Monday, August 31, 2015

Dog Whistling the Rise of the Feminine

If the contest were between these two, who do you think the Republican base would go for today? That's what I thought of when I read saw this headline: Donald Trump "Emasculating" Jeb Bush. Because let's face it, Jeb is just not the kind of guy you would ever associate with that image of his brother. But a heartbeat.

We're hearing a lot these days about how boys/men are being emasculated. It has become a regular theme on Fox News (who also call it the "wussification of America") and talk radio. Why is that?

The message aimed at boys is to suggest that the only way to be a "real man" is to be a bully. Whether it's with your fists, your bombs, or your words, it's all about putting others down as a childish way of lifting yourself up.

But it's also a way of denigrating men who demonstrate the capacity for compassion, empathy, thoughtfulness and cooperation. In other words, men who display charactaristics we normally associate with women. That's because in a patriarchal culture, those qualities represent weakness.

At a time when the right wing in this country is consumed with a backlash against the inevitable demise of white male heterosexual dominance, Jeb Bush's presidential campaign might have failed because of this - even if he weren't showing himself to be incredibly gaffe-prone.

But this call to "manliness" from our leaders hasn't just come from the right. While not as harsh or widespread as the conservative version, there have been many suggestions that President Obama needs to "man up" or take off his tutu and put on his boxing gloves. Calling Obama "feminized" is the heart of Maureen Dowd's critique of this President.

All of this is a kind of sexist dog whistle. Men and women who call themselves feminists need to recognize it for what it is and call it out. We should be very clear that the presidency is no place for bullies. And rather than signifying weakness, traits like compassion, thoughtfulness and cooperation are exactly the kind of thing we're looking for in a leader. That's true whether the next occupant of the White House is a man or a woman.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Inequality Starts in the Crib

One of the ways our new breed of "data journalists" tries to sell their wares is via headlines that say, "This Chart Explains Everything!" Although I am one who values data, that kind of thing tends to make me skeptical.

But I have to say that this chart - while it might not explain everything about income inequality - is a bit of a show-stopper nonetheless.

Here's how Matt O'Brien describes it.
Even poor kids who do everything right don't do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong. Advantages and disadvantages, in other words, tend to perpetuate themselves. You can see that in the above chart, based on a new paper from Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill, presented at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston's annual conference, which is underway.

Specifically, rich high school dropouts remain in the top about as much as poor college grads stay stuck in the bottom — 14 versus 16 percent, respectively. Not only that, but these low-income strivers are just as likely to end up in the bottom as these wealthy ne'er-do-wells. Some meritocracy.
From there it's hard to draw too many conclusions without more data...except that until we figure this one out, inequality will continue to start in the crib.

The End of Silly Season is in Sight

I got a bit of a chuckle this week when Kevin Drum wrote: TGIAS: Finally, August is Almost Over. Those who have been suggesting that Trump-mania is at least in part fueled by the fact that there hasn't been much else to talk about are not completely wrong. But silly season is about to come to an ignominious end.

If you have any doubts about that - just look at the September calendar. Congress comes back into session this month and right off the bat, they'll have to tackle a vote on the Iran deal (it looks like Boehner will also throw in a vote in the House to block funding to Planned Parenthood - but since that already failed in the Senate, its all for show until government shutdown time arrives). The conversation about the Iran deal has shifted from whether or not President Obama will be forced to veto a show of disapproval to whether or not Republicans will have enough votes to override a filibuster. The countdown continues...

Right on the heels of that vote comes a visit to the United States by Pope Francis. That will provide quite a shift in the conversation. Of course we can expect a lot of his visit to focus on the need to act on climate change. But the Pope has also been outspoken on the issue of income inequality as well as immigration reform. He was instrumental in forging the opening between the United States and Cuba and has spoken out in support of the agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons. In summary:
Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, said the pope's Sept. 23 visit will mark an important moment not only for Catholics but for all Americans.

"Pope Francis has breathed new life into what I believe is the central mission of our faith: Catholic social doctrine," Biden said in a statement to The Associated Press. Invoking key elements of Obama's agenda, Biden added that Francis "has become a moral rudder for the world on some of the most important issues of our time, from inequality to climate change."
The day after the Pope departs marks the opening session of the General Assembly at the United Nations. Scheduled to speak on the same day are: President Obama, Hassan Rouhani of Iran, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China. No doubt that the eyes of the world will be on that stage.

While all of that is happening, Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Boehner will have to be working on a way to pass a federal budget and avoid a government shutdown. They have until the end of September to do that.

So hold onto your hats. Things are about to get very interesting.

One Good Word

Loaves and Fishes

This is not
the age of information.

This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news
and the radio
and the blurred screen.

This is the time
of loaves
and fishes.

People are hungry
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

 - David Whyte

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Something is Happening in Baghdad

That photo comes from the Facebook page of Ali Eyal. Reuters seems to be one of the few news organizations that is reporting on what happened yesterday. Apparently these demonstrations have been going on for a while now and Prime Minister al-Abadi has made some concessions. But this is the part of the Reuters report that caught my eye.
The capital and many southern cities have witnessed demonstrations in recent weeks calling for provision of basic services, the trial of corrupt politicians, and the shakeup of a system riddled with graft and incompetence.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators filled Baghdad's Tahrir Square on Friday in what a senior security official called the biggest protest of the summer. Thousands more rallied in Najaf, Basra and other cities across the Shi'ite southern heartland following a call from powerful Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Protesters' demands, which initially aimed at improving power supply amid a sweltering heatwave, have focused more on encouraging Abadi to accelerate reforms, put corrupt officials on trial and loosen the grip of powerful parties over the state.
Here's the caption Ali Eyal posted with the picture up above:
Good evening Baghdad, Thousands of Iraqis take to the streets of Baghdad to protest government corruption and demand reforms, No to Sunni government, no to Shia government! Yes to secular state!
And here is a tweet from a Iranian student in Canada that translates the message from protest signs:
This is certainly a story that we should be keeping an eye on.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Papers Please

Ed Kilgore is right to"skeptical" that Peggy Noonan has tapped into some great Latino love for Donald Trump. She found one Dominican who suggested that legal immigrants are just as angry as everyone else is at illegal immigrants. She believes him because that's what she wants to believe.

But I'll give you one good reason why most brown people (Latino as well as other nationalities) in this country are terrified of what Donald Trump is saying he would do. It's because some of them (and a few of us) remember what happened the last time a Republican president decided to round up a bunch of illegal immigrants and ship them home. We remember because it wasn't that long ago.

Here's what happened when ICE raided Howard Industries in Laurel, MS in 2008.
ICE´s approach humiliated all Latino workers in the plant with their Racial Profiling. Witnesses said ICE provided all White and Black workers Blue Armbands. All the Latino workers were put in line and forced to prove their legal status. ICE, in their uniforms and wearing side arms, caused ALL Latino workers to shiver in fear as they went through this ritual. The exits were sealed. Some Latino workers were sprayed with Mace.
Here's how an ACLU press release (link no longer available) described what happened.
"We are deeply concerned by reports that workers at the factory where the raid occurred were segregated by race or ethnicity and interrogated, the factory was locked down for several hours, workers were denied access to counsel, and ICE failed to inform family members and lawyers following the raid where the workers were being jailed," said Monica Ramirez, a staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project who has traveled to Mississippi to meet with family members and lawyers about the government's actions.
So you see, brown people know that if Trump's plan to "deport 'em all" was ever implemented, they are all at risk of "papers please" interrogations - regardless of their legal status. It hasn't been that long since that is exactly what happened in this country.

Remembering New Orleans

Years ago I worked with a young African American man who had grown up in New Orleans and then traveled to a small town in northern Minnesota to attend college on a basketball scholarship. When I asked him why he had made that unlikely journey, he said, "Growing up in New Orleans I looked around at my friends and family and realized that if I was going to survive, I had to get out of there. And so I took the only chance I had."

By the time I met him, he had graduated from college and earned a Master's Degree. We hired him to work with young urban middle school kids who were struggling in school. He was one of the most talented and gifted staff members I ever worked with. I learned a lot from him. But I can't help but think of all the other talented young people like him who didn't survive.

All of that happened before Katrina. But I thought of the world that young man grew up in when I heard what President Obama had to say in New Orleans yesterday.
And we came to realize that what started out as a natural disaster became a manmade disaster -- a failure of government to look out for its own citizens. And the storm laid bare a deeper tragedy that had been brewing for decades because we came to understand that New Orleans, like so many cities and communities across the country, had for too long been plagued by structural inequalities that left too many people, especially poor people, especially people of color, without good jobs or affordable health care or decent housing. Too many kids grew up surrounded by violent crime, cycling through substandard schools where few had a shot to break out of poverty. And so like a body weakened already, undernourished already, when the storm hit, there was no resources to fall back on.
There were actually three phases to the "storm" that rocked the city of New Orleans. First came the kind of devastation wrought by our neglect of major metropolitan areas all across this country. In New Orleans, that is what led the young man I worked with to recognize that he needed to leave in order to survive. Included here would be our failure to reinforce the levees - as had been recommended by the experts for years. Second came the actual storm. And third came the failure of both the state and federal government to respond. The suffering we all witnessed as a result is almost too difficult to comprehend.

Here is how President Obama summed it up in 2007.
America failed the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast long before that failure showed up on our television sets. America failed them again during Katrina. We cannot — we must not — fail for a third time.
The President went on to make some promises to the people of New Orleans. This week Politifact reported on the progress to date.

* Strengthen the levees - Compromise
* Restore wetlands - Promise Kept
* Housing relief - Compromise
* Establish new crime programs - Promise Kept
* Improve transportation - Compromise
* Rebuild schools - Promise Kept
* Rebuild hospitals - Promise Kept
* Direct oil revenue for costal protection - Promise Broken

As he said yesterday, progress has been made, but a lot remains to be done.

The Roots of Political Correctness

It seems that one of the issues that unites almost all the Republican candidates who are running for president is disgust with the idea of political correctness. It has especially become the rallying cry for Trump and Carson.

When I think of the term, I am immediately reminded of how Lee Atwater described the Southern Strategy in 1981 (excuse the language - it is his, not mine).
You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."
That, my friends, is the root of political correctness.

Republicans are more than welcome to go back to the language they used in 1954. Not many of us have been fooled by their "dog whistles" since then anyway. But when they do, they can also expect to be called out as the racist bigots that kind of thing demonstrates. You speech doesn't simply apply to those who want to be free to say obnoxious things. The rest of us are also free to exercise our own rights to call them out.

We've all been witness lately to the fact that Donald Trump is free to suggest that Mexican immigrants are criminals and racists. He's even free to run for president on a platform of "deport 'em all." And Ben Carson is free to suggest that the United States should discard things like the Geneva Conventions and torture prisoners of war. But "freedom" also means that the rest of us are free to call them out as the racist war mongers they're proving themselves to be.

When people complain about political correctness, they are suggesting that they want the freedom to say obnoxious hateful things. But they have always been free to do so. Just don't expect the rest of us to be quiet when they do.

Our Democracy Is Only Rigged If We Let It Be

Cass Sunstein has written an important rejoinder to the idea that our democracy is rigged.
Here’s the paradox: The U.S. is in a period of extraordinary reform, and many recent changes have been made to help those against whom the system is supposedly rigged.
Without mentioning the Obama administration specifically, he lists some of the reforms we've seen over the last seven years:

* Obamacare
* Dodd-Frank (including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau)
* The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act
* The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act
* Repeal of "Don't Ask/Don't Tell
* Aggressive fuel economy standards for cars and trucks
* EPA rules on mercury and greenhouse gas emissions
* Increased taxes on wealthy Americans
* American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

And then he concludes:
A rigged system couldn't have produced such a range of reforms, many of them aggressively opposed by well-funded private interests.
On why so many people resonate with the idea that the system is rigged, here's what he has to say:
One answer is that whenever you lose, it’s tempting to blame the system, and concentrated wealth, rather than to acknowledge the existence of disagreement and debate. People on the left want Congress to enact many other reforms, including a significant increase in the federal minimum wage, a far more progressive income tax, infrastructure improvements and national legislation to combat climate change.

But on these and other issues, rigging doesn't adequately explain Congress’s inaction. The major obstacle is political polarization. Americans are divided, and so are their representatives. In a democracy with checks and balances, large-scale reforms are difficult to achieve without some consensus.
Neither Sunstein nor anyone else would ever deny that big money has too much influence in our democracy. But I think he makes a very important point. Assuming it is the only roadblock for further reforms becomes a kind of self-fulling prophecy. First of all, it makes the whole enterprise seem hopeless. If the system is rigged against us...why try? I believe that is the attitude of a lot of Americans who have said "a pox on both your houses" and given up on engagement. That simply ensures even more clout for big money.

But Sunstein gets to another way it undermines our political discourse. Rather than explore disagreements and debate our differences, we too often assume that our opponents are simply controlled by big money. The most obnoxious example of that I've seen is when immigrant rights groups accused Delores Huerta of corruption by financial interests when she urged patience about immigration reform. I suggest that you to pay attention to how often that argument comes up. If you want to earn some cheap points in a debate, simply accuse your opponent of being beholden to big money. But if you have any interest in getting to the source of the disagreement and highlighting the issues, it requires a bit more curiosity and dialogue.

I believe that one of the great undercurrents happening in our politics right now is the one articulated by Marshall Ganz as the tension between private wealth and public voice. As ugly as it looks right now, that is exactly what we're seeing on the right with the way the "base" is challenging the "establishment."

On the left, the tension isn't as great because we just witnessed Barack Obama lead two grassroots campaigns based predominantly on small donors. Bernie Sanders is absolutely right when he says this:
The lesson to be learned is that when people stand together, and are prepared to fight back, there is nothing that can’t be accomplished.
That is exactly the same message we heard from a candidate in New Hampshire back in 2008.
Democrats, independents and Republicans who are tired of the division and distraction that has clouded Washington, who know that we can disagree without being disagreeable, who understand that, if we mobilize our voices to challenge the money and influence that stood in our way and challenge ourselves to reach for something better, there is no problem we cannot solve, there is no destiny that we cannot fulfill...

We know the battle ahead will be long. But always remember that, no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.
The result is that list of reforms up above. But we've still got a lot of work to do. The only way that happens is if we believe we can...and if we are willing talk to each other (sometimes even disagree) about how to do it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Amelia Boynton Robinson

A heroine has passed.
Civil rights leader Amelia Boynton Robinson died this morning at the age of 104.

Ms. Boynton Robinson led an incredible life, getting her start as an activist when she was just a little girl during the fight for women's suffrage. It just so happens that today is also the 95th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Ms. Boynton Robinson was first registered to vote in 1934, an incredible accomplishment in and of itself in Alabama. In 1964, she became the first female African American to run for office in Alabama and the first woman of any race to run for the ticket of the Democratic Party in the state. She received 10% of the vote.

Her place in history was further sealed when she became a key organizer of the Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965. A photo of her beaten unconscious during Bloody Sunday went around the world. The march would lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Ms. Boyton Robinson remained an advocate for voting and civil rights all her long life. Earlier this year, President Obama held her hand as a group of civil rights veterans and supporters crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

Rest in power, Amelia. We will continue the fight for voting rights for all Americans.

Trump and White Supremacists

“Trump, on a gut level, kind of senses that this is about demographics, ultimately. We’re moving into a new America.” He said, “I don’t think Trump is a white nationalist,” but he did believe that Trump reflected “an unconscious vision that white people have—that their grandchildren might be a hated minority in their own country. I think that scares us. They probably aren’t able to articulate it. I think it’s there. I think that, to a great degree, explains the Trump phenomenon."
That comes from a fascinating article by Evan Osnos titled: The Fearful and the Frustrated. The particular quote is from someone named Richard Spencer. Here's how Osnos introduces him:
Richard Spencer is a self-described “identitarian” who lives in Whitefish, Montana, and promotes “white racial consciousness.” At thirty-six, Spencer is trim and preppy, with degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago. He is the president and director of the National Policy Institute, a think tank, co-founded by William Regnery, a member of the conservative publishing family, that is “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of European people in the United States and around the world.” The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Spencer “a suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old.
While it is a bit disturbing to find myself agreeing with a white supremacist, Spencer's quote pretty much echoes what I've been saying about Trump's appeal.

Apparently Osnos was doing some reporting on extremist white-rights groups when the whole Trump phenomenon hit. As such, he had a front-row seat to how this dark corner in our country reacted. The upshot of it all is...they love it.
Ever since the Tea Party’s peak, in 2010, and its fade, citizens on the American far right—Patriot militias, border vigilantes, white supremacists—have searched for a standard-bearer, and now they’d found him.
Spencer has gotten a higher profile lately due to the fact that he seems to be the go-to guy on understanding the recent popularity of the hashtag #cuckservative. Here's Dave Weigel explaining:
Late last week, a neologism was born. Twitter was the incubator. "Cuckservative," a portmanteau of "conservative" and "cuckold" (i.e. a man whose wife has cheated on him) burned up Twitter as fans of Donald Trump's politicking warred with the movement conservatives who opposed it...

What is "cuckservatism?"

I'll defer to Richard Spencer, president of the white nationalist National Policy Institute.

"#Cuckservative” is a full-scale revolt, by Identitarians and what I’ve called the 'alt Right,' against the Republican Party and conservative movement," Spencer explained in an e-mail. "The 'cuck' slur is vulgar, yes, but then piercingly accurate. It is the cuckold who, whether knowingly or unknowingly, loses control of his future. This is an apt psychological portrait of white 'conservatives,' whose only identity is comprised of vague, abstract 'values,' and who are participating in the displacement of European Americans — their own children...

According to Spencer, "Trump is a major part of the 'cuckservative' phenomenon — but not because he himself is an Identitarian or traditionalist. His campaign is, in many ways, a backward-looking movement: 'Let’s make America great again!' Why Trump is attractive to Identitarians and the alt Right is: 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."
Consider yourself on notice. People like Richard Spencer "see some hope" in the likes of Donald Trump. These guys can come up with new names for themselves (i.e., "Identitarians" or "alt Right") and perhaps they don't don sheets and pointy hoods or burn crosses at their gatherings. But make no mistake, it's the same crowd.

Reclaiming Morality

I know you are busy. But I'd like to ask you to take a few minutes and watch Rev. William Barber talk about morality.

I have often found it frustrating that the word "morals" has been hijacked in our culture to spur only thoughts about sexual morality. Obviously Rev. Barber - who is the founder of the Morals Monday Movement - has a much more expansive view of the term. He grounds his belief in his Christian faith. But the moral justice he is talking about is something we all share, regardless of our religious tradition (or lack thereof).

The reason I think this is so important is because we are currently witnessing a movement in our country that has no claim to morality. When two men assault someone because of his Mexican heritage, claim that their actions were based on their thinking that Trump is right, and Trump responds by saying his followers are "passionate about making America great again," he is not talking about the America I believe in. Dylann Roof was passionate too. But when he walked into a church and gunned down nine people simply because of the color of their skin, that was the opposite of moral.

Let's put this bluntly...hate is immoral. And anyone who fans the flames of hatred is acting immorally. That's why Rev. Barber is right when he says that, "It's a necessity for the destiny of our democracy that we realize that we have to look at public policy through the moral lens of justice for all and through the Constitutional principle of the common good."

Of course it is important to remind ourselves that the root of hate is fear. It seems that a lot of people are afraid today. Perhaps some of those fears are grounded. But when our fear is unmoored from morality, hatred is the result.

It's not enough to condemn the hate. We must take up the mantle of building a moral alternative to the fear. I believe that is exactly what Rev. Barber is doing in North Carolina. Here's how he describes the movement's philosophy.
When we looked at the preponderance of this legislation that was passed and was being planned, we said, let’s look at the deep values of our constitution. We read where it says that in North Carolina, all political power should only be used for the good of the whole. We saw that our constitution of 1868, passed by blacks and whites, guaranteed equal protection and it guaranteed public education, both as a constitutional value and a moral value. Then we looked at the federal constitution and saw that the deep values in that are the common good—promoting the general welfare. The first word, before you even get to freedom and liberty, is the establishment of justice.

Then we went to the Bible. We saw that every major faith says that love and justice should be at the center of public policy. Isaiah 10 says, “Woe unto those who make unjust laws that rob the right of the poor.” And we said, wait a minute, when you look at these policies, it’s not only bad policy, but it’s immoral and extreme. And we said that we had to stand up as a coalition—not liberal vs. conservative (that’s too small, too limited, too tired), or Republican vs. Democrat. We had to have a moral challenge because these policies they were passing, in rapid-fire, were constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible, and economically insane.
I'm all for having a discussion about what we should do about immigration. But when it is based on immoral lies about a non-existent "crime wave" spurred by "illegal aliens" and "anchor babies," that is no discussion...that's fear-mongering that leads to hatred. And I'm all for having a discussion about police reform. But when it's based on an immoral lie about "thugs" and "playing the race card," that's fear-mongering too.

To have a moral conversation about those issues means starting where President Obama did in his second inaugural address:
Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional -- what makes us American -- is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Epistemic Closure Comes Back to Haunt the GOP

Five years ago Julian Sanchez did us the favor of defining a pattern among conservatives that he called "epistemic closure."
One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile...If disagreement is not in itself evidence of malign intent or moral degeneracy, people start feeling an obligation to engage it sincerely...And there is nothing more potentially fatal to the momentum of an insurgency fueled by anger than a conversation.
The entire basis for the existence of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News is the belief that the "mainstream media" cannot be trusted to tell the truth because they are all "liberals." This fed something that we as human beings already tend to do anyway - reject information that doesn't conform to our already-established beliefs. It feels good to not have to grapple with the cognitive dissonance that comes with consideration of conflicting facts. But the end result is that it kills curiosity and we wallow in ignorance.

The disastrous results of epistemic closure for conservatives have been on display for some time now. It explains how they continue to deny the science of climate change, assume that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is "cooking the books" on unemployment data and led to a whole movement during the 2012 election to unskew the polls. But for everyone from Murdoch to GOP leaders, it worked to keep the base angry and engaged.

And got out of control. Take a look at the results of Frank Lunz's focus group with Trump supporters.
"They're 'mad as hell and not going to take it anymore,'" Luntz said. "And (Trump) personifies it: Each sees in him what they want for the country. They want him to fix what makes them mad, and they believe he will."

It is Trump's ability to reflect back to voters their most fervent wishes for the nation, Luntz said, that makes the political outsider so dangerous to the rest of the 16 other GOP 2016 hopefuls. The main reason for this, Luntz found, was what he termed a willingness of Trump supporters to live in "an alternative universe" in which any attempt by the media to point out inconsistencies in Trump's record or position was seen as a politically motivated conspiracy.

"When the media challenges the veracity of his statements, you take his side," Luntz asked of his focus group. Only one person sat quietly, her hands in her lap, as 28 other arms shot up in agreement.
For these participants, the Republican establishment (and perhaps even Fox News itself) has now joined the liberal New York Times in peddling a politically motivated conspiracy when they challenge Donald Trump. That should come as no surprise when these same people have been told for years that they can pick and chose their facts based on how they make you feel. Stephen Colbert was positively prophetic when he coined the term "truthiness." And now it's all coming back to haunt the GOP.

Jeb Bush Comes Out Swinging...Then Stumbles

The conventional wisdom that has developed recently about the 2016 Republican candidates is that they can't criticize Donald Trump and risk losing his supporters. The thinking has been that perhaps their SuperPacs can eventually do so while providing "plausible deniability" for the candidates themselves.

Apparently Jeb Bush didn't get that memo. Here's a video the Jeb! campaign released yesterday.

In just over a minute, it goes after Trump on his immigration proposal from the left for his plan to "deport 'em all," and then from the right for critiquing Mitt Romney's idea about "self deportation." That's a pretty direct hit on the number one issue that has come to define Trump's candidacy.

But then yesterday Bush had another gaffe moment that drew all of the attention away from this message. During a press conference in the border town of McAllen, TX, he got pretty testy when asked about his use of the term "anchor babies" and said that - rather than applying to Mexicans - it's more of a problem with Asian immigrants. That created another scenario that he is likely to be answering questions about for the next few days.

Perhaps it is still early enough in this campaign that these stumbles indicate a steep learning curve and Jeb will eventually get his footing. But if he really does want to take on Donald Trump directly, this is certainly not how that's done.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Confusing Thoughtfulness with Cowardice

As I said previously, I had to take a break from the news for a couple of days because of the explosion of hate we're seeing from conservatives. But I have to admit that - in the midst of all that - articles like this one by Ryan Cooper contributed to sending me over the edge.
Of all the powers of the presidency, the pardon is perhaps the most absolute. The president can pardon anyone for any or no reason, with an exception in the case of impeachment (so he may not pardon himself). It provides a kind of emergency valve for the criminal justice system, in which people who have been unjustly convicted can still appeal to common sense and decency.

President Obama has been more stingy with this power than any president in American history. It betrays a rampant political cowardice in his administration, and a callous disregard for human rights.

Presidents have been pardoning fewer and fewer people in recent history, but Obama has set a new record in pardoning just 64 people so far. Both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton pardoned more — and so did even the first Bush, despite the fact he was only in office for one term. What's more, many of Obama's pardons have been for people who were already released from prison, making them more PR efforts than victories for justice. His record on commutations is better, but not by much.
Cooper goes on to talk about the thousands of people who are still in prison due to the disparate sentencing guidelines on crack cocaine that were partially remedied in the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. And then he writes this:
There is the fear that if they freed those thousands of wrongfully imprisoned people, a few would probably commit more crimes and end up back in prison, setting the stage for another Willie Horton advertisement. Better thousands upon thousands of people be imprisoned unjustly than the administration have to deal with a political scandal.
I seriously have no idea why someone like Cooper would write an article like this that completely ignores President Obama's Clemency Initiative - which is focused on commuting the sentences of exactly those thousands of people he's talking about.

Let's review the numbers for just a moment. Since announcing that initiative, the Office of Pardons has received thousands of petitions. President Obama has already commuted 89 of those sentences (the most since LBJ) after rigorous review. There are currently over 8,000 petitions pending and the administration has promised to act on all those that are received by January 2016.

Cooper implies that there is some magic way of identifying thousands of people who qualify and that they should be both released from prison and pardoned without any review of their records. He seems completely unaware of the fact that "another Willie Horton" wouldn't just be a "political scandal." In this political atmosphere, it would surely send us back to the dark ages on criminal justice reform.

I am someone who finds absolutely nothing redeeming in this country's misguided war on drugs and have no love lost for the way our current criminal justice system operates. But I also think that what Cooper is suggesting is nothing short of reckless. A thoughtful approach that reviews individual situations is what is called for...exactly what President Obama is doing.

Frankly, this is one of those things that often frustrates me about liberals. The idea that a leader would craft a working solution to a problem is cast as "cowardice" precisely because it is so thoughtful. We spent 8 years criticizing the Bush/Cheney administration for recklessness on the other end of the political spectrum. It looks no better coming from this side.