Good News / Bad News / Other Bad News

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Obama Administration

It’s rather sad that the good news today is that a cop is going to be indicted for murdering an unarmed black man. See also Zandar from this morning before the announcement.

Elsewhere: I haven’t had time to write about them, but you’ve probably heard about the BS “string” videos some Fetus People made to entrap Planned Parenthood. Someone asked Hillary Clinton about them, and she fudged, calling the videos “disturbing.”

Fudging and not taking firm stands until she knows where the opinion polls are old tools in HRC’s toolbox, but she’s treading on unusually dangerous ground here. Her biggest fans are liberal/progressive middle- and upper-class white women who are not going to take kindly to the dissing of PP. Remember what happened to the Susan B. Komen Foundation?

I’m ambivalent about Clinton, but I always thought she could be counted on regarding feminist and reproductive rights issues. If she’s squishy on Planned Parenthood, that’s a big mark against her.

She also tap danced around a question about the Keystone XL Pipeline this morning. Not smart.

Elsewhere: The whole Internet and much of television is in an uproar over the gruesome shooting death of Cecil the Lion. In brief, Cecil was a famous and much loved lion of Zimbabwe who was lured out of a wildlife preserve and shot with an arrow by a dentist from Minnesota. The lion had to be tracked for 40 hours before the dentist and his “guides” could finish him off.

Now the dentist has closed h is practice and gone into hiding, and fears for his life. Lots of people looked up personal information about him and published it on the Web, a practice I do not condone. But the public shaming is the least he deserves. I’m not opposed on principle to all hunting, even though I wouldn’t do it myself, but to me there’s something obscene and depraved about killing a beautiful, healthy animal for fun. If public shaming stops at least some big game hunting, I’m all for it. As long as nobody gets hurt.

There has been some grumbling about all the awful things going on in the world, and why are people getting their panties in a bunch over a lion. Maybe it’s because there are so many awful things going on in the world, that when some jerk for no good reason destroys a thing that was good, that made the world a little brighter, it’s too sad.

Elsewhere: See Steve M about the 17-year-old who died because a 911 dispatcher wouldn’t send help. The dispatcher was offended by the caller’s language, apparently.

Elsewhere: It’s damn hot in Brooklyn. I’ll cheer up when the temperature goes down.

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Next Step: Call Luca Brasi

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Bad Hair, Republican Party

As I predicted, The Donald is still on top of the GOP presidential polls, including in some early primary states. If a bunch of state primaries were held today, Trump would be the GOP nominee.

Joan Walsh thinks she has found the tidbit that will end Trump: A 1989 biography with details of brutality toward his then-wife, Ivana, and then Trump’s lawyer went ballistic on Politico writers who were using the details in the story. I don’t see how brutality toward a wife or a nasty lawyer will register as negatives with Trump supporters, though. It’s also the case that Ivana has disavowed the story, which makes it kind of a non-starter.

Reince and Co. are going to have to get tough and make The Donald an offer he can’t refuse. If there is such a thing.

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Conservatives and the Conceit of Happiness

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conservatism, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Steve M has a worthwhile post up about an NY Times column by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. A.C. Brooks thinks we Americans should be more optimistic. In particular we need optimistic leaders, he said, and politicians have to choose whether they will project optimism (good) or pessimism (bad).

While the citizenry may vacillate, leaders generally have to select one disposition or the other. Pessimism arouses fear and anger, while optimism inspires hope. Hope can accompany fear in times of extraordinary sacrifice (such as war), but this is rare. As a practical matter, a leader must choose.

This is rich, considering that it’s the U.S. Right that stays in power by keeping its base whipped into a seething frenzy of resentment and outrage. A.C. then claims a study found optimistic leaders to be more effective, and Steve M informs us that’s not what that study found. What it actually said was that leaders who project happiness are perceived to be better leaders, but they actually aren’t by any objective measure.

But I noticed a long time ago that righties place high value on a perception of happiness. For years we’ve been told that “studies say” conservatives are happier than liberals, and for years I have refused to believe this. They certainly don’t act happy (see above about seething frenzy of resentment and outrage). The “happiness” claim seems especially odd in light of a number of studies that have found conservatives to be more fearful than liberals. Fear and happiness do not co-exist.

I commented on this discrepancy back in 2006, noting that the “studies” showing conservative happiness were based entirely on self-reporting; in other words, conservatives must be happier because they rated themselves as happy.

So back then I speculated that “Conservatives on the whole are less introspective and more conformist than liberals. Thus, they are more likely to say they are happy because (a) they’re in denial about their own unhappiness, and (b) that’s what they think they’re supposed to say.”

Turns out that I was right. More recent studies based on more objective measures such as behavior and language analysis gave liberals an edge in the happiness department. Conservatives are more likely than liberals to “self-enhance.” Self-enhancement bias is defined by the science geeks as “the tendency to describe oneself more positively than a normative criterion would predict.” This is illustrated by the words of the great Anne Richards, who said of George H.W. Bush that he was born on third base and thought he’d hit a triple.

But then I continued to reflect whether I’ve ever much cared if my political leaders are “happy.” I’d say having a healthy sense of humor is a plus, but when you speak of happiness as a quality that is intrinsic to an individual, and is not just a passing condition, IMO you’re getting into trouble. And if you have to lie to yourself (see above about self-enhancing) to persuade yourself you are “happy,” does that even count?

(BTW, Buddhists make a distinction between happiness as an emotion and happiness as a cultivated mental state. The emotion happiness is a reaction to an object or circumstance, such as a gift or good fortune. This kind of happiness, while pleasant, is a temporary and empty thing. Happiness as a cultivated mental state is something like a mental habit of remaining balanced and content no matter what is going on “out there.” The way to achieve the second kind of happiness is to let go of self-clinging, greed, fear, and all that. More of a self-releasing than a self-enhancing.)

Reagan fans always make much of Saint Ronald of Blessed Memory’s famous “sunny disposition.” It always seemed to me that the “sunniness” was wrapped around a sour core of umbrage, as if he were perpetually reacting to a personal insult. The “sunniness” was largely an affectation, IMO. The guy was an actor, after all.

One might infer from this that righties want to believe Real America is just like Little House on the Prairie, except with cars and microwaves. And when they look out upon the land and can’t see what they want to see — largely because it isn’t there — it enrages them. Gosh darn it, they would be happy except for that dadblamed reality thing.

And this takes me back to the other Brooks, who petulantly whined that Ta-Nahisi Coates didn’t appreciate the American Dream and was in fact “dissolving the dream under the acid of an excessive realism.” Yes, when you wake up, dreams do dissolve. That’s generally not considered an argument for staying asleep, though.

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Stuff to Read

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Obama Administration

Trump: The Dark Heart of the Republican Party. Seriously witty.

David Roth’s Weak in Review: The Importance of Not Being an A-hole. Also seriously witty.

No, It’s Not Your Opinion. You’re Just Wrong. Refreshingly rational.

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No Surprises Here

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firearms, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

By the way, folks, you know that guy who killed two women and wounded several others in a movie theater in Louisiana the other day? He was an anti-feminist, anti-abortion, teabagger neo-Nazi whackjob.

He was opposed to women having a say in anything”: The ugly views of America’s latest mass shooter
Associates say John Russell Houser was an anti-feminist who supported fascist political movements

Portrait of Louisiana Killer: Liked Hitler and Hated Liberals

Lafayette Theater Shooter Fan of David Duke, Neo-Nazis, and Antigovernment Conspiracies

This guy was so far Right that even Jim Hoft couldn’t think of any way to argue he was really a liberal. However, Houser had a history of mental health issues, which righties are using to argue that his political views are irrelevant.

Dear Righties: If having “mental health issues” means political or religious motivations are irrelevant, then Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez can’t be called a terrorist. You can’t use mental health issues to excuse white men and not everybody else.

IMO most of the time in these situations, you’ve got someone with emotional or behavioral problems but who is not psychotic. “Not psychotic” means he was capable of making reasoned decisions and knowing right from wrong. So, it’s a combination of someone who is emotionally or socially distressed and who also has some big, honking opinions. Probably both factors need to be present to create a mass killer. This accounts for most terrorism as well, IMO.

Are Louisiana movie theaters “gun free zones,” by the way? I doubt it.

The bigger picture is how easily this guy got guns. He not only had a history of “mental health issues”; he also had a history of domestic violence (for which law enforcement seems to have given him lots of passes) and other threatening behavior. Steve M has details.

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It May Be Early to Call It a Pattern, but …

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blogging, Social Issues

Three apparently unrelated news stories are tied together by one factor. The news stories are:

  1. Rachel Dolezal and her attempt at race reassignment;
  2. Ariel Bradley, the “ISIS bride” from Tennessee who has gone all-in for jihad; and
  3. This week’s murder of five family members in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, allegedly by the oldest son.

The common factor is that the principles of these stories were all  home-schooled by parents who were tightly controlling and kept their children isolated from mainstream culture.

A few days ago Amanda Marcotte wrote an article that tied together the similarities between Dolezal and Bradley. They both were raised in such isolation, by rabidly controlling parents, that when they approached adulthood they either were compelled to invent new identities for themselves or create identities out of whole cloth that separated them from their upbringing. Marcotte writes,

BuzzFeed pieced together the 29-year-old Bradley’s story through conversations with her friends and a brief interview with her mother. Her friend Robert Parker says that Bradley was raised by a fundamentalist mother who was intent on keeping “her away from materials that would make her question Christianity.” Not only was Bradley homeschooled; she didn’t even learn to read until she was a preteen.

Bradley started rebelling against her parents in adolescence and spent her teens and early adulthood drifting from one identity to another, according to her friends. “It was like, when I first met her she was a Christian, and then she was a socialist, and then she was an atheist, and then a Muslim,” one friend explained. “As far as I could tell it was always in relation to whatever guy she was interested in, so if she meets a guy that’s an atheist then she’s an atheist, falls into that for a year.”’

Having not been allowed to become herself as she was growing up, she had to take a persona where she could find one.

I found Dolezal a bit baffling until I read about her upbringing by hyper-conservative Christian home schoolers who were also white supremacists. And who also adopted black children while being white supremacists. What little information has come to light makes the Dolezal family sound like a house of horrors. My guess is that adopting a black persona was a highly elaborate coping strategy for Dolezal. She wasn’t trying to perpetrate a hoax as much as she was deceiving herself as a way to distance herself from her upbringing. Or somehow work through her upbringing. Or both.

We don’t yet know if the Bever family of Broken Arrow were religious fundamentalists, but the neighbors are saying that the parents barely let the children out of the house.

While the community was left shocked by the brutal violence, the neighbor tells PEOPLE that something hasn’t seemed right with that family for a long time.

“They’re very reclusive,” the neighbor says. “The kids don’t come out of the house.”

She adds: “It’s a very big house, but I’ve only ever seen a boy once and they’ve been here for many, many years. We only really knew they had kids because they have a pool and there are toys outside. But they don’t come out.”

The neighbor says the kids were homeschooled by a married couple who kept the children “on a very short leash.”

“It’s weird because they’re old enough to drive,” she says of the detained brothers, “but I’ve never seen them. And I’ve never seen a friend come to the house at all.”

She continues: “They never open the blinds. The windows are never open.

“It’s very scary.”

We don’t know for certain that the oldest son Robert Bever and possibly another son, both now in custody, really did stab and axe their parents, two younger brothers and a sister. I will try to keep track as more information comes out. But it’s past time we needed to pay attention to the “home schooling” movement and take care it’s not fostering and perpetrating physical and psychological abuse.

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There Is No Invisible Hand

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big picture stuff, economy

This cartoon sums a lot up for me. I remember back in the 1980s when I was living in New Jersey and looking for a decent, affordable apartment for me and two little kids. Nobody was building affordable apartments. There was much building of McMansions, yes, but there there was a shortage of decent lower-rent apartments. And every day I passed a huge, newly built industrial/office complex that was completely empty. Months went past; it remained empty. There just wasn’t that much demand for office space, I guess, or else the builders miscalculated what people would be willing to pay in rent. And I understand there’s a glut of McMansions in the New Jersey real estate market these days.

See also “The Old Suburban Office Park Is the New American Ghost Town.”

Now, proponents of Free Market capitalism will probably argue that the Free Market was not at fault; it was bankers, or the Federal Reserve, or something else that caused investment in the wrong thing. But this assumes that the Free Market is a thing that exists out in the ether somewhere entirely separate from banks and financial policy, separate from land and labor, separate from money and infrastructure.

This was published about a year ago, and I’m sorry I didn’t notice it before.

Polanyi’s core thesis is that there is no such thing as a free market; there never has been, nor can there ever be. Indeed he calls the very idea of an economy independent of government and political institutions a “stark utopia”—utopian because it is unrealizable, and the effort to bring it into being is doomed to fail and will inevitably produce dystopian consequences. While markets are necessary for any functioning economy, Polanyi argues that the attempt to create a market society is fundamentally threatening to human society and the common good.  In the first instance the market is simply one of many different social institutions; the second represents the effort to subject not just real commodities (computers and widgets) to market principles but virtually all of what makes social life possible, including clean air and water, education, health care, personal, legal, and social security, and the right to earn a livelihood. When these public goods and social necessities (what Polanyi calls “fictitious commodities”) are treated as if they are commodities produced for sale on the market, rather than protected rights, our social world is endangered and major crises will ensue.

Free market doctrine aims to liberate the economy from government “interference”, but Polanyi challenges the very idea that markets and governments are separate and autonomous entities. Government action is not some kind of “interference” in the autonomous sphere of economic activity; there simply is no economy without government rules and institutions. It is not just that society depends on roads, schools, a justice system, and other public goods that only government can provide. It is that all of the key inputs into the economy—land, labor, and money—are only created and sustained through continuous government action. The employment system, the arrangements for buying and selling real estate, and the supplies of money and credit are organized and maintained through the exercise of government’s rules, regulations, and powers.

The article goes on to argue that what we all call “deregulation” is really “re-regulation.” “Government continues to regulate, but instead of acting to protect workers, consumers, and citizens, it devised new policies aimed to help giant corporate and financial institutions maximize their returns through revised anti-trust laws, seemingly bottomless bank bailouts, and increased impediments to unionization.”

Our “socialist” mayor, Bill de Blasio, has made the creation of decent low-income housing in NYC a priority, bless him. The city needs this desperately. The “free market” doesn’t provide low income housing here. NYC is a place in which, if you build it, rich people will come and pay ridiculous amounts of money for it. But that means the “free market” only caters to them. There are new high-rise apartment buildings going up all over the place in Brooklyn; rent for a basic one-bedroom unit averages about $2,800 a month, I understand.

The people who have made free market capitalism their religion are certain that as long as government doesn’t interfere, the Holy Free Market (blessed be It) will naturally provide whatever anyone needs. But in truth the Free Market doesn’t give a hoo-haw about what people need. The Free Market will dedicate infinite resources to filling even the frivolous desires of the wealthy; everyone else is just out of luck, sometimes even for life’s necessities.

The Free Market also is wasteful and destructive, depleting resources for short-term profit without thought to the future; using up materials and resources for buildings that sit empty and consumer products that end up in landfills after only two or three years of use. The Free Market refuses to maintain infrastructure, will not safely dispose of hazardous waste unless forced to, and will not clean up the ecosystems it destroys. The Free Market would rather kill coal miners than invest in safety precautions.

Because, you see, there is no “Free Market”; there is no benevolent “invisible hand” that turns individual self-interest into common good. There are just people scrambling to make as much money as they can, and as long as a portion of those people don’t care who they hurt in the process, the results often will not be benevolent at all.

Henry Ferrell — the same guy who wrote the article quoted above — today has a post at Washington Monthly about Very Serious People. He’s talking here about foreign policy, but it applies to economic policy as well.

  1. Everyone has a mix of beliefs, some of which are right, and some wrong.
  2. Everyone co-exists in a social system that tends to value, heavily reinforce and widely disseminate some people’s beliefs while disparaging, heavily discounting, and tending to limit the circulation of certain other people’s beliefs. This bias is not random, but instead reflects and reinforces existing power structures and asymmetries.
  3. People whose beliefs are reinforced and widely circulated so that they are socially and politically influential, even when they are manifestly wrong, are Very Serious People. The system provides them with no incentives to admit error or perhaps to understand that they have erred, even when their mistakes have devastating consequences.

We’ve been fed this fantasy about “free markets” lo these many years, and the fantasy won’t die because the VSPs believe it. But from where I sit that fantasy is not just destroying lives; it’s destroying the planet.

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Reverse Wedging

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Republican Party, The Smarter Brother

When the nuclear deal with Iran was first announced, a number of right-wing media sources gleefully speculated that it would hurt Hillary Clinton — for example —

Republicans want to yoke Mrs. Clinton to the Iran deal, betting that voters—particularly those in the normally Democratic Jewish community—will see the accord as a capitulation that in the end will lead to Iran getting nuclear weapons. Exit polls show that Mr. Obama won 69% of the Jewish vote in 2012, which was 10 percentage points less than Al Gore’s share in 2000, according to the Pew Research Center.

WSJ has been seeing “cracks” in the Jewish-Democratic alliance for months. Whether there are any cracks other than in WSJ’s head I cannot say. But even before the agreement was announced, polls showed that American Jews were more likely than other Americans to want an agreement with Iran. I suspect American Jews on the whole are better informed about Iran than other Americans and have a few clues about what’s at stake.

I haven’t seen any post-agreement polls that call out Jewish opinion specifically. Jewish-American organizations are lining up on both sides of the issue, along expected lines, but whether that will change the minds of Jewish-American voters remains to be seen.

An ABC News / Washington Post poll taken last week shows the American public supporting the agreement, 56 percent to 37 percent. A large part of the people supporting the agreement are skeptical it will work, but want to give it a try, anyway. For the record, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley have all expressed support for the deal.

However, I wrote a few days ago, Republican politicians are stumbling all over themselves competing for Biggest Trash Talker of the Iran Deal. This week’s award for Most Reckless Trash Talker possibly goes to Scott Walker, who not only has promised to end the deal on his first day in office, but said that he may have to take military action on his first day in office. Greg Sargent writes,

A dispute has erupted between Scott Walker and Jeb Bush over how to handle the task of undoing Obama’s Iran deal as president, with Bush hinting that Walker is approaching the issue with a lack of maturity, and Walker suggesting that Bush is not zealous enough about confronting the enemy.

Walker is also saying that it’s “very possible” the next president will have to take military action on Day One of his presidency — though it’s unclear whether he means against Iran in particular, or more generally.

The argument says a lot about the two candidates’ differing calculations with regard to the level of nuance GOP primary voters are prepared to entertain about the Iran deal, and more broadly, about foreign policy in general.

Foreign policy experts (the non-Zionist ones anyway) are fairly unanimous that the deal could prevent war and a nuclear-armed Iran, whereas no deal would likely either lead to war or a nuclear-armed Iran. And I really don’t think the American people on the whole are in the mood for starting more wars or electing some guy who thinks he may have to declare war as soon as he takes his hand off the Bible on inauguration day.

Barring unforeseeable developments, I don’t see the deal hurting Dems, including HRC. It could easily hurt Republicans, though.

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Help Me Out Here

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liberalism and progressivism, self-destruction

Please read this and then talk me down from the fear that we’re about to replay the 1972 Democratic Convention. I’d appreciate it.

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The Twilight of the Elites

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Obama Administration

It strikes me that the “elite” of both of our political parties are showing signs of being out of touch with their bases.

Democratic Party insiders have cruised along these past several years assuming that 2016 will be a Hillary Clinton coronation; no other candidates need apply. Odds are still high that HRC will get the nomination, but Bernie Sanders is making her work for it.

But the Dems long have been out of touch with the base; I’ve said for years that the Dem establishment acts as if it doesn’t want to be seen with actual progressive activists in public. The vast chasm between the Republican establishment and the schmos who vote for Republican candidates is a relatively new thing.

Right now I’m seeing all kinds of headlines from right-wing sources and mainstream media saying that the Trump campaign is toast. As I wrote yesterday, and as Josh Marshall writes today, the elites may be in for a shock.

Let’s not forget: these are supporters who have cheered Trump as he’s called Mexicans rapists and criminals and all the rest. They don’t have delicate sensibilities. Let’s also not forget that these kinds of attacks on McCain (actually considerably uglier ones) have a long history among hard-core base Republicans, just the folks Trump is spiking with. They claim he had a lackluster career before his capture (some real truth in that) and they hint he may have been turned in some way by captors or betrayed his fellow POWs during his captivity (zero evidence for this). But even beyond the hard-core fringe that believes those things, McCain is just really not popular with base Republicans, especially not those who define themselves around the immigration issue. He’s the ultimate RINO. All of which is to say, if you’re someone who’s cheered to Trump’s clown car of aggression and derp over recent weeks, I see little here that will make you reconsider your enthusiasm. In fact, I see a lot that will make you see this as more of a brash truth-teller who won’t take any crap from the Republican establishment, the media or its favored leaders.

At the risk of stating the obvious, resurrecting Mitt Romney to denounce Trump or having Jeb or the increasingly hapless Reince Priebus do so is unlikely to shift this perception of what’s going on.

This might shock Reince Priebus, but I doubt many of the hard-core rightie base know who he is. See also Steve M’s roundup of rightie reaction to Trump’s McCain bashing.

Ten and more years ago, the people directing Republican politics could play their voters like a fiddle. About ten years ago I thought I saw the beginning of some fissures regarding the issue of immigration, but that was about it.  Now, nobody seems to be in charge. The Wall Street Journal and National Review are denouncing Trump in no uncertain terms. But who the bleep reads the Wall Street Journal and National Review? Not the GOP base, I don’t think.

See, the base likes its assholery pure and undiluted. The elites are more sensitive, at least when one of their own are being slimed. Other people, not so much. But with the elites, selective hate speech is a means to an end. With the base, the hate speech is the end.

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