AT CROSS PURPOSES

Posted in Rants on January 4th, 2017 by Ed

If someone running for office insists that government is bad you can rest assured that if they get elected the government that follows will in fact be very bad. Anything else would undermine the premise upon which he won support. When we are critical of the government we get from such people we are speaking past one another. A necessary part of proving that private enterprise or the free market or Jesus or rugged individualism or whatever can do something better than the state is setting the bar so low that crony capitalism can't help but trip and fall over it. To tell a modern conservative that what they advocate is bad public policy offers no new information to anyone involved in the conversation; the whole point is to make it as bad as possible.

The same is true of the consequences of policy changes, which liberals often interpret as bugs when they are in fact the main feature. Repealing Obamacare will cost many people who cannot otherwise afford it their health insurance? Yes, that's the whole point to right wingers. More poor people getting sick and dying is something close to an autoerotic fantasy for conservatives. They lie, including to themselves, and pretend that what they advocate is some kind of solution, but they're not very good at convincing anyone. They know that tax cuts for the wealthy aren't going to Trickle Down and create anything for the rest of the country, but they know they need something better than "Look, we just really want the tax cuts and couldn't give half a shit what happens to working people" when they're on camera.

The mistake Our Side makes so often (see Obama's first couple years in office) is assuming that the right is acting In Good Faith and earnestly desires the best policy and the best government. This is a poor assumption. They just want to get what is best for themselves, and they believe that their political opponents have the same motivation – i.e., that poor people vote for left wing candidates just to get free stuff from the rich taxpayers and the noise about improving society as a whole is a smokescreen. In this way, politics to the current American conservative is a zero sum game of resource competition. The talk about policy objectives and grand strategies for a better society is a shiny coat of paint over everyone's true motives.

Keep this in mind as the Secretary-to-be of the Department of Education, Betsey Devos, is approved by the Senate in the coming weeks. Her selection in November brought the moribund issue of charter schools back into the national conversation, if briefly, and will do so moving forward. Since I get a paycheck in higher education, this issue does not affect me directly but I do have an awful lot of K-12 educators in my social circle. I see people argue in circles about charter schools regularly and to no effect. Right wingers chant School Choice like it is the prayer that will get them into heaven; liberals fire back statistics proving that at their top-dollar best, charter schools are roughly as good as public schools once we account for their power to take only those students they choose to take. Again, these two viewpoints are at cross purposes. The left assumes that charter school advocates 1) believe that charter schools are better and 2) are interested in "better schools" as the ultimate goal.

A full summary of the conservative movement's support for things like vouchers and charter schools is as follows: it's cheaper.

The way they see it, half the kids coming out of public schools today are basically illiterate. To them, this is fine. We have enough competition for the kinds of jobs a college degree is supposed to qualify one for as it is. Our options are to pump a ton of money into public schools and maybe see some incremental improvement in outcomes, or we can just create a system that selects out the half-decent students for a real education and future and then warehouse the rest until they're no longer minors and they're ready for the prison-poverty-violence cycle to Hoover them up. Vouchers and Charter Schools are not, to the conservative mind, a better way to educate kids well. They are a cheaper way to educate them poorly. What matters is that it costs less to people like six-figure income earners and home owners. Those people can afford to send their kids to a decent school anyway. Public education, to their way of thinking, used to be about educating people just enough that they could provide blue collar or service industry labor. Now that we have too much of that, a public high school is just a waiting room for prison. So why throw money into it? They don't think education "works" anyway; people are born Good or Bad, Talented or Useless. So it only makes sense to find the cheapest possible way to process the students who were written off before they reached middle school. If charter schools manage to save 1% of them, great. If not, well, then they're no worse than public schools. And they're cheaper! Did I mention that they're cheaper?

When two people are trying to put together a puzzle, it's not going to go very well if one person is pointing at the box and saying, "Look, we're trying to put together a sailboat" and the other is off trying to rearrange the pieces to make a dinosaur. Both will fail, but at least in this case they'd understand that they failed because they had radically different goals. The big difference in our political system is that the dinosaur guy smiles real big and swears he's trying to help you make a sailboat, then resumes his task as soon as he gets his hands on the pieces.

2016 LIEBERMAN AWARD WINNER: TIM KAINE

Posted in Rants on January 2nd, 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.)

medalEnough ink has been spilled over Donald Trump and the people who made his rise to political power possible. I owe you more than to do something as obvious as declare the president-elect the worst human being of 2016. You'd have to go back to Hitler to find an equivalent example of one human being who was so singularly responsible for ruining an entire 12-month period for such a large number of people. But I thought it would be more interesting to take a closer look at someone you heard almost nothing about in comparison, someone you may even have completely forgotten about. Besides, Trump won this award last year.

Why Tim Kaine? What did Tim Kaine ever do to anyone? He was almost a total non-entity in 2016, yet he symbolizes everything that went wrong with Hillary Clinton's campaign and the strain of Democratic Party politics that has proven itself time and again to be a disaster. In the true spirit of the Lieberman Award, Kaine is the embodiment of the New Democrat centrism that sounds suspiciously like being a moderate Republican. His choice as the running mate is, in hindsight, one of the clearest signs that Clinton still doesn't Get It, writ large.

Certainly there are some merits to picking Kaine. He has extensive elected experience which made him a good choice for the Clinton campaign's strategy (which I talked about over the summer) of giving Americans a clear choice between Adults in the Room and a disorganized lunatic. Even with the benefit of hindsight it isn't the worst strategy ever conceived; it simply has the fatal flaw of giving the American public a little bit of credit for intelligence. It is premised upon the belief that voters aren't really going to turn the country over to a lunatic just because they're angry and his opponent is short on charisma. That turned out to be a bad gamble.

Really, what is Tim Kaine but a time capsule from the W Bush era, a Democrat perfectly designed to win a statewide election in a reddish-purple state circa 2006? He is the culmination of the Bill Clinton-led New Democrat movement in the early 90s that posited that the best way for Democrats to win elections was to do most of the things Republicans do but, I dunno, seem a little less bloodless and unhip while doing it? People like Kaine are a way for educated white people to vote for a Republican without having to feel bad about themselves because the name has "D" after it. The turn to Eisenhower Republicanism produced some short-term success for Democrats, but the 2016 Clinton campaign is likely to be its Waterloo.

As another writer put it, Tim Kaine is Civil Unions. Tim Kaine is every half-assed compromise position that New Democrats have proposed over the past 25 years in the belief that what voters really want is a candidate who thinks a lot and kinda refuses to take a firm position on anything. He is the personification of the belief that trying to please all of the people all of the time is both possible and desirable. Is Kaine the worst human being on Earth? Of course not. But he is an excellent case study in a political ideology so bankrupt that it could not stand up against a candidate who ran literally as a joke and was as shocked as anyone that he won anything.

For everyone who criticized Hillary as a wishy-washy, right-leaning panderer who sees herself as entitled to the nomination of her party, Kaine is Exhibit A. This guy has zero future. He's an anachronism in 2016; by 2020 or 2024 he will be a fossil. He has no appeal to the kind of voters the Clinton campaign as a whole could not rally to their cause. In an increasingly multiracial, urban country, Tim Kaine is the argument in 2004 that what a candidate really needs to do is appeal to enough soccer moms and NASCAR dads.

Tim Kaine may be a nice guy. He has done some impressive things for Virginia and as a civil rights litigator. But as a presidential running mate in 2016 he only reinforced the fatal attachment of a lot of the Democratic Party power structure to a thoroughly outdated and failed set of ideas. He is a relic of the time when the Party could conceive of no other way to win better than to be more like Republicans and hope that real GOPers were personally repugnant enough (and they often were) to repulse voters. He is the poster child for a party faction that stands for nothing because it is so eager to stand for whatever it believes you want to hear from it.

Congratulations, Tim Kaine. You seemingly were cast into the dustbin of history before this campaign was even over, but you will now be immortalized forever as the winner of the 2016 Lieberman Award. Go. Go away. And take Donna Brazile with you.

Tags:

2016 GIN AND TACOS ANNUAL WHEEDLE SPECTACULAR

Posted in No Politics Friday on December 30th, 2016 by Ed

Reader,

I make an effort to limit this kind of request or reminder, because nobody wants to read a hundred pleas per year for the kinds of things a dude with a website is supposed to request. I appreciate your patience with the following paragraphs. I don't maintain this site for financial reward, and I hate creating the impression that you're expected to pay for the privilege. You certainly are not. Not even a little. But if you happen to feel the urge to be generous, here are some options.

1. If you haven't already, follow G&T on the ol' Facebox. There's more to it than a bunch of links to posts. It's a little heavier on humor and lighter on politics compared to this site. And I'm supposed to, like, try to boost traffic and build a base of readers and all that shit. So do it. Oh, as the previous post explains, I'm also temporarily banned because apparently it's OK to swear at strangers but not OK to take a screenshot of strangers swearing at you and post it. Makes sense!

Gin and Tacos | Promote Your Page Too

2. Speaking of, even though traffic has increased consistently over the years the site remains and will remain free of advertisements. If you have to ask why, you must be new. In lieu of advertisements you have to put up with the following few paragraphs once per year.

You can do nothing and continue to enjoy the site for free. This is called "free riding", and it's an entirely rational behavior. I have done (for thirteen years!!) and will continue to do this every day whether I make a million bucks, nothing at all, or I have to pay out of pocket for the privilege.

You can use this tip jar / donation link to contribute an amount of your choosing to defray the costs of this site. If you happen to be saddled with extra cash and feel like donating fifty bucks, I will be extremely grateful. However, if donating fifty cents is more in line with your current budget, my gratitude will be no less. If zero cents is your preferred option, that's A-OK too. Your tips and contributions are (obviously) voluntary but greatly appreciated. Either way I'm glad you're here and I appreciate you.





3. I finally committed properly to the Merch game in 2016. The "Everything is Terrible" t-shirts sold out, and in fact I had to cancel and refund about 75 orders. To say they were popular is an understatement, and early in 2017 I will be replenishing the supply. Because I did a second batch of Clurb Shirts, a few of those are still available if you're so inclined. On the $5-and-under end of the spectrum, there are very lovely Clurb bumper stickers and the classic G&T background image stickers for $3. Your positive response to the t-shirts was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year for me.

4. Post frequency on this blog fell a little in 2016. Part of that has to do with professional obligations and some changes I've had to make to my daily routine since moving to Chicago last year. I'm working on adjusting my schedule to better accommodate regular updates, because this is important to me. I enjoy it and it's the only part of my life that doesn't consist exclusively of people telling me I'm shit. So that's kinda nice.

Thanks. Big things are in store. Despite the fact that 2017 is going to be a terrible year, it also has the potential to be a good year if we don't all die first. Trust me that this post felt as awkward to write as it must have been to read.

WHAT MATTERS MOST

Posted in Quick Hits on December 30th, 2016 by Ed

Things that are A-OK on Facebook:

-Racial slurs
-Overt racism
-Doxxing
-Sexism that would make a 1950s Friars Club audience wince and think "Geez, take it easy pal"
-Fake news
-Copious profanity
-Fake profiles from scam marketers

Things that get you banned from Facebook for seven days:

-Posting a screenshot of a message some random stranger sent you reading, "You are a fucking pussy and allow your minions to speak, and attack, on your behalf. Nice. Fuck off."

Makes sense to me. See you back there in a week!

DIRE STRAITS

Posted in Rants on December 26th, 2016 by Ed

It was not the closest the US and USSR came to blows during the Cold War, but the Turkish Straits crisis of 1946 was both the first and easily the most thoroughly forgotten brush with World War III.

Briefly, at the end of World War II the Soviets under Stalin made a laudably ballsy attempt to solve one of its oldest strategic, economic, and political handicaps. For all its globe-spanning size, neither today's Russia or the former USSR lacks one very basic and crucial feature: a year-around ice free shipping port. Its eastern ports are not economically and militarily useful because they are thousands of miles from European Russia, and its northern ports like Murmansk and Leningrad / St. Petersburg (Not to be confused with the one in Florida, aka "America's Strip Club") freeze over during the winter.

Of course the country has port access in other places, but all involve a second country. Most prominently, the Black Sea provides year-around access to the Mediterranean (and thus the world) but requires passage through two narrow straits that pass through Turkey – the Bosphorous and the ones I have never once spelled correctly on the first try, the Dardanelles. If you recall, two years ago we refreshed our memories about how important this Black Sea outlet to the world is to the Russians when they moved aggressively into Ukraine to secure access via the Crimea. There was also a thing called the Crimean War a while back. It's safe to say this is kind of a big thing to Russia. (As a side note, Soviet Georgia had territorial claims on part of Turkey, which the Russian government includes today in their territorial claim over, well, all of its former republics)

In the period of exhaustion and confusion that followed WWII, the Soviets formally demanded that Turkey allow it to place bases on the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. Later the demand evolved to joint Soviet-Turkish administration of the straits, effectively giving the USSR not only access to but sovereignty over the seaway. Harry Truman, always one for subtlety, used the pretense of needing to repatriate the remains of the recently deceased Turkish ambassador to the US to send the battleship USS Missouri and a half-dozen other Big Stick vessels to Turkey to sail around and look really impressive. The Soviets responded by conducting "exercises" in the Black Sea within spitting distance of the Turkish shores. In a then-classified telegram, American diplomat Dean Acheson described the situation in a way that would come to define the Cold War:

In our opinion the primary objective of the Soviet Union is to obtain control over Turkey. We believe that if the Soviet Union succeeds in introducing into Turkey armed forces with the ostensible purpose of enforcing the joint control of the Straits, the Soviet Union will use these forces in order to obtain control over Turkey…. In our opinion, therefore, the time has come when we must decide that we shall resist with all means at our disposal any Soviet aggression and in particular, because the case of Turkey would be so clear, any Soviet aggression against Turkey. In carrying this policy our words and acts will only carry conviction to the Soviet Union if they are formulated against the background of an inner conviction and determination on our part that we cannot permit Turkey to become the object of Soviet aggression.

Even Stalin, as belligerent as they come, recognized that the Russians were not actually prepared to fight over the straits or anything else in the Summer of 1946. The USSR dropped its formal request to take possession of the two straits but, for face-saving purposes, maintained its "opinion" that the Soviets should have sovereignty over them. When Stalin died they abandoned the issue altogether. By then it was too late, though. The acquisitive stares and saber-rattlings of the Soviet Union sent Turkey running for the sweet protective embrace of NATO and $100,000,000 in economic aid in 1952.

As the story of the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey unfolds, it's worth keeping in mind that successive Russian governments have been searching for a reason to fight this fight for a couple of centuries. It's a good thing we have such a strong visionary leader ready to stand up against Russian aggression. A modern day Harry Truman.

T-SHIRT "300"

Posted in Quick Hits on December 22nd, 2016 by Ed

The response to the "Everything is Terrible" t-shirts exceeded all possible expectations, and I'll have to order a few hundred (!!!) more early next year. For now, all sizes are sold out except for the last few I have in the bottom of the box: 4 men's XL, 2 men's L, 1 men's M, and two women's v-neck M. If you're interested in any of those sizes, take them off my hands here. Until I get more delivered, sate your needs with Clurb shirts and bumper stickers (I saw my first one in the wild, it's majestic.)

FISCHER-PRICE "MY FIRST DICTATORSHIP" KIT

Posted in Quick Hits on December 22nd, 2016 by Ed

As first reported in NY Mag, Trump plans to maintain his own private security detail while in the White House. That can serve no conceivable purpose other than to circumvent the Secret Service and, you know, the basic tenets of legal conduct that it adheres to. He's just smart enough to realize that the Secret Service isn't going to go around beating up protesters at his command. You know who will? Glorified mall cop private security guards.

I'm starting to wonder if part of the transition plan involved Googling "All the things Hitler did" and then seeing how many of them he could imitate before anyone could stop him. Hitler analogies are reductive and hyperbolic in most cases, anyone who doesn't know about the centrality of a party security apparatus loyal only to Hitler himself and functionally above the law to the erosion of the German state in the 1930s should read up on it presently. References like "SA" and "Sturmabteilung" probably don't mean much to most Americans today – hell, a lot of us couldn't give a coherent explanation of "Nazi" at this point – but between Trump's army of shut-ins ready to harass and bombard with death threats anyone he identifies as The Enemy and this bizarre move toward sidestepping the legal restrictions on Federal law enforcement employees, we may be in for a crash course.

WHY STOP NOW

Posted in Quick Hits on December 19th, 2016 by Ed

We've spent the better part of 18 months predicting one Donald Trump moment after another will be the straw that breaks the camel's back, the moment where we announce that we've proven ourselves willing to put up with quite a lot but this time he has Gone Too Far. And then the election rolled around and we proved that we really have no values, ethics, or standards for behavior as a society that we're not willing to waive when the prospect of a tax cut and cracking down on scary brown people is on offer. Right-wingers have always been good at the hypocrisy of preaching civility and Family Values for everyone but themselves, but it's not far-fetched to describe 2016 as having taken it to a new level.

So when the Russian hacking stuff came out after the election – which, to be clear, I don't believe told us anything that anyone paying attention could not have concluded with confidence prior to the election – I was embarrassed to find myself thinking yet again, "Well this time he's gone too far." Cut me a little bit of slack, though. If there's one thing that old white people, and old white conservatives in particular, could not conceivably go soft on it would be The Russians. We are a nation of people literally raised to hate, fear, and mistrust The Russians even when there is no logical reason to do so and even (or especially) when we don't quite understand why. They are the bad guys, period. They always have been and they always will be. Even abandoning communism didn't change the dynamic. America Good, Russia Bad.

Except, of course, when they actively attempt to screw Hillary Clinton. Then they're our pals, or at the very least they are inept and harmless.

The closest thing to a silver lining from this year is the way we will emerge from it with a much clearer understanding of American conservatism in its current incarnation; at its core, it really is just authoritarianism. They can try to decorate it with bows and ribbons and puerile rhetoric about God and Guns and Freedom, but this man-crush on Putin gives the lie to all of it. The closest thing to a legitimate use of "freedom" by anyone willing to cozy up with that guy is a selfish, authoritarian one. We love freedom in the sense that everyone should be free to do as they please as long as they do exactly as I do.

When you're willing to excuse away a foreign country trying to fuck with our presidential election what you're really saying is that you've gone so far in on this hand that you don't see any reason to stop now even when logic and judgment dictate that you should. This is like a gambler down to his last $20 pouring it into a slot machine and figuring that having $0 to your name and $20 to your name are, if not economically or rationally identical, functionally so.

CURIOUS GAMBLE

Posted in Quick Hits on December 15th, 2016 by Ed

If you feel like you've been in withdrawal from the pre-election "We talked to Trump voters and you won't believe the stupid things they say" pieces, Vox has you covered.

Despite the tone of the previous sentence, this Sarah Kliff piece is actually pretty good. It interviews rural Kentuckians who stand to lose their health coverage (which they gripe about in terms of price, granted) if Trump goes through on his promise to repeal the ACA. Two things stand out.

1. Contrary to the widely held view that Trump voters are low on information, these people (all of whom voted for him) appear to be well aware of his promise to repeal the ACA and "replace" it with…well, don't worry about that part. Whatever it is will be great. So a lack of information is not the problem here. They have chosen the curious strategy of assuming that even though he said he intends to repeal it on his first day in office, he will not actually do so. "Too many people depend on it" and "You can't just take insurance away from all these people" are the common themes here.

That is a really odd roll of the dice compared to the other candidate who promised to continue or expand the law. Personally, I wouldn't put a lot of faith in a man who literally craps in a solid gold toilet to care suddenly about some Appalachian yokels' subsidized health insurance. And anyone who thinks that the current crop of congressional Republicans "wouldn't do that" is somewhere between delusional and willfully obtuse. The people in charge of the GOP on the Hill right now are the son the rest of the family knows will unplug Mom's respirator when the time comes. As for the political fallout of a Republican president and unified Congress taking away health insurance from tens of millions of people, after what we have seen in 2016 I'm sure they will construct and successfully sell some narrative explaining how it is all somehow the fault of Democrats. The art and science of creating one's own reality is advanced enough to pull it off.

2. I know many people in the situation mentioned throughout the piece – working poor who pay a lot for very bad insurance because they are Not Poor Enough. Medicaid is better and cheaper than the bottom end of the private market. It's not even a close call. Rather than jumping on the resentment bandwagon and finding a way to take Medicaid away from people in poverty, we could, you know, find a way to improve what is available for people just over the poverty cutoff. The nihilism of "If I don't have anything nice, nobody else can either" is a race to a bottom that we are getting dangerously close to reaching.

THE ANNA KARENINA PRINCIPLE

Posted in Rants on December 12th, 2016 by Ed

Life isn't fair. To prove it, compare the amount of time it takes to build something with the time required to destroy it. Spend a few hours on a sand castle and someone can knock it down in about ten seconds.

Pick any kind of organization – a family, a corporation, a sports team, a social circle, a volunteer group – and the amount of time and effort required to make it functional and successful is vastly disproportional to the ease with which everything falls apart. One person or one bad decision is all that it takes in some cases to ruin something that was the product of thousands of people and an equal number of good decisions.

In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy states that "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." It emphasizes that in order to make something successful it's often necessary to avoid dozens of potential mistakes but any one of a large number of potential mistakes will result in failure. This is why, for better or worse, most organizations succeed or fail based on decisions made at the top. Leadership is important – overly so, in many cases – because it alone has the power to make the kinds of mistakes that can be fatal.

This is important to remember as we watch the painfully long roll-out of an impending Trump administration that all but promises to set the country back a few decades in a matter of months. Governing for people of these ideological stripes is easy in the same way that dynamiting a skyscraper is easier than building one. Liberals and centrists are at the constant disadvantage of trying to create things that require a dozen different things to be executed nearly flawlessly, while anti-government conservatives can dismantle it or render it useless in no time at all.

The really troubling part of this clown car of losers getting to sit at the controls is not that they will do damage to the economy, national security, civil rights, and the environment. What is alarming is the years it will take to undo. We could suck it up and live with a couple of bad years, but the consequences of those bad years will linger long after the people responsible for it have returned to obscurity where they belong.

Progress is incremental. Regression is precipitous. This is going to be bad.