Skip to main content


Showing posts from October, 2015

The Costs of Brainwashing

Occasionally I try to write about a deeper feminism that goes beyond things like equal pay and reproductive choice (as important as those things are). Along those lines, I was absolutely blown away by what Dustin Hoffman said about what he learned while making the movie "Tootsie." Please watch. Oh, and here's a little message to the men who watch this: There is absolutely NOTHING sexier to a woman than a man who understands us this deeply!

The Effects of Anti-Knowledge on Democracy

Mike Lofgren, former Republican Congressional staffer, has written an important article titled: The GOP and the Rise of Anti-Knowledge . In the realm of physics, the opposite of matter is not nothingness, but antimatter. In the realm of practical epistemology, the opposite of knowledge is not ignorance but anti-knowledge. This seldom recognized fact is one of the prime forces behind the decay of political and civic culture in America. Some common-sense philosophers have observed this point over the years. “Genuine ignorance is...profitable because it is likely to be accompanied by humility, curiosity, and open mindedness; whereas ability to repeat catch-phrases, cant terms, familiar propositions, gives the conceit of learning and coats the mind with varnish waterproof to new ideas,” observed psychologist John Dewey. Or, as humorist Josh Billings put it, “The trouble with people is not that they don’t know, but that they know so much that ain’t so.”... At present, however, a per

Republican Debate: Post-Policy Trumps Post-Truth

As a way to highlight the differences between Republican establishment and insurgent candidates, I have sometimes referred to the former as post-truth and the latter as post-policy. As a reminder, here's how David Roberts defined the traditional Republican approach of post-truth politics. Republicans thus talk about “taxes” and “spending” and “regulation” in the abstract, since Americans oppose them in the abstract even as they support their specific manifestations. They talk about cutting the deficit even as they slash taxes on the rich and launch unfunded wars. They talk about free markets even as they subsidize fossil fuels. They talk about American exceptionalism even as they protect fossil-fuel incumbents and fight research and infrastructure investments. In short, Republicans have mastered post-truth politics. They’ve realized that their rhetoric doesn’t have to bear any connection to their policy agenda. On the other hand, post-policy means not even having to bother wit

A Bipartisan Budget Deal. How Did That Happen?

We all know by now that Congress is gridlocked and dysfunctional. But those who say that Republicans have become too extreme to negotiate with are taking a huge risk. We all saw how Republicans were unable, on their own, to come up with a plan to avoid a government shutdown and/or default on our debt. And we also know how devastating it would be to sit by and let one (or both!) of those things happen. So talk, we must. As a result, we now have a bipartisan budget and debt ceiling deal. Here are the big steps along the way that got us there: Movement towards a common sense caucus Back in early 2013 the development of a common sense caucus was something President Obama began to work towards. Most of the media got sidetracked on what this was all about and reported it more as a social endeavor by the President to assuage rumors of his aloofness. But here's how he described it : I do know that there are Republicans in Congress who privately, at least, say that they would rather

Left's Populist Leaders Endorse Clinton

A couple of years ago, all the talk on the left was about the emerging populist movement  as evidenced by the election of Senator Elizabeth Warren and NY Mayor Bill de Blasio. Since then, some of the biggest battles President Obama has faced have been - not with Republicans - but with leaders of this populist movement over budget agreements and trade policy. In those fights, Sen. Warren has been joined by politicians like Senators Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown. All of that was the groundwork that led to the presidential candidacy of Sanders. That's why the big news on the Democratic side of the presidential primaries is that Senator Sherrod Brown has endorsed Hillary Clinton. "As Ohio’s working families continue to recover from the worst economic recession in our country’s history, we need a president who’s committed to growing our economy by lifting up the middle class,” Brown said in a statement. “I am proud to endorse her today because I know she will keep Ohio movi

House Freedom Caucus is Unlikely to Stop Budget Deal

In the lead-up to the news that the White House and Congressional leaders had reached a sweeping 2-year agreement on both the budget and the debt ceiling, there was a fair amount of hand-wringing over the latter - with rumors that Republicans couldn't even round up the 30 votes needed (in addition to 188 Democrats) to pass a clean debt ceiling bill. Of course it's always hard to pin down the source of rumors like that. But frankly, it never passed the smell test for me. The reason I was skeptical is that I had previously read a very informative breakdown of the various House Republican factions by David Wasserman and Amy Walter at The Cook Political Report . They looked at 5 votes this session and plotted the various Republican factions based on how often they voted with Speaker Boehner: * 46 "Dependables" 5 out of 5 times, * 40 "Allies" 4 out of 5 times, * 59 "Helpers" 3 out of 5 times, * 52 "Skepticals" 2 out of 5 times, * 25

Daylight Video

Chances are that if you know a young girl who is involved in sports, you've seen this video clip. Yesterday, when President Obama welcomed the World Champion U.S. Women's National Soccer Team to the White House, he echoed those sentiments. This team taught all America’s children that ‘playing like a girl’ means you’re a badass. Perhaps I shouldn’t have used that phrase. Playing like a girl means being the best. It means drawing the largest TV audience for a soccer match –- men or women’s –- in American history. It means wearing our nation’s crest on your jersey, taking yourself and your country to the top of the world. That’s what American women do. That’s what American girls do. And we all look forward to the day when this happens:

We Could Learn a Thing or Two from the Mosuo People of China

If I was younger and could more easily handle traveling to difficult-to-reach places, this spot on Lugu Lake in the westernmost regions of China would be at the top of my bucket list. That's not just about the gorgeous scenery. Amy Qin tells us some of the history of the uniquely matrilineal culture of the Mosuo people that developed along these shores. Known in Mandarin as zouhun, or walking marriage, tiesese is an alternative to matrimony in which men visit women at night to fulfill the need for procreation and sexual gratification. Traditionally, a Mosuo woman might have several tiesese relationships during her life, sometimes simultaneously... With tiesese, sex is kept separate from family, and men and women are generally expected to spend their lives in the houses in which they were born. As a result, sexual partners rarely occupy the same dwelling. Household harmony is valued above all else, including conjugal relationships. In traditional Mosuo culture, family l

What Makes Ruth Bader Ginsburg So "Notorious?"

It is very likely that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will retire during the administration of our next president. That is one of the big reasons why elections matter. Nominating her replacement will be critical in terms of the future of the Supreme Court. As Irin Carmon points out though, that will not simply be because of her recently acquired reputation as the "notorious RBG." I found this broader look into the way Ginsburg approaches her goals to be extremely instructive. One day last May, while receiving an award, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court was asked to give advice to her younger female admirers... “My advice is fight for the things that you care about,” Justice Ginsburg said. Fair enough — banal enough, really. Then she added, “But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Contrary to the image of the "avenging angel" we often see associated with Ginsburg, Carmon presents this: But Justice Ginsburg would pref

Remembering Paul and Sheila Wellstone

Today is the 13th anniversary of the day that little airplane went down taking the lives of Paul and Sheila Wellstone (along with their daughter and four others). I usually shed a few tears on this anniversary and try to find a way to commemorate it. That’s not just because I had the distinct privilege of meeting both Paul and Sheila. It is because they will forever represent the very best of what all of us hope for in public servants. In order to honor their memory, I could post the campaign ad Paul put out when he first ran for Senate. It does a great job of capturing the spirit he brought to politics. Or perhaps we could look at the tribute his Senate colleagues put together after his death. I’ve always loved what Ezra Klein wrote about Paul Wellstone on the sixth anniversary of his death. But perhaps my very favorite tribute to this great man comes from a friend of mine - Pakou Hang - who worked with him on his last senate campaign. And yes, she is still very active in th

Why Racial Profiling is Still an Issue

Back in the early 1980's, I remember having heard the term "racial profiling." But it didn't mean much to me because, given that I'm white, it never happened to me or anyone I knew. One of my good friends at the time happened to be Native Hawaiian (often mistaken for being Mexican) and started telling me stories about how he couldn't walk across the courtyard at his apartment complex without being stopped by security and escorted to his door to verify that he actually lived there. That's when I started paying attention to the issue. I suspect that my experience is probably not that different from a lot of other white people in this country. It's easy to dismiss the issues around racial profiling if it doesn't happen to you or anyone else you know. And so, this week when President Obama hosted a panel discussion at the White House on criminal justice reform, he took a few extra minutes at the end to say that, when it comes to the Black Lives Matte

News from Iowa's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner

I watched the Democratic presidential candidates give their speeches last night at Iowa's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. And I have to say that not much news was made. They all gave pretty familiar stump speeches. The one thing some pundits are talking about is that Bernie Sanders "attacked" Hillary Clinton. But when it comes to these kinds of things, too few people note the difference between going after someone's record vs going after them personally. Last night Sanders did what any candidate in his position would do - highlighted the distinctions between himself and the front-runner. I don't consider that "negative" campaigning. It's exactly what Sanders needs to be doing right now. Otherwise, why be in the race at all. O'Malley was...well...O'Malley. Nothing new and therefore it probably doesn't matter much. Clinton gave a speech anyone who has followed her campaign has mostly heard before. As the front-runner, she didn't focus

Team Bush in a Fog

As Ed Kilgore noted on Friday, Jeb Bush’s campaign is facing tough times right now. It has been widely reported that the Bush family and Jeb’s major donors are getting together in Houston this weekend and its not entirely clear whether their time will be spent rallying the troops or answering some very difficult questions. In light of all that, I’m not sure Jeb helped himself today with some extremely revealing remarks he made at a rally in South Carolina. As tweeted by Jake Tapper , here’s what he said: If this is an election about how we’re going to fight to get nothing done, I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to be elected president to sit around and see gridlock just become so dominant that people are literally in decline in their lives. That is not my motivation. I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around being miserable, listening to people demonize me and me feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.

House Freedom Caucus Demands

It is looking likely that Rep. Paul Ryan will be elected Speaker of the House next week. Who knows what has transpired behind closed doors, but the word is that he and the Freedom Caucus reached a deal that won enough of them over for him to be elected. What we also know is that the Freedom Caucus designed a questionnaire for speaker candidates.  Kevin Quealy and Carl Hulse have done us all a service by translating those demands into plain English. In looking at the list of 21 items, a lot of the things they are pushing for would simply undo the reforms instituted by Newt Gingrich that put power in the hands of the House Leadership - specifically the Speaker. In that way, they grant the insurgents continuing power to be disruptive. But there are a few things that would mean pretty immediate chaos. For example: Item 13: Are you willing to hold the debt limit hostage until we prevail on other issues? Specifically, the Freedom Caucus wants "structural entitlement reforms&qu

The Way of the Whigs?

Previously I suggested that John Judis wrote the definitive historical comparison that helps us understand Trump-mania. But now Kathleen Frydi has given us another very interesting look at how, as she says, our present might be mirroring our past. Frydi draws a comparison to the mid-nineteenth century rise of the "Know-Nothings" (otherwise known as the American Party) that sprang from the Whigs. Doesn't this sound strikingly familiar? When it came to Catholics, Know-Nothings recorded a lurid, paranoid imagination in fictional accounts of seditious sex acts and infanticide, stoking the enmity of nativists already not kindly disposed to people they denigrated as "papal slaves" bound to follow their priest's orders in the voting booth. The longstanding native suspicion of Catholics deteriorated to a new low in the mid nineteenth century, as 3 million immigrants escaping famine and persecution in Europe poured into cities along the Eastern seaboard. Almo

President Obama: GOP are Like Grumpy Cat

It is very true that President Obama can be inspirational as a speaker. And he has the ability to get all wonky on just about any issue. But let's face it...the guy also has a great sense of humor. Enjoy!!! His grumpy cat impersonation isn't bad either.

What I Learned From Watching the Benghazi Hearing

Yes, I watched the entire 11 hours - although I must admit that my attention lagged every now and then. The Republicans on the committee threw everything they had at Hillary Clinton. Here are my two big take-aways from all that. The line of questioning that came from Rep. Jim Jordan wasn't's been the big accusation against President Obama, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton from the get-go. The claim is that all of them tried to fool the American people into believing that the anti-Muslim video that was sparking demonstrations all over the Middle East (both peaceful and violent) was the cause of what happened in Benghazi, when it was really a "terrorist" attack. I guess they forgot about the shellacking Romney took during the 2012 presidential debate when Obama allowed him to dig a disastrous hole with, " Please proceed, Governor ." But overall, this argument tells us a lot about Republicans. Clinton got into a lot of trouble during a previous Congr

Dubya is Right to Worry About Cruz

You might have seen that recently George W. Bush went after Ted Cruz at a fundraiser for his brother Jeb. Some pundits found that odd given the fact that Trump and Carson are the one's making all the headlines these days. Perhaps the former president was just sounding off on his personal animosity for a fellow Texas Republican. But there might be more to the story. Let's take a look at what's going on. Polls According to Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight , this is how things stood for Cruz in the polls last week: He is polling fourth in an average of the last three live-interview polls, at 8 percent. That’s higher than he was when he launched his bid, which is impressive given how much oxygen Donald Trump is taking up. Beyond that, in a poll of grassroots activists conducted by Huffington Post and YouGov , Cruz is in second place behind Trump - with a +53% favorability rating compared to Trump's +19%. Money Among Republican candidates, Cruz comes in second to

Obama and Biden Speak as One (updated)

In the midst of rampant "Biden will run" speculation on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, a lot of pundits pointed to the fact that Obama and Biden were having lunch together on Tuesday - as they always do - and that the specter of whether or not the Vice President would run was likely to be discussed. Watching President Obama stand alongside VP Biden during his announcement today, I tend to think that they were right. I suspect that the two of them planned - not only the timing - but the substance of what Biden would say. That's because Biden's speech was quintessential Obama. And yes, that goes for his remarks at about 6:06 when he talks about the need to end divisive partisan politics in this country. I believe that we have to end the divisive partisan politics that is ripping this country apart. And I think we can. It's mean spirited, it's petty, and it's gone on for much too long. I don't believe, like some do, that it's naive to ta

The Terrifying Prospect of Dreams Coming True

Two years ago I decided to "retire" early. That required some hard choices. I had to sell the home I'd lived in for over 20 years and drastically cut back on my budget. But those weren't the hardest things I had to do. The toughest question I faced was, "What do I do now?" I answered that question by avoiding it. Instead of dwelling on what came next, I spent my time doing what I love to do...writing about politics right here. Then about a year ago, something pretty amazing happened. I got asked to write part-time for Washington Monthly's blog, Political Animal . I've had a blast doing that. And in the next print edition of their magazine you'll find a book review written by me - another first. Now I've been asked to write an article for the NYT's blog, Campaign Stops. Wowza!!!!! Overall, its been amazing to see that simply by doing what I love to do, a whole new path is beginning to open up for me. But it's also important to

"This is a No-Brainer...It's Just Math"

Tierney Sneed at TPM has written about an interesting report on the costs of Medicaid expansion. A new Kaiser Family Foundation report released last week suggests that the Republican-controlled non-expansion states are seeing their share of Medicaid costs rise more sharply than expansion states. Here's the graph that tells the story. In summary, not only are the non-expansion states covering fewer people, their state's Medicaid spending is rising at a higher rate than the expansion states. Sneed describes the non-expansion states as "Republican-controlled" for a reason. Just imagine if we were to overlay this map with one showing red and blue states. According to a report by Wade Goodwyn at NPR , if you want to see a state that is willing to throw money away in order to satisfy a political agenda, you need look no further than the red state of Texas. Not only does that state have the highest rate of uninsured people in the country (25%), refusing Medi

An Explanation for Why Trump is Ahead Right Now

After the second Republican debate, I saw something happening among GOP voters that I attempted to define as the difference between Trump supporters and what I called " Goldwater Republicans ." Then, along came John Judis with his description of the former as Middle American Radicals (MARS). Ultimately, what this is all about is the difference between blue collar and white collar Republicans. When it comes to actual voters, rather than the candidates or their degree of experience or their connection (or lack thereof) to the establishment, or even their religious affiliation, this is the difference that matters when analyzing the current contest for the Republican presidential nomination. Apparently  Ron Brownstein (with an assist from GOP pollster Glen Bolger) has come to the same conclusion. The blue-col­lar wing of the Re­pub­lic­an primary elect­or­ate has con­sol­id­ated around one can­did­ate. The party’s white-col­lar wing re­mains frag­men­ted. That may be t

Yglesias Gets it Wrong About Which Party is in Trouble

Matt Yglesias has written a column that is sure to ignite a discussion ( Ed Kilgore  and djw at Lawyers, Guns and Money have already weighed in). His title tells you a lot about where he's going: Democrats are in denial. Their party is actually in deep trouble . Here's the gist of the point he's trying to make. Yes, Barack Obama is taking a victory lap in his seventh year in office. Yes, Republicans can't find a credible candidate to so much as run for speaker of the House. Yes, the GOP presidential field is led by a megalomaniacal reality TV star. All this is true — but rather than lay the foundation for enduring Democratic success, all it's done is breed a wrongheaded atmosphere of complacence. The presidency is extremely important, of course. But there are also thousands of critically important offices all the way down the ballot. And the vast majority — 70 percent of state legislatures, more than 60 percent of governors, 55 percent of attorneys general and s

Why Jeb Bush is in Trouble (updated)

The latest news from team Jeb! is not looking good. Jeb Bush’s campaign slashed hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries over the last three months as the struggling candidate's fundraising machine slowed to a more middling pace, new campaign-finance reports indicate. So what's the deal here? Isn't Jeb the "shock and awe" candidate when it comes to campaign cash? Didn't his superpac pull in the largest stash ($100 million) ever recorded in campaign history? Aren't we living in an oligarchy where the guy with the most cash from the 1% automatically wins? It's true, Jeb Bush's superpac is the largest war chest ever captured in U.S. presidential history. But as we've discussed before, that money can't be used to pay for the nuts and bolts of his campaign. Hence, if you work for Bush, you're likely getting a pay cut right about now. When it comes to cash for the actual campaign operation, so far Bush is hauling it in at about t

Elizabeth Warren: Glass-Steagall as Symbol

Wow, I'm not sure how I missed this one. Back in 2012, Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote a column about how Glass-Steagall wouldn't have affected the 2008 financial crisis which led to the Great Recession. As part of that, he had a phone conversation with Elizabeth Warren on the topic. Here is what she said at the time: In my conversation with Ms. Warren she told me that one of the reasons she’s been pushing reinstating Glass-Steagall — even if it wouldn’t have prevented the financial crisis — is that it is an easy issue for the public to understand and “you can build public attention behind.” She added that she considers Glass-Steagall more of a symbol of what needs to happen to regulations than the specifics related to the act itself. And yet, here she is in July 2015 introducing the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act on the Senate floor using all the scary things that happened during the financial crisis as a backdrop. We also know that reinstating Glass-Steagall is one of th

Obama as the Quintessential Anti-Trump

How can I fail to respond when my favorite pearl-clutcher-in-chief comments on the reason for the rise of Donald Trump? I give you Peggy Noonan  at her best: The only thing I feel certain of is how we got here. There are many reasons we’re at this moment, but the essential political one is this: Mr. Obama lowered the bar. He was a literal unknown, an obscure former state legislator who hadn’t completed his single term as U.S. senator, but he was charismatic, canny, compelling. He came from nowhere and won it all twice. All previously prevailing standards, all usual expectations, were thrown out the window. Anyone can run for president now, and in the future anyone will. Steve Benen suggests that this might be the ultimate "Thanks, Obama" meme. But, as I often do, I get a kick out of his way of using understatement as a kind of delicious irony. Noonan complains, “Anyone can run for president now.” Well, yes, and anyone could run for president before. President Obama ha

The Real Effect of Citizens United on the GOP (updated)

Regular readers might have already figured out that I am extremely skeptical of the conventional wisdom that is currently embraced by many people about the effects of the Supreme Court's decision on Citizens United . It has certainly changed things. But not always in the way we've been led to believe. Here are some of the things I'm paying attention to in terms of how it's impacting the 2016 presidential race. Insurgent Candidates What we saw happen in the 2012 Republican presidential primary is that several insurgent candidates were able to hang on longer than they would have otherwise because of funding from their big superpac donors (i.e., Newt Gingrich). This is at least one of the reasons why 17 candidates threw their hat in the ring this time around. A Weakened RNC RNC Chair Reince Priebus has tried his best to reign in the extremism currently gripping the Republican Party. But because candidates no longer need the Party establishment to survive (see above