Monday, December 11, 2017

Self-Admission not equivalent to Allegations
One thread common in political conversation today is to attempt to deflect criticism of the president by alleging that HRC is also a criminal.

Conservative columnist Steve Chapman reminds us that nearly all the knocks against the president are based on his own admissions. This is not even remotely comparable to the knocks against HRC, which are a mixture of fabrications, exaggerations, and minor errors common to just about every public figure. And unlike the president, HRC does not proudly admit to these accusations.

But conversations are like deep trenches now. Each side repeating rehearsed scripts from within their own movie, lobbing assaults from one trench to another like a tourist on a bus travelling through a strange neighborhood and pointing out... suffice to say no listening, only hardened positions.

Eugene Robinson builds on this partisan flight from reality and concludes that we are closer to the edge, closer to banana republic instability and autocracy, than we are willing to admit.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Radio Silence
My very old laptop has been showing signs of collapse for many months now. Recently those signs are becoming near omnipresent. As a result, I may be in radio silence for a while. Since I blog mostly for myself, to work out ideas and to put stuff I want to save in a place where I can find it later, radio silence will likely have a very limited impact!

Go Akron
While my daily news diet includes (sometimes too much) information from social media and favorite professional sources accessed electronically (yes, starting with ESPN!), my bread & butter remains our amazing local newspaper, the Akron Beacon Journal. Michael Douglas is like my daily seminar leader and news curator extraordinaire and I appreciate his work and the contributions of everyone at the ABJ every day.

Maybe even more so at a time when 24/7 news, global internet information campaigns, and presidential tweets are both reflecting and reinforcing a concentration of power and influence in a mass media already tilted heavily toward corporate perspectives and in recent decades with a strong rightward skew.

In this context, my local newspaper has become even more valuable to me. Thanks. Again, today, the ABJ suggested I consider three columns that turned out to be well worth reading. And it is worth noting that the core perspective in each story here would be considered conservative in normal times, because the point of a free press is to cover more than one side of an issue, to clarify what is at stake and the trade-offs we have to wrestle with before deciding how to move forward.

It is not news to note that much of America now sees even these conservative perspectives as just more liberal elitism deserving of ridicule as fake news. Reminding us that we are living through a transformation of our own making that we do not understand. My local paper helps me make some sense of it again today, but the challenges are daunting.

George Will in the Washington Post argues that in the wedding cake case the cake maker should lose as a matter of law. I appreciate his reminder that the Civil Rights Act comes identifies the legal principle we should be thinking of when discussing this case.  
“Six decades ago, the civil rights movement gained momentum through heroic acts of civil disobedience by African-Americans whose sit-ins at lunch counters, and other challenges to segregation in commerce, produced the “public accommodations” section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

It established the principle that those who open their doors for business must serve all who enter. That principle would become quite porous were it suspended whenever someone claimed his or her conduct was speech expressing an idea, and therefore created a constitutional exemption from a valid and neutral law of general applicability… 
It is difficult to formulate a limiting principle that draws a bright line distinguishing essentially expressive conduct from conduct with incidental or negligible expressive possibilities. 
Nevertheless, it can be easy to identify some things that clearly are on one side of the line or the other. So, regarding Phillips’ creations: A cake can be a medium for creativity; hence, in some not-too-expansive sense, it can be food for thought. However, it certainly, and primarily, is food. And the creator’s involvement with it ends when he sends it away to those who consume it.
Phillips ought to lose this case.”
Kugler & Schrup in the LA Times argue persuasively that the US Supreme Court should rule in US v Carpenter that government agents ought to be required to secure a warrant to access phone data. This does not mean access is beyond reach, only that it requires evidence sufficient to persuade a judge that the inescapable invasion of privacy involved is justified. Seem reasonable and prudent in an age of big data.

Jonathan Bernstein in Bloomberg View argues that words matter, particularly words spoken (or tweeted) by a president. This appears to be a lesson the current president cannot (or refuses to) learn, perhaps because this is one of his character traits that his core supporters like most about him: he just says what comes to mind without the constraints of decorum or diplomacy, without concern for consequences or harms, law or democracy.
“Everyone in politics, at home and abroad, listens to what presidents say and do. It counts. It sets policy. It establishes the president's professional reputation, which is always being carefully evaluated by those who have to deal with the president, from bureaucrats to members of Congress to foreign politicians….
The lesson for real presidents is that what they say really does matter.

That's one reason Barack Obama (and all other modern presidents) used teleprompters and read from written speeches, and frequently answered questions with pat, prepared answers even when there was no visible script: Presidents never want to say something by accident. Get a fact wrong, and the president will find it harder to use facts in the future to persuade. Get the nuance wrong, and the president may offend those he had no intention of offending. Sound like a moolyak, and people are going to treat the president as if he has no idea what he's talking about. 
Trump, of course, ignores all of this. He shoots off his mouth (and his Twitter finger) constantly, seemingly oblivious that it has real effects that it never had when he was just a reality-television star. And he, and the nation, are constantly paying the price.”
These commentators today makes me feel like things are even worse than the daily headlines suggest because the tools we use to fix things—elections, political communication, bureaucracy, fair competition, the rule of law—are themselves caught up in the turmoil in ways that detract from their capacity to function as they have in the past (not to be overly nostalgic and suggest these have ever been power-free, but to recognize they function best when their power is directed toward moderation, balancing trade-offs, and tempering the worst instincts of the free market).

I draw comfort from observing younger generations—here in Akron and around the world—stepping up with new ideas and less entrenched perspectives, in coalitions based that include women and men, white and black, native and immigrant. These are the allies they grew up with, not identity groups they studied at a distance. These young leaders have shared experiences with diverse people as friends, and now bring this experience-based awareness to the table in the form of a more grounded and pragmatic and innovative problem solving.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Alias Grace
“You don’t have to think ahead and worry about the consequences of what you do.”
Margaret Atwood’s brilliant character, Alias Grace, speaking to the male doctor asking her about her chores in a way that made it clear to her that he really did not know what she did when she did chores. Powerfully disturbing TV drama.

Painful yet as illuminating as it is haunting to witness. 

The Guardian review of the TV adaptation...
"The elusiveness of the truth--and the anti-immigrant sentiment and class distinctions that permeate the story--resonate in the age of fake news, and especially at a time when the weigh we give to women's stories is under consideration. 
Grace's version of events in modified by her lawyer, perverted by the gutter press, ignored by the asylum doctors and distorted by her own desire to amuse, protect and perhaps avenge herself on a world in which she has, from childhood, been exposed to the worst that the men who run it have to offer."
This is another Atwood story that is very difficult to watch. While set in another time it feels like it pulls a curtain aside on the world we live in today.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Advice for Anti-Trump Republicans
Jonathan Bernstein of Bloomberg View offers some thoughtful advice and analysis here.

My View colleague Ramesh Ponnuru has an excellent column about the huge differences among anti-Trump Republicans. As he points out, they can't even agree on a label, with some embracing the #NeverTrump hashtag and others finding it not quite correct.
They may be united in opposing Donald Trump, but they are divided on immigration, guns, taxes, health care and almost everything else. So what is the basis for cooperation -- and for avoiding disasters like the 2016 Republican nomination fight? 
It's not my job to give advice to either party (which doesn't exactly stop me), but it's unlikely that we'll see a healthy Republican Party again until its leaders, activists, officials, politically aligned media and other actors can agree that the party has become dysfunctional and why.
Here are five propositions that might unite the anti-Trumpers:
First, it didn't start with Trump. The Republican Party has been running off the rails for some time. Even if not all anti-Trump Republicans can agree on an entire set of complaints about the party's past, pretending that Trump came out of nowhere and that the party is otherwise hunky-dory just doesn't get it done. 
Second, healthy politics in the U.S. requires compromise within and between the parties. Not only have the Republicans been rejecting compromise. They have also turned the rejection of compromise into a principle.
Third, democracy also usually requires respect for institutional norms -- the unwritten rules of politics that are part of the texture of the rule of law. Upending norms for momentary partisan advantage may be tempting, and every party does it at some point. But constantly exploiting the gaps between written and unwritten laws is corrosive for democracy. 
Fourth, the Republican emphasis on discrediting the so-called mainstream mass media has been harmful on balance. Whatever partisan bias the "neutral" press may have does not merit ignoring it or encouraging rank-and-file Republicans to ignore it.
And fifth, all Republicans who label themselves "conservatives" are entitled to use that label. The competition over who is the True Conservative and who is a RINO is self-destructive. 
This may not be a complete list, and maybe the propositions can be modified. Some might argue that explicitly rejecting the Republican strategy of exploiting bigotry, an approach that goes back to Richard Nixon's "Southern strategy," should be included. Others might have other suggestions. The key idea is that repairing what's wrong with the party requires a commitment to the democratic values inherent in the Constitution and the political system that grew up around that document. 
(And, yes, I fear the strains among the Democrats that oppose compromise, that do not respect norms and that only listen to their own voices could become more central. I don't agree that this has already happened, though.)
A Republican Party that accepted these basic approaches would have been far less likely to nominate Donald Trump -- and far more likely to have better, more effective politicians at every level of government. It still might be extremely conservative by almost any measure.
That would depend, as it always does, on internal party battles that are perfectly normal. In any case, it would be a lot more capable of governing.