Friday, August 29, 2014

Yes, Virginia, This Is Why 30% of Americans Don't Know Their Economic Asses from a Hole in the Ground.

A really good graph can tell a whole story anybody could understand:

This is a story of how income inequality expands at the expense of somebody, in this case the middle class. This isn't an accident but the result of policies and practices of a democratic nation. We can do better. So far we have not chosen to do so. For the whole story as told by Jared Bernstein, read this.

Today's thought experiment: Imagine how Fox News would handle this. Pick anyone, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, The Five, Geraldo, Stuart Varney.

Next, consider how this "Faux Effect" might influence that portion of the electorate who would look at this graph and blame immigrants or creeping socialism or [insert favorite boggy man here].

Stuart Varney has found his favorite boggy man:

Yes, stick to matters of faith and morals, Pope Francis. Capitalism runs best when unhindered by morality.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cops Shooting Black Men: Will It Stop, Can It Stop?

John Crawford III: Shot and killed for being black?

My entire adult life this has been going on. I wasn't around when lynching was the preferred method of randomly dealing with black men, but I shouldn't be surprised in 2014 to hear of yet another black man dead, apparently for being black in a wound-up-tight policeman's world:
Surveillance video shows an Ohio man talking on a cell phone, leaning on a toy gun, and facing away from officers moments before police shot and killed him in a Walmart store, according to an attorney for the man’s family.
John Crawford III died Aug. 5 after police were called to Walmart in Beavercreek, near Dayton, by another shopper who reported a man carrying what appeared to be an AR-15 rifle.
The 22-year-old Crawford was instead carrying an unpackaged MK-177 (.177 caliber) BB/pellet rifle he picked up in the store’s toy department.
Police claim Crawford ignored their commands to drop the weapon, and the former Marine who called in the report and witnessed the shooting said Crawford “looked like he was going to go violently.”
But attorney Michael Wright said surveillance video from the incident, which Ohio’s attorney general allowed him to watch with Crawford’s family, contradicted those accounts.
“John was doing nothing wrong in Walmart, nothing more, nothing less than shopping,” Wright said.
[Ohio Attorney General Mike] DeWine said Tuesday he was glad he had allowed Crawford’s family to view the surveillance video, but he did not plan to publicly release the video to avoid tainting the jury pool.
“I thought the family had the right to view it,” DeWine said. “The mom did not want to view it; I understand it. The dad did view it, (but) to put the video out on TV is not the right thing to do.”
Wright said the family objected to the piecemeal release of evidence, such as dispatch audio and video on the day of the shooting, was biased toward the police.
“Everything released is one-sided,” Wright said. “There is nothing favorable to John Crawford. You can’t show different pieces, show it all, don’t trickle pieces to gain favor of the public.”
He said the video suggests Crawford probably did not see or hear officers as they arrived.
The list of black victims of police violence goes on and on and on. The Trayvon Martin case is a police shooting, once removed. George Zimmerman was a cop wanna-be, who was then acquitted.

For Republicans, who are predominantly white, it's all good. In fact, the whiter you are, the richer you are, the Republicaner you are, the more you like the actions of the police in Ferguson, MO, following the police shooting of unarmed Michael Brown, according to a recent YouGov poll.

This woman, speaking for her people, supports Officer Wilson. Why? Evidence?

A moment of reflection, and a question: Why, why, why is this so? Why, why, why? Here's a hint:
The [Associated Press, Oct. 27, 2012] poll finds that racial prejudice is not limited to one group of partisans. Although Republicans were more likely than Democrats to express racial prejudice in the questions measuring explicit racism (79 percent among Republicans compared with 32 percent among Democrats), the implicit test found little difference between the two parties. That test showed a majority of both Democrats and Republicans held anti-black feelings (55 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans), as did about half of political independents (49 percent).
Yes, Republicans are measurably more racist than Democrats. Everyone should already know that, unless you're in denial or watch Fox News as your main source of cultural and political literacy. Clearly, however, Democrats harbor substantial racist feelings, as well. Everyone should already know that, too. Republican ranks are whiter, Democratic ranks less so. To rewrite a Los Lobos title, white is white, whether Repub or Dem.

There is a difference, and that's in the empathy gap. Predominantly white Christian conservative Republicans don't care what happens to blacks vis-à-vis the white-cop-on-unarmed-black-man situation. not-so-predominantly white centrist-to-liberal Democrats care more. They're more likely to empathize with the plight of blacks in America and want to see things get better for both blacks and Hispanics.

The fact that white Democrats continue to harbor racist sentiments clouds the picture, but there's no denying who is on the side of minorities in this country, whether they be black, Hispanic, Asian, or women.

Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if blacks and Hispanics would say that liberal Democratic empathy and $2.95 will get blacks and Hispanics a cup of coffee. And yet, it's that empathy that brings blacks and Hispanics to vote for Democratic candidates. (As a thought experiment, imagine a black voting for Mitch McConnell or Ted Cruz.)

If the racial divide in this country isn't clear to you, you either haven't been paying attention or are in denial. Can we admit where we are and work for change? Certainly, but it will take generations upon generations to make a serious dent.

Millennials want a post-racial world. Good luck with that.

Reading assignment: Why millennials perpetuate racism by wishing it away, in Slate.

Libertarian, Schmibertarian: The "Libertarian Moment" That Never Was

The last man who liked marijuana and hated war was a hippie in
San Francisco, not a GOP senator from Kentucky. Of course, Rand
Paul hates immigrants and poor people. When he opens his trap about
women, though, his goose is cooked. But he's a libertarian! It's all good.

Libertarianism, which is actually a real thing, was proposed in an article in the NYTimes by Robert Draper as finally having arrived. Read the article here at your peril. It's long and compares Rand Paul to Pearl Jam and his father, Ron Paul, to Nirvana. Obviously, Pearl Jam can never be Nirvana, but some of us already knew that. Ted Cruz, if you have to know, is Stone Temple Pilots.

The theory -- Libertarianism, This Is Your Hour -- has many immediate detractors, reality apparently being one of them. Thanks, Paper of Record!

Jennifer Rubin -- god, I'm never linked to her before -- says that it isn't a libertarian moment in the GOP (of course, Draper didn't say that) because the GOP loves poverty, I mean the poor, because, you know, Paul Ryan. Again, read Rubin at your peril, but it is interesting and a bit shocking in the I-suppose-I-already-knew-that category when she reports that the vast majority of Republicans support the police actions in Ferguson. Holy crap.

For shits and giggles, read's post contra the Libertarian Moment. Sample madness:
For instance, a disapproval of morality has been a staple of the Progressive Movement since its inception. The libertarian fetish of personal licence has long had a home within the Democrat party. It is Democrats, not libertarians who have waged the war on marriage as it has been recognized since the dawn of human history. It is Democrats that led the charge for legalization of marijuana (though many of we conservatives have become so jaded by the evils wrought under the guise of the War on Drugs that we were willing to go along with it.)
There's some wisdom for the ages. What's funny is that, though there are libertarians on both sides of the political divide, the GOP tends these days to claim libertarianism as their own -- the Kochs founded and continue to underwrite the libertarian Cato Institute in DC -- though they're shocked to find that civil libertarians, the ones who are concerned with civil rights, favor gay marriage, legalized pot, and reining in the police. Oops.

We return to Earth with a poll by Pew that catches the libertarian moment as a misunderstanding of what libertarianism is by those who think they are it. Sez Pew, via TPM's Dylan Scott:
But Pew's research showed striking departures from the expected party line. Libertarians were more likely than the general U.S. population to say that it is better for the United States to have an active role in world affairs, according to the Center.
They even favored stop-and-frisk -- the controversial policing tactic -- a touch more than the average American, despite civil rights supposedly being one of the cornerstones of the libertarian movement.
Pew dug further into the numbers by looking back at its political typology report from June. Tellingly, out of the seven typologies that Pew identified within U.S. politics, "none closely resembled libertarians, and, in fact, self-described libertarians can be found in all seven," Kiley wrote. In some of the early versions of the report, there was a group that looked like libertarians. They made up about 5 percent of the U.S. population.
That group was later discarded under Pew's methodology, in part because the sample size was too small. But even that group was not a perfect manifestation of libertarians, Kiley noted.
"Many members of this group diverge from libertarian thinking on key issues," she wrote, "including about half who say affirmative action is a good thing and that stricter environmental laws are worth the cost."
That's rich. Those who self-identify as libertarians love stop-and-frisk and affirmative action. Somebody somewhere has to rethink this whole thing. Maybe Rand Paul can do it.

After all, he's presidential. Timber!

Shit, if I run for president, I need a coherent message. This libertarian thing is hard.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Taylor Swift Gets a Bad Rap (Can't Believe I Just Said That)

Girl can dish it out, apparently can take it, too.
Taylor Swift has basically irritated me by her particular brand of narcissism. I admit to casually liking a couple of her songs, but that's like appreciating an occasional Snickers bar, if you know what I mean. Okay, she's cute, too.

Watching her parade around in her performances, especially when "sharing" the stage with others, again, is irritating. She's a star, fine. Now, grab some humility for being lucky.

Now that I've got that out front, let's look at the case of her new song, one categorically aimed at establishing her pop (non-country) cred, "Shake It Off," and the criticism it's getting, especially from blacks who feel stereotyped.

To get the gist of this, read this article in the NYTimes. The black contempt is shown in the article, though defenders are presented, too.

My take is that Swift's latest is straight-out fun pop, catchy, with a reasonably up-beat message: Don't sweat the small stuff (from the players, the fakers, the haters) and dance, however you define dancing.

What's likeable about the video is that OMG Taylor is self-deprecating, having fun at her own expense. So we've got suitably unserious fun pop, with an upbeat, inclusive message, along with Swift letting people know it's okay if you're white and not as good a dancer as Beyoncé. She can "shake it off" regardless. She's celebrating her limitations and enjoying it!

I say props on the progress, girl.

Now I can go back to being a grumpy old man.

Wealth Transfer Doesn't Mean the Welfare State

Manufacturing jobs used to pay well, and they could again. Who would that hurt?

Income inequality.

Asking if those two words are good for the economy or bad for the economy is truly a Rorschach test for today's politics. Conservatives will say it's good because it puts money in the hands of the "job creators." Liberals will say we're short-changing workers and stifling economic growth while allowing massive amounts of capital to accumulate among a handful of winners, you know, the 1% or, more accurately, the .1%.

Also in the mix of current outcomes is the lower tax burden at the top, exacerbating income inequality and starving government, especially by cutting public-sector jobs and benefits and underfunding and understaffing government agencies.

And yes, also in the mix is a tension between social welfare programs -- which, if not being cut, are also being underfunded -- and austerians who would cut them further.

But stepping back away from the politics, one finds that the key here is stagnant wage growth. Yes, there are winners at the top, as corporate profits soar, but there are losers all over the income spectrum: Even upper-middle-class workers are seeing earnings contractions -- if these workers are still in the upper-middle class at all. And the middle class itself, once the driver of the U.S. economy, is falling off a cliff, leading economists to surmise that we're in for a long economic winter referred to as secular stagnation.

What is secular stagnation? It's a situation in which job growth is slack, what new jobs are "created" pay lower wages, and demand remains slack. GDP used to track population growth, but it can't in a secular stagnation because low wage growth, among other things, limit demand growth. As they say, it ain't rocket science. If I have no money, I don't spend. If I have money, I do spend.

Bottom line: Money accumulated at the top has lower velocity. It moves through the economy slowly, if at all. Money in the lower quintiles moves faster because the less well-off you are, the faster you empty your wallet, not because you're stupid but because you're needy, even hungry. This velocity, as money repeatedly changes hands within the economy, is what drives economic activity and growth.

Rising wages might be the best way to stimulate an economy, even if it comes at the expense of businesses, which just might thrive because of rising demand. It's a wash, this wealth transfer, and a good wash indeed, but tell that to the conservatives who don't want you to find out that money at the top -- and the lower taxes they "purchase" with their wealth -- isn't the best outcome. You just might find out that money redistributed is what lifts all boats, and that would be political disaster for the conservative cause.

Why? Because once that canard known as the "job creators" is shown to be the fraud that it is, what else to they have, drill, baby, drill and bomb, bomb, bomb? Yeah, maybe so.

The Puritans, the forefathers of the conservative movement, believed in
predestination. In other words, God picks winners and losers. Sound familiar?

Once you accept that rising wages lifts all boats, how do you raise wages? Through collective bargaining, that's how. It's called unionism. Sure, you could raise the minimum wage, which should be done, up to a living wage. But to revive the middle class -- and let it start spending again -- we need more than a raise of the minimum wage. We need real wage growth, and that takes wage negotiations between business and labor on a level playing field, and that takes unions. It worked for America in the past, and works in much of Europe today. And what's wrong with that?

Nothing at all. But tell that to the "job creators." I mean, er, the wealthy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ferguson Starts a Slow-Rolling Cop Implosion

(Update Below.)

The Ferguson apparent murder of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer has provoked a horrid police response, the worst example of which just took place last night. In the area of bad PR for St. Louis County, this does not look good:

No one asked this police officer to look so stupid and dangerous. He figured this out all by himself. I'm not mocking him. I'm just saying a guy with a short fuse like this needs to be off the police force anywhere his type appears. Where am I wrong?

Update. This is getting a lot of attention all over the blogosphere. I wouldn't be surprised if it hardly makes a dent in the mainstream media -- it makes cops look bad, and that's not their job! But a larger point, hopefully, is that this is how things move in the social media environment. Maybe this is emblematic of how cops cannot just keep shooting black and brown people -- let alone the random white guy -- at will. Maybe, just maybe, they'll be a price to pay, and more, as we grow further into the information age. Not meaning to get ahead of ourselves here, just being hopeful.

The Army Doesn't Point a Gun at Anyone Unless They Intend to Shoot. Not So with the Police?

I guess not. I spotted this a week ago in Ferguson:

I could put up many examples this week in Ferguson. It's just a bit horrifying.

But not as bad as what I just saw on the Huffington Post:

Along with this companion clip:

People need to understand that soldiers are trained to have their guns down unless they intend to use them. Our police, which often come from the military, don't seem to be trained as well. Something must be done. Or we'll live in fear of this:

Neil deGrasse Tyson Getting His Brains on with GMOs

You're right, Dr. Tyson, these are Frankenfood.

I spotted this Daily Kos diary that caught Neil deGrasse Tyson waxing rantific about GMOs, genetically modified organisms, which center around foods. Courtesy of Mother Jones, we have the video. Tyson did not blink for long:

I'm with him in a general sense, and I'm also get that GMOs aren't, straight out of the gate, a catastrophic event in the history of mankind. I guess I don't have a problem with making a better tomato by inserting a frog gene. I do have a problem with a tomato eating Brooklyn, but that's Hollywood and not necessarily a likelihood.

It is worth, however, a bit of anxiety and care as we approach this expanding science. Dr. Tyson says chill out and let the good guys -- the scientists -- keep a watchful eye. Further, the subtext is hey, hippies, don't get you underwear in a bunch over something you haven't fully examined. If you want, go eat only wild foods on the Big Island. Let the rest of us continue a tradition tens of thousands of years old because this might not be the biggest problem we humans have, and we might manage to do it right.

This fits in with a The Week article that explains evolution very well, especially the part where we don't believe in evolution, we either understand it or don't. I like that. I get that. Here's a taste:
The very notion of "species" is even a little misleading — a discrete-sounding artifice created for the convenience of people who live about a hundred years. If you had eyes to see the big picture, and could watch life change on a geologic time frame, you'd see constant gradual change, as generations adapt to circumstance.
It's that incredibly slow pace that makes it hard for people to grasp intuitively. When you only live long enough to see three or four generations — a few ticks of evolution's clock — any tiny generational changes, like humanity getting marginally blonder or taller, are dwarfed by differences in the members among any one generation. Pile on enough eons, and tiny pidgin horses gradually become rideable by gradually less hairy apes. But it's impossible to see for yourself.
That's evolution left to proceed at its own lazy, trial-and-error pace. But it turns out you can make the gears turn a lot faster — in fact, we do it all the time. Have you ever seen strawberries in the wild? They're little tiny things, easily missed if you are not a bird or a bee. We bred them to be big and fat, specifically by only allowing the seeds from the biggest, fattest ones in each generation to reproduce. We similarly manipulate almost every other "natural" food we eat today: Take a stroll through any modern produce section and you can see the fruits, literally and figuratively, of evolution turbocharged by human intervention.
Dogs are another example: We invented the dog, starting with wolves and quickening the natural but poky process of evolution by specifically selecting breeding pairs with desirable traits, gradually accentuating particular traits in successive populations. Poodles, Rottweilers, Great Danes, Hollywood red-carpet purse dogs — all this fabulous kinetic art was created, and continues to be created, by humans manually hijacking the mechanism of evolution.
So if someone asks, "Do you believe in evolution," they are framing it wrong. That's like asking, "Do you believe in blue?"
Evolution is nothing more than a fairly simple way of understanding what is unquestionably happening. You don't believe in it — you either understand it or you don't. But pretending evolution is a matter of faith can be a clever way to hijack the conversation, and pit it in a false duality against religion. And that's how we end up with people decrying evolution, even as they eat their strawberries and pet their dogs, because they've been led to believe faith can only be held in one or the other.
I'll buy into that, and it makes a good parallel to Dr. Tyson's argument: The shit is happening anyway, so get down with it, get involved and make it turn out well. Okay?

I get that we evolved. But are we still evolving? For better or for worse, I guess we are.

The Rick Perry Indictment Isn't Crazy

Certifiable idiot after his "Oops" moment in 2012.
Now, with his new glasses, presidential timber!

James Moore in Huffington Post gets the part of the Rick Perry indictment that others in the press (purposefully?) ignore [my boldface]:
If Perry were able to get Lehmberg to resign, he'd have the authority to appoint her replacement. We can assume that would have been a Republican, and that any investigations might have stuttered to a halt. The DA, however, refused, and began to field threats from the governor's office that the PIU budget was to be zeroed out via line item veto. But the exercise of the veto is not what got Perry indicted.
First, he used the veto to threaten a public officeholder. This is abuse of the power of his office. Presidents and governors frequently use the possibility of vetoes to change the course of legislation. But that is considerably different than trying to force an elected officeholder to resign. What Perry did, if true, can be politely called blackmail, and, when he sent emissaries to urge Lehmberg to quit even after his veto, he may have indulged in bribery. According to sources close to the grand jury, Perry dispatched two of his staffers and one high-profile Democrat to tell Lehmberg if she left her office the governor would reinstate the PIU budget. One report indicates there may have been a quid pro quo of a new, more lucrative job for the DA, which is why this case has nothing to do with his right to use the veto.
When I first heard of this indictment perhaps a week ago on MSNBC, the commentator on (maybe?) the Chris Hayes show made the point clear that the most dreadful part of the indictment was that offering of a bribe -- you resign, I'll give the funding back to PIU, and you get a better job out of the deal. Since then, I've watched op-ed and news story after op-ed and news story, from the likes of Ruth Marcus, CBS News, and even Judy Woodruff on the News Hour, citing Rick Perry's veto as the smoking gun of the indictment. Some, like Woodruff, limit it to Perry's "veto threat."

Booked! Rick Perry's "smug"shot.
This is pathetic, possibly willfully obtuse, news reporting at its worst, which is all the more aggravating as it supports Rick Perry's story line and potential defense: I used my veto authority and I'd do it again.

We live in a news world of increasing incompetence, or we live in a world where news people protect their status by adhering to talking points that give them the opportunity to appear not to take sides, even when simply accurately stating the news -- like mentioning the bribery allegations embedded in the Perry indictment -- would be, well, stating news facts clearly and completely.

It's funny that the media stops explaining the story right before it gets to the part of it where Perry looks like he's in deep shit. That's for, I don't know, other, more intrepid reporters to unveil?

Here's one in Texas, Forrest Wilder of the Texas Observer, who's slightly more intrepid:
The criminal complaint against Perry was filed in June 2013 by the liberal Texans for Public Justice but it was assigned to a Republican judge in Bexar County who appointed Michael McCrum—a former police officer and prosecutor in the George H.W. Bush administration—as special prosecutor. McCrum was previously tapped by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (both conservative Republicans) to be the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas. There is no evidence that McCrum has a partisan axe to grind—quite the contrary.
The Travis County DA’s office, including Rosemary Lehmberg, had nothing to do with the indictment.
 Okay, what else?
The Public Integrity Unit is largely funded by the Texas Legislature. That money isn’t earmarked for Rosemary Lehmberg; it’s earmarked for the oversight function of the Travis County DA’s Public Integrity Unit. It is that money that Perry threatened to line-item veto if Lehmberg did not resign. When she did not, and Travis County opted not to remove her, Perry then yanked the funding. Afterwards, he continued to make offers to restore the funding in exchange for Lehmberg’s resignation, according to media reports. One account says he signaled that he would find Lehmberg another well-paying job within the DA’s office. Had she resigned, Perry would have appointed her successor.
The criminal case against Perry centers on his “coercion” of a local elected official using threats and promises. It is not premised—as has been repeatedly misreported—on the veto itself. Craig McDonald, the head of Texans for Public Justice and the original complainant, has said as much. As McDonald told CNN:
“The governor is doing a pretty good job to try to make this about [Lehmberg] and her DWI conviction. But this has never been about his veto of her budget and about her. This is about his abuse of power and his coercion trying to get another public citizen to give up their job.”
All right then. But how do we know whether he should have been indicted and whether or not he'll be convicted? We don't, but:
It is quite possible that the case against Rick Perry will fizzle. Perhaps it is “flimsy” and “thin” and all the rest. Credible legal experts have said they think the prosecution will have a difficult time securing a conviction. However, none of us is privy to the evidence and testimony presented to the grand jury. According to Peggy Fikac of the San Antonio Express-News, McCrum said he “interviewed more than 40 people, reviewed hundreds of documents and read many dozens of cases.” Fikac and other reporters who staked out the courthouse long before the national press spent five minutes reading the indictment watched “current and former Perry staffers, Travis County employees and state lawmakers” entering the grand jury room over the summer.
It is possible that McCrum has gathered more information on Perry’s motives that will come to light later. Although the indictment doesn’t mention it, the Public Integrity Unit is investigating a scandal involving the $3 billion Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, a fund close to the governor’s office that suffered from cronyism and lax oversight. The Public Integrity Unit indicted one CPRIT official in December for deceiving his colleagues and awarding an $11 million grant to a Dallas biotech firm without a proper vetting.
What else, if anything, did McCrum turn up in his interviews and document search? At this point, we just don’t know.
This doesn’t make for explosive headlines but the fact is, we’re just going to have to wait and see how the case unfolds.
I can wait. Apparently the Beltway boys and girls can't. That would mess up their "Rick Perry is back!" script they've running since he put on serious-looking glasses.

Update. Another Texas paper says Perry indictment adds up to more than the conventional wisdom.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

When Pundits Don't Know What the Hell They're Talking About, Education Edition

Frank Bruni, education expert.
Frank Bruni of the New York Times wrote a column today that proves he knows just enough -- the English language -- to write about the world of education and education reform. If he also knew much about the world of education, he'd have also said something in the column that wasn't bullshit, but alas, he knows next to nothing. First, a taste of his wisdom:
He [Frank Bruni's chosen expert, Mike Johnston] rightly calls teachers “the single most transformative force in education.”
But the current system doesn’t enable as many of them as possible to rise to that role, he says. And a prime culprit is tenure, at least as it still exists in most states.
“It provides no incentive for someone to improve their practice,” he told me last week. “It provides no accountability to actual student outcomes. It’s the classic driver of, ‘I taught it, they didn’t learn it, not my problem.’ It has a decimating impact on morale among staff, because some people can work hard, some can do nothing, and it doesn’t matter.”
Tenure in K-12 actually only means "due process guarantees." You can't be fired without cause. One of the acceptable causes is poor performance. There are annual reviews of all teachers, with those failing to improve -- based on the previous year's review and recommendations from principals on how to improve -- being subject to termination. Since I was a teacher on all levels -- elementary, high school, adult -- I have witnessed more than one "tenured" teacher losing their job for low performance.

What do you want, Frank Bruni, an annual teacher bloodbath? Will that reform the system?

Also, there's that small fact that teachers aren't in control of outcomes. It's been studied and known for years. Here's a commenter on your column, Frank:
I continue to be astounded that teachers are blamed for poor student performance when the research consistently proves that the SES (socioeconomic status) of the parents is the main driver of student performance. Children of high SES parents do well while children of low SES parents do poorly. To improve this situation we need to address poverty, not attack teachers. Yes poor performing teachers should be fired. But most of the time what I've witnessed is a poor administration that does not provide proper evaluations and training that would meet due process requirements to get rid of the poor performers. And, as a result, the poor performers exist among administration, staff, and teachers. It's not the teachers nor the tenure that is the crux of our school problems. Finally I will say that tenure does protect good teachers who need to be able to give fair grades when pressured by parents and administrators to do otherwise.
Quite true and well said. Here are three graphs that demonstrate how SES drives student performance, published in the New York Times:

Here's a link to evidence that SES is the central driver of student performance.

What part of this don't you understand, Frank Bruni, and if you're so smart, why was this missing from your narrative? My guess is that it doesn't blame teachers, which is of course the easiest path to completing a column before deadline. It also makes you look like a Serious Person, which I suppose you are, or you're at least "a stupid person's idea of a smart person." If only you knew what the hell you were talking about. But that would take work. It's easier to find a Democrat -- your expert today -- to do your dirty work for you. But he's a Democrat! Sheesh.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

One Nation Under SWAT

Is this the world you want? If not, how do we disengage from this kind of world?

I borrowed the title of this post from a Naked Capitalism post by Yves Smith, which includes an exhaustive study of militarized police tactics and their evolution since the 60s by a fellow from the ACLU, Matthew Harwood. I suggest you read it all. It's nothing short of horrifying

I don't know how we fix this, though there is evidence in the article of increasing pushback. It's pushback we need, for sure. Write or call your congresspeople and get active locally.

Sarah Palin: Reality TV Is My Personal Savior

Huckabee's an "odd bird," and Sarah Palin's never met a con she didn't like.

Who knew the Republican Party would disintegrate from the inside? Evangelicals are not happy:
The disconnect between social conservatives and the GOP has become a “chasm,” said Gary Bauer, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 and is now head of the Campaign for Working Families. He pointed to the party’s two most recent presidential nominees, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, as examples of candidates who were touted initially as having broad appeal to centrists in the general election but ultimately never inspired evangelicals and lost.
“Values voters have been treated as the stepchildren of the family, while the party has wanted to get on with so-called more electorally popular ideas,” Bauer said. “The Republican base will not tolerate another candidate foisted upon us as a guy who can win.”
The two guys that the evangelicals like are Ben Carson and Rick Santorum. Please, please, evangelicals, drive them to get into the race! Shit is getting real:
Discontent among evangelicals could have implications for the GOP next year as campaigning for the presidential nomination escalates in early-voting states such as Iowa, where social conservatives are a major bloc. Their presence could complicate matters for top-tier candidates such as Christie and Paul who want to remain viable in a general election but will feel pressure to appeal to religious voters. A surge of support for more fiery contenders such as Carson or former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) could turn candidate debates into a spectacle while pulling everyone to the right, affecting the party’s image more broadly.
And I thought Democrats would have to work to win in 2016. That may still be true, but it's looking more like don't-do-stupid-stuff might be enough. Listen up, Hillary. Obama's on to something.

Maybe all Hillary's got to do is stay above the fray, like a queen bee. But do it right!

I'm one who believes that the Democratic nomination is Hillary's if she wants it. She should declare right after the first of the year, or at least after the fall elections. If she declares early, Warren and Biden will beg off. Of course, I don't know exactly when "early" is, but she probably knows. Now, if she also knew how to appeal to social conservatives without alienating the far left (that's sixteen people in Seattle and maybe thirty-four in San Francisco), she'd be a lock in 2016.

Friday, August 15, 2014

From the Moderate Right: Obama's Non-Stupid Iraq Gambit Working

Nouri al-Maliki, soon to be Iraq's ex-prime minister.

From Marc Ambinder, more-than-faint praise for Barack Obama's don't-do-stupid-stuff Middle East policy:
The U.S. invasion of Iraq plunged the country into chaos; the evisceration of the entire political apparatus after the war put a stop to any natural political realignment; the de-Baathification of the new government robbed it of its technocratic expertise, and the current administration's relative inattention to Maliki's turn toward sectarian warlordism after 2009 gave the current prime minister confidence that he could violate the boundaries of acceptable behavior. So that's on Obama, to some degree. The best thing the U.S. could do, without being stupid, is to try.
Iraq may not be closer to stability today than it was yesterday; the Iraqi National Group does not have a majority in parliament, so the unknown unknowns are pretty daunting. The Army is loyal to who knows whom. ISIS poses an existential threat to Iraq, the Middle East, and perhaps even to the United States.
But Maliki resigned within the framework of the current political system. That's a step toward legitimacy. Credit many (including Maliki's presumed patron, Iran), but apportion some of it to this administration.
Bush does profoundly stupid stuff, Obama does less-stupid stuff. Obama for the win, for now.

Religion and Morality Have Their Costs, e.g. God Gave Us Bodies We Must Cover

Okay, I'm not proposing we strip today and wear clothing only depending on the weather. I was brought up to feel exposed when naked. It's too late for me and probably for you. But we don't have to like it.

Why? Because it's based on a completely useless, trumped-up morality is why. Reactions to a Land's End promotion that mistakenly (or not) rewarded its customers with a near-naked picture of Emily Ratjakowski went over like a lead balloon, at least for some. Here's the offensive picture:

Sorry, Charlie, but count me among the unoffended. And just so you know I'm an equal-opportunity amoralist, here's something for the other side:

I'm only guessing this works for the other side. Got a pretty good idea, though.

Now, there are arguments that over-sexualized photos and porn -- which of course neither of these photos are -- somehow stir up passions or pathologies. I won't argue that point. But what has deep-down fucked us up is that nudity and normal sexual behavior and reality has been demonized by religion and the morality police that have cropped up because of it. On this, religion blows hard.

Again, not stripping and walking down to the public pool, but that's because what should be normal and healthy and NO BIG DEAL ain't what I -- or any of us -- get to do. Thanks, Father Henry and Sister Mary Joseph William, thanks a lot.

Just for giggles, nervous or not, have a look at what made our cover girl so famous (NSFW):

...Not being politically correct here, I suspect.

GOP Libertarians Are Late to Cops-Are-Out-of-Control Party, Get the Credit!

Who woke one morning and said, "We need one of those!"

If this isn't an example of Beltway mentality, I don't know what is:
The killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., has produced a rare and surprisingly unified response across the ideological spectrum, with Republicans and Democrats joining to decry the tactics of the city’s police force in the face of escalating protests.
Most notably, the reactions reflect a shift away from the usual support and sympathy conservatives typically show for law enforcement in such situations. Although possibly unique to the circumstances of the events in Missouri this week, the changing reaction on the right is clear evidence of a rising and more vocal libertarian wing within the Republican Party.
Rand Paul expresses a rare sane stance, for which he deserves credit. Erick Erickson jumps on-board, for which he should be laughed off the stage. (How he ever got on remains a mystery.)

What is ignored by Dan Balz, Rand Paul, and Erick Erickson is that liberals occupied this space for years, if not decades. Digby of Hullabaloo puts it in focus for us:
So I'm hearing some nonsense that only libertarians have been talking about the militarization of the police. I am not a libertarian. I'm a liberal and a civil libertarian which isn't the same thing. And I've been talking about this for a very long time. So have a lot of other liberals.

The fact is that civil liberties are rarely a priority in either political party. The libertarians in America tend to gather in the GOP while the civil libertarians like me tend to vote Democratic. We're a minority either way, but the civil libertarian liberals outnumber the libertarians substantially.
Very true. The reason the Democratic Party can claim little ownership of this issue is that, despite the position of Alan Grayson -- read all the Digby post to learn of that -- Democrats jumped on the law-and-order, death-penalty-rocks bandwagon a long time ago, if only to counter claims that Dems were "soft on crime." For trying to out-law-and-order law-and-order Republicans, Dems only showed they were, on this issue, "soft on courage," but it is, at least, a recognized, accepted political gambit (you know, taking stands that are hard to argue against until decades later we find ourselves with the largest prison population in the Known Universe).

We have, in fact, militarized our police. It's another horrible legacy of 9/11, along with our law enforcement propensity to mount sting operations that put stupid people in jail because they got convinced by FBI plants that terrorism was cool.

I live in America because I was born here and like many aspects of the culture, but this isn't one of them. So I criticize. In the sixties, war-mongers hit us with "Love It or Leave It" bumper stickers. I didn't have to love it or leave it, which of course was the perfect reaction. Things now have gotten pretty far when the right and the left get caught, however briefly, on the same side of a law-and-order issue. But don't for one minute think that we're equal on this issue. Liberals were way out in front on this one. Nice to see you, Rand. Stick around, why don't you?
Note. Not to establish cred, but I blogged on this issue a few weeks back, just before this whole Ferguson thing broke.

Racism Is Real. Is It Permanent? Maybe.

This approach toward police work wasn't working in Ferguson. I wonder why.

Captain Ron Johnson, selected on Thursday to head ground operations
in Ferguson, adopted a different strategy. Apparently it worked.

Atrios nails the problem:
Not going to say anything that isn't totally obvious here, but the degree to which police feel free to abuse the local population depends on the race and socioeconomic status of the individuals and the neighborhood generally. Take your baton to a rich white person and you might actually face some consequences. Bullets in the back of a young black guy who is presumably guilty of something - we just need to figure out what - and you probably won't.
The only point of racist stop and frisk policies is to find excuses to arrest young black males. If you frisk people you might find weapons or drugs. That's it. Everybody but black people in this country are supposed to be carrying guns on them at all times and disproportionately locking up black people for their drug use is completely racist, even if my local African-American mayor likes to pretend he's unaware of this point.
 If you follow the link, you'll see the word "blahs" in the headline, a reference to a Rick Santorum slur of blacks that was so horrible even Santorum wishes he'd never said it, so he said he was misquoted. He didn't say black people, he said blah people. Yeah, right. And the reference to "my local African-American mayor" is to current Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter. Atrios lives in Philadelphia, where Mayor Nutter has urged local police to remain tough on marijuana, despite relaxed laws spreading around the country.

There are more than one scourge upon this nation. One is deep-seated, institutional racism that is a fixture of our law-enforcement culture. a second, newer one is the militarization of our police forces. This came to a head in Ferguson this past two weeks. Knowing how two weeks is a decent length for a news cycle, we'll probably forget this by tomorrow morning. But that doesn't mean that it's over. But it is a deep, deep shame that hangs over all this country represents.

Only an ignorant snob like George W. Bush would say "They hate us for our freedom." I don't know who the hell he was talking about in that famous retort, but it sure wasn't about the "freedom" young blacks enjoy when they're walking down the street.

Update. Breaking news indicates that deceased Michael Brown may have been involved in a robbery of cigars just before he was killed. That's okay, then. In America, we always shoot cigar robbers in the back, then in the front when they raise their hands in surrender. "Thought I saw a weapon" is no longer a needed part of the justification.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Today's Police, Caught in the Wild

Decreasingly rare photo of police celebrating their recent penis enlargements.

Police blowing stuff up, saying, "They want a riot, we'll give them a fucking riot!"

Police discover waving enlarged penises do in fact stop unarmed citizens in their tracks.

As Atrios said about the situation in Ferguson, "shit is fucked up and bullshit." Indeed. Why is this happening? Maybe this:

(Video may not play at this time, so go to this Huffington Post page to see it.

Or this:

Weird how their versions match. At this time, neither eyewitness has been interviewed by the police. Most of us would agree that's not weird. It's the way they roll these days.

Note. This doesn't go for all cops, obviously. I'd still want a cop around when I need one. But I'm not a young black man, and I can imagine they might hold a different view.

We have so far to go as a nation, so far to go.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Republican Party Is Racist, Whether You Like It or Not.

Today's Republican Party, er, I mean Bob Jones University students getting
ready for Missionary work in Australia (whaa, no Christians there?).

I'm not picking on Bob Jones University or Christians per se, but, like it or not, Bob Jones is emblematic of the problem the GOP created for themselves. George W. Bush famously spoke there early in his campaign, an event that also famously forced the university to end its ban on interracial dating.

Why would Bush speak at such a racist institution in the first place? Why, for the same reason Ronald Reagan opening his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the town in the deep South where three civil-rights workers had been slain in the 1960s. Reagan's reasons for starting there are clear, and so was his use in the speech of "states' rights," which most astute political observers recognize as code words for "small government" and "individual freedom," which Southerners clearly understood to mean "the Feds should stay the hell out of the integration business and leave the South alone."

Read this article in Slate some years back by David Greenberg for all the nuances of the phrase as Reagan used it.

Since the devastating loss to a black man (again) in 2012, the Republican Party has been working around the edges of forging a way to attract black and Latino voters, as well as young adults, into the fold. It has not gone well, to say the least.

Most Hispanics don't perceive these white Americans preventing a bus
full of child refugees from being transported from one detention center
to the other as being Democrats. Problem for the GOP? You bet.

I might throw in, parenthetically, that Democrats don't deny that, prior to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Southern Democrats were decidedly racist. Quite the contrary, we know they were. They weren't called Dixiecrats for nothing. It's just that, as Lyndon Johnson well knew when he signed the Civil Rights Act, these Southern Democrats turned to the Republican Party, where they remain today, in spite of conservative attempts at denial and revision. (Here's a link to analysis of Kevin Williamson's preposterous claims.)

Charts can tell this story well. The 1956 election:

The 1964 election:

Any questions?

Now, in 2014, the Republican Party finds it nearly impossible to reset its public image. Why is that? It's because its core ideology is based on, among other things, a deep-seated racism, which is why its reboot is so hard if not impossible. The 2012 electoral map:

Voter breakdown by gender and race:

Yes, Southern Whites, especially men, have swung to the GOP. Women, blacks, Latinos, and Asians, not so much. So, the question is, who thinks whom is racist? The answer is obvious, don't you think?

Now, let's be clear. All Republicans aren't racist, and all Democrats aren't card-carrying members of the NAACP. I'm a liberal, progressive, socialist Democrat, and I recognize my own insidious racist tendencies and my participation, for the better part of my life, in the institutional racism that scars our national identity. The difference is I want to let it go, grow out of it, acknowledge it, and then fight it.

Republicans, by and large, aren't there yet. In fact, their "there" is essentially racist, and the white Southern Christian male clearly embraces it. Until that changes, charges of racism will haunt the GOP, as it should. Non-Southern conservatives might want to change, but how many are prepared to call out their party's base? Damned few.

Where's Waldo, Romney-style. Where are the blacks, Latinos, Asians? Nuff said.

Republicans Hosting Fake News Sites. It's Legal, They Insist!

Rep. Trey Gowdy (White Guy, S.C.) getting ready to make shit up
about Benghazi. Hmm, par for the course...

We should be nicer to Republicans, I know, but the GOP silly season is in full bloom with fake news sites:
These two dozen sites, with names such as “North County Update” and “Central Valley Update” look like political fact-checking sites; the NRCC’s spokeswoman, Andrea Bozek, called it “a new and effective way to disseminate information.”
An NRCC official told me the sites are legal because, if you scroll all the way to the bottom, you’ll find “Paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee” in small print. “They’re not fake Web sites,” the official said. “These are real attack Web sites.”
Real attacks, but fake news: This is a fairly accurate summary of what the GOP’s scandalmongers have been purveying during the Obama years.
Well, then, as long as it's legal.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Lindsey Graham and John McCain Should Shut the ?%#! Up. (Et tu, Hillary?)

Now, come on, John feels bad enough as it is about that photo op in Syria with ISIS!

Lindsey Graham says unless Barack Obama does more in the Middle East, they're going to come here and get us!

John McCain says that Barack Obama made a terrible mistake by not staying in Iraq in the first place -- even though the pullout date had been negotiated by Bush well before Obama took office.

Yeah, there was that deal about a failure to negotiate a status-of-forces agreement, but that was doomed from the start. Graham and McCain, of all people, know why.

Now Hillary gets into the act and criticizes Obama for not doing more in Syria, and we all know why: She has to get out in front as a "chick with balls." Pols gotta pol, I guess. Sheesh.

No comment on Graham. When he speaks, I hear something like "Obama's feckless policy toward toilet-bowl cleaners has left us vulnerable to shitty toilets!"

As for McCain, his I'm-very-serious-on-foreign-policy hard stares are empty. He's a bomb-bomb-bomber and contributes nothing of substance except slightly more hot air than his colleagues. His credibility fell apart completely since he met with ISIS leaders in Syria a while back and said they'd be cool guys to arm against Assad. Oops.

Now, as for Hillary, her whole point is "we could have found the good guys and armed them, but we didn't." Okay, in Syria (or Libya, or Egypt, or Iran, or Lebanon, or Qatar, or Bahrain, or Yemen, or Somalia, or you-pick-one) EXACTLY WHO ARE THE GOOD GUYS AND WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU'LL GUESS BETTER THAN MCCAIN?

The whole good guy with a gun thing doesn't work very well here at home, but over there where they all basically hate us it's gonna work out swell! Because after we arm good guys, the guns will never fall into the hands of the bad guys. Never!

Hillary has to walk a fine line. Well, maybe not. Next to her,
Rand Paul looks like a foreign-policy wimp.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Gaza Is a Tragedy Because of Hamas

Who wants peace? Apparently not Hamas.

The violence and death in the Gaza Strip is sickening. The more I read, though, the more I find that Hamas lives off this violence. It's easy to demonize the Israelis -- they often seem to not help their case, internationally -- but how culpable are they? It's complicated, but this piece by Dennis Ross, who knows the region and its history firsthand, lays the blame where it falls, and that's on Hamas:
Unfortunately, we know the path Hamas chose. Even as Israel was completing the process of withdrawing all its settlers and soldiers from Gaza, Hamas carried out a bus-station bombing in Israel. Then, from late 2005 to early 2006, Hamas conducted multiple attacks on the very crossing points that allowed people and goods to move into and out of Gaza. For Hamas, it was more important to continue “resistance” than to allow Gazans to constructively test their new freedom — or to give Israelis a reason to think that withdrawal could work. Some argue that Israel withdrew but imposed a siege on Gaza. In reality, Hamas produced the siege. Israel’s tight embargo on Gaza came only after ongoing Hamas attacks.
The embargo on Gaza might have hurt the Palestinians who live there, but it did not stop Hamas from building a labyrinth of underground tunnels, bunkers, command posts and shelters for its leaders, fighters and rockets. The tunnels are under houses, schools, hospitals and mosques; they allow Hamas fighters to go down one shaft and depart from another. According to the Israeli army, an estimated 600,000 tons of cement — some of it smuggled through tunnels from Egypt, some diverted from construction materials allowed into Gaza — was used for Hamas’s underground network.
Israel offered peace, and Hamas rejected it. That rejection continues today. Until Hamas -- or the Palestinians as a whole -- accept peace as an answer, then war is what they will get. It's not easy sympathizing with the Israelis as images of children being pulled from the rubble dominate the news. But who keeps violating the truces, who keeps rejecting each new peace offer? Hamas.

This nightmare ends when Hamas says it ends or, more likely, when Hamas is no more. Until then, it's slow-rolling war with all its consequences.

It's hard to like Bibi, but Israel has the leadership Hamas requires it to have.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Does Obama Already Have the Power to Grant Broad (Temporary) Amnesty?

Many think so, and it's well summarized by TPM's Sahil Kapur.

Holy Euphemism, Batman! Torture IS Torture.

You're right, Robin. Cowardice does, ahem, blow.

I'm glad that the New York Times has finally decided, officially, to call torture torture. Its tortured logic -- we are here to report, not to judge -- was embarrassingly limp. I love how new Editor Dean Baquet described the change as driven by reporters, who asked that the paper "recalibrate its language."

The truth is, like many mainstream outlets, the Times was guilty of abject cowardice, pure and simple. I grant that they may have been intimidated by the Bush administration. It wasn't for the first time, but for the "Paper of Record," let the record show their cowardice.

About five years back, I heard the NPR ombudsman, Alicia C. Sheperd, declare on air that she was advising all NPR reporters to refrain from using the word torture but instead use the terms enhanced or harsh interrogation techniques, declaring it was not the reporters' job to use "loaded" words.

I will not waste my time quoting Alicia C. Shepard, and for all I know my beef is not with her but with the editors above her who urged her to adopt her position. But I do urge you to read the following two articles she wrote on the subject. Here is her defense and here is her defense of her defense. Read the comments following the articles to get the sense of the public response, which is, needless to say, not kind to her.

From the moment I heard Ms. Shepard lay down the official NPR position on not using the word torture, I, a twenty-year-long annual contributor to NPR/PBS, stopped contributing. I haven't given them a penny since. A friend of mine recently chided me for it, since I listen to NPR and watch PBS daily. It was food for thought, and I was considering contributing again. This change of heart announced by the New York Times has angered me anew.

If and when I can find evidence that NPR has also changed its views, I may consider contributing again, that is unless they are spineless or obfuscating in the way they announce their policy shift. If it's recalibrating their language, I'll spend my NPR contribution on pizza and beer, thank you very much.

Note. I found this in Shepard's entry in Wikipedia:
In June 2009, Shepard, acting in the capacity of NPR Ombudsman, deflected objections to NPR's use of euphemisms such as "enhanced interrogations" as a replacement for the word "torture" in their reporting about waterboarding, stating: "No matter how many distinguished groups — the International Red Cross, the U.N. High Commissioners — say waterboarding is torture, there are responsible people who say it is not. Former President Bush, former Vice President Cheney, their staff and their supporters obviously believed that waterboarding terrorism suspects was necessary to protect the nation's security. One can disagree strongly with those beliefs and their actions. But they are due some respect for their views, which are shared by a portion of the American public. So, it is not an open-and-shut case that everyone believes waterboarding to be torture."
Shepard herself stated that she personally believed waterboarding was torture in an interview with Bob Garfield of On the Media.
What is detestable about her statement is that the Red Cross or the U.N. might believe what Bush and Cheney did was torture, but because Bush and Cheney disagree, hey, views differ! So, what's an ethical reporter going to do??

BTW, her supporting her argument with "[their views] are shared by a portion of the American public" is crap. Should NPR refer to Barack Obama as "purportedly American" or speak of evolution as "a wildly controversial theory?" Sheesh.

Final tragic note. Sheperd taught media ethics at Georgetown during the years she was NPR ombudsman. Teaching by example! George Orwell would have been proud.

Final silly but true note. Shepard said NPR Managing Editor David Sweeney made her do it! All right then, bygones!

Here's professor Shepard teaching her kids that sometimes media
ethics means you have to help your government cover up torture.

After quite a search, I can't find that NPR has changed its policy toward (the word) torture since Shepard's pronouncements. Shameful.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

On the Education Grift (Good Money!)

Campbell Brown: Well, she looks all educationy!

Charles P. Pierce asks the question, "Who the fuck is Campbell Brown?" How is she an education expert?

Let's let Charles answer this one (not pretty, despite how pretty Cammy is!):
Quite simply, Campbell Brown is not in this for the kids. She's running a con on behalf of some pretty shady people. (Singer, for one, has a disreputable history of looting entire impoverished countries for his own benefit.) Because of this, she doesn't really have to know what the fck she's talking about, which is good, because she pretty plainly doesn't.
Charlie not happy with Cammy's con, no he isn't. Read on.

Sorry Michelle Rhee, there's a new griftin' girl in town...

WaPo Editorial Board: Because Congress Can Do Nothing, Obama Should Do Nothing

WaPo: Congress won't help these refugees, so, Obama, don't you either.

Because why? Because we -- editorial board, or Fred Hiatt, whichever comes first -- don't know why. Or, if we do know why, we aren't telling because then you'd know why. It's better to just say don't be bad, Obama, because maybe a Republican president woulda coulda will do something you don't like, and then what the fuck? Liberals, don't do it because Fred Hiatt says no because must be unconstitutional but too lazy to explain why. Just don't Obama!

WaPo Editorial Board = idiots at play in an editorial field of dreams. But oh well, it's only the paper of record in our nation's capital. We're doomed. Oh, and read the comments on this Mobius strip of illogic, but bring the Pepto.