Archive for June 2017

It’s Working. Let’s Work More

June 27, 2017

Following up today’s news on the delay in the Senate health care vote…

Keep calling, and don’t restrict yourself to your senators’ DC offices.  Each and every senator has several in-state offices. They’re populated mostly by actual staffers, not interns.  Real people answer the phones — and if the one nearest you doesn’t pick up, you can call on down the line till you find someone at home.  They’re often less crazed and more ready to listen, even to opposing views.

My own experience:  my wife’s family has a place in the Bath-Boothbay stretch of the Maine coast, and several family members who live up around the Penobscot Bay area.  So I used that as the base from which I called Senator Collins’ Portland office, the one she lists as serving the county in which my in-laws hang.  I told the nice lady who answered that I was grateful to the senator for coming out in opposition to the bill, that I agreed with her that it was bad for Maine, and that I was calling both to thank her and to emphasize that cosmetic changes to the bill won’t alter its underlying effects, which will still be bad for Maine.  We talked about this for five or ten minutes and it was an actual conversation.

How much effect will it have? Not that much. She knew I was only partly attached to Maine, so that’s a discount right there.  But at least it lets that office and perhaps the senator know that we’re paying attention, and that we will continue to do so.  And the fact that this was a conversation, an actual accumulation of reasons to worry about the bill matters quite a bit, I think.

So the moral of the story:  you don’t have to bash down the front door to reach someone who can reach closer to power.  There are back doors, listed (with phone numbers) on every senators’ web page.

Use them.

Image:  Gerrit Beneker Telephone Operator (A Weaver of Public Thought), 1921.

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The Tree of Liberty…

June 22, 2017

…is a f**king vampire:

Nearly 1300 children die and 5790 are treated for gunshot wounds each year. Boys, older children, and minorities are disproportionately affected. Although unintentional firearm deaths among children declined from 2002 to 2014 and firearm homicides declined from 2007 to 2014, firearm suicides decreased between 2002 and 2007 and then showed a significant upward trend from 2007 to 2014. Rates of firearm homicide among children are higher in many Southern states and parts of the Midwest relative to other parts of the country. Firearm suicides are more dispersed across the United States with some of the highest rates occurring in Western states. Firearm homicides of younger children often occurred in multivictim events and involved intimate partner or family conflict; older children more often died in the context of crime and violence. Firearm suicides were often precipitated by situational and relationship problems. The shooter playing with a gun was the most common circumstance surrounding unintentional firearm deaths of both younger and older children.

Guns kill kids. That baseline number, almost 1300 kids every twelve months, is more than a 9/11 every three years.

 

Guns don’t just kill kids; they are a leading cause of death for children and teenagers.  The data in the chart below don’t perfectly line up, as it doesn’t break out gun homicides and suicides from the overall rates by all methods, but still here are ball park figures.

(To weight those numbers, the FBI reports that as of 2014, roughly two thirds of all murders were committed with a gun, and the CDC reports that guns are involved in about half of all suicides.  Childhood figures may weight more towards firearms for a couple of reasons, but I haven’t dived into the data and I’m not a domain expert, so value that opinion as you will.)

In any event, it doesn’t take much to see this as a peculiarly American evil.  In the discussion section of the paper quoted above:

International studies indicate that 91% of firearm deaths of children aged 0 to 14 years among all high-income countries worldwide occur in the United States, making firearm injuries a serious pediatric and public health problem in the United States.14

The net:

Approximately 19 children a day die or are medically treated in an ED for a gunshot wound in the United States. The majority of these children are boys 13 to 17 years old, African American in the case of firearm homicide, and white and American Indian in the case of firearm suicide.

Nineteen kids a day, killed and wounded, and the Republican Party is completely on board with that.

We all knew that of course; now we’ve got numbers.  What will this nation do with this newly quantified knowledge?

Nothing: the slaughter of American children will continue until the tree of liberty swallows us whole.

ETA: On a moment’s reflection, that’s too damn depressing even for me.  Eventually this country will get sick of self-murder. I hope that day comes sooner than I’m thinking now.

Image: Nicholas Poussin, The Massacre of the Innocents, (drawing for this painting) c. 1628-9

David Brooks Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

June 20, 2017

One sentence from today’s column that captures the pure, distilled essence of the alt-hack that is our BoBo:

And yet it has to be confessed that, at least so far, the Whitewater scandal was far more substantive than the Russia-collusion scandal now gripping Washington.

It’s all there.

The disembodied passive voice to give pulled-from-the-ass opinion the aura of ex-cathedra authority:  “it has to be confessed…” Oh yeah? Says who?

The careful weasel phrase, a scurrying for plausible deniability when this infallible dictum falls prey to fact:  “at least so far…”

The statement, presented as general consensus, that is, in fact, false:  “Whitewater…was far more substantial than…’ anything at all is simply false, and Brooks himself was both a driver of that falsehood and was and is perfectly positioned to know better than what he writes here.

The Whitewater “scandal,” as just about every non-interested party now knows, was a steaming heap of bullshit, ginned up by Republican operatives (Ted Olson!) in an attempt to damage the Clintons and the Democratic Party.

Brooks reminds his reader that he was the op-ed editor of The Wall Street Journal at the time his page was running piece after piece about the scandal that he claims was substantive — and yet, in (again) classic BoBo self-protective weasel writing, now writes “I confess I couldn’t follow all the actual allegations made in those essays…”

In other words, don’t blame him if his paper and his page retailed great steaming heaps of bullshit that as he now writes, “in retrospect Whitewater seems overblown….” (Note again the tactical use of the grammar that evades responsibility, that subjunctive “seems.”  Translation: my paper on my watch spread bullshit for partisan ends, and but all that can be said (see what I did there) is that the outcome of our work “seems” … not so great.  Nice obfuscation if you can get (away with) it.) (Yes. I like parentheses. Sue me.)

Where was I?  Oh yeah:  don’t contemn Brooks for that overblown false scandal, but take his word for it that that steaming heap of bullshit was nonetheless more real than the Russian allegations.

Oh?

No.

I don’t think I have to go into detail for this crowd about the depth and range of the Trump-Russia nexus. It may be that Brooks is trying to be clever here, and define the scandal purely as a question of whether Trump himself (and or his campaign) directly conspired with agents of Putin’s government to affect the election.

That would make that sentence yet more carefully parsed to give him cover as things like money laundering and influence peddling details accumulate.  In that, we may be seeing a preview of the approach Republican opinion-framers will attempt later on: Trump’s corrupt, but not a traitor.  But even allowing for such fine dissection of the growing scandal, there’s plenty of confirmed evidence of interaction between Trump’s campaign and significant Russian folks (see, e.g., Sessions and Kislyak).  In other words: Whitewater ended as it began with no evidence of Clinton wrongdoing.  Trump-Russia already has on public record significant and troubling revelations.

There’s a pattern here. The New York Times has given prime opinion acreage to now two partisan hack/WSJ refugees in Brooks and Bret Stephens. Both employ a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger voice to construct in the language of rueful reason narratives that directly bolster Republican positions and personalities. Both use that seeming reasonableness, the above-the-fray tone of impartial and unchallenged judgment, to say things that are clearly not true.  Those lies directly undercut reporting happening within the Grey Lady’s newsroom put out.  Op-ed editor Bennett, executive editor Baquet and publisher Sulzberger are all OK with that, it seems.

David Brooks tells plausible falsehoods in defense of some of the worst people in the history of American politics. The Times lets him; more, it has done so for decades promoting a career hack/flack to a position of influence far beyond anything his lack of rigor and intellectual dishonesty should ever have earned.

This is a big problem.

Image: Frits van den Berghe, The Idiot By The Pond1926

While Weasels Gnaw Our Flesh

June 18, 2017

Just a quick hit to remind everyone that while the criminal investigation of Trump and co. widens, they’re still pissing on us at every opportunity, and calling it rain.

So how’s this: it’s going to be legal again/stay OK for profit-making higher ed to rip off their students/protect the banksters:

The U.S. Department of Education is hitting pause on two of the Obama administration’s primary rules aimed at reining in for-profit colleges.

Department officials said they will block a rule, set to take effect next month, that clarifies how student borrowers can have their loans forgiven if they were defrauded or misled by their college. The plan was first reported by Inside Higher Ed Wednesday.

The Trump administration will pursue a do-over of the rule-making process that produced that regulation, known as borrower defense to repayment, as well as the gainful-employment rule. The latter holds vocational programs at all institutions and all programs at for-profits accountable when they produce graduates with burdensome student loan debt.

Given that college debt is one of the most iron-clad ways to crush upward mobility, this is another move by Trump and the grotesque DeVos to ensure that the current class structure in the United States remains intact.

Putting this in the long view:  the GI Bill, followed by the prioritization of public higher education in the 60s by leaders like Governor Pat Brown of California and Governor George Romney of Michigan, put first class advanced education and training within reach of an unprecedented amount of Americans.  The retreat from that ideal led by (mostly but not exclusively) Republican state governments, beginning with Reagan in California and then in the White House, have incrementally narrowed that opportunity.  Now, the combinatio of cost and constraints on access meant that the debt involved makes higher education as much or more a burden as it is the engine of a better life.

Today’s Republican party is just fine with that.  DeVos is not an outlier; this isn’t on Trump, or only on him.  The idea that higher ed (or education in general) is a business in which students are the product on whom to make a profit is utterly destructive of either a democratic ideal or any plausible concept of social justice.  And it is the core tenet of today’s radical conservatives calling themselves members of the Party of Lincoln.

One last thought:  I had dinner last week with a Democratic Party senior statesman.  He told me that in his view we’ve made the mistake of thinking better policies are argument enough for elections.  They’re not; we surely know that now, right?

Instead we have to convey something more, the framework in which specific good policies can work.  DeVos’ current obscenity gives us a hint as to what that might be. Republicans throw obstacles in the way of Americans making better lives.  Democrats are — and we should say so as loud as we can — the party of opportunity.

At least that’s my take.  I know it’s hardly original.  But whatever the particular frame you may favor, I think one of our biggest needs right now is to find a way to both describe and be (ever more) the party that can lay claim to affirmative allegiance, and not just the true fact that we are better than the other side.  Your feeling?

(Oh — and happy Father’s Day, all.  This thread should be open enough to tell us your plans, completed or still in prospect, for the day.  Mine? Pick up one of the rib-eyes on sale at Whole Paycheck today, and smoke it in the Weber egg.)

Image: Winslow Homer, The Country School 1871

Philando Castile’s Killer Walks

June 16, 2017

To the surprise of exactly no one paying attention in 21st century America, another extrajudicial killing by a cop ends with the killer walking free:

The Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop was acquitted on all charges by a jury Friday, a decision that came nearly a year after the encounter was partially streamed online before a rapt nation in the midst of a painful reckoning over shootings by law enforcement.

Officer Jeronimo Yanez pulled Castile’s car over in Falcon Heights, a suburb near Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the officer later said he thought Castile matched the description of a suspect in a robbery. The stop quickly escalated.

Yanez fired into the car, saying later he thought Castile was going for his gun, a claim Castile’s girlfriend, sitting in the seat next to him, disputed. She began filming the aftermath of the shooting with her phone.

I’m going to outsource anything I might say entirely to NPR Code Switch/Post Bourgie’s Gene Denby:

 

Again: I’d bet good money there is no one conscious in America today didn’t expect this outcome at all un.  Which is the most enraging fact of all within this wretched story.

 

Over to you.  I’ve nothing left but blank depression and incoherent rage.

Update:

Via AP:

A Minnesota city says it will dismiss a police officer even though he was cleared of all charges in the fatal shooting of a black motorist.

The city of St. Anthony says it concluded the public “will be best served” if Officer Jeronimo (yeh-RON’-ih-moh) Yanez no longer works for the city. The statement says the city plans to offer Yanez a “voluntary separation” so he can find another job.

The city says Yanez will not return to active duty.