Sunday, November 19, 2017

Fictions Reveal
Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post writes today that the tax cut legislation working its way through both chambers is carefully designed to benefit corporations-as-persons over actual human persons. Congress has a nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation and that group's analysis concludes that all households earning less than $75,000 will see a tax increase. This is an analysis from Congress.

She notes that "it's hard to find an independent economist" who agrees with the claim that these corporate tax cuts will trickle down to higher wages, more jobs, and overall better standards of living for middle and lower class American families. Even corporate CEO's do not see this happening.

Further, she reminds us that it is not only that corporate-persons huge tax cuts are denied to human-persons. In order to pay for these corporate cuts (and not trigger deficit increases that would require this tax bill to get 60 votes to pass), the Senate added provisions that actually make the situation for human-persons worse (including triggering immediate cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security).

Cass Sunstein, writing for Bloomberg View, argues that the president's ongoing obsession with prosecuting his political opponents is a dangerous step into Authoritarianism. Sunstein compares the president's gross violation of longstanding American tradition here to Big Brother's demonizing of Emmanuel Goldstein in 1984 as an enemy of the people in a media segment titled Two Minutes of Hate.
'As citizens see Goldstein's face on a screen they break out into "uncontrollable exclamations of rage" followed by a "hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer." 
Sunstein describes this Two Minutes of Hate as 'a diversion from issues of policy, and from problems people face in their ordinary lives. It focuses citizens' attention on a malevolent, even demonic force, who continues to threaten them.'
Sunstein concludes that "Hillary Clinton in Trump's Emmanuel Goldstein."

The Supreme Court did not create the fiction that corporations are people in Citizens United, but that decision expanded the rights of these fictional people dramatically, putting America more solidly on a path toward authoritarian plutocracy that at any time since our founding.

Both the fictional corporate persons and the fictional Two Minutes of Hate are designed with the same purpose: as bricks in a wall built to operate as a background consensus constructed to accomplish two things.

First, to enable some conversations and disable others. When key audiences start from the 'conventional wisdom' that corporations are people or HRC is a crook, the work it takes just to bring a conversation about any controversial political question back to a space where democratic problem solving is even possible is so burdensome that most conversations derail.

Second, these fictions are designed to distract our attention and inflame our emotions to redirect our frustrations toward each other and away from leadership.

The irony of democracy is how deeply it depends on good leadership. Thus, we saw President Obama (as described in Sunstein) rejecting calls to prosecute his opponents, for the good of the republic. And we see this president, inspired by one fiction, choosing instead to disable productive problem solving, to inflame and divide and distract us from his efforts to feed another fiction.

This reveals a deep-seated challenge that has been developing over decades. An effective response must be one step at a time: focus on winning the House in the midterms as the most pressing immediate next step. Focus on developing young (especially female and non-white) candidates at the state and local level, as the next most important step--investing in leadership of the future.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Yes, but...
Eugene Robinson is one of my favorite political commentators. His Washington Post editorials always help me better understand his chosen topic. I rarely disagree with him.

In today's Akron Beacon Journal, his most recent piece was reprinted and, again, I found it incredibly valuable in my efforts to sort out the Trump disasterouscy. I highly recommend it.

At the same time, there is one aspect of his argument I do not agree with. An aspect I have heard repeatedly from others I generally agree with as well.

He is correct to put John Kelly's recent comments in the context of Trumpism: where "by not it should be clear that racism is a feature of the Trump administration, not a bug." Most of his analysis focuses on this larger context and it is spot on.

Trump set the tone early during the campaign by calling Mexican immigrants drug dealers and rapists...contrary to the best available data that shows communities with more new immigrants have lower crime.

Trump continues to attack Muslims, despite repeated defeats in court, in his efforts to use religion as a litmus test for who gets to be an American. Trump has repeatedly doubled down on his 'both sides are to blame' explanation for the battle between American Nazis and counter-protesters in Charlottesville.

Trump frames the Las Vegas shooting as a mentally deranged lone wolf (read: nothing we can do beyond punishing that one person), but the driver of the truck in NYC as an 'animal' whose crime reveals the weakness of policies (Trump inaccurately claims) were created by democrats and there is lots we can do (beyond punishing the perpetrator) to stop Muslim terrorists like him.
"With remarkable consistency, Trump has picked fights that portray white Americans as besieged, offended or disadvantaged by dark alien Others.... He encourages whites to fear the coming day when they are no longer a racial majority. He stokes anxiety by dividing the country into 'us' and 'them.' And Trump does all of this cynically and deliberately."
Black athletes kneeling respectfully to protest police violence disproportionately directed at young black men were singled out by the president because they fit is sound-bite sabotage: take something that actually happened and tell a misleading-by-design story about it that fits into a tweet.

The design is to misrepresent the situation so he can use it to rile up his white male Christian base by seeming to reinforce the phony conspiracy theories they cling to in their efforts to explain their frustration, declining wages and standard of living, and their deeply held belief that America has been stolen from them.
"Making whites feel embattled and aggrieved is central to the Trump presidency."
All of this is important and accurate and smart. And this context is what we need to make sense of John Kelly's recent comments. And Kelly emphasizing the a man 'who committed treason and took up arms against the United States' was an "honorable man" deserves to be read as an entirely unacceptable way to frame that conflicts, because as Robinson points out it "buys into the racist, revisionist, dripping-with-Spanish-moss version of history that white Southerners concocted as they were imposing the system of Jim Crow repression."

When John Kelly said "lack of an ability to compromise" caused the war, however, Robinson and many others conclude that he is saying the war was not about slavery, or that only the compromises that had been tried (in the Constitution and afterwards) where retaining some form of slavery was the objective are the types of compromise that might have prevented a war.

It is possible that this is what Kelly meant. But claiming that a compromise, such as abolishing slavery in exchange for a massive infusion of Northern industrial cash like an internal Marshall Plan for the South, might have prevented war is not the same as saying the specific compromises on the table at that time are the one's I am referring to. The general statement about a failure to compromise can also be read to be a observation about a failure of leadership.

Kelly deserves all the criticism he is getting for choosing to call out Lee as "honorable man" in this context, particularly (as Robinson emphasizes) because it "echoes President Trump's 'many sides' analysis of Charlottesville." In my view, that criticism needs to focus on the 'honorable man' comment (and the people of good faith on both sides comment) and, as Robinson does, in the Trumpist context. But we open ourselves up to counterattack when we conflate a comment about a failure to compromise with being "ignorant enough to believe the war was about anything other than slavery."

Kelly's comments about Lee suggest he is ignorant in precisely this way. His defense of Trump and decision to continue to work for Trump reinforce that conclusion. Reading his suggestion that compromise might have prevented war as Robinson does here, however, creates an opening for our opponents to persuade those not already on our side by claiming that we are straining credulity, willing to say anything to weaken Trump, and in this way contributing to the deeper problems associated with fact-free political communication.

Do I believe this counter argument would be accurate or that Robinson cannot support his claims here? No. I do, however, believe we can make just as strong a case without inviting this retort. In a context where Trumpism is often about distraction, this strikes me as a non-trivial mistake, an unforced error.

Here is a good counter argument. I wonder if thinking historically and thinking politically are pulling us in opposite directions here. Probably not that simple.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

My Daily Tug O' War
On the one hand, the daily news remains deeply disturbing. So much so that even as a new junkie I often try to avoid anything other than NPR.

On the other hand, the daily news remains deeply joyful, astonishingly so, such that it feels like I cannot get enough of this...

Friday, October 27, 2017

The older I get the more I see the depth and dimensions of subordination faced by my family and friends who just so happen to not have a penis.

This stinks in monumental fashion. I feel horrible that I have not been working against this for most of my life. I am sorry that my level of awareness has so gradually unfolded.

It seems to me that our cultural traditions and the powerful forces unleashed by the consumer culture we enjoy and suffer...encourage us all to see women as objects and that insight strikes me as what we need to emphasize because it is at the root of subordination, discrimination, harassment and violence.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Black Out
Just spent the weekend in the PA mountains with old friends. Great to see them, amazing hikes, awesome food. 

On top of otherwise good times...being cut-off from the internet and phone service for nearly two days was odd at first but very soon reminded me of pre-iphone days...and I liked it.

Going dark every Sunday from now on. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Caption Contest

First thoughts went to John Prine

"Blow up your t.v. throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try an find jesus on your own"

Then I thought of Jack Johnson

"Where did all the good people go,
I've been changing channels
I don't see them
On the TV shows
Where did all the good people go,
We got heaps and heaps of what we sow"

Then I thought I am tired and ready for bed, but want to come back to this later. Ideas?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Modesty Forbids
Over the years I have enjoyed more than one Bob Dyer column, while also cringing every time he writes about race. As I write this today, I am laughing inside because I am pretty sure fewer than ten people might read my blog and hundreds of thousands read Bob’s column.
On those occasions, when Bob writes about race, he seems to return to the same three messages. First, he reminds us that he was part of the ABJ team that won a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting about race. Second, he argues that the racism is a problem today primarily because people refuse to stop mentioning racism. And third, he frames this larger point in storyline designed to suggest that he has no dog in this fight, he is just an average person making an ordinary observation, he is not the Jedi you are looking for.
When a group in any community is overwhelmingly suffering from multi-generational concentrated disadvantage, it is very difficult for me to accept an elite from outside this group blaming individuals in that group for pointing out the (many) ways the system is rigged against them.
Below is Bob Dyer’s column from today, pasted in full. He is, again, highlighting that he won a Pulitzer (message one above), and his central point that there is an industry out there of self-serving actors making a living by enflaming race-hatred—and they are the driving force behind our racism problem (message two above).
After doing that, he steps back and says, of course locals trying to address real problems are not doing this (message three above). He is a good writer, who has made me laugh many times, and likely a fine person, but I disagree with him here. As for his argument about the value of soothers? Modesty forbids.
One final observation, so our disagreement might be as clear as possible. I agree that there are unsavory actors on both sides (all sides) who exploit this (or any) conflict, particularly conflicts where there is a lot at stake and unequal distribution of hurt.
For instance, are there actors on both sides of the Trump nightmare who could care less about Trump winning or losing, but are using this conflict to advance their own interests? Sure. Does observing this absolve us of the obligation to figure out how to evaluate Trump ourselves, so we can contribute to our conversations about how to respond to his presidency? It does not.
Even as we hear many resist Trump in ways we do not support (with violence or with stupid self-serving arguments, for instance), we still have to figure this out for ourselves. We cannot simply observe (accurately) that some are exploiting the situation and conclude, therefore, that there is no fire behind all that smoke.
As a white man, is it hard to be reminded of the privilege that comes with white skin? Yes. Particularly when my everyday experience is one where I feel like sometimes I am just barely able to navigate my everyday challenges. Do I sometimes bristle at the passionate way some point out my privilege and the luxury that comes with that privilege (including the luxury to not notice it and seek refuge in ‘I don’t see race’)? Yes. Particularly as a first-generation college student whose immigrant elders worked hard to give me a good starting point in life.
Yet, I recognize that growing up black in America is many times more difficult than growing up white, with all the usual obstacles we all face plus all the unavoidable and painful explicit and implicit bias associated dark skin. And this recognition does not mean my elders did not work hard. It only means the when elders of my black peers worked as hard or harder without receiving rewards even in the same ballpark in terms of family wealth, political power, and equal protection of the law…their hard work did not result in creating a similarly good starting point for their children.
In the context of the current NFL conflict, former NFL defensive end, Howie Long, had this to say… 
“As a white father having raised three boys, there were a million things to worry about on a daily basis. But it’s impossible for me to understand the challenges that an African-American father faces at every turn while raising his children. But in a league that is comprised of 70% African-American players, if you’re a white player in an NFL locker room, that puts you in a position to try to better understand those struggles, and, subsequently as we have seen, show your support for your teammates in your own way. Understanding starts with a dialogue, and the most important part of dialogue is to listen.
Maybe there is a way for Bob and I to come to an agreement here. Is it possible to see ‘Racism, Inc.,’ as an industry within which there are white and black firms operating? Can we agree on that? If so, can we agree that the firms in that industry from our society’s most powerful group are the low hanging fruit we should try to call out, because constraining them does not ask them to simply accept their power-poor status as second-class citizens? They have options other than race-baiting—they are already in the dominant group.
Anyway, here is Bob’s column. You make the call.
Bob Dyer: Racism, Inc.
October 1, 2017 in Akron Beacon Journal
Like most of us, Akron resident Mary Deal, a self-proclaimed cynic (you will see why very soon), has been thinking a lot about race relations lately. How could we not, given the events — both national and local — of the past few weeks?
Deal has concluded that racism is “America’s brand new growth industry.”
Clearly referring to the ugly public confrontations between blacks and whites on Akron City Council, and the closed-door attempt at reconciliation that followed, she sent the following email:
Bob: After racism has been stoked by those who claim they’re not “racist,” a professional class of “moderators” offer their services to “bring together” all the discordant parties.
The “brought togethers” sit around a table where each speaks moderately to the others. They share their stories. They emote. They are confined until all reach an accord reminiscent of “the era of good feeling.” Group dynamics prevail. All leave as “a team.”
There’s only one problem with this halcyon result: We’ve been doing this since the late ’60’s or early ’70’s — “encounter groups,” anyone? — with the same dismal outcome.
The professional “soothers,” distantly related to soothsayers, do their exhortations, incantations, etc., but the “problem” never seems to go away. Too many people profit from the disorder.
Consider how the Akron Community Foundation has caught the fever. In cahoots with the library system, both are sponsoring an event called, “On the Table. Greater Akron. Your Voice Matters,” on Oct. 3. By attending, adults grant permission to be videotaped and photographed, doubtlessly by the ACF for future video distribution.
Didn’t the BJ “solve” the problem of racism years ago when it received a Pulitzer [in 1994]?
Just like the weather, “racism” has become something everybody talks about but can’t do a thing about. Except to make a profit and promote themselves.
I told her I thought she was an even bigger cynic than her favorite columnist, and asked for permission to quote her.
Sure. But also look up and quote Booker T. Washington on the race hustlers of his day.
Everything old is new again. And there’s always the quote attributed to Einstein about doing things the same way while expecting different results. 
Last November we had a provincial from Queens against a Methodist Sunday-schooler from Park Ridge, Ill. Oy vey! What a mess! The fewer “encounter groups” we encounter the better off we may be, eventually.
Born a cynic and sarcastic. It’s in the genes.
Dostoevsky on sarcasm: “Sarcasm is the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
The legendary Booker T. Washington, an author whom today we would label “African-American,” did indeed rail against race hustlers — more than a century ago.
“There is a class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs and the hardships of the Negro race before the public,” he wrote in 1911.
“Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs — partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.”
To me, that sounds a lot more like the Al Sharptons of the world than the local folks who are genuinely trying to close the enormous racial gap.
More than 5,000 people have signed up for that “On the Table” event, which indicates plenty of folks remain hopeful.
Are we going to fix the race problem by endlessly talking about it? Not likely. As Ms. Deal notes, we’ve been trying that for half a century.
On the other hand … what’s the alternative?