest due to government corruption are also noted. Again, they tend to overdo it a bit, but suffice it to say that El Salvador is a place with many problems.

Despite warning Americans not to go there, the White House announced recently that 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants to the US are about to be given the heave-ho and, presumably, forced to return. Makes sense, right?

What is the point of this? What is the point of any of these targeted attempts to legislate immigrant-bashing? This accomplishes absolutely nothing and benefits no one. Like the "travel ban" countries, we declare these places chaotic shit holes and then actively move to ship people there. I guess borderline failed states are good enough for SOME kinds of people, amirite.

It's worth noting that without being overly dramatic or self-critical, a good portion of the responsibility for the corruption, brutality, and poverty of Central American states belongs squarely in Washington. I mean, what do you think paramilitary death squads do after they've overthrown a duly elected leader, disband and go home to read magazines?

The irony of explicitly calling a country too dangerous to visit and then deporting people to it is almost too much to bear, but I suppose we're all getting used to bearing it.

PLAY-ACTING JOURNALISM

Posted in Rants on January 7th, 2018 by Ed

The whole routine CNN, Jake Tapper, and White House sycophant Stephen Miller went through on Sunday was as pointless as it is dumb, and as dumb as it is exhausting.

Tapper and CNN are predictably taking victory laps now, playing endlessly the clip of Tapper cutting Miller off and accusing him of wasting the audience's time. Meanwhile, hot garbage like "The 24 most grotesque lines from Jake Tapper's Stephen Miller Interview" dots their homepage and will no doubt creep well into the upcoming week.

If Tapper is concerned about wasting his audience members' time, the answer is simple: stop giving Stephen Miller, Kellyanne Conway, and all these other skeletal fascist nitwits an opportunity to take your microphone and address a worldwide audience. What I saw Sunday was not Jake Tapper being a great journalist; I saw Jake Tapper inviting a man he knows to be a lying, callous, racist piece of crap onto his show for the explicit purpose of kicking him off the show and looking tough. You don't invite Stephen Miller onto the show because you think you're going to get a good interview out of him or that your audience will learn something. You invite him onto the show because A) you agree with him, or B) you want to use him as a prop. This was the latter.

Great job shutting him down, Jake. It would be even more impressive if you didn't have him on your show in the first place.

We are two years into the Trump-as-Serious Politico era and I promise you there is not one single person alive in the United States who is one cable news interview away from suddenly realizing what Trump and the people he surrounds himself are. The idea that CNN or any other journalists are "exposing" these people, here in January 2018, is so stupid only a truly committed "Both Sides Do It" Centrist could find value in it. Nobody, and I mean not one single person, is going to see Stephen Miller on CNN on January 7, 2018 and walk away with a changed opinion. "You know, I thought Team Trump was full of nice, smart people…but now I'm having second thoughts!"

Who ARE these people? Who needs yet another interview full of lies and whitewashed racism and soft-pedaled fascism to suddenly realize what they are? Who hasn't figured it out but will if the legendary journalistic skills of Jake Tapper show them the path to enlightenment?

Stop it. Just stop it. Stop giving these people a platform. Worse, stop inviting them on the show simply to play Mr. or Mrs. Badass for a day. "Stephen Miller came on the show and started spewing lies. And I said, NOT TODAY, MISTER! and shut him down!" Stephen Miller spews lies. That is his thing. It's what he does. When you bring on a serial liar and then scold him for lying serially it feels more than a little…disingenuous? Not fake, but more than a little pointless.

I get that CNN's ratings blow and that Sunday shows in general are taking a real beating since audiences are burned out on Trump and politics. In that light, I suppose this is a harmless enough stunt. Certainly no one will ever feel badly for Stephen Miller. Tapper could drop-kick him in the back of the head and most viewers would walk away satisfied. If CNN is really concerned about its audience and its on-air integrity, though, the simpler solution would be to refuse to have as guests the president's dumbest hangers-on who have proven beyond any doubt congenitally incapable of telling the truth.

Until then, spare us the Journalistic Integrity routine. If you had any you wouldn't have been interviewing Stephen Miller a year into this presidency.

SUNDOWNING

Posted in Rants on January 4th, 2018 by Ed

It will disappoint some of you to hear that I find all of the arguments involving the 25th Amendment and Trump to be silly. My take on the purpose of that Amendment is to deal with a president who is comatose, alive in a vegetative state (e.g. Ariel Sharon in Israel), or bedridden in such overwhelmingly bad health that he doesn't have the time or ability to do the job (e.g. someone dying of end-stage cancer). Could a president's mental competence short of that be a reason to trigger the 25th? Sure, in theory. But add partisan politics to the mix and I think there is essentially zero chance that presidential incapacity could ever be agreed upon short of the individual being inert. Short of the president wandering around screaming at imaginary dragons like we all too often see among the homeless, "The president is nuts" is never going to work. It's just too subjective, and people who want to believe the president is fine will always be able to construct an argument for that.

So with the caveat that I absolutely do not believe that the Trump Problem will be solved by the 25th Amendment I've paid very little attention to any of the (extensive) takes out there about him suffering dementia or something similar. Eric Levitz offered another such take today. Unlike anything previous, there is one thing about this piece I have to admit is stunning. Watch this 1980 interview with Trump. It's short. Try to forget how much you hate Trump for a second and just watch this with, if possible, neutral feelings:

That is, without overstatement, a completely different person. Nobody's going to mistake him for Socrates, and he still (of course) comes off as an arrogant dick. But ignore what he's talking about and just listen to his voice and demeanor. He has a normally-sized vocabulary. He speaks in a normal tone at a normal volume. His responses are relevant to the questions. He cites facts – several times mentioning a specific building or price. He makes a joke, and it's appropriate in tone and context ("If you have any at that price, I'd love to buy them.")

There are plenty of ways to explain this away if you're so inclined. He's much younger, he's motivated to make a good impression, and he's speaking about (perhaps) the only topic he really knows anything about. But Levitz's point is made regardless – the ranting, repetitive, incoherent mess we hear interviewed today is a departure from this person's track record in the public eye. While still a smarmy ass, 1980s Donald Trump spoke in full sentences like a normal human and didn't struggle to string two thoughts together. He talked as if he knew more than six adjectives. He sounded – god help me – like an educated rich kid.

Diagnosing Trump from a distance is futile. A political majority large enough to declare Trump incompetent could just as soon impeach him, which is cleaner and less fraught with questions. With respect to specifics like what appeared to be slurring during a recent appearance or his weird glass-grasping which ignited speculation about his motor skills, I don't find armchair diagnoses terribly persuasive. There is no doubt, though, that something beyond ordinary aging is at play here. Comparing audio or video of a person talking over time usually surprises in how much they sound the same, not how they have grown into a totally different person.

Whether the explanation is internal or external – A viable hypothesis, for example, is that Trump has conditioned the way he speaks in public to positive reinforcement from sycophants and strategic attempts to give the media what it wants – something has changed. And it has changed quite a bit. The 25th Amendment isn't going to solve this problem, but it is hard to deny that for whatever reason, Donald Trump no longer acts like he used to.

RED HANDED

Posted in Rants on January 3rd, 2018 by Ed

In a span of eight hours on Tuesday, January 2, the President used Twitter to:

-Spread InfoWars-level conspiracy shit about Deep State, undermining the Justice Dept. and legal process
-Taunted North Korea in game of nuclear chicken
-Took credit for the safety of commercial air traffic
-Unveiled upcoming awards for the worst media outlets and reporting, continuing to target and delegitimize the critical media
-Threatened Palestine with economic sanctions

This is, to strip our current situation down to its essence, exhausting and beyond insane. There is no reason we need to live like this. This does not have to continue. It continues because of the false narrative that Congress can't remove the president unless red-handed evidence of him committing a crime is uncovered. That simply is not true. Impeachment was added to the Constitution explicitly separated from the normal legal process. While a range of opinions exist on exactly what does and does not constitute impeachable offenses, any practical understanding of the process points to the conclusion that an impeachable offense is whatever a given Congress says it is at a given point in political time.

To play one of conservatives' favorite games, let us imagine what the Founders would say if we asked them, "Can a president be impeached for no specific crime but for being really, atrociously bad at being president?" Nothing in the historical record suggests that the people who put the Constitution together would dispute that poor performance and bad behavior are sufficient grounds for impeachment.

I am on the third day of the flu so I will cut directly to the chase: Everyone, Republicans included, can see where this is going. It is inevitable that this guy is going to start a shooting war somewhere, either through his bad temper and poor impulse control or because he is so stupid he will stumble into it by accident. This does not have to happen. And it's going to look mighty strange after it happens to look back at all the really obvious warning signs and rationalize why Congress did not act.

Republicans can get everything they want out of Mike Pence, but they are terrified of the primary challenges they'll face if they are perceived as the people who betrayed Trump. History offers us some pretty strange explanations for important events unfolding but I think this will top them all. "Everyone recognized that he was insane but we couldn't come up with a reason to impeach him that Fox News viewers would accept" and "I was scared of a Tea Party challenger" will stand out as particularly feeble reasons in a century or two when humanity tries to figure out what in the hell happened during the Great Insanity of the early 21st Century.

2017 LIEBERMAN AWARD WINNER: THE CLETUS SAFARI JOURNALIST

Posted in Rants on December 31st, 2017 by Ed

(Editor's note: The Lieberman Award is given annually to the worst example of a human being over a twelve month period. Click the tag at the end of the post to review past winners.)

medalPicking the very worst person of 2017 is not unlike picking the worst aspect of flying on Spirit Airlines. It spoils us for choice and guarantees that whatever we decide will be deeply unsatisfying to large groups of people with very legitimate grievances. We are forced to play the game of "Who is the worst Nazi" both metaphorically and literally these days, and of course it inevitably ends with the tragicomic realization that the task itself is an exercise in futility.

So, one of my goals here was to avoid the bleedingly obvious and choose someone like Donald Trump (who, in an act bordering on prescience, I awarded the Lieberman back in 2015) or prominent right-wing / fascist media hacks. I came close to choosing Mike Cernovich after, among his many acts of idiocy as a wannabe white supremacist raconteur, he forged legal documents to make it look like one of Chuck Schumer's staffers accused him of sexual harassment. But this year was such a thrill ride down Fuck Everything Boulevard that such ephemera hardly register, lost almost immediately in the screaming miasma of awfulness.

Instead a late entrant to the competition – a Dark Horse of cliches and subconscious white supremacy – takes the coveted award for 2017: the mainstream media journalists who persist, more than a full year after the election, in doing Cletus Safaris. What is a Cletus Safari? It's one of those innumerable, insufferable, "Let's go to Rust Bucket, Ohio and interview the old racist white people who voted for Trump and see what they have to say now" pieces that every major news outlet feels obligated to churn out once per month. "Safari" is an appropriate term because it has every bit of the feel of a journalist venturing into the jungle looking for wild animals or naked Savages. The White Working Class (because editors insisted that some kind of tactful synonym for "Midwestern white trash" would make it sound professional and palatable) is fascinating to Beltway and NYC journalists in a sense that goes far beyond the political and lands firmly in the anthropological.

The allure of these pieces, I admit, is strong. They are click magnets. We all want to point and shout "Look!" when presented with the latest batch of stupid, racist quotes from people whose worldview is a sad amalgam of forwarded emails, Facebook comment sections, Fox News, Breitbart, and increasingly severe delirium tremens. We marvel and laugh – for what else do we have for joy these days except a good schadenfreude laugh? – at the rotund, mustachioed morons as they swear coal is coming back and assert that Trump works real hard while Obama spent all his time golfing and, most recently, think they're going to get a tax cut next year. We read these for the same reason that we watch shows about addiction, hoarding, or bed-bound 1000 pound people – because some part of all of us wants to gawk at freaks, and an even bigger part of us needs to remind itself "At least I'm not THAT fucked up!" when we're feeling down.

But the Cletus Safari is, if I can use an extremely polarizing but appropriate adjective, a deeply problematic piece of journalism. Scratch the surface and you see that while this certainly is an acceptable form of Nelson Muntzing dumb poor people (Since the subjects are inevitably white, white readers don't have to feel guilty for mocking them) it is also a severe distortion of reality that – surprise! – reinforces the perception that what is Real, what counts, and what is truly important is what White Country Folk think. They are, even to doubtlessly left-leaning journalists who write these pieces, the Real America.

The problems with that logic are almost too obvious. One is that almost nobody lives in rural areas anymore, and the kind of Rust Belt city ("city") that inevitably serves as the setting for a Cletus Safari – any fading pile of crap in upstate NY, central PA, Ohio, Michigan, or Wisconsin will do – is rapidly shrinking. And to the extent that the population of such places is stabilizing or even growing, it is because of the influx of largely Hispanic newcomers moving in. So not only are these old racist white people not representative of America as a whole, they're not even representative of, to take a recent Cletus Safari example, Johnstown, PA (which Hillary Clinton won).

The second problem is that it has long been widely recognized that these people are impervious to facts, and thus there are diminishing returns to pointing out that the things they say and believe are stupid and wrong. We get it.

Third, and most potentially damaging, is the way these pieces reinforce the idea that white opinion and white votes are more valuable. For every one old white asshole living in Janesville, WI waiting for Trump to give him a wall-building job, there are ten Hispanic immigrants from the last 30 years who gained US citizenship but doesn't regularly vote. There are x African-Americans disenfranchised from the political process by legal machinations or earned cynicism from years of Lip Service Only treatment from Democratic politicians. There are millions of young people who see a political process that has nothing to offer them but disappointment and thus they don't vote. The subconscious emphasis of the Cletus Safari – that white idiots must be Won Back somehow, no matter the cost – is the single biggest yoke around the neck of the American left. And we put it on ourselves.

Fourth and finally there is the obvious data-driven reality that Trump didn't win in mythical Trump Country – he won the election in the very white, generally well-off suburbs of major cities. Every Republican does well with the kind of Cletus we keep sticking in front of cameras and microphones if for no reason other than he is ordered to. The bubble in which he lives is carefully structured to produce the same outcome regardless of who has the R next to his name on the ballot. That person is gone, from the Democrats' perspective, and he is never coming back. More crucially – and this is the part they can't get through their heads – it is not worth it to try to get him back when there are so many eligible voters who do not vote because they see nothing for them in the centrist version of the Democratic Party.

A tangential but important point is the way these stories debase the idea of what journalism is ideally supposed to be. Rather than putting a microphone in front of the most well-informed person to be found, this is the culmination of LOL Reportage that looks for the dumbest person and gives him or her a platform. There is ample room for lolz and mockery in the world, and god knows I love it as much as anyone. But consider that what was once a staple of Jay Leno's laziest but consistently funniest on-the-street gag is now common practice for journalists at our most important mainstream media outlets. Not encouraging, is it?

If any piece of journalism purports to show "Real America" then it would show us a diverse array of viewpoints because Real America is diverse. Instead, journalists not only insist on going to places that no longer represent the mean or modal America – Shuttered Mill, WI or Superfund, PA or whatever – but on finding people who are not even "the average person" in those communities. No one denies that "Look at how stupid these old racist white Trumpers are" was funny the first time or two, but after two years of such anthropological studies enough is enough. At some point it stops being funny and begins to reinforce the idea that one kind of person is important, real, and valuable to the political process. That point was long ago reached, and that is why the writers and editors that continue to pump out Cletus Safaris are the very worst people for 2017.

Stop it. We get it. Now stop it. If you really cared about the voices of Real Americans, how about some who aren't white, almost always male, and running out the clock on their shit lives in the land that time forgot.

Tags:

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED

Posted in Rants on December 23rd, 2017 by Ed

In 1997, at the end of my first year of college, someone gave me a copy of Baffler #10, noted Matt Roth's still-outstanding article on the cult of Amway ("Dreams Incorporated") and said, "Read this."

I had previously read as a one-off – what male in the 1990s did not read it with So Cool glee – Steve Albini's "The Problem with Music" from Baffler #3. But the publication didn't register with me at the time. It was just a photocopied article by a guy who made it seem very appealing to be a dick. I was 14-15 or thereabouts. It wasn't a time where anything stuck.

But with that copy of Baffler #10, which I still have, I became an addict. I've been a subscriber (including their long hiatus period) since then, which it pains me to realize is 20 years. The day they re-emerged from hibernation in the wake of the financial crisis was one of the happiest of that time period for me. They're back! It's all gonna be ok!

I know a lot of people have strong and usually valid criticisms of the operation, especially in the Thomas Frank years. It is the journal of criticism without proposing solutions. It is, as a friend put it recently, the guy sitting in the corner pointing and laughing and feeling superior. It borders dangerously on Comic Book Guy territory on occasion. Some of you who have followed Gin and Tacos since 2002 or whatever might notice that these are the same criticisms one can (with justification) make about my writing. The influence on my approach to writing has not been subtle.

One thing that always kind of broke my heart, though, was that I could never get them to tell me I was good enough to be anything but a fanboy. I think the first time I submitted something was around 1999-2000. In the past year I've pitched 3 or 4 ideas they didn't take, some of which became very successful hits in other outlets. Part of me was never going to be satisfied until I got in there.

On Thursday, they published my piece on the long tradition of the Pentagon and White House trying to convince Americans that nuclear war really isn't so bad – it's survivable, we swear! – at times that coincide with American presidents who want to engage in belligerent, dick-waving foreign policy. Fallout shelters, for example, are a thing the White House only talks about when there's a president eager to ratchet up the arms race. The newest incarnation is missile defense – It's cool, we'll just shoot 'em down! – which explains why the piece is entitled, "It's a THAAD, THAAD, THAAD World", although that's a little inside baseball for most readers.

To anyone on the internet I know this is just another piece of Content, another thing flashing past on the social media feed that may or may not provide an interested reader with a few minutes of enjoyment. To me, though, this is a goal that I've had on simmer for two decades and I can't tell you what a great capstone to what turned out, ironically, to be a great year for me individually even though the country and the world are going solidly to shit.

I don't want to preempt my sappy end-of-year post too much, but I'm really thankful to all of you who have supported me whether for a day or a decade. It really would not be possible for me to achieve some of these writing-related goals without you. I'm a lucky sonofabitch.

FIZZLE

Posted in Rants on December 17th, 2017 by Ed

Political parties are not nearly as strong as many Americans, even some who are paid to observe the political process, realize. They cannot control the actions of every person who is elected to office under their banner. Hell, even party leadership in Congress can't really control their own caucus these days (certainly not like they used to). So as a preface to the following, realize that there is no centralized authority that can make this happen. It's a mindset that needs to be adopted, not a policy change that can be made.

There is little doubt that Democratic candidates are benefiting from the work of highly enthusiastic activists and supporters in the era of Trump. This is not entirely surprising; logically, if you can't get people fired up with the current status quo then you might as well throw in the towel and disband as a political party.

Unfortunately the Democratic Party has a long track record since 1980 of failing to deliver much of what its activist base wants. We get a lot of reaching across the aisle, bipartisan overtures, Triangulation, and incrementalism, but not much in the way of strong, forceful leadership on policy. And it's one of the major reasons it was so hard for Hillary Clinton, for example, to fire up turnout. Too many potential voters have picked up on the pattern of big promises and very minimal results. Obama half-delivered (the ACA is both a great political success and a half-assed attempt to cover everyone while still appeasing insurance companies) and it probably clinched his second term. Rightly (to her critics) or wrongly (to her supporters), Hillary Clinton was seen by too many people as the kind of New Democrat centrist who would get elected and not really push hard for anything progressive. Let's not argue whether or not that's true – at this point it doesn't matter. It's about the perception.

Some of it is unfair. The Democratic Party can indeed point to things it has done while in power. Some of it is fair, though. What do you expect LGBT people to think about your likelihood of fighting for them when it takes you 20 years in public life to come out and support gay marriage (once it is sufficiently popular)? What are black and hispanic voters going to think when the party speaks forcefully to them during elections and then…kinda tends to ignore things that they want thereafter? Misinformation doesn't help, but the perception is based at least somewhat on past experience. That is the first thing Democrats need to do a better job of: Stop making excuses (Russian bots! Fox News! Bernie Bros! Jill Stein!) even if those things really did hurt them in the past. Look at your own actions and ask sincerely, "How did WE fuck up? What can WE do better?"

This is a long way of saying that the wave of activism that pushed through recent Democratic successes is not likely to last long if the people elected revert to the old Let's Be Centrist ways. That's not someone coming from the outside and screwing the Democrats. That is a self-inflicted wound, pure and simple.

In Virginia, the newly-minted Democratic Governor gave a truly insane interview to the WaPo in which he claims that what voters really want is bipartisanship (at a time when the opposing party is not only totally uninterested in cooperating productively but is becoming a quasi-white nationalist movement pushing salted-Earth economic policies) and that he is worried about costs so he may not get behind Medicaid expansion. Medicaid expansion is, for the record, overwhelmingly popular in the general public and virtually unopposed among liberals.

You can excuse people who worked their asses off to push a very underwhelming Northam campaign over the finish line reading this and thinking, why did I bother? The obvious answer is that he's better than the Republican. This is undoubtedly true. But if Democrats haven't figured out yet that "This guy's an empty vessel, but the Republican is worse!" is not enough to fire up the people it needs to come out and vote for them, then they're never going to figure it out.

I don't mean to belabor the point or be unfair to Northam (who always was a moderate, so this isn't a turn for him) but just imagine how delusional you have to be as a politician to have lived through the last two years and think that the right response is to try harder to play nice with the right.

Doug Jones, for his part, started by stating that the sexual harassment claims against Donald Trump don't merit any more discussion. I get the whole "It's Alabama, he can't go full liberal on them" argument, and I understand it. But Donald Trump is as popular as the flu right now. Taking shots at Trump counts as kicking someone while they're down. Talk about a simple play – say "Yes, we need some answers on that" and you've committed to nothing but at least created the impression that you're serious about it – and Jones fumbled it. What is he trying to do? Signal that he's not interested in doing anything to irritate a deeply unpopular, failing demagogue of a president?

Parties are coalitions. Democrats rely very, very heavily on women, African-American and Hispanic voters, the young, and combinations thereof. And if you can't occasionally deliver for your key constituents – Republicans are flawless at this – then they are going to lose interest in working to get you elected. They won't turn on you and vote Republican necessarily; but they won't work their asses off for you when they expect that after the election you won't even pretend like you're serious about the things they care about.

The modern GOP, for all its awfulness, just understands governing and politics so much better than the Democratic Party that it's kind of embarrassing. Get elected, ram through some things that reward the people who got you elected, and then ask them to do it again next time by promising to deliver more. Try it sometime and you might be surprised how well it works, folks. Instead we get soft centrists telling us that if they act enough like Republicans they may win back some of the White Working Class. Oh boy!

It's too early to hit the panic button on any of the recently elected Democrats, but I know for absolute certain that "bipartisanship" is not what any voter wants. Voters want to win. They want to win elections and win something tangible in terms of policy as a result. Especially given the state of the contemporary GOP, nobody is going to be pleased by playing nice except David Brooks and Chuck Todd.

I don't advocate turning Democratic Primaries into purity tests, nor in intra-party squabbling throughout general elections. Objective one is absolutely: Get these bastards out. But that objective will be more difficult to accomplish the longer the party's office holders demur on taking off the gloves and showing a willingness to fight back. How can you expect the voters to fight hard for candidates who don't show a willingness to do the same?

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.

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.