The Race Up Crazy Hill

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Obama Administration

Josh Marshall writes about the “declining marginal value of crazy“:

Several days ago, perennial presidential candidate Mike Huckabee charged that President Obama was ready to lead Israeli Jews “to the ovens.” A few days later, he said he might use not only the FBI but even the US military to prevent abortions. And around the same time, Ted Cruz called Obama the world’s biggest funder of Islamic terrorism. There was a day when cracks like these would have stopped the political world in its tracks, spurring transgressive glee from supporters and outrage from liberals and normal people. But this summer, they’ve struggled to break through. And the reason is obvious: Donald Trump has flooded the market with a new, purer brand of Crazy that has left the other candidates scrambling and basically unable to compete.

Every few days, when Trump says something really outrageous, the Villagers will use their op ed privileges to tsk tsk that Trump will now fade from political view. And then the next polls come out, and he’s still leading the GOP field.

The crazy shtick is working.

Ted Cruz is apparently doubling down on the crazy, frantically trying to ensure a spot in the GOP debates, I suspect. He has just made a video of himself cooking bacon by wrapping it around the barrel of a machine gun. Because, you know, nothing says “gravitas” and “presidential” like some stunt involving a machine gun and bacon. And you need to read Steve M’s post on this.

It appears that Cruz will make the cut for the first GOP debate, but Bobby Jindal probably will be out. Jindal has made a hail-mary pass, however. He had called for an investigation of Planned Parenthood because of the hoax videos accusing PP of selling aborted fetus parts for profit. However, he seems to have decided to not wait for the results and went ahead and cancelled PP’s Medicaid provider contract, thereby depriving thousands of women from reproductive health care. Note that other states investigating PP are finding that PP is not selling fetus parts or doing anything else illegal.

I believe the first debate is August 6, this Thursday.

Joan Walsh ties Trump support to the “psycho-sexual insecurity” combined with white supremacism that animates the far Right.

This is not merely a new way to shout “RINO.” It’s a call to make the GOP an explicitly racist party, devoted to the defense of whites. It’s no accident it’s taken off in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign launch/performance art, where he attacked illegal Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals.”

White nationalist Richard Spencer of the National Policy Institute explained Trump’s appeal to Dave Weigel: “a) he is a tougher, superior man than ‘conservatives’ (which isn’t saying much), and b) he seems to grasp the demographic displacement of European-Americans on a visceral level. We see some hope there.”

Walsh also says the GOP “can’t wean itself from its reliance on overt and coded racial appeals to turn out its 90-percent-white voter base.”

The swaggering “common-sense” racism of Donald Trump is touching something deep in the conservative psyche.

Jeb Bush apparently thinks he can use Trump to beat Scott Walker and the 15 other uninspiring Republican contenders and win the GOP nomination. But the Trump faction is determined to tear apart the party to make its racism explicit rather than coded. All the money in the world isn’t going to let Bush chase this conflict away.

So, there it is. The dog whistles did their job, but now the dogs expect to be fed.

_________

There is some good news. The push to defund Planned Parenthood failed in the Senate, 53-46. A few Republicans voted with the Dems; a few Dems voted with Republicans. I don’t have a complete list of names, though. From the Guardian:

“I just can’t see how we can ensure that all the patients can be absorbed by alternative healthcare providers,” said Maine Republican Susan Collins, who sponsored a compromise amendment with Mark Kirk of Illinois, which calls for more investigation of the practice first.

“The best way to reduce the number of abortions is to ensure that women have access to services they need to protect against unwanted pregnancy,” added Collins.

The point was echoed by independent Maine senator Angus King, who argued that it was counter-productive to defund contraceptive services if you were worried about abortion.

“The issue is not about abortion, it’s about fetal tissue and uses of fetal tissue and whether it should be allowed to be used for medical research, but that’s a debate we should have on that issue,” said King.

“This bill is like attacking Brazil after Pearl Harbor: it’s a vigorous response but it’s the wrong target.”

Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren went further still, arguing the bill was “just one more piece of a deliberate, methodical orchestrated rightwing attack on women’s rights”.

“Do have any idea what year it is?” she demanded of Republicans in the Senate chamber. “Did you fall down and bang your head and wake up and think it was the 1950s?”

You go, Liz Warren.

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Why We’re Doomed: Republican Senators

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Republican Party, Stupid Violent Things

Just read Not Fit to Lead: The Iran hearings have shown how the Republican Party can no longer be trusted with the presidency by William Saletan. Yeah, I know, it’s William Saletan. But read it anyway.

Snips:

In all three hearings, Kerry explained how the inspection and verification measures in the Iran deal are designed to rectify flaws that led to the failure of the North Korean nuclear agreement. He spent much of his opening statement outlining these differences. This made no impression. When the Senate held its next hearing a week later, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presiding Republican, dismissed the Iran agreement with a quip: “How did that North Korean deal work out for you?”

The concept of negotiation seems to elude them:

At the Tuesday hearing, Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania told Kerry we should demand a better deal, “and if the ayatollah doesn’t like it and doesn’t want to negotiate it, oh, ‘boo-hoo.’ We’re here for America.” Weber, speaking for others in his party, ridiculed Kerry’s concerns about Iranian distrust of the U.S.: “Me and my colleagues were up here thinking, ‘Who cares?’ ” When Kerry replied that the Iranians wouldn’t have negotiated on Weber’s terms, the congressman scoffed, “Oh, my heart pains for them.” These lawmakers don’t seem to understand that much of a negotiator’s job consists of understanding, caring about, and accommodating the other side’s concerns.

The call of the chickenhawk is heard through the land:

Graham is running for president as a foreign-policy expert. But three hours of testimony on Wednesday about the difficulties of using military force to stop Iran’s nuclear program taught him nothing. Wrapping up the hearing, Graham demanded that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter answer a simple question: “Who wins the war between us and Iran? Who wins? Do you have any doubt who wins?” When he didn’t get the prompt answer he wanted, Graham thunderously answered the question himself: “We win!” He sounded like a football coach delivering a pep talk. The differences between football and war—what “winning” means, and what it costs—didn’t enter into his equation.

Miz Lindsey used to call himself a Gulf War veteran. He did serve in the Air National Guard during the Persian Gulf War, but his service didn’t take him outside of South Carolina.

Other highlights: Ted Cruz, who never served a day in uniform, exchanged these words with John Kerry:

Cruz: Gen. Soleimani, the head of the al-Quds forces, has more blood of American service members on his hands than any living terrorist. Under this agreement, the sanctions under Gen. Soleimani are lifted. Now, Secretary Kerry said to the families of those men and women who gave their lives, who were killed by Gen. Soleimani, we should apologize. …

Kerry: Sir, I never said the word apology. I never mentioned apologize. I said we should thank them for their extraordinary service. I never said the word apologize. Please, don’t distort my words.

Cruz: Secretary Kerry, it is duly noted you don’t apologize to the family members of the service members who were murdered by the Iranian military.

Kerry: That’s not what I said, senator. [I said] I thank them for their extraordinary service and I would remind them that the United States of America will never take the sanctions off Qasem Soleimani.

Cruz: Sir, I just want to clarify. Do you apologize or not?

This truly is Joe McCarthy territory. Cruz also distinguished himself in an exchange with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who has a PhD in theoretical physics from Stanford and who was once the head of the physics department at MIT. Moniz testified that he had not read a specific report about EMPs, or electromagnetic pulses. However, “if you look at our Quadrennial Energy Review published in April, we do identify EMP as a risk to transformers, and we are beginning to try to work up a response to that.” Here is what Cruz did with that bit of data:

Cruz: You told the United States Senate you hadn’t read the congressionally mandated commission on EMPs and that you didn’t know what an EMP was.

Moniz: That is incorrect. I said I did not know this 2008 report recommendations. I said I was quite familiar with the issue, and we all know about EMPs from airburst nuclear weapons.

Cruz: Secretary, let me read the testimony verbatim so that I don’t mischaracterize you. … “Senator Johnson: ‘Are you familiar with the EMPs commission 2008 report?’ ‘No, I am not, sir.’ ‘You’re not? Do you know—do you know what an EMP is?’ ‘You’ll have to explain it to me, please.’ ” I find that stunning. …

Moniz: That was about the report. If you read further in the testimony, you will see my explicit statement. Of course I know about the issue.

Cruz: Do you agree that an EMP detonated by Iran in the atmosphere could kill tens of millions of Americans? …

Moniz: It depends upon the specifics. These are highly variable—

Cruz: Does that mean, yes, it could?

Moniz: I said it is highly variable in its—

Cruz: OK. You’re refusing to answer the question.

I don’t hate people easily, but Cruz is testing me.

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Conservative-Industrial Complex

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conservatism, Republican Party, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

My only quibble (so far) about “‘They Don’t Give a Damn about Governing': Conservative Media’s Influence on the Republican Party,” published by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, is that “conservative media” is just one part of a larger, integrated right-wing infrastructure that has been driving U.S. foreign and domestic policy for at least 40 years.

Conservative media are the most visible part of the infrastructure, but conservative media alone wouldn’t be anything without what the study’s author calls the Conservative-Industrial Complex. This would be “the network of no-compromise advocacy groups financed by the Kochs and other right-wing patrons,” the author, Jackie Calmes, writes.

David Roberts at Vox spells it out

There are now hundreds of conservative media outlets, not only the national ones you’ve heard of but regional, local, and niche outlets that speak directly and exclusively to the conservative (read: older white male) demographic. It’s a full media ecosystem; there’s no longer any need for conservatives to stray outside it to stay informed, or “informed.”

Alongside the growth in media (and funded by many of the same people) has emerged a newly muscular ideological machinery. Together they form what political scientist Richard Meagher half-jokingly calls “the vast right-wing conspiracy”:

Conservative talk radio, print publications, television networks, and internet sites have numerous connections, both direct and indirect, with the think tanks, advocacy organizations, academic research centers, and foundations that develop and promote the Right’s policy agenda.

If you spend much time at Sourcewatch, you begin to see how the whole infrastructure, from media outlets, Heritage Foundation and other “think tanks,” and the mostly astroturf advocacy organizations are all being funded by a relatively small group. Oh, and don’t forget ALEC. Time and time again, you run into the same few names.  The Koch boys are prominent, of course, but other names that come up frequently include the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Scaife Foundations and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation.

In short, dozens of allegedly independent right-wing organizations are all being bankrolled by a relatively small group of foundations. And as Charles Pierce keeps pointing out, it’s these people who are driving the Right’s agenda, not the Republican Party.

It has been an article of faith in this shebeen almost since we opened it in 2011 that there is no actual Republican party in any real sense any more. Ever since the Supreme Court legalized influence-peddling in its Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, there only has been a loosely held group of independent franchises who are doing business for themselves under the Republican Party brand. This is why the suits belonging to obvious anagram Reince Preibus are so very empty.

Put another way, the Republican Party has lost control of this monster and really isn’t in charge of anything any more. The GOP exists only as a facade, or as part of the nominal political infrastructure that must be used in elections.

The take-aways from all this:

  • Calmes is right that they don’t give a damn about governing. The puppet masters (the Koch boys et al.) have no interest whatsoever in governing. They are looking out for their own interests.
  • A big chunk of the American electorate now gets all of its “information” about current events from the right-wing media infrastructure, meaning they soak in propaganda 24/7 and have no clue what’s actually going on.
  • There is no leftie equivalent of the right-wing infrastructure.

Operatives in both parties and independent observers generally agree that left-wing media do not come near conservative media in terms of the number of outlets, size of audience and political influence, despite the frequent parallels drawn between Fox and MSNBC, for example, or RedState and DailyKos, Hannity and Rachel Maddow. “It’s my conviction that there’s no comparison,” said Price, the Democratic congressman and political scientist. Pressure on Democratic politicians like him, Price said, comes less from left-leaning media than from liberal advocacy organizations like labor unions, environmental groups and women’s and minority rights organizations. …

…Arceneaux, the political scientist whose focus is partisan media, said politically engaged Americans on the right and the left “just consume news in a different way.” Liberals favor comedy satire shows like Jon Stewart’s, for example. Leftwing pundits initially had a bigger presence than conservatives among bloggers when the Internet first took hold, though no longer. As for radio and TV talk shows, Arceneaux said, “For whatever reason, liberal ideologues aren’t drawn to that.” One reason is suggested by Hemmer, who in her coming book Messengers of the Right also writes of less successful messengers of the left. “MSNBC, and earlier, Air America” – a short-lived network for liberal talk-radio shows – “were trying to replicate what they saw as the political influence of conservative media and they were unsuccessful at it,” Hemmer said in an interview. “Conservative media – and the habit of consuming conservative media that is so central to conservative political identity – have been something that has a half-century of history. And liberals don’t have that same history. To the extent that liberalism has a base, it doesn’t come out of media, it comes out of organizations – like labor unions, or groups like MoveOn.”

  • “Mainstream” media remains remarkably clueless about what’s really going on. News organizations think that “fairness” means neutrality, and neutrality means a “view from nowhere” — it’s an artificial impartiality that is maintained by doggedly pretending that the reporter is standing in the middle between two equivalent political forces. As a result, the meltdown into insanity of one of America’s major political parties, going on right before our eyes, is ignored. Politicians who express views that ought to get them committed are treated as “serious.” And political elites, the so-called “Villagers,” are just as bad.
  • Individual reporters may be catching on, but they fail to grasp the scope of things. Roberts of Vox continues,

One of the longstanding critiques of mainstream media on the left, from the very beginning of the blogosphere, was that reporters in the Beltway “Village” failed to grasp modern conservatism and wrote about it in such a way as to sand down and mute its extremity. Their attachment to a certain mental model of politics — “both sides” with their mirror-image extremes and centers — made them blind to“asymmetrical polarization.” In fact, people are still making that critique; here’s Paul Krugman from just a few days ago.

… there are still plenty of mainstream political reporters who cling to the both-sides illusion to this day, imagining politics as a sober business conducted by Very Serious People in suits, premised on a shared set of facts and assumptions. But as the far right sends the Republican Party through an ever-more-absurd series of showdowns and tantrums, the illusion is fading. Now lots of established journalists seem to have moved on to the bargaining stage of grief, holding out hope that the Adults will once again take charge.

But see Steve M on this point; he thinks Roberts is being too generous to the established journalists and the “Villagers.”

We’re seeing evidence that the Republican Party is getting a clue it has lost control. I don’t think the GOP bargained for the fact that the puppet masters and the activists, who don’t care about governing, don’t care about the GOP, either. The Party was just a host, and the activists are like parasites devouring their host. But I’m not seeing a bottom yet, either. And I’m not seeing anyone approximating an Adult who can take the mess back into hand.

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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 going 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 his 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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