If you like what goes on around here and you can swing it, please consider making a donation. Whatever you can manage would be a big help and much appreciated. Thank you.
And thanks to all for reading the blog.
If you like what goes on around here and you can swing it, please consider making a donation. Whatever you can manage would be a big help and much appreciated. Thank you.
And thanks to all for reading the blog.
People who love money don’t become teachers. People who do things because it will make them lots of money don’t become teachers. People who will become teachers because they might now and then win Andrew Cuomo’s proposed teacher lottery and pocket what only sounds like a lot of money are not people we want becoming teachers.
Back in January, I wrote a post called Andrew Cuomo remembers he’s a Democrat and his father’s son. I thought about titling this post “Andrew Cuomo forgets he’s a Democrat and makes his father spin in his grave.” The January post was in praise of some fine liberal sentiments he expressed in his State of the State speech. I was moved by the words and glad he said them but they didn’t make me like Cuomo more. He can talk like a liberal but he’s still not liberal enough. And in the same speech he managed to sound not liberal at all.
We are going to continue the transformation of our system and reward performance by creating a teacher excellence fund. It is going to be the first statewide teacher performance bonus program that actually rewards performance for teachers and incentivizes teachers who perform well. Teachers who are rated highly effective on their evaluations, which is the highest statewide rank, would be eligible to receive $20,000 as a bonus, in performance pay, which is on average 27% of their salaries. You want teachers who can perform and do perform? Then incentivize performance with a performance bonus and pay them like the professionals they are.
The teachers lottery Cuomo’s proposing isn’t a liberal or a Democratic idea. It’s Republican and conservative through and through because it’s based on the first and over-riding principle of Republicanism.
Money is everything.
People don’t do anything except for money…unless they’re fools.
But that’s how Republicans think. Doing things for the bucks leads to excellence because the measure of excellence is simply making a lot of bucks.
The principle breaks down like this. The right people, people like us, wearers of five-thousand dollar suits and occupiers of corner offices, and people who want to be like us, won’t work hard unless we---um, they---are paid gobs of money. Everybody else, the shiftless rabble, won’t work at all unless they’re terrified they won’t get paid any money at all.
Teacher lotteries---What Cuomo’s proposing used to be called “merit pay”. I call them lotteries because you win by hitting the right numbers and because luck plays a big role in whether or not you hit them: even “excellent” teachers can’t control what students land in their classrooms. Anybody who doesn’t understand how much having the right sort of students, students who are prepared and eager to learn, contributes to teacher “excellence” doesn’t understand how teaching works or what it really means to be an excellent teacher---teacher lotteries like the one Cuomo’s proposing for New York may look at first glance like the first aspect of the principle but they’re really expressions of the second because they always come attached to plans to make teachers terrified they won’t get paid anything. They start with the elimination of tenure, the breaking of teacher unions, the end of collective bargaining, and the scaling back and even elimination of benefits.
Cuomo wants all that too.
His fondest dream is to break the unions.
This isn’t because he’s a closet Republican, though. It’s because a born tyrant and can’t stand it when anyone stands up to him or gets in the way of his doing what he wants to do exactly the way he wants to do it.
It’s also because one way he truly is his father’s son is in holding a grudge on the old man’s behalf. Andrew Cuomo blames unions for making Mario Cuomo’s time as governor less than idyllic.
He has never seen unions as one constituency with interests a Democratic governor has to balance against others’. He sees them as his personal enemies. He sees all the other constituencies as his personal enemies too. Like I said. A born tyrant.
Back to the teacher lotteries.
In a system in which real bonuses are fairly awarded, every employee earns one or can earn one. The size of your bonus depends on how good a job you do. Excellent employees will earn higher bonuses as a matter of course. But that doesn’t prevent the less than excellent from receiving theirs. There’s incentive for everyone, the excellent, the very good, the good, the average to try to be better, and there’s a penalty for incompetence, but there’s no serious penalty for trying hard to be better but not being better enough or for failing to be better than the best. But teacher lotteries are winner take all. If you win, I lose. Teacher lotteries put teachers in competition with each other.
Putting employees in competition with each other is something law firms and sales offices do. Law firms and sales offices are not environments children should grow up in.
Good teachers work in cooperation with other teachers at their schools. Good schools unite teachers. Schools start to fail when teachers are left to go it alone. At such schools, good teachers work harder and desperately to make up for the schools’ failings and wear themselves out in the process. Average teachers just muddle along. And bad teachers just give up. At a failing school, there is no incentive for teachers to perform well except that which comes from their hearts. And hearts give out. Teacher lotteries don’t change that dynamic. They intensify it. They dis-incentivize teamwork and collegiality. They incentivize an every teacher for her/himself attitude.
The lotteries are only affordable for the state if very few teachers can win them. And few will. Most teachers aren’t excellent and are never going to be excellent, for the same reason that most people in every other line of work---including governing states---aren’t excellent. They’re human. Human beings on the whole are only as good at anything as they need to be to get by. And this isn’t because they’re lazy and don’t try or aren’t incentivized to become more than human. It’s because people are born with a limited set of talents and, something else necessary to achieving excellence, energy. Most of us just aren’t physically strong enough. No incentive in the world can turn us into superhumans. And, although vanity prevents us from admitting it outloud or even to ourselves, at some level we know this about ourselves. We know what we’re good at and what we’re less than good at. We know our limits and how far we can push past them before we collapse or start screwing up because we’re just not excellent enough. So, never mind the incompetents, what happens when the good and very good but not excellent teachers realize they’re never going to win one of the lotteries?
Pretty much nothing different. The good and very good along with the incompetent go about their jobs as they’ve always done except maybe a little more dis-incentivized to try harder.
Basically, teacher lotteries don’t incentivize any one to excellence except the naive and deluded. The already excellent don’t need the incentive. They’re incentivized by their own talent, ambition, drive, commitment to their students, pride in themselves as professionals.
That’s what makes them excellent.
But how many times can an individual excellent teacher hit the lottery anyway?
Odds are not even once. But let’s say you are an excellent teacher and the odds and gods favor you and you hit it twice in your career.
That’s forty extra grand in the bank.
Your kid’s college education. Provided your kid goes to a state school and lives at home.
But average it out over the course of a thirty year teaching career.
That’s a bonus of $1333.33 a year.
That would be a welcome chunk of change if you’ve got a big credit card bill due or need to have the car repaired, provided you have it in hand when you need it, but it won’t make up for the raises you aren’t getting, the increased amount you have to spend on health insurance, the larger contribution you have to make to the privatized retirement accounts that will replace real pensions. But you’re not supposed to notice that the overall objective is to pay you and your less than “excellent” colleagues less.
Teacher lotteries are premised on “excellent” teachers being as driven by money as lawyers and salesmen and too stupid to do the math.
The real plan isn’t to increase the quality of public schools. The plan is to make them cost less to maintain. The plan is to pretend to be doing something for the schools when the real goal is to save the rich from paying taxes to send your kids to school.
And a key part of the plan is to pay teachers less while making them as fearful of losing their jobs as factory workers in right to work states.
Who’d want to become a teacher under those conditions?
I believe the honest “Reformers’” answer to that is Who cares? What does it matter? My kids aren’t going to public school.
And some would answer that way, the more brazen but thoughtful if cynical ones.
Most of the rest won’t answer. They’ll just do what dishonest politicians and business leaders always do when asked to explain themselves: pretend they weren’t asked the question, change the subject, or simply restate what they just said that needs explaining as if restatement is explanation.
Some, however, have another answer. Their answer is based on their not thinking of teaching as a profession. It their minds it’s basically volunteer work, community service, that any well-meaning, intelligent, but not exceptionally talented person can do.
That person, by the way, is in their minds a woman.
Teaching is women’s work and that makes it less important work. Easy work. Work that doesn’t require talent, skill, or real intelligence. Just a warm heart and an ability to keep the kiddies in their seats for a few hours a day while knowledge just seeps into their heads. Teachers aren’t professionals. They’re well-meaning amateurs.
And they should be paid accordingly and not expect anything more. Their reward is knowing they’ve done good.
And who would become teachers under those conditions? The people who should become teachers. Very nice married ladies whose own kids are grown and very nice young single ladies who need to make a respectable living until they get married and start having kids of their own and nuns, all of whom go into teaching out of the goodness of their hearts.
“Excellent” teachers are greedheads and innumerates or saints.
It gets worse.
The chief criteria for judging and rewarding excellence is test scores.
Excellent teachers are teachers whose students do well on standardized tests.
And this is the other part of Cuomo’s plan to improve New York Schools. He wants to make how their students do on standardized tests fifty per cent of teachers’ evaluations. Actually, it’s the main part of his plan. The teacher lottery is smoke and mirrors. It allows him to talk as if he wants to reward “highly effective” teachers. What he really wants to do is punish teachers whose students don’t measure up and punish schools whose teachers don’t measure up by taking jobs away from the teachers and money away from the schools.
Never mind the problems with judging students’ individual levels achievement and depth and breadth of knowledge and understanding by their test scores.
Never mind the problems this presents to teachers who have to teach to the test while still actually teaching.
And never mind the classism at work---the better prepared students are for school, the better they do on standardized tests, and, surprise, surprise, the best prepared students live in the richest suburban school districts where most of the parents are professionals with college degrees and that can afford to incentivize excellence by hiring it to begin with.
Test scores are how the bureaucrats who dole out the state and federal dollars measure the success and failure of schools and school districts. Higher test scores keep the money coming coming in. Schools that don’t “perform” are punished by having money withheld. Which means they have to cut their budgets. Which means laying off staff or not hiring needed replacements or, usually, both, thus incentivizing teachers who manage to keep their jobs by burdening them with overcrowded classrooms, the stress of having to compensate for the understaffing and diminution of resources---like crayons, glue sticks, and books---and the fear that they’re next. What this means on the administrative level is that superintendents and principals are incentivize to do whatever it takes to keep the money coming in.
Running a school becomes like running a law firm or a sales office. The bosses’ chief concern is to make money. And like bosses in any business they’re going to “encourage” their employees to work harder at the things that make the business money.
Grade school principals should not be made to inspire their teaching staffs by sounding like Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross.
You want to incentivize teachers, Governor Cuomo? Here’s what you do.
Pay them well enough that they don’t have to worry about money, give them job security, improve working conditions all around so they focus on their work and make the kinds of on-the-spot, independent, creative decisions that as professionals they are qualified to make without being afraid that making those decisions will cost them their jobs and without having their decision-making influenced by how much money they stand to make if they hit the jackpot.
The teacher lotteries don’t incentivize “excellence.” They incentivize doing it all for the bucks and as Thers says at Whiskey Fire:
The very definition of a terrible teacher would be someone flogging kids to get better test scores in order to make more money.
Outside law firms and sales offices, professionals get paid well to start and are given usually modest but reasonable raises based on their having performed well according to standards higher than just how much money they made for their employers and having made all their colleagues look like lazy incompetents. Bonuses are bonuses. Professionals get them in addition to raises not in lieu of them and certainly not in stingy compensation for cuts in pay and benefits.
I should be using the past tense. That’s how it used to be before the misers and thieves and sociopaths got control of all the money in the private sector. Now there are fewer professionals by that measure everywhere in every line of work and more wage and debt slaves.
The same misers and thieves and sociopaths want control of all the money in the public school systems. Cuomo wants to open up the safe for them.
He wants more charter schools.
Homework, and, yes it will be on the test:
Thers’ whole post at Whiskey Fire, Andrew Cuomo: Let’s Make New York More Like Wisconsin.
This story by Will Bredderman at The Observer, De Blasio Education Chancellor Rips Cuomo Teacher Evaluation Proposal.
Teachers rally against Cuomo’s education plan by Bennet J. Louden at the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Baloney" at the Washington Post.
And from Kenneth Lovett at the New York Daily News, Andrew Cuomo rips teacher unions as selfish 'industry' more interested in members' rights than student needs. But! Cuomo says claim he dislikes teachers is ‘nonsense’. (Jessica Bakeman, Capital.)
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A big difference between the Republicans and the Democrats is that Republicans have to lie about what they’re about and Democrats don’t.
I’m not talking about the usual sort of lies individual politicians tell to get themselves elected---making promises they know they won’t be able to keep, pretending to be concerned about issues they know don’t matter, exaggerating their achievements, minimizing their mistakes, fudging their records, fudging their opponents’ records, faking feelings they don’t have---I’m talking about what their respective parties stand for and intend to do for the country. In the case of Republicans that’s really “intend to do to the country” which is the basis for the lie.
It works like this.
The main accusations Republicans make against Democrats and liberals are that we want to redistribute the wealth and tell people how they should live their lives. And both are true. We admit it. We boast of it. And we’ll gladly tell you how we plan to do it---redistribute the wealth and tell people how to live their lives---and why we’re going to do it and why you should vote to let us do it. We can show how doing both will increase opportunity and prosperity for all. There are questions about the degree to which we should do any of it, unintended consequences, and whether or not we have the resources or competency to pull it off, but on the whole the Democratic mission is to continue forming a more perfect union of the nation---no states’ rights fragmentizing of interests for us---establish justice---not merely enforce law and order---insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense---as opposed to defending the property and financial interests of the rich and the corporations they run---promote the general welfare---directly, not by hoping those whose welfare is already established will deign to share---and secure the blessings of liberty to our children and our posterity---with our meaning all of ours, not just me and mine. We have no problem saying any of this.
But our main accusation against them is also true. They are the party of the rich and the rich want all the money. They think they own the rights to everything and the rest of us get and deserve nothing but what they think will help make them more money. That’s what the rest of us are here for, to work to make them richer. And that’s it. That’s all the Republicans stand for and all they want to do, help the rich make more money. The rich get richer while everybody else works themselves to exhaustion and death, keeps their heads down, does what they’re told, does without, goes broke, gets sick, grows old, and, when their no longer of use, dies as quickly and anonymously as possible.
Of course Republicans don’t dare admit this, let alone boast about it. They know how it would sound, like what it is. Selfish, greedy, unfair, un-American in that it places the interests of a few families and the corporations they own over the interests of the nation as a whole, un-Christian---as if Jesus advocated storing up treasures on earth and doing unto others whatever you damn well please to make yourself money and said nothing about what how whatever we do to the least of other brothers and sisters we do to him---and anti-capitalistic, which of course it is, because it’s a return to feudalism.
They know that if they admit and boast about it a lot of decent middle class and rich people who think of themselves as conservative and Republican will be repelled. Their consciences will wake up. Their senses of justice and fairness will take over. The real Christians among them will remember what it means to be Christian. They might even realize that they are, if not Democrats, democrats.
There’s also the possibility that the members of the rank and file who have no problem with the ideas that’s it’s all us versus them and we’re here to get rich and everybody else can go suff because they think their interests are aligned with the rich, and have even deluded themselves that if they aren’t rich they soon will be, might have it dawn on them be that they belong to the THEM and count as everybody else and not only aren’t they rich the Republican plan is that they, because they belong with everybody else, never will get rich because that would take money out of the wallets of the already rich.
So they try mightily not sound like they’re saying what they’re saying. They talk around it, they euphuize, they torture the language, they speak in code, they use words as if they mean their opposites. They rewrite history. They invent history. They fudge the math. They don’t bother with the math at all when they think they can get away with it, which thanks to the innumeracy and short attention spans of the political press corps, is almost always. They argue from personal anecdote---Joni Ernst’s “When I was a little girl,” every Obamacare hater’s “I’ve talked to a lot of doctors,”---instead of from facts. They ignore facts, make up facts, deny facts are facts.
They hire the likes of Paul Ryan to go about looking and sounding reasonable while selling plans that amount to “We’re going to take all the money but don’t worry, a miracle will happen and you won’t lose anything yourselves or if you do you’ll gain more by losing!”
But mainly they do their best to keep the rubes distracted and the suckers focused on hitting the jackpot. They rile up passions, stir up trouble, encourage resentments, anger, fear. They invoke their vindictive God, wrap themselves in the flag, and wave the bloody shirt. They promise unlimited wealth. They promote greed. They identify Others, Thems to be despised and put down and put back in their place, infuriating the faithful and misdirecting their rage at those Others, at Them, making them to mad to think about just who gets included among Us.
They flat out lie. About what they just said. About what they mean. About what they intend. About what they’re doing. About what Democrats say, mean, intend, and do.
Except the parts about our wanting to redistribute the wealth and tell people how to live their lives. Like I said, it’s true and we’re proud of it.
This doesn’t mean all Democrats are moral paragons, speakers of truth and standers-up for principle. And too often the Democrats in general don’t pursue their goals with the courage, boldness, determination, and honesty that they should.
But it does mean that all Republicans are liars.
Every single one of them.
The best that can be said of some is that they lie to themselves. But they’re still lying.
All the time.
If you’re inclined to object to my accepting the Republican characterization of us liberals as wanting to tell people how to run their lives, try this. Make a list of all the things you think would make the country a better place to live and work but put every item in the form of a commandment, that is, as a Do This or Don’t Do That statement. It’s easy, isn’t it?_________________________________
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Are we still at this?
Of course we are.
Some of us are anyway.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is claiming that there is widespread fraud in the country’s disability system because most people who get benefits merely suffer from anxiety or sore backs.
At a meeting with legislative leaders in Manchester, NH on Wednesday, caught on tape by American Bridge, Paul told the room:
“The thing is that all of these programs, there’s always somebody who’s deserving, everybody in this room knows somebody who’s gaming the system. I tell people that if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting a disability check. Over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club. Who doesn’t get up a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts? Everyone over 40 has a back pain.”
Dear Senator Paul,
Nobody wants to be disabled.
Most people as in almost everybody wants to work.
The number of people on disability who don’t want to work is nothing next to the number of people who want to work but can’t work because they’re disabled!
The number of people on disability who don’t want to work is vanishingly small next to the number of people on disability who want to work but can’t work because employers discriminate against people with disabilities or can’t or won’t afford to make accommodations that would enable them to work.
Everybody is only temporarily abled. At some point in our lives all of us will be disabled to the point of not being able to work. Some of us by injury, some of by illness---including mental illness---all of us by old age. It’s that last disablement that has caused the number of people collecting disability to increase in the last couple of decades. Lots of Baby Boomers have grown too old to do the work their jobs require. Old age is relative. Coal miners, construction workers, farm workers, people who work on their feet all day, people who work with their backs get old sooner than college professors and United States Senators, neither of whom, by the way, work close to a full fifty-two weeks a year or, averaged out, five days a week or eight hours a day, and have any business lecturing people who do put in a full day’s, week’s, and year’s worth of work for very little money, few benefits, and no paid vacation or sick days, and, if you and your fellow Republicans in Congress work your will, no hope of collecting disability if they get injured on the job or get old before their time worn out and worn down by working physically punishing jobs their whole adult lives and develop “back problems” or “anxiety” on their lack of a proper work ethic.
“Back pain”? “A little anxious”? That’s all that’s wrong with them?
I have “back pain”. It has a cause. Spondylolisthesis. You went to medical school. You probably know what that is. Two of my vertebrae are fractured and out of place, pinching the nerves to my legs. There are days I can barely walk. I can’t stand for more the a few minutes at a stretch on even my best days. I’m not on disability. I have a job. I teach college. I can and do work sitting down in a comfortable chair. Days when the pain gets too much for me, if I don’t have to be in class, I can take off. I can spend hours lying flat on my back on the floor. I’m lucky. If I was a construction worker or a coal miner I wouldn’t be able to do this. I wouldn’t be able to work. I’d be out of a job.
A reminder. Not being able to work = DISABLED!
I hear there are a few coal miners in your state.
Ever been down in one of the mines?
Think you could work down in one of those all day with “back pain”?
As for being “a little anxious”? By “a little anxious” do you mean “suffering from a severe and debilitating mental illness like depression”?
Do you even know what depression means? How it afflicts people?
Do you know anything at all about human psychology? For instance, do you know that people who are obsessed with the idea that other people are chiselers and thieves are usually chiselers and thieves themselves? Do you know that the sins and vices we’re most offended by are usually the ones we’re ignoring in ourselves? Do you remember what Jesus said about the mote and the beam?
Apparently, you don’t.
How in God’s name did you earn a medical degree without any understanding or sympathy of and for human beings’ physical and mental frailty?
Yours in the good fortune neither of us deserve,
PS. You should read this whole article at ThinkProgress. You’re mentioned.
Standing up to a bully on the playground works but only if…
You convince the bully you can hurt him and he’s afraid of getting hurt or…
He’s lazy and a fight isn’t worth the trouble to him or…
His motivation is to enjoy watching his targets cower in fear.
It doesn’t work if he doesn’t care if he gets hurt or…
He wants to hurt you because he likes to inflict pain or…
He has a nuclear arsenal and his motivation is to acquire a warm water seaport and he doesn’t believe that you’ll start World War III to stop him.
Corporatist Right: To the overworked, the underpaid, the unemployed, to the deeply in debt; to the old, to the sick, to the poor, and the unlucky; to women who aren’t our wives, our daughters, or partners in our businesses; to anyone struggling in this rotten economy that we brought about for our benefit, enrichment, and aggrandizement: It’s your own fault for not listening to us back in the 80s when we told you we planned to get our hands on all the money. We meant it when we said “We want it all, and we want it now!” Now fork over what’s left or you’ll find out how really hard we can make it for it you. Oh what the hell. We’ll just take what’s left and make you miserable anyway, just to teach you.
Tea Party Right: Oh kind corporatists, please notice how we’re trying to punish and make miserable all of those people you don’t like and reward us by making us rich too or at least by leaving us and our money alone.
Religious Right: Life is supposed to be hard, so we like it when you two make it harder. For them. Us and our money you can leave alone, because we’re saved and deserve to be rewarded here on earth. But while you’re at it, can you ship a few pieces of silver our way? Like we said, we’re saved so we should get some of it too as the Good Lord pre-ordained.
On a related note (ha ha), over at digby’s place, David Atkins on what the Republicans Party has become.
Shakespeare said it better, but here’s how I put it on Twitter last night.
Bergdahl is just more proof of one thing. Looked at close, none of us is worth it. The great favor we do each other is pretend we all are.— Lance Mannion (@LanceMannion) June 6, 2014
The Republican flip-floppery, hypocrisy, cynicism, and demagoguery on the release of Bowe Bergdahl is routine---a routine---for the GOP these days. But it’s also defining. They’re showing once again how willing and eager they are to write people off.
Their position now is that Bowe Bergdahl should have been left to die in the hands of the Taliban.
Just as it’s their position that the uninsured should be left to die of whatever ails them, the homeless should be left to freeze on the street (just out of sight, of course), the hungry should starve, the children of the poor left to grow up in poverty and want.
The establishment media’s insistence that there’s a difference between Tea Party Republicans and sensible/rational/establishmentarian Republicans and it’s a good thing the Tea Party types are being put back in their place by their betters would be amusing if it wasn’t so stupid and destructive.
I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again because the need to doesn’t seem to be going away.
There is only one type of Republican, just it comes in three different flavors.
The Christian Right, the Tea Party Right, and the Corporatist Right. They dress differently, use different idioms, have different manners, but they are all alike in the way they divide the nation in two, between the Deserving (narrowly defined to the point of pretty much meaning “Me and my family”) and the Undeserving (broadly defined to mean “Everybody who isn’t me or a part of my family”). The damned and the saved, the makers and takers, Us and THEM! Three ways of saying the same thing.
“We got ours, the rest of you can do us a favor and drop dead.”
Always remember, the job of the Right Wing pundit is to keep the Republican base trapped under the dome of their nightmares and fear, breathing in their own hatreds and resentments, hearing nothing but the sound of their own angry and anguished screams.
They get paid to encourage viciousness, provoke and promote the indulgence of vice, all the vices. Anger, greed, gluttony (“It’s all for me and I’m going to have it all!”), Vanity (“We are the Real Americans, the only truly deserving Americans.”), Sloth, and, yep, Lust.
Sloth isn’t physical laziness. It is the failure to restrain vice and practice virtues like charity, mercy, and forbearance.
And Lust? What else is their hatred of sex and their obsession with controlling the sex lives of mainly young women but young men too, and not just gay young men, except a way for them to imagine beautiful young people making love and then cover it up with expressions of self-righteous disgust?
You can tell from the last three tweets I’m working towards something here, right?
Corporatist, Tea Party, or Religious Right, doesn’t matter which face of the Republican Party---their mutual goal is dividing us.
Winners and losers. Makers and takers. Us and THEM!
It’s practically a religious feeling with them. It begins with their infernal, joyless religion.
The damned and the saved.
If you lose your job, it doesn’t matter how you lost it. It’s your own fault. The company went under. A Bain-like hedge fund bought it and looted it and pumped up stock prices by kicking you and half the other employees out the door. You got sick. You got injured. You used up too much time in your bosses’ opinion taking care of a sick spouse, sick kids, a new baby, elderly parents. Whine all you want. It’s your fault. Now go away, loser, and leave the rest of us winners alone to enjoy our winnings without guilt or the slightest sense of obligation.
The Republicans’ rhetoric on unemployment---on all of life’s vicissitudes that routinely land people in need of help---is designed to make needing that help so shameful that we all become terrified of inviting that shame upon ourselves. And of course the surest way to wind up needing help is to lose your job and that makes losing a job the worst thing that could happen. We’re meant to be afraid to do anything that might cost us our job. We’re meant to feel so grateful just to have a job we’ll take anything the bosses’ dish out and accept whatever they deign to give us in the form of pay and benefits.
The object is to make us good employees, from the bosses’ point of view: Pliable, unquestioning, obedient, fearful, and cheap.
On top of this, it’s not enough that we’re afraid of losing our jobs through our own faults---and remember, it’s always our fault---we’re meant to be afraid of, resent, and outright despise anyone who might cost us our jobs: Boat-rockers, rabble-rousers, meddlesome liberal politicians, unionizers, any of our erstwhile fellow employees who’ve lost their jobs through their own fault and in the process possibly made us look bad in the bosses’ eyes.
And of course it goes beyond that. Our resentment, fear, and contempt is meant to extend to anyone, anywhere who’s lost their job and is asking for help. We’re meant to see them as losers and deadbeats, not worth our time or attention or aid. We’re meant to push them away so their bad luck won’t rub off. We’re meant to turn our backs on them, tell them to go away, leave us alone, we got problems of our own, mac, so we can go about our business of keeping our heads down, keeping our noses to the grindstone, taking whatever comes with thanks, and never, ever asking what’s wrong with a country that throws people away like this, leaves them to suffer and starve, just so that a few already rich assholes can get richer?
Updated below. Tuesday, February 25.
You don’t need me to tell you Justified is a Western with cars and cell phones and quicker reloads after eruptions of gunfire. It’s one of the best TV Westerns ever. Better than Deadwood. Almost as good as Lonesome Dove. It’s so good a Western that it’s easy for me to see it in my head as an actual Western with horses and six-shooters and the characters getting around their reliance on cell phones with visits to conveniently located telegraph offices and the introduction of a Cheyenne teenager named Rides Like the Wind.
Since Justified was based on Elmore Leonard’s crime novels not his Westerns---although the latter always informed the former which is how Raylan Givens came to be. He moseyed out of Leonard’s imagination into the wrong sort of novels. That was the joke. Raylan wasn’t just a man out of his time. He was out of his genre.--- Justified was always going to be set in the present. But imagine if somewhere along the line in its development someone with the power to make it happen said, Hell with this pretending we’re doing something we’re not. Let’s make this a real Western.
Show probably would have failed before it finished its first season.
I say that not because Westerns are doomed to fail but because almost all new TV shows are doomed to fail and quickly. The ones that don’t are flukes and it’s usually hard to say what they have the failures didn’t. Good writing, good acting, lots of shows that came and went had those. The right star in the right role? That must have a lot to do with it. Bad shows succeed because of that. Justified sure has that going for it in Timothy Olyphant.
But I’d argue it’s not just Olyphant.
It’s the hat.
Same difference, though.
Rarely gets lauded to the degree it should, but good acting isn’t just saying the lines well or, sorry Spencer Tracy, all done with the eyes. It includes how you move. How you handle a prop. How you pull off a piece of business. How you wear your costume. How you wear your hat. Olyphant makes the hat work. The hat makes Raylan.
The producers and writers are well aware of this and make use of it. Maybe too aware. There was a stretch there when they were in danger of over-using it. Then they almost went wrong the other way and made serious moves towards getting rid of the hat. Fortunately, they snapped out of it. The hat is too important or, I should say, Olyphant does too good a job with it, carrying off an affectation that ought to mark him as a doofus and would mark almost any other lawman or man (or actor) who tried it as a doofus. It’s key to Raylan’s character and his appeal that he---Raylan, but of course Olyphant too---makes the hat work.
But here’s the thing.
If Justified had been a conventional Western, the hat would have been a lot harder to use as it’s used because all the men and some of the women would have been wearing cowboy hats too. Olyphant would have had to wear his hat better than all his co-stars who would have had to wear their hats well because you can’t have an entire supporting cast of characters who look like doofuses in their sombreros and ten-gallon Stetsons. Boyd Crowder would have had to look cool in his. Tim Gutterson would have had to too. If the producers decided to go the Calamity Jane route with the part of Deputy Brooks, Erica Tazel would have had to look as good in hers as Paula Wiegert looked in hers on Deadwood, otherwise, the male actor who replaced her would have had to look good in his.
Marshal Art Mullen---Marshal not Chief Deputy Marshal. In a traditional Western, you don't bother with bureaucratic nicities and Chief Deputy would be dropped from Art's job title---Marshall Art Mullen would have had to look good in a cowboy hat too and so Nick Searcy who plays Art is lucky Justified isn’t a real Western because I can’t see him looking good in a cowboy hat. He doesn’t seem to have the head for it. His face is too small and narrow. His ears stick out. His eyes are little and would get lost in the shadow of the brim. His jawline is blurred by his jowls. Hats make men look older and Searcy already looks old for his age. I think a cowboy hat would make him look like an old coot of the Walter Brennan type, either that or like Slim Pickens in Blazing Saddles, sinister but kind of dumb, and Art may be a bit cranky verging on the curmudgeonly but he’s not an old coot and he’s not dumb. How he’d have looked in a cowboy hat might have cost Searcy the part.
As it is, something along those lines really might have cost him the part. Might have cost someone else the part. Seemingly trivial things like how they look in a hat or look when they take one off cost actors jobs all the time. Look left when the casting director thinks it would have been more effective to look right or up or down or straight ahead or left but quicker or slower, take the hat off or put it back on a beat too soon or too late, put all your weight on it as you lean on a desk, be somehow unconvincing lighting up a cigarette, appear somehow out of place standing next to a potential co-star or a horse or a car or a mailbox and the next words you hear will be “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
Searcy’s lucky he got the part at all. He’s lucky he still has it, that the producers haven’t decided to kill Art off. They’re a pretty ruthless bunch, and I imagine Raymond J. Barry who plays---played---Raylan’s father Arlo agrees and is wishing he’d been as lucky as Searcy. I think Searcy’s terrific as Art and he’s part of what makes Justified fun for me. But I don’t think I’d miss him much if Art disappeared, and I mean Searcy and his character. And I doubt if he hadn’t lucked out and gotten the part very many fans of the show would be saying to themselves, This guy playing Art is ok, but you know who they really should have gotten for the part? Nick Searcy!
Lucky guy, then, Searcy.
Lucky as you have to be to succeed as an actor, luck carries you only so far. You have to be talented, hard-working, and smart, at least smart about the way you approach a part, and Searcy is talented and smart in that way and maybe other ways as well, and I assume he’s hard-working or no one would want to work with him.
He’s also a Right Wing loon.
Not that that matters.
An actor or an artist’s politics doesn’t affect my judgment of his work or my enjoyment. Clint Eastwood is easy. Robert Downey Jr’s post-prison conversion to Republicanism doesn’t change my opinion that he is one of the best movie actors among the current crop of leading men and I look forward to his appearance in a movie as much or more than I do some very liberal favorites like George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Tom Hanks.
Robert Duvall, James Woods, Jon Voight---I admire them all.
Kelsey Grammar I have a harder time with these days, not because he’s a Republican blowhard, but because he’s a despicable human being.
So I don’t care how Nick Searcy votes or what his politics are. It makes no difference to me that he’s a Right Wing loon.
What’s depressing is how I know he’s a right wing loon.
Searcy has an active and lively Twitter presence as the online equivalent of the loudmouth at the end of the bar trying to pick a fight with the guy he’s decided is the weakest in the room.
Searcy’s routine is to bait foolish and humorless liberals into engaging with him by tweeting outrageous and offensive nonsense, insult, belittle, and bully them when they do, then step back to accept the applause of other Right Wing loons among his followers who think I know you are but what am I is an argument-demolisher no one ever sees coming.
If you want a sample of Searcy all a-twitter, Tony Ortega is happy to oblige with this post at Raw Story, ‘Justified’ actor Nick Searcy asked us not to call him a ‘Teabagger,’ ‘Ultra-Con,’ or ‘Bigot’ in this headline.
You’ll notice Searcy is offended when liberals sneer at him using terms along the lines of Right Wing loon, which is amusing considering one of his favorite terms of endearment for people who disagree with him politically is pussies.
Now, for all I know, this is one big goof on Searcy’s part. He might be just trying to build his brand. He has a series of comic videos on YouTube called Acting School With Nick Searcy whose central joke is that Nick Searcy, "international film and television star" is a clueless egomaniac too full of himself to notice he’s not as smart, talented, ingratiating, or worth emulating as he brags of being. His Twitter self could just be a version of his YouTube self. His Twitter profile includes what could be a wink and an elbow to the ribs: "All new followers must proceed directly to Acting School with Nick Searcy before addressing me."
I’d like to think he's being funny. Trying to be funny. I’d like to think a successful and admired fifty-four year international film and television star has an at least financial reason for adopting the persona of a twenty year old frat boy still smarting from the B he got from a professor he’s convinced had it in for him because of his brave and bold political incorrectness.
But Searcy seems a little too convincing at it, a little too pleased with himself, a little too happy about it. So I just feel I have no choice but to take him for what he makes himself out to be, a Right Wing loon and a loudmouthed jerk with no idea of how better to spend his time than play around at being an asshole on Twitter.
Judging by the sampling from Ortega’s post, Searcy’s new tactic is to beat up his opponents with the fact he’s rich and famous and they’re just a bunch of nobodies.
The proof that he’s right and you’re not, you’re a pussy, is that he’s Nick Searcy and you’re not or, rather, he’s Art Mullen and you’re not.
It’s his version of If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?
He’s rich, richer than your average college professor, anyway; highly successful compared to most people and almost all other actors who spend the bulk of their careers waiting for callbacks for TV commercials instead of having regular gigs on popular TV series; and he’s famous, among fans of Justified, if nobody else. And his point is that since he’s all those things and you’re none of those things, you’re just a nobody and a pussy, he must be smarter than you and if he is---and he is. See above.---then he’s automatically right in all things and you, well, you don’t even matter enough to be thought wrong.
But he’s not that rich or successful or famous compared to his own co-stars, let alone to the likes of George Clooney. And if being rich, successful, and famous decides all political arguments in favor of the richest and most successful and most famous party to the debate, then Searcy’s lost every fight with Clooney before he’s even entered the ring. Before he’s left the locker room. Before he even thought of going to the gym. It would be fun, though, to dare him to walk up to Clooney at a party and call him a pussy. The fun being in watching him not doing it. I’m assuming he has enough common sense and instinct for self-preservation not to do that, not necessarily that he’s a coward.
But if Searcy believes what he appears to believe, then he’d probably be glad to concede the argument to Clooney because the point is not Liberalism versus Conservatism. It’s power, them that’s got it and them that ain’t.
Allowing that Clooney’s wealth, success, and fame make him right in all things including his decisions on whether, how, and when to throw his weight around and bully the less rich, less successful, and less famous gives the likes of Nick Searcy permission to think themselves right in all encounters with people less etc than they are and bully them.
It hardly matters. Searcy himself hardly matters, as a spokesman for Right Wing lunacy, at any rate. He’s just a celebrity, a relatively minor one at that, and his days as even a minor celebrity are fleeting---Justified’s producers have announced next season will be the show’s last. What are the odds he'll land another role as good as Art Mullen on another series as good as Justified? Given his age, he'll likely begin winding down his career with a succession of guest starring roles of diminishing importance on shows and in movies of diminshing quality and what's he going to be saying on Twitter when he's seventy and feeling lucky to have one line on this week's episode of a sitcom that's already been cancelled? But what do I know? He could strike lucky again. Again, doesn't matter. The height of his political influence will be when his name shows up in the inevitable lists of Hollywood types who support Rand Paul or Ted Cruz (These days, Searcy is for Cruz.) versus those who support Hillary Clinton, adding to the general and mostly correct impression that all the really cool kids vote Democratic.
Like I said, I half-suspect Searcy's kidding around. The offline politics are real but the Twitter character is a joke. The troubling fact is that Searcy is echoing rich and successful types who aren't joking and who do influence policy and the economy and who do believe that their wealth and success makes them right in all things and therefore they should be put in charge of running the country without question or check. The rest of us can just like it or lump it but whichever keep our mouths shut and our heads down, do what we’re told, and put up with and be grateful for whatever our betters decide we deserve.
Which is not much.
If we were deserving of wealth, success, status, and power, we’d have already earned it. Like them.
The Corporatist Right and its political flunkeys and media apologists have been growing more and more outspoken and active in their efforts to not just refuse to share any more of the wealth but to deny even more of it to the rest of us. And fundamental to their argument is that their money and success gives them the right to rule. Just the fact they have the money proves they deserve it. It shows they were favored by God or Nature, marks them as superior. Our superiors.
Equally fundamental is their belief that they earned it, every penny of it, all on their own, with no help from anyone, certainly none from the government, least of all from the people who did the real, hard, and often dangerous labor required to run the machines, dig the mines, grow the food, build the roads, maintain the offices, ship the goods, keep the peace, and mind the stores necessary to their money-making enterprises actually making money.
They tell themselves and each other I did build this! when mostly what they did was take advantage of what thousands, millions of others sweated, died, and went broke and broke their hearts building. But according to themselves, it was all their own individual doing, no one else contributed anything but cost, and luck had nothing to do with it.
This is a lie, of course, and it would be easy to show it up as lie if only there was the equivalent of imdb.com for bankers, hedge fund managers, corporate CEOs, and other suit-wearers fancying themselves real-life John Galts. Then the course of their luck would be trackable and the names of the people who helped them and those folks’ exact contributions could be listed, as is the case with actors like Nick Searcy.
I said I can’t picture Searcy looking good in a cowboy hat, but thinking it over I can see him in a bowler pushed back raffishly from his forehead. If Justified had been a traditional Western, it would have been someone’s job to picture him in the right headgear, find it for him, and show him how to wear it to his advantage.
As it is, his looking the part on camera is still someone else’s job---several someone elses’ jobs. Actors on TV shows don’t design their own costumes. They’re usually not responsible for their make-up. They don’t light themselves, don’t position the cameras. They don’t fill in the backgrounds around them. Maybe it was Searcy’s idea to hang the poster for Tombstone on Art’s office wall but probably not.
And all these people responsible for Searcy’s success every week are knowable. Their names are in the credits.
Searcy is enjoying his current success because he’s talented, because he’s hard-working, and because a whole bunch of other talented and hard-working people are good at their jobs. He is where he is because an even more talented guy, Elmore Leonard, wrote a novel called Pronto twenty years ago. He is where he is because Justified’s showrunner Graham Yost has been brilliant at translating Leonard’s style and vision to television. He is where he is because someone noticed in time that Walton Goggins had made the slated to be killed off in the pilot Boyd Crowder not just a character worth keeping around but a character that could be the show’s second lead. He is where he is because Margo Martindale’s performance as Mags Bennett in the show’s second season lifted Justified to a near Sopranos-Breaking Bad-Lonesome Dove level of tragedy.
He is where he is because a partnership of other talented, hard-working, and very likely richer people have the money to pay him handsomely to come into work a few days a week a few months out of the year to pretend to be somebody too busy, too smart, too responsible, and too grown-up to waste his time getting into silly fights and throwing tantrums on Twitter, a character who is also, by the way, not rich and not famous and not notably impressed by anyone who is.
He is where he is because a whole lot of nobodies and pussies tune into Justified each week for a number of pleasures one of which is Art Mullen as played by Nick Searcy.
Mainly, though, he is where he is and what he is because Timothy Olyphant knows how to wear a hat.
And something similar can be said about all of us, including the rich Right Wing corporatists who want to return us to feudalism and make an aristocracy of themselves and a peasantry of the rest of us because the money they’ve piled up proves their superiority.
We’re all where we are because somewhere along the way we were lucky enough to get help from someone who knew how to wear a hat.
Updated with Justified contempt and disgust: If Searcy's Twitter persona is a joke, it's a joke that's gone way too far. But I don't think he's kidding. I think he's worse than I thought. Adam Baldwin is no prize either.
Just got around to reading all of Richard Cohen’s now notorious “gag-reflex” column in the Washington Post. Have to say that for the first six paragraphs it’s not offensive. I even agree with it. It sounds like something I could have written myself. In fact, I have written it myself or, at least, variations on Cohen’s themes here. That the Radical Right and Religious Right Wings of the Republican Party have taken over the GOP, that Ted Cruz has made himself the hero and tribune of those wings, putting himself in the best position to win the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016 over any and all challengers especially a “moderate” like Chris Christie, that Christie’s landslide re-election as governor of New Jersey will count for nothing with the voters who will decide the Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina primary and thus decide the front runner for the nomination and probably the likely winner, those same Radical Right Wing and Right Wing Christians who are rallying around Ted Cruz.
But then Cohen misses the point of his own argument.
It begins with his noting that the Right Wing Christians want to nominate one of their own and Cruz is one of their own and Chris Christie definitely isn’t and probably won’t do a good job of pretending he is. Mitt Romney had to repudiate his Mormanism. Rick Santorum is nominally a Catholic but he knows how to talk like a Right Wing Christian and does it so well that it’s probable that in the matter of his religion he thinks and believes like one to the point that I doubt his belief in transubstantiation and the efficacy of good works.
But Christie is made of sterner stuff. He may not be the most devout Catholic in the pews every Sunday, but he’s not likely to pass as an evangelical Protestant. Even if he can force himself to mouth the words, the Fundamentalists will sense how he’s repressing his own gag reflex. And there’s where Cohen begins to go off track.
He leaves out a word.
Which means he leaves out another reason the Evangelical Right won't take to Chris Christie.
For forty years and more, the so-called liberal media has been assiduously failing to notice this about the Religious Right. They’ve been determinedly presenting the Right as just folks, well-meaning conservative types, who may be a step or two behind the times and given to occasional lapses that reveal their quaintly old-fashioned views, but essentially decent-minded with their hearts in the right places who really don’t mean what they say, they just get grumpy or forgetful some times is all, but they can be excused for a lot because when all’s said and done they are the real regular Americans.
Except, when all’s said and done, they actually hate most other regular Americans.
Catholics live in cities and have ethnic sounding names. Catholics are Kennedys. Catholics believe in transubstantiation and the efficacy of good works.
Catholics are others, part of the THEM and the Republican Right is united in one thing. Hating on THEM.
The Republican Right is a tribe of bigots and haters and since the Right controls the Party then, effectively, as Cohen the Republican Party is a party of bigots and haters.
Now comes Cohen’s notorious paragraph:
Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.
As Ta-Nehisi Coates says, no one thinks Cohen is confessing to his own nausea at the thought of a white man married to a black woman. He’s talking about the Tea Party types who we know are sickened by the thought. And enraged. And frightened. Just remember the reaction to the Cheerios ad this past summer.
But here’s the thing. He’s just said that the people who think like this aren’t racist.
He calls them “people with conventional views.”
But being sickened, enraged, and frightened at the thought of a bi-racial couple isn’t conventional. It hasn’t been conventional for going on two generations, at least. And even when it was conventional it was also racist. Racism itself was conventional. There are surely old people who still hold views that were “conventional” when they were very young, but those people’s views aren’t conventional today. They’re hide-bound, calcified, atrophied, ignorant, and racist. And anybody who isn’t old, and I mean well-over seventy, who holds those views can’t claim they’re just conventional.
It’s that exculpatory “conventional” that undoes Cohen. With it he is excusing racists. But he’s actually gone further. He’s excused a political party actively pursuing a racist agenda. “Today’s GOP is not racist.”
Cohen isn’t the only member of the Village Media in denial about the racism fueling the Republican opposition to everything President Obama tries to do. He isn’t the only one plugging his ears when Republican politicians boast about what they intend to do with their voter suppression efforts. He isn’t the only one refusing to see the Confederate flags waving at rallies. And while I haven’t seen Cohen doing it himself, if he has, he wouldn’t be the only one blaming the open contempt Republicans show for the President not on them but on the President’s “aloofness,” that is, on his refusal to grovel and shuffle and otherwise show them he knows his place in their company.
You are either a fool or a liar if you claim not to see how much of what is going on is intended to humiliate the black man who had the nerve to become President.
They’ve just announced they’re going to impeach Eric Holder and, never mind their trumped up charges, they’re going to do it just to show Holder he’s been uppity. But the fun for them includes another chance to embarrass the President and show him who are the real bosses in their America.
Cohen is on track to make this point in those first six paragraphs, and then he ignores the thrust of his own argument to go out of his way to give Republicans an excuse to deny what’s happened to their party.
Cohen’s column is headlined “Christie’s Tea Party Problem.” But the Tea Party isn’t just Chris Christie’s problem. It’s every Republican’s problem, because, as Cohen says, the Tea Party is running the Party and the Tea Party is a tribe of bigots, haters, and racists who don’t happen to hold “conventional views.” They are radical reactionaries who are trying to re-establish white supremacy as the law of the land.
Watch how pictures like this get used in the upcoming Republican Presidential campaign.
Ta-Nehisi Coates handles this much better than I have: Richard Cohen in Context.
Make sure you read all of Cohen’s column.
Today, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed the Senate by a 64-34 vote. How did the greatest defender of civil liberties
of all timein the Senate vote on banning discrimination in employment based upon sexual orientation or gender identity?
For the answer, which probably won’t surprise you, and news of other defenses of liberty by Rand Paul, read EL’s whole post at Lawyers, Guns & Money.
I don’t want to hear it, any of it, from any libertarian, unless you are living in a house you built yourself out of material you paid cash out of pocket for, no credit cards from a federally insured bank, on land you bought outright, no mortgage from a federally insured bank, that’s powered, heated, and cooled by solar, wind, or geothermal technology you installed yourself, no hiring contractors benefiting from government subsidies and tax breaks and specially written rules and regulations, with a septic system and a well you dug yourself, no connections to the town sewer and water lines.
You’re going to be paying some taxes, federal, state, and local, no getting around that, so you’re entitled to a few public and publically supported services. You can have internet access and a phone line and expect the police and the fire department to show up when you need them. You even get to complain on winter mornings when the town is late plowing the road up to your driveway. And you don’t have to homeschool your kids.
But you should have kids. Children are the test. Raising a family is expensive and time consuming and it’s what draws most people into some dependence on government, starting with schooling. And then there are those doctor and dentist bills. I assume you’re carrying good health insurance and won’t be buying a better policy through the exchanges (even though you could), but even so, the government’s still involved, regulating the insurance companies so they don’t gouge you or con you or drop you whenever they decide you’re costing them more than you’re making them, making sure your medicine is safe, effective, and affordable, subsidizing hospitals either directly or through grants and tax breaks, and taking care of some of your doctor’s poorer and less healthy (that is, elderly) patients by paying some of their bills through Medicaid and Medicare so that she doesn’t have to treat them free and try to make up for it by passing the costs on to you.
Don’t get me started on what happens if you’re sending them off to college.
I don’t expect you to live like a mountain man in a cabin in the north woods, hunting and trapping and growing your own food and trading for what you can’t supply yourself, although many of you talk as if you’d like to or think you and everybody else should and some of you talk as if you are in fact living like that and the suburban McMansion you call home sweet home is Fort Apache and your sales job at the IT firm involves wrestling with bears.
But, ideally, you should be a farmer and grow as much of your own food as possible. That cuts down on your reliance on the FDA, federally subsidized agribusiness, and government built and maintained highways and rail lines and ports to put the food on your table and see to it it's edible. If you don't farm, then you should own and run your own business. I'll give you a pass on having to depend on government built and maintained infrastructure to keep the lights on and the doors open. Like I said, you pay taxes, and it's not your fault the great majority of your fellow citizens don't want to live in a Libertarian Utopia just yet and spend their weekends paving roads and laying sewer pipe.
But your business better be locally based, no franchises, and serving a local need and customer base, relying on local suppliers to as great a degree as possible and on government, at every level, to as little degree as possible.
You don’t have to believe in no government, but if you aren’t at least trying to take yourself off the grid and off the dole, then I’ve got to conclude that your professed libertarianism is just a high-fallutin’, long-winded, and, usually, very boring way to complain about your taxes. “That government is best which governs least” should not mean “That government is best that does whatever I want and need it to do without making me pay to help it do whatever others want and need it to do.”
That’s Republican thinking.
But then I’m prejudiced. I believe most of you are Republicans, just for one reason or another you’re afraid to admit it. My best guess is it’s vanity. You don’t want to identify with the insurance salesman-church deacon-sadistic gym coach-corporate yes man-country club-obviously self-loathing closet case-Rotarians looking for a hooker at a convention types who make up the media face of the Republican Party. I can’t blame you for that.
How’s that? I’m missing the point? I’m over-simplifying? I’m caricaturizing libertarianism by over-emphasizing the self-reliance bit?
I’m sorry. I’ve been taking you at your word. I thought you meant all that idealistic talk about how limiting, even eliminating government involvement in our lives will naturally lead to a return to first principles, that there will be a revival of a true communitarian spirit and society will reorganize itself so that all the things we’re dependent on government for (and so morally weakened and corrupted by government in the process) will by provided by a spontaneous pitching in and our renewed and revitalized democracy will thrive thanks to a mixture of self-help and mutual aid. So it seems to me that self-help---self-reliance---is the key component of libertarianism. If it’s not, what is?
What does that mean? How does it apply?
The liberty to live our lives as we see fit, to be who we are, to put our talents and skills to work as best we can for our own best benefit? The liberty to be left alone to think and act for ourselves?
I’m for that. I thought the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments and acts of Congress already guaranteed all that. In fact, as a liberal I believe that’s what government is for, to protect such liberty and see that is enjoyed by all Americans.
But maybe it’s proven it can’t be trusted to do that. It’s certainly fallen down on the job from time to time. And there are more than a few states these days where the governors and the legislatures are determined to deny liberty to a great many citizens and limit its enjoyment and privileges to straight white men. Of course, again, as a liberal, I believe that the answer to that is a strong and active federal government. But for the sake of argument, I’ll take your point for the moment, that liberty is best guaranteed by the government that governs least. as long as if by that you intend as a given that you get to enjoy such liberty as long as you don’t hurt anyone else or trample on their rights as you assert your own.
But you don’t intend that. You intend that you get to do whatever you want to make your money without anyone telling you how to go about it. There’s no government telling you have to hire union workers or pay the workers you do hire a decent wage or give them benefits. No government telling you can’t pick and choose your customers based on any criteria other than their ability to pay. No government telling you you can’t run your business for whatever customers you choose without having to make the place accessible to people in wheelchairs or who rely on service dogs, without having to serve any of those people because, you know, once you let them in the store…
You intend that you get to burn as much gas and electricity as you decide is necessary without having to worry about your carbon footprint. You intend that you get to use whatever materials and chemicals you decide are most cost efficient and dispose of the leftovers and the waste as easily and cost-efficiently as you wish. You intend that the goods and services you sell meet only standards you set yourself based solely on what you think you can get the suckers to buy without it losing you money and by “losing” money you mean not making every single dime you assume is yours to make.
You mean you shouldn’t have to pay taxes because you are a maker not a taker and don’t get anything out of government you couldn’t get more cheaply and more efficiently from private contractors and that includes good schools, decent health care, a secure and comfortable and healthy retirement, and even reliable police and fire protection.
And you mean that anybody who gets hurt by your taking and enjoying your liberties and anybody who can’t afford to buy whatever services you would force them to buy by eliminating the government programs and regulations and laws that help them acquire those services, and that includes the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Voting and Civil Rights Acts, and any right to collective bargaining, have only themselves to blame and if they can't get it together to take care of it themselves they can just go suff.
See, I know you. I’ve been listening to you rant about “liberty” for decades. And it’s all about taxes and about being able to make as much money as you can without having to worry about anybody else or feeling obligated to contribute to the public welfare except in the magic way of letting the Invisible Hand of the Marketplace take care of it for you while you go about your business of putting it away by the sackful.
That’s why your intellectual heroes include Hayek and Rand and Milton Friedman and not Jesus and the Buddha and Thoreau.
That’s why so many of your organizations are bank-rolled by the Koch Brothers.
You are essentially Right Wing corporatists, when you are not out and out Tea Party-ists, you’re just glib enough to talk your way around your selfishness, self-centeredness, and greed.
As far as I can see, what you want is no different from what Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and Rand Paul want except for the availability of legal reefer, and by liberty you mean the liberty to deny to other the liberties and rights I count on the government you want to do away with to protect.
You can call yourself a Libertarian, but you are illiberal, and that’s really why this liberal doesn’t want to hear it.
Any of it.
Our old blogging buddy and leader in spirit, Tom Watson, has been hearing it, and then some. Tom wrote a column for Salon about today’s anti-surveillance state rally in Washington, branded Stop Watching Us, in which he makes the case that the coalition of liberals and Libertarians sponsoring the rally is bad business for liberals.
Tom’s point is that whatever degree of superficial agreement there is between liberals and Libertarians on reining in the NSA, the two sides are sides and so fundamentally opposed on a great many issues important to liberals that making common cause with Libertarians is in a very real way making common cause against ourselves.
As I added in a comment there, Libertarians have far more to gain from this alliance than we do:
Libertarian self-romanticism aside, politically in the United States right now, libertarianism is basically an apology for letting the corporate rich do whatever they please and very little of what they please to do is in any way *liberal*. And, whatever future utopias libertarianism might someday wish into being, politically, right now, it is tied to the Pauls, Ron and Rand, both of whom are so tightly allied with the Right Wing of the Republican Party they might as well identify with the Tea Party. Rand Paul pretty much does. They aren't working to bring about a libertarian utopia; they are working for exactly the same things Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan are working for, except everybody gets to get high while they end Social Security, Medicare, and Obamacare, and defy the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, deny women the right to control their own bodies, chase Spanish speaking immigrants out of the country, force gay people back into the closet, and leave the disabled to fend for themselves. It doesn't matter that liberals and libertarians share a couple of political beliefs, their overall goals are opposed. Liberals get nothing out of the association, while libertarians get social acceptance and cover for their fellow traveling with Right Wing Republicans.
As you can guess, Libertarians don’t want to hear this, any of it.
Read Tom’s column, Don’t ally with libertarians: Ideologues co-opt an anti-NSA rally at Salon.
The National political press corps just spent an entire month reporting on lots of bad news for Republicans. You know how that worries them. So it’s not surprising they seem about to spend the next month reporting on bad news for the President vis-a-vis Obamacare as a disaster in progress. Because, you know, balance!
Glitches in a less than brilliantly designed website equals shutting down the government and setting out to cause default on the national debt in the hopes that bringing the economy to the brink of collapse will show them.
Ok. The website is a disaster. Heads should roll. But on Monday Facebook got "glitchy" and my students couldn’t post the links to their blog posts on our Digital Commoners page before their deadline. Meanwhile, I spent the morning visiting three commercial websites looking for information it took me three minutes to actually read but an hour and a half to find following links that were less than helpful (when they existed. There’s almost nothing less useful than the FAQ page at any website.) I needed to visit a fourth website but I forgot my password and when I requested a new one I got a message promising an email was on the way to help me through the process. The email arrived twelve hours later. Just for a laugh, I checked our new insurance company's website to see if it had been updated to show they've expanded their coverage area to our neck of the woods and our family doctor is now in their network. It hadn't. And this was a relatively good and carefree day on the internet.
Again. The website’s a disaster and there’s no excuse for it. But every day even some of the best designed websites get overwhelmed. Downloads don’t download or open after they do. Orders get lost. Payments double post or don't post at all. Identities get stolen. Viruses get spread. Maintenance is being done when you need to get in there right now! No one seems to have anticipated your particular question or problem. There’s no easy way to contact a live human being. The site is just plain ugly. The layout’s confusing. Links are broken. Information's out of date. Instructions are unclear. Instructions are wrong. Instructions are gibberish! Servers crash. Pages hang. Browsers freeze. This stuff happens all the time and we live with it because we know through experience whatever the problem we encounter it will get fixed or we’ll figure out how to work around it.
As digby points out, despite the problems with the website, people who need health insurance will persevere because they need health insurance. The bobblehead assumption seems to be that people will get stymied and throw up their hands, saying, “My kids need to see a doctor but screw them, this is too frustrating.”
Whatever the situation or issue, the bobbleheads think all Americans are as soft and spoiled as they are.
Ok, once more with feeling. The website’s a disaster that shouldn’t have happened. But it did and now it’s getting fixed. And that’s pretty much that. Although it calls into question the competency of the people supervising the rollout, it doesn’t predict the future of Obamacare.
We’re not looking at a “train wreck.”
We’re looking at a skyscraper under construction.
Calling Obamacare a disaster or a failure already is like rubbernecking at a major construction site during the first week of construction, noticing that the rubble from what was demolished to make way for the new building is still being cleared away, looking down into the hole where the pilings have just been set, watching the delivery trucks backing up at the gates, listening to the architects and the contractors arguing over what needs to be done first today, hearing horns honking as the traffic backs up in the one lane that hasn’t been closed to make way for the cement mixers, bulldozers, dump trucks, and cranes, eavesdropping on angry neighbors complaining about the noise and dust and confusion and workers on a break grousing that somebody ordered the wrong gauge of wire or not enough pipes or didn’t hire enough guys from their local and a foreman coming over to holler about falling behind schedule, taking in all this mess and din and declaring that this skyscraper will never get built.
Or…if it does, it will surely collapse in short order.
If it doesn’t collapse, no one will want to rent any of the apartments or lease any of the office space.
Even if every office and apartment gets occupied, people won’t like the décor and there’ll always be lines at the elevators.
If they do like it and don’t mind the lines, it won’t matter, because in fifty or so years the building will have outlived its usefulness and be torn down and replaced by something else, so there’s no point in finishing it. Might as well stop construction and let the site sit empty for the next half a century and anybody who needed the place to live or the office space or anything the shops down at street level would have offered can just go find what they need somewhere else, don’t ask us where or how, or…
…they can just go suff.
This can’t be emphasized enough. A lot of Tea Party types in Congress are driven by hatred, anger, prejudice, and fear, but on top of that a great many of them are also really, really, really dumb.
They don’t know how the government works. They don’t know how money works. They don’t know how history works. They don’t know how a society puts and holds itself together. It’s a good bet they don’t know how their cars and cell phones work.
These are the ones who truly believe that failing to raise the debt limit and letting the nation default on all its financial obligations will make the economy stronger and life in the United States generally better.
Basically, they are people who if they’d been members of the crew would have dealt with the water gushing in through the hole the irceberg ripped in hull of the Titanic by opening a hole on the other side of the ship to let the water out.
There is no understanding the Radical Right—-the tea party types—-without understanding how driven they are by hatred of those others.
There’s no understanding them without understanding how afraid they are that those others will take over and do to them what they desperately want to do those others, which is make them disappear.
There’s no understanding what they’re doing without understanding that it’s being done to punish those others.
There’s no understanding them without understanding that they regard most of their fellow Americans as those others.
There’s no understanding what they’re doing without understanding that on top of all that a great many of them are just plain stupid about how the government works, how money works, and how the world works.
And there’s no understanding what’s happened to the Republican Party without understanding that party leaders and most Republicans in Congress do understand all this and yet are still surrendering to the Right Wingers.
So there’s no understanding what’s going on not just in Washington but in state capitals across the south and up and down the Midwest, with the not as strange as it may seem addition of Pennsylvania, without understanding that for all it matters there is no more Republican Party. There is only the Radical Tea Party-Fundamentalist Christian Right and it is out to destroy everything the rest of us, we others, hold dear about the United States.
John Boehner holds the nation hostage because the Tea Party holds him hostage. The problem with modern Republicans is not fanaticism in the few but cowardice in the many, who let their fellows live in virtual secession from laws they disagree with. ---from Back Door Secession at the New York Review of Books blog.
James Woods and Robert Downey Jr, both playing against type and personal politics as a pair of liberal lawyers, in the 1989 drama True Believer.
Very important update: James Woods has responded to this post on Twitter, graciously, considering he feels I've insulted him and gotten important facts wrong. For one thing, he is not a Republican. He's a registered Independent. You should read my twitter feed to read his responses. I've made a few revisions below, accordingly.
James Woods---great actor, Right Wing kook---spent a good deal of time on Twitter this past week railing against Obamacare. It was a pathetic display of arrogance, ignorance, and spite. Woods seems to think people are being mandated to buy an actual product called Obamacare from a federal store, as opposed to health insurance policies from private companies. But, you know, he’s an actor. The Mark Ruffalos of the movie industry, people who take the time and trouble to understand the issues and causes they’ve adopted are rare on the left as well as the right. And, for the most part, who cares? Politics isn’t their job.
But with Woods and Obamacare it’s a case of a probable multi-millionaire (Woods has never been big box office, but he’s worked steadily on high quality projects and I’m guessing he’s made good money and had sound financial advice) who can afford gold-plated insurance and who, anyway, is old enough for Medicare, desperately trying to convince people with little money and crappy insurance or no insurance not to take advantage of the exchanges.
But then, he is a Right Winger, and it’s a staple of Right Wing rhetoric to tell people they’re better off not taking advantage of any government program. Of course this is at the bidding of the owner class who wants to make sure their employees have nothing to depend on to keep body and soul together but the sufferance of their bosses. The idea is to make workers abjectly grateful for whatever the owners choose to pay and offer in the way of benefits.
Already stories are beginning to bubble up of people quitting jobs they took just for the crumby health insurance.
Although Woods likes to think of himself as a tough-minded, independent, contrarian sort, he’s just another corporate shill, although I'm guessing he doesn't realize he’s working for the likes of the Koch Brothers for free.
But in his own mind, Woods is a hero and a potential martyr. He says---and he’s boasting when he says it---that he expects that his stream of 140 word anti-Obamacare diatribes, which are not incidentally hateful and spiteful anti-President Obama rants as well, are going to cost him acting jobs. The liberal powers that be won’t let this bold and brave conservative unpunished.
I’m sure he’s right, considering how hard it is for Kelsey Grammer and Jon Voight to find work.
Grammer’s another martyr in his own mind for the cause. It’s a very different Republican Party from the days when Charlton Heston marched with Martin Luther King and Grammer may not realize how times have changed and how his mouthing off in support of the party of the Tea Party, heirs of the Dixiecrats, and the Religious Right is offensive to the many women and gays and people of color and the straight white men who love them he not only has to work with but work for. But you’d think he’d notice that all these people he thinks are out to get him are still happy and proud to work with him and add him to their casts.
But to hear Grammer, you’d think his career hangs in the balance and any day the word will come down, the black list will include a new name, and the vindictive liberals who run the industry will have seen to it that Grammer will be lucky to be doing infomercials.
Woods seems to be thinking along the same lines, cheerfully, as if he’s looking forward to his martyrdom and the subsequent satisfaction of being able to say Told you so.
I understand why Woods and Grammer and other conservatives in Hollywood might feel like odd men and women out and how it might make them grumpy. If Hollywood liberals are anything like many liberals I’ve met in academia, there’s probably a lot of parading of politics as virtue, as if how you vote is always result of a conscious and reasoned moral choice and not, as it mostly truly is, a mix of self-interest and accidents of birth, experience, and education. Liberals annoy me sometimes. I annoy me sometimes. I’m sure it’s not easy to listen quietly to people spouting liberal pieties who you know are underpaying their nannies and gardeners, refusing to promote women to positions of influence and authority, and constantly finding excuses to keep the casts of their oh so hip TV shows lily white.
Doesn’t seem to be liberal hypocrisy that upsets them, though, at least not as much as their own potential victimization. And that I don’t get, how these successful, celebrated, and (in Grammer’s case, at any rate) beloved stars manage to indulge an image of themselves as put-upon and oppressed, victims of prejudice and discrimination. The self-pity behind this is bemusing. The self-infatuation is amusing and expected. They’re actors, after all. But the self-delusion is just depressing.
But then they are Right Wingers and it’s a salient trait of the Right these days to wallow in their shared sense of victimhood. To hear them tell it, the most persecuted minority in America is middle-class white people, with rich white people coming in a close second.
I’d like to think this is defensive, a sign of a bad conscience, that deep down they know it’s wrong to side with the strong over the weak, the rich over the poor, the healthy over the sick, as if that last one should even be a competition. Most Right Wingers are avowed Christians and Every man for himself and I got mine, you get yours aren’t exactly themes of the Sermon on the Mount.
What it really is, though, is paranoia.
Paranoia is the well spring of Right Wing reactionaryism.
Not paranoia of the tin-foil hat variety. They aren’t afraid of being kidnapped by aliens or that operatives from secret government agencies are watching them or that strangers are out to get them. They’re afraid a set of known others are out to take something from them. It’s the paranoia of a dog with a bone. What’s theirs is theirs and there’s not enough of it to share. Whenever they see one of them, those others, get something they think belongs to them or ought to belong to them, they’re infuriated. They feel robbed, even if they still have that something themselves, even if they don’t need whatever it is.
Woods will never have to worry about his health insurance. But it’s driving him crazy that millions of people who did have to worry don’t have to worry (at least not as much) anymore. He can’t stand it that they’re enjoying things that by right ought to be only his, peace of mind among them.
This would be merely pathetic, easily dismissed crankiness on their part, except for the extent these cranks are willing to go to get their own back.
The other day, making our way up the tiered hills at the center of campus towards class, Steve Kuusisto, Bill Peace, Farran Smith Nehme, and I, along with Steve’s devoted seeing eye Lab Nira, were joking that together we made up the title of a potential Peter Greenaway film.
The Blind Guy, the Wheelchair Guy, the Cane Guy, the Guide Dog, and the Red-headed Film Blogger.
It was slow and painful going for me, the cane guy, somewhat treacherous going for Steve the blind guy, not all the easy for Nira, who’s still recovering from recent cancer surgery, and only possible going for Bill the wheelchair guy because of the network of ramps ascending the hills.
I don’t know the history of the ramps. I’d guess some sections or at least the pathways they’re laid on have been there since this part of the campus was built. Other sections and other ramps up to other buildings around the university are probably artifacts of the Americans With Disabilities Act. You’d like to think that institutes of higher learning like Syracuse, as the bastions of enlightenment and humanism they pride themselves on being, wouldn’t have needed an act of Congress to compel them to make simple accommodations for their disabled students, faculty, employees, and guests, but, in the days before the ADA, Bill was the first paraplegic Columbia admitted into its graduate program in anthropology and he and his friends had to build plywood ramps themselves so he could attend his classes, and Steve wound up suing the University of Iowa when he was working towards a doctorate in English Lit there because two of his professors refused to grant him extra time to complete the reading for required courses only they taught---their feeling was that it wasn’t their concern that a blind guy had had the nerve to try to do what only sighted people were capable of doing and it wasn’t up to them to do Steve any special favors if he couldn’t hack it.
As Steve routinely points out, before the ADA, it was taken for granted that all disabilities---handicaps---were permanent qualities of the individuals who had them instead of negotiable constructs relating to accidents of architecture, yet to be invented technologies---think about what life was like before glasses and hearing aids---yet to be discovered and developed medicines and medical procedures, and the prejudices and stubbornness of certain abled people like Steve’s professors.
(Steve has lately taken to using the term temporarily abled to remind the hale, whole, and hearty that all our bodies are fragile contraptions that will sooner or later break down or wear out, as I can attest. I like to think of myself as temporarily disabled, and I really do feel on the mend, but the fact is right now I am a guy with a cane who is grateful not to have to climb a lot of stairs to get to work and a year ago I was more nimble and spry and able than many people fifteen years younger than me.)
Which brings me to Rand Paul.
Last March, when Paul and his curly toupee took to the Senate floor to filibuster against John Brennan’s appointment to the directorship of the CIA because of the President’s use of drone warfare to kill terrorists (and Paul’s fantasy that life is a Tom Clancy novel in which good, God-fearing, loyal Americans who have made themselves nuisances to the Administration might see as their last sight on earth the reflection of a drone launched by the President’s evil minions in their silverware as they sit in sidewalk cafes in San Francisco), passels of anti-drone liberals took to the internet and the airwaves to encourage us to Stand With Rand, he was fighting the good fight on our behalf, and all I could think was, Are you out of your minds? What kind of liberal stands with the likes of Rand Paul? The only fight he’s fighting is the selfish, self-aggrandizing fight to get himself elected President in 2016 by playing to and inflaming the Right’s hatred and fear of this President and if he succeeds in that he will then fight the fight to enact his “libertarian” agenda, which is mostly a set of instructions for handing the country completely over to corporations and banks to run any way they think will make them even more money.
Rand Paul despises the Civil Rights Act and wishes it had never been passed because it presumes to tell businessmen like him they can’t choose their own customers according to skin color, ethnic background, or gender.
He would make the ADA go away too if he could for a similar reason, the government isn’t the boss of him and has no business telling him he has to make his business wheelchair accessible.
Rand Paul is an unabashed idealogogue who believes that straight white guys with money like him should be allowed to be selfish pricks if that’s what it takes to make more money and as far as he can see that is in fact what it takes.
The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. There’s no separating Rand Paul’s opposition to drones launched on the orders of a Democratic President from his opposition to that Democratic President on all things. There’s no standing with Rand without helping to advance his Presidential ambitions. Standing with Rand means kicking the legs, metaphorically and literally, out from under millions of Americans who are not straight, white, temporarily abled guys with money like Rand Paul.
Statements of principles are not arguments.
Forceful re-statements of principles are not arguments.
Statements of principles repeated belligerently are not arguments.
Belligerent statements of principles with insults are not arguments.
I have no clue.
It was a lot easier to be smarter than the President when the President was George W. Bush. It was a given that everything W. and the Bush Leaguers did was corrupt, incompetent, stupid, or, often, all three. They broke, poisoned, polluted, tainted, and fucked up whatever they touched. So all a sensible and decent-minded person had to say to whatever they proposed was “It won’t work” or “This is bad” or “Do the opposite” or “Don’t do it at all” and odds were that would be the right response.
A lot of smart liberals of my online acquaintance got so used to that being the case and to liking how smart and morally superior it made them feel that they haven’t noticed it doesn’t work that way anymore.
George Zimmerman is a racist raised in a crazy racist family. He had a long history of calling the police to report “suspicious persons” that showed he saw all black males as suspicious persons. It could have been Sunday morning instead of Sunday night and Trayvon could have been on his way home from church, wearing a suit and tie and carrying a bible, and Zimmerman still would have seen him as a threat.
I don’t know if Trayvon would be alive if he was white. Probably but maybe not. Besides being a racist, Zimmerman was a coward who compensated for his fears and insecurities by playing cop. A tall, well-built white kid in a hoodie walking alone in the dark could have frightened a coward like Zimmerman maybe not just as much but just enough. His cop wannabe-ness could have kicked in just as foolishly. He could have been just as determined to play hero to prove he wasn’t the coward he knew himself to be. He could have chased after the white kid, even after the 911 dispatcher told him to say put, and been just as surprised when his “perp” turned out not to be as scared of him as he was of the kid. Things could have turned out as they did, with the panic-stricken “hero” pulling his gun to “defend” himself while losing a fight he started.
I say “could have.” Given what we know, it’s not as likely as what did happen. Zimmerman was out hunting bad guys but in his mind all the bad guys are black.
He probably would have seen a white kid in a hoodie in a very different way than he saw Trayvon.
But say he had killed a white kid. There are other things that almost certainly would have happened differently.
Zimmerman would have been arrested on the spot.
The Sanford cops would have actually investigated instead of just taking Zimmerman’s word for what happened.
They wouldn’t have left the body unattended in the morgue for almost a day with nobody bothering to try to identify him and find his family.
It wouldn’t have taken an intense campaign by relatives and friends of the dead kid and pressure from Washington to get Zimmerman charged with a homicide.
Nobody would have shown photographs of the victim acting like a normal seventeen year old boy or used his short record of getting into minor bits of trouble by acting like a normal seventeen year old boy to “prove” that the kid was a thug and had it coming.
Nobody would have been arguing that wearing a hoodie made the kid look like a gangsta.
Nobody would have been implying that wearing a hoodie meant the kid was a gangsta and had it coming.
Nobody would be talking about this now because George Zimmerman would be in jail serving whatever time for manslaughter his public defenders office lawyers agreed to in their deal with the prosecution.
Everybody would be in agreement that what happened was what did in fact happen. An idiot and coward who wanted to play hero went out with a gun looking for trouble, found it, found he couldn’t handle it, panicked because he was losing a fight he started, and shot an unarmed seventeen year old boy who had the bad judgment to be stronger and braver than the idiot with a gun.
We're not a church, people. We're a bunch of know-it-alls with jobs that let us spend too much unsupervised time at our computers. None of us is going to heaven or hell for what we think about the NSA mess, Edward Snowden, the surveillance state or just about anything else.
This is Part Two. Part One is here.
Number of the anti-surveillance state absolutists in my circles of acquaintance---I'd call them the Greenwaldians except that Greenwald, the most prominent victim of Obama Derangement Syndrome on the left side of the bandwith, has made such a jackass of himself over the last five years that calling them that would be an unfair, unnecessary, and unmeant insult. But basically I 'm talking about people who accept that Greenwald has been way more often right than wrong on the issues of privacy and domestic spying and in his belief that the government is almost always up to no good in the so-called War on Terror.---start from the assumption that all the questions at issue in the debate over the NSA mess have been settled and settled in their favor and anyone who doesn't agree with them is stupid, a coward, or a moral monster, and probably all three.
Apparently they're under the impression that the best way to persuade others is to shame them, insult them,or infuriate them.
Graduates of Dale Carnegie, them.
Well, it's not settled for me.
Partly this is because I still don't know what anyone on either side means by "the surveillance state " or why it's so terrible or not so terrible.
But mainly it's because I don't have the information I need to settle my questions and concerns.
We have a pretty good idea of what the NSA has been up to, gathering information on everybody they can, and how much information they're after---all of it. Which is probably far more than it needs and more than any of us want them to have even those of us who aren't that worried about what they might be doing with it. But it doesn't settle it for me because it matters what 's being done with it and at this point that has to be guessed at.
Neither of the two main sides--- which I think of as the dystopian absolutists and the shoulder-shrugging if not quite utopians then borderline Panglossians---or the OMFG we're just one government employee-read email from living in a full-blown police state crowd and the Hey, the Feds gotta do what the Feds gotta do to go after the bad guys but relax, we can trust them, or trust the President, or trust the FISA court, or trust Congress, trust somebody at any rate to see they don't cross any lines or go too far over them, and besides the data's out there and by its very nature it's being collected, nothing we can do about that anymore so we might as well not worry about it and go update our Facebook statuses contingent---neither side can tell me anything more about what's actually happening beyond what they're guessing, supposing, surmising, conjecturing, extrapolating, imagining.
The truth is out there but it hasn't arrived yet, and so arguments aren't based so much on facts as they are upon competing fictions. One side's nightmares versus the other's rosy daydreams.
The absolutists don't seem to realize that’s what they’re doing, describing their nightmares and then demanding I accept those nightmares as being as prophetic as the Pharaoh's dream. The shoulder shruggers, for the most part, Josh Marshall excepted, don't seem aware they're pushing their hopeful opinions as fact and take it for granted that worrywart doubters like me will come around when we calm down or when all the facts come out, which is something else they take for granted, that the facts will come out.
As you can tell, I'm not finding either side very persuasive.
When I put my concerns and confusions on Twitter, looking for some answers or at least advice and guidance on where and how to look for answers, a friend accused me of copping out by taking a pox on both your houses stand or, rather, non-stand.
The same friend suggested that I don't need the kind of answers I'm searching for to decide where I should come down on the overall question. He said all I needed to do was look at the bloggers, journalists, and pundits I read regularly, see who's making which argument, and then go with those people whose judgments and opinions events have most often proven to have been right.
There are problems with that, starting with it immediately forcing me to choose sides between Josh Marshall and Glenn Greenwald, and in that matchup guess who wins or, more to the point, who loses because he's been such a jackass. But even putting aside personal feelings, however much you admire Glenn---and I do, although nowhere near as much as I used to---Talking Points Memo is far and away the greater accomplishment and gift to the liberal blogosphere than all of Glenn's prodigious blogging and op-ed writing.
And Josh, through TPM, is right more often and on more subjects, because he employs lots of people whose job is to get things right in his name on his dime. Glenn is a one-man band and his focus is mainly on civil liberties. His job isn’t to get things right. He starts from the premise he is right. His job is to convince his readers that he’s right, a job that’s gotten a little easier since he’s become such a jackass about it. He’s alienated so many people that most of the readers he has now don’t read him to be convinced---they’re already convinced---they read him the way believers go to church to hear a popular preacher’s sermons.
I feel comfortable making sweeping and dismissive generalizations like that. It’s a trick I learned from Glenn himself.
Makes me kind of a jackass myself, I guess.
But being right often doesn't automatically make you right this time. And jackasses aren't automatically wrong.
Here's the thing though.
I've never kept score in this way. If I did, I suspect that few if any of even my favorites would score over 40 percent, not even digby. But beyond that, I don't read the writers I admire and trust because I think they 're right. That's a good way to wind up reading only people you already agree with because you know they're going to tell you what you already think is right.
I read people whose writing is clear and honest and because of that they can make it clear what they honestly think and that helps me figure out what I think and if I’m right to think it or if I have to go back and re-think it.
But here’s the next problem. Most of the political writers and bloggers and journalists and pundits I read regularly online are liberals and Democrats. Most of those who aren’t are out and out leftists. (And, by the way, I wish more of the leftists would identify themselves as such, instead of hiding behind the word “progressive.” It’s a proud tradition. Own it.) And over here on the west coast of Blogtopia (hat tip as always to Skippy), doom and gloom is our métier. We’re not happy unless we’re predicting disaster for our own side. And when we’re in this mode is we’re usually, well, not necessarily wrong but not as right as we think we are or not right in the way we expected to be or not right for the right reasons.
I tried making this point back in March. I think all I did was ride my hobby-horse into the ground. But…
Although we pride ourselves on being part of the reality-based community---after all, facts have a liberal bias and the scientists on our side---we don’t tend to argue online like scientists. Or like lawyers. Or like scholars or experts of any kind. Even those of us who are scientists, lawyers, scholars, and experts. We argue like human beings, smart, thoughtful, well-educated human beings with snappy prose styles, but still human beings, which means mostly we don’t argue, we throw out an opinion and then set out to defend it, with our egos and vanity always on the front line.
What defines us as reality-based is that when facts come along that prove an opinion wrong we change that opinion.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
The trouble I’m having is that neither side has the facts, not enough of the salient facts, to help me form an opinion because the government is sitting on those facts, the most salient of which is whether the “surveillance state” is protecting us from terrorists and doing it in a way that can’t be done in other, less intrusive and secretive ways.
Please don’t quote Franklin on liberty and security. For one thing, most people get the quote wrong. For another, it’s possible it’s not his. For a third, even if it is Franklin’s, quoting it is about as profound as quoting A penny saved is a penny earned in a discussion of fiscal policy.
And for a fourth, we’re not talking about a “little” security.
We’re talking about how much danger we are in of being blown up on the streets.
But we can’t talk about that knowledgably or reasonably because we don’t know. The President won’t tell us and he’s working extra hard to make sure nobody else will tell us either.
The little he will tell us has not been either reassuring or persuasive.
The director of the NSA says at least fifty terrorist threats have been thwarted, but his few examples don’t sound all that threatening or even like real threats. The foiled “plot” to bomb the Stock Exchange sounds like another clown show of the kind the FBI has hadn’t had much trouble shutting those down in the good old-fashioned way of sending agents under cover, employing paid informants, relying on snitches and concerned citizens to drop a dime, or just waiting around for the clowns to screw up. You've all seen this one, right?
That’s assuming there even really was a plot to begin with.
And, it should be noted, the program didn’t stop the Tsarnaevs, did it?
On the other hand, if PRISM did foil a plot to bomb the subway, then preventing that one might justify everything all on its own.
I’m willing to sacrifice a “little” security to save hundreds of lives.
If that’s what happened.
I don’t know. And I’m mad that I don’t know and am not being allowed to know.
More than I’m worried that the government might be violating the Fourth Amendment, I’m angry that it’s abrogating the deal we have with our government, which is that we get the main say in how we are governed.
We can’t have a say if we don’t know what’s being done in our name and on our behalf.
Trust me, says the President.
Trust you, Mr President?
How about you trust us?