Saturday, April 19, 2014

Poppy & Babs Should Have Named Their Second Son, Jacob, Instead Of Jeb!

The Jebster (aka John Ellis Bush — "Jeb" —) is the second son of Poppy (POTUS 41) and The Babster (Barbara Bush); The Jebster is a former governor of Florida. In fact, The Dubster (POTUS 43) owes his landslide victory of 2000 to his younger brother and his incredibly dishonest election officials in the Sunshine State. Now, The Dubster is painting imaginary portraits in Dallas and The Jebster has remained in Florida after leaving the governor's mansion. Some in the Dumbo (sans Moron) wing of the Dumbo party were beating tjeir drums for The Jebster as the Dumbo standard-bearer in 2016. However, The Jebster is married to Columba Garnica Gallo, a native of cenral Mexico and the couple has three Spanish-fluent children: John Ellis Bush, Jr., George Prescott Bush (currently running for Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office), and Noelle Lucila Bush. So, with a Mexican-born wife and three Mestizo children, The Jebster spoke at Poppy's library and museum on the Texas A&M campus earlier this month and said — about "illegal immigration" — that many who illegally come to the United States do so out of an "act of love" for their families and should be treated differently from people who illegally cross U.S. borders or overstay visas. The anti-immigrant Dumbos/Morons have gone nuts and it would seem that The Jebster's chances for 2016 are slim and none at all. Meanwhile, The Deadline Poet offers a belated word of advice to The Jebster. Finally, even Poppy Bush referred to his three Florida grandchildren, in their childhood, as "my little brown ones." If this is (fair & balanced) familial xenophobia, so be it.

[x The Nation]
Damaging Compassion
By The Deadline Poet (Calvin Trillin)

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Jeb Bush’s sympathy for undocumented immigrants is seen as an obstacle in winning the Republican presidential nomination
—News reports

Unless, some say, Jeb wants to stay
In Florida, with the gators,
He’s going to have to change his tune,
Or else he’ll lose the haters. Ω

[Calvin Trillin began his career as a writer for Time magazine. Since July 2, 1990, as a columnist at The Nation, Trillin has written his weekly "Deadline Poet" column: humorous poems about current events. Trillin has written considerably more pieces for The Nation than any other single person. A native of Kansas City, MO, Trillin received his BA from Yale College in 1957. He served in the army, and then joined Time.]

Copyright © 2014 The Nation

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Perhaps A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss, But A Trolling Campaign Will Gather Voters!

Yesterday, Slate's John Dickerson raised a point about "trolling" as a political tactic. Read it here. Today, Salon's Joan Walsh offers a counterpoint about "trolling." In 1948, President Harry S Truman was seeking reelection and during a speech a supporter yelled "Give 'em Hell, Harry!." Truman replied, "I don't give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it's Hell." Now, the POTUS 44 needs to address the nation about "trolling." To paraphrase HST, the POTUS 44 should proclaim that the Dumbos claim that he is practicing "the politics of grievance," but he is merely telling Dumbos the truth. If this is (fair & balanced) political pragmatism, so be it.

{x Salon]
Dopey Media Whiffs Again: No, Dems Aren’t “Playing Politics” By Exposing GOP Idiocy
By Joan Walsh

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Lazy Beltway pundits have discovered a new Obama scandal: The president is telling his base the truth about how Republicans are making their lives worse, and he must be stopped.

Last week, Obama was accused of ginning up his base’s anger over voting rights: The New York Times reduced his Friday speech on the issue to an effort “to rally his political base,” while the Washington Post depicted the Democrats’ focus on voting rights as mere partisan strategy, calling it the party’s “most important project in 2014.”

Then came the National Journal’s James Oliphant, declaring that “Democrats are giving Republicans a run for their money in practicing the politics of grievance.” Oliphant accused Democrats of cynically exploiting anger over voter ID laws and the failure of bills to hike the minimum wage, reform the immigration system and help women achieve pay equity, for political gain.

Slate’s John Dickerson has topped them all, however, with “Obama trolls the GOP,” his Thursday column accusing the president of lying about the wage gap between men and women in order to win votes. Dickerson is the one doing the trolling, as he sort of admits upfront, blaming the Internet for rewarding columns that call the president names and make an argument without nuance.

But the essence of Dickerson’s argument is of a piece with the lazy “grievance” meme spreading among his peers: Obama is doing something wrong by telling a component of his coalition, in this case women, that Republican policies are hurting them. In other words, telling the truth while also, yes, practicing politics.

We can certainly debate which number we should use when debating pay equity, but the notion that Obama is deliberately lying to create “stray voltage” by choosing the wrong number seems cynical or worse. Dickerson relies on a Major Garrett column that relies on an older Major Garrett column in which White House adviser David Plouffe explained his theory of “stray voltage” — how any controversy, even ones that seem to hurt Obama, can be put to good political use when “stray voltage” from said outrage sparks the ire of Obama’s base.

Supposedly, the controversy around the White House continuing to use the Census Bureau figure — that women make 77 cents to a man’s dollar — even though other studies find a smaller gap, cements the impression that Republicans oppose measures to close the gap, and may create “stray voltage” to galvanize women voters in 2014 and 2016. Oliphant likewise relies on the pay-gap flap, and the Democrats’ embrace of the doomed Paycheck Fairness Act, as an example of unfair “grievance politics.”

But Republicans do oppose virtually all measures that might close the gap. It’s not just the Paycheck Fairness Act; take the minimum wage. Republicans (and others) say that 77 percent figure exaggerates the pay gap between equally qualified men and women, because women are clustered in low-wage fields. Raising the minimum wage would be a great way to get at that particular pay-gap widener, since two thirds of minimum wage workers are women. But of course, Republicans oppose not only the Paycheck Fairness Act, but an increase in the minimum wage as well.

Oh, but Democrats continuing to agitate for a minimum wage hike? That’s also unfair “grievance politics,” according to Oliphant, because “it may animate minority voters.” Concern about traditional low turnout in midterm elections, he writes:

...has forced the party to find reasons for people to come out and vote, and they’ve selected issues that target slices of the electorate. Hence, equal pay, an issue that especially resonates with single women; the minimum wage, which may animate minority voters; and immigration reform, which galvanizes Hispanics. And likely coming soon to a [Harry] Reid press availability near you: student-loan modification, teed up for the hard-to-get youth vote.

So let me make sure I understand. Telling your voters, accurately, that Republicans are trying to make it harder for them to vote, and are blocking action on pay equity, the minimum wage and immigration reform is unfair “grievance politics”? Likewise, any effort to deal with the scandal of $1 trillion in student loan debt? Oliphant compares it to the grievance politics practiced by Republicans under Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. But that form of grievance politics mainly relied on inflaming white voters’ fears of cultural and racial change with false or highly exaggerated claims about Democrats.

I would also argue that when one party’s leaders declare upfront that they’re going to block everything the other party’s president tries to do, and when that party even retreats from solutions to problems that it once favored — in the GOP’s case, that includes the individual mandate, immigration reform, cap and trade, the Voting Rights Act, and periodic increases to the minimum wage — the cultivation of anger in order to turn out voters is an excellent and entirely defensible strategy. In fact, Republican obstructionism seems designed at least partly to demoralize the Obama coalition — many of them occasional voters already discouraged by the political process. If you can convince young people, Latinos and women that voting changes nothing, you can make up for your reliance on aging white voters.

This new story line also reinforces a core Republican claim about Obama and the Democrats: that they’re trying to buy off the electorate with “gifts,” to use sore-loser Mitt Romney’s term. When rich people use the political process to make their lives better, that’s just the way things work. When people who aren’t rich do so, they’re looking for a handout. This new “grievance politics” story line is just one more way mainstream journalism’s weakness for false equivalence — which is intellectually lazy — politically rewards Republicans. Ω

[Joan Walsh is now the editor-at-large of Salon; formerly Walsh was managing editor (2004-2005) and served as editor-in-chief of Salon (2005-2010). Her most current book is What's the Matter With White People? Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was (2012). Walsh received a BA from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.]

Copyright © 2014 Salon Media Group

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

A'Trolling We Shall Go...

Trolling — originally a fishing term — has taken on new meaning in cyberspace. Slate's John Dickerson detects trolling as the current White House seeks a political advantage over the Dumbos/Morons. Will the loons discover that they're being gamed? Stay tuned. If this is a (fair & balanced) continuation of politics with the admixture of other means, so be it.

[x Slate]
Obama Trolls The GOP
By John Dickerson

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How do I get you to pay attention to this story? I could type out a balanced tale about an incremental change in White House spin and message control, relying on your discernment, patience, and kindness toward all the creatures of the Earth. Or, I could say that Barack Obama is a cynical and manipulative liar. The first approach would get a modest number of thoughtful readers, but they probably wouldn't stay on the page very long. The second would excite the emotions. Conservatives would approve. Liberals would denounce it and point out the exaggerations. My editor would smile because the controversy would attract more readers.

This is trolling. I've decided against it, but the White House has not. CBS's Major Garrett writes in National Journal about a new version of the “stray voltage” theory of communication in which the president purposefully overstates his case knowing that it will create controversy. Garrett describes it this way: “Controversy sparks attention, attention provokes conversation, and conversation embeds previously unknown or marginalized ideas in the public consciousness.”

The issue last week was the pay gap between men and women. The president issued executive orders to address the disparity, and Democrats pushed legislation in Congress. In making the case, the president and White House advisers used a figure they knew to be imprecise and controversial—a Census Bureau statistic that the median wages of working women in America are 77 percent of median wages earned by men.

Under this approach, a president wants the fact-checkers to call him out (again and again) because that hubbub keeps the issue in the news, which is good for promoting the issue to the public. It is the political equivalent of “there is no such thing as bad publicity” or the quote attributed to Mae West ( and others): “I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.” The tactic represents one more step in the embrace of cynicism that has characterized President Obama's journey in office.

Officials in every White House crowbar the facts to make their cases. Administration officials over time have also learned how to turn lemons into lemonade, harnessing the frenzied news coverage from a perceived White House miscue to the president's advantage. Losing the news cycles between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. doesn't necessarily matter; if by the end of the saga you've got a coherent story to pitch, the frenzy has simply given you a larger audience who will listen to it. “Stray voltage,” the term Obama strategist David Plouffe used to describe this approach, is also a great buzzword that makes it look like you’ve got a theory for what might otherwise look like chaos. But this twist is a new, higher order of deception: creating the controversy for the purposes of milking it.

Facts, schmacts. As long as people are talking about an issue where my party has an advantage with voters, it’s good. So, the theory goes, if I'm a Republican candidate, I benefit from conversations about budget deficits and spending restraint because voters trust Republicans more on the issue of the budget and spending restraint [PDF], and it excites Republican voters who care about those issues. Democrats have several reasons to keep stories about equal-pay equity in the news. It excites their voters, attracts female voters, and crowds out whatever the Republicans wanted to talk about (these days, Obamacare). It also sets a trap. The more Republicans have to talk about politically unfavorable issues, the greater chance they'll slip up and say something dumb like candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock did that can be exploited more broadly.

Even if I've overstated the issue, more voters will hear that Democrats are fighting to pay women equally than will hear that the problem is overstated. Even if Ruth Marcus labels the effort “revolting demagoguery,” it doesn't matter. In fact, equal-pay stories that create more controversy cycles about stories rooted in equal pay are just more opportunities for people to hear the words equal pay. See that? Equal pay.

That may or may not work with voters. It’s usually associated with the planned cynicism of campaigns, where if your attack ad isn't getting four Pinocchios, you're doing it wrong. In governing, there is usually a policy process that puts a brake on using bad numbers. Presidents also worry that people won’t think they are honest and trustworthy if they keep using facts that don't pan out. But we are in a campaign year in which Democrats are struggling to find an issue they can use as a weapon against Republicans who have the upper hand.

After President Obama took office, his campaign book The Audacity of Hope (2006) receded into his past fast. Its sweet, naive, bipartisan “let's reason together” passages fell away, too. As experience and a determined opposition forced the president to act, his former passages started to read like something a freshman senator would write, then a college graduate, and then a college freshman. With the notion of “stray voltage” in mind, the passages read like they're from a precocious high-schooler chiding the press for treating facts so loosely that the cumulative effect is to “erode any agreed-upon standards for judging the truth.” It is a pity, writes the author, that politicians prey on press conflict by feeding misleading storylines. “It rewards not those who are right, but those—like the White House press office—who can make their arguments most loudly, most frequently, most obstinately, and with the best backdrop.” Ω

[John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent. Dickerson holds a BA in English with distinction from the University of Virginia. His 2006 book, On Her Trail, describes his relationship with his late mother, Nancy Dickerson Whitehead, a pioneering television newswoman.]

Copyright © 2014 The Slate Group

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Real Question O'The Day For The 4th Estate: Will It All Work Out Somehow?

Before he became a journalism gypsy, Michael Kinsley came to this blogger's attention as a regular co-host (with Dumbo Patrick Buchanan) on CNN's "Crossfire" (1989-1995). Kinsley represented the liberal or left-wing position on the show and Buchanan spoke for the conservative or right-wing position. Kinsley gave as good as he got. Today, he speaks about the newspaper business and has no real answers. In the meantime, this blogger looks forward to the daily online editions of the NY Fishwrap and the Austin Fishwrap. In addition, he looks for good stuff in an array of online publications that furnish good writing (from time to time) to this blog. This blogger considers himself to be a curator of good writing. In addition, the posts feature such value-added elements like Tag Clouds of that day's essay as well as backstory bios of the essay author(s). If this is a (fair & balanced) tribute to the written word, so be it.

[x VF]
The Front Page 2.0
By Michael Kinsley

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My friend Nicholas Lemann, who recently stepped down as dean of the Columbia Journalism School, has done his time and then some at symposia and similar gatherings to discuss the Future of Newspapers in the Age of the Internet. Nick says he has one firm rule about such discussions: “You’re not allowed to say, ‘It will all work out somehow.’ ” If you want to play with the big boys, you’ve got to say how. Unfortunately, having thought about it for a bit, I’ve more or less concluded that the ongoing crisis of newspapers—going bankrupt, being sold for peanuts, firing staff, cutting foreign bureaus, and so on—will all work out, somehow. I can’t tell you how, but I can tell you why.

It’s partly Stein’s Law, named after the late Herbert Stein, an economist who served as chairman of Richard Nixon’s Council of Economic Advisers. Stein’s Law is more or less the opposite of Lemann’s Dictum. It holds that “if something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” This is a conservative notion, a clarion call to inaction on almost any subject: problems tend to resolve themselves.

And then there’s that old Chinese curse: May your dreams come true. If you could go back to, say, 1994, two decades ago, and if you could have told newspaper publishers that soon they’d be able to produce and distribute a daily newspaper at no cost for newsprint (that’s the paper, not the ink), that they could shut down those huge presses and dispense with troublesome unions once and for all, and that they wouldn’t even need paperboys (or girls) anymore to throw the paper into the neighbor’s bushes—if you could have told them that all these costs were about to plummet to near zero—the publishers would have thought, Now, that sounds like a pretty great deal. I’ll take it. So how has this unexpected gift from God turned into such a disaster for them? There must be large amounts of either incompetence or bad luck involved. Anyone, like me, whose solution is a vague “Things will work out somehow” lacks standing to blame the problem on other people’s incompetence. So we will call it bad luck.

It’s not true that the publishers have just stood by while the Internet has stolen their business. Way back in 1981, the American Newspaper Publishers Association, under its leader that year—Katharine Graham, the C.E.O. of the Washington Post Co.—made a big lobbying push for a law forbidding AT&T, then a government-sanctioned telephone monopoly, to sell classified ads electronically. The publishers argued that the telephone company’s monopoly guaranteed the company profits that it could then use to subsidize the development of an electronic Yellow Pages, which would threaten one of their most profitable products, classified ads.

It was a bold argument. The newspaper industry had a higher rate of return on its investment than the phone company did. Nevertheless, the publishers were correct in seeing classified ads as the first thing they would lose as their business went online, though they missed the fact that the telephone company itself was about to be split into little bits and that it was some guy named Craig who would take this particular profit center from them.

Although it is hard to believe now, when The Washington Post can be bought by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos for pocket change of $250 million, but just 15 or 20 years ago, before the commercial arrival of the Internet, there was no sweeter sinecure in American capitalism than owning the one newspaper in a one-newspaper town. And cities as large as Los Angeles and Washington had effectively become one-newspaper towns. It was heaven: you could earn huge monopoly profits from advertisers like the big department stores, which had nowhere else to go. You were automatically a civic leader. And if you got bored, or your family needed cash, you could sell out to Gannett, which always stood ready to gobble up monopoly newspapers and lower the tone. At symposia and seminars on the Future of Newspapers, professional worriers used to worry that these monopoly or near-monopoly newspapers were too powerful for society’s good.

It couldn’t go on, and therefore it didn’t.

Donald Graham, publisher of The Washington Post during the crucial years, understood what a sweet deal his paper had. To the frustration of many Post reporters, Graham resisted all temptations to spend millions trying to compete with The New York Times as a national newspaper. Except for two or three bedraggled copies, often yesterday’s edition, you rarely ran into the Post outside the Beltway (or maybe in central Manhattan). Today the Post is, through no fault of Don Graham’s, an international newspaper, easily available anywhere in the world. But financially it’s a basket case, as are most other newspapers. In 2000, the Tribune Company paid $8.3 billion for the Los Angeles Times and several smaller papers. Today the Tribune Company wants to sell all its newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune itself, and can’t seem to find a buyer at any price. The New York Times Company bought The Boston Globe in 1993 for $1.1 billion and sold it for $70 million in 2013.

But why did this happen? What happened to all that money newspapers were supposed to save? Well, you save the money only if people are actually willing to give up the paper paper in favor of a computer screen. And at first people wouldn’t do it, unless the content was actually about computers, or pornography. “I don’t like reading on a computer screen” was the most familiar comment I heard when I started Slate, an online magazine, in 1996. Around that time, at a public panel discussion about (what else?) newspapers and the Internet (future of), a professor cut off a member of the audience who was making this point. “Your problem,” he intoned, “will be solved actuarially.” And he was right. Older people have died off and younger ones have been reading on a computer screen all their lives.

The change was not merely demographic, however. Fashion has changed, incredibly quickly. Really, in just the past three or four years. On an airplane, it has become strange to see anyone lugging an old-fashioned book. Any sense that e-books are déclassé or unsuitable for serious reading has simply evaporated. One man is responsible: Jeff Bezos, with the Kindle. His legitimation of electronic reading will be seen as a far more important contribution to saving newspapers than his purchase of the Post. (Note: my wife is a director at Amazon.)

Bezos deserves less credit (but maybe not a lot less) for another key development: the willingness of people to pay for online content. It’s been a two-step process, and it’s not over yet: first, getting people to pay online for hard goods, like a book, and then getting people to pay online for online goods, like a newspaper.

A second reason the predictable bonanza for newspapers didn’t materialize immediately was that they lost their comfortable monopoly. Now, instead of being the only newspaper in town, every English-language newspaper in the world is competing with every other one. They are also competing with new ways to compile and deliver news, made possible by this new technology. Some of these new ways amount to theft of traditional papers’ content—though it goes by the fancy name of “aggregation,” or the even fancier name of “curation.”

A successful aggregation Web site can be far cheaper to run than a traditional news organization, some of which still hire grown-ups and send them to expensive places where news is actually happening. One of the major aggregators, who has taken an old property and made it profitable for the first time in a century, took me on a tour of his new aggregation facility, somewhere deep in the Maryland suburbs, where rent is cheap. It was a pathetic sight. Dozens of recent college graduates—paid 75 cents an hour—sat chained to their computers grinding out blog items, while editors stood above them with whips, shouting, “Blog, you worthless scum. Blog more. A dozen new items by lunchtime or there’ll be no day-old pizza for anyone. Blog, I tell you,” and so forth. (Or maybe, come to think of it, I imagined that scene. Just as I did the quote that follows.)

Probably the most successful of the aggregators is Arianna Huffington, whose Huffington Post—named as a gentle poke in the eye to The Washington Post—was sold to AOL for more than The Washington Post went for. Arianna said, “Darling, what is all this fuss? I ask you: how is what we do any different from what is on the op-ed page every day of the week? Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday . . . What comes after Wednesday, darling? Where is my assistant? Anyway, we read the newspaper and comment on it. They read the newspaper and comment on it. Has Nicholas Kristof ever been sold into slavery? Has Tom Friedman been to Ukraine? Well, perhaps he has, but you see my point, darling. Everybody aggregates. Let him who is without sin . . . who said that, by the way? I believe the Huffington Post will say it very soon. Perhaps tomorrow. May I borrow your cell phone?”

In a couple of recent speeches, the C.E.O. of the New York Times Company, Mark Thompson, has suggested that the high quality of the Times’s content—the very quality that alarmists claim is becoming unaffordable as a result of bloggers and other cheap competition—will be the paper’s salvation, because people will pay real money for it. (He cautions that the Times is sui generis and that this high-quality strategy won’t work for ordinary, run-of-the-mill papers such as . . . any paper other than the Times.) With admirable, or possibly insane, frankness, he says the Times’s intention is to reduce reliance on advertising and to squeeze its most loyal readers as much as possible to pay for the content they consume.

“The first plank of our new strategy,” Thompson said, “is to develop additional pay offerings aimed at those who tell us they would certainly pay us something for Times journalism but less than the $200 or so which is our current lowest digital subscription—though we also intend to create enhanced offerings for those who tell us they would pay us even more.” He promised “fresh expressions of our journalism . . . with their own integrity and appeal.” And: “Despite any false rumors you may have heard to the contrary, all editorial leadership rests—as it always should and will”—with the editorial side. That is, news will not be influenced by advertisers. (“Native advertising” is the delightful but bewildering euphemism for advertising that looks like editorial content. Its main effect is to make editorial content look like advertising.)

There will always be a demand for high-quality news—enough demand to support two or three national newspapers, on papyrus scrolls if necessary. And the truth is that if only two or three newspapers survive, in national or global competition, that will still be more competition than we have now, with our collection of one-paper-town monopolies. A second truth is that most newspapers aren’t very good and wouldn’t be missed by anybody who could get The New York Times or USA Today and some bloggy source of local news. A third truth is that former roadblocks—people’s refusal to get their content online or to pay for it—are melting away like the snow. A fourth truth is that rich foundations and individuals appear downright eager to jump in and supply foreign or other prestige news if newspapers won’t. Former Times executive editor Bill Keller just quit the paper to help start a nonprofit to cover justice issues. Paul Steiger, formerly managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, founded ProPublica—a nonprofit that produces top-quality investigative journalism.

Somewhere in that agglomeration of developments, newspapers will survive in some form or other at least equal to any available today. It will all work out somehow. Ω

[Michael Kinsley has become a career gypsy since the advent of online journalism. in 1995, he became the founding editor of its online journal Slate and — after leaving Slate because of health difficulties (Parkinson's Disease) — Kinsley next moved to the Los Angeles Times as the Editorial Page Editor. He left the LA Fishwrap in 2005 and returned to writing a weekly column which appeared in The Washington Post and Slate. In 2006 he served briefly as U.S. editor of The Guardian. He later became a regular columnist for Time magazine. In May 2009, Kinsley revealed in a story reviewing a new issue of Newsweek in The New Republic that he had been fired by Time. In January 2013, Kinsley joined The New Republic as editor-at-large and then &3151; a year later (January 2014) — Vanity Fair announced that Kinsley would become a contributing editor and write a monthly column. Michael Kinsley received a BA from Harvard University and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University's Magdalen College. He returned to Harvard for law school and in his third year (L3?), took a job at The New Republic in DC. Kinsley was allowed to finish his Harvard JD via courses at the evening program at The George Washington University Law School.]

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

If Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Is A Demon To The Masters Of The Universe, She's A Hero In This Blog — Give 'Em Hell, Lizzie!

Today, The Jillster reviews Senator Elizabeth Warren's (D-MA) new political biography and finds her to be the spiritual descendant of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (1916-1939). Brandeis was a fierce critic of the plutocracy of his time and Warren has taken up the cause in the Neo-Gilded Age. Senator Warren has proclaimed her intention to serve out her term which ends in 2019. The Jillster is not so sure. If this is (fair & balanced) political Kabuki, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
The Warren Brief
By Jill Lepore

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In her new book, Elizabeth Warren tells the story of her life in order to make an argument about America (the middle class is trapped in a vise of debt), which is the sort of thing politicians do when they’re running for office. Warren, who spent most of her career as a law-school professor, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012; she’s not up for reëlection until 2018. “I am not running for President,” she insisted at a press conference in Boston in December, pledging that she will finish her term. But the publication, this month, of her autobiography, A Fighting Chance (2014), ahead of a memoir by Hillary Clinton that is due out this summer, only adds to the speculation that Warren is considering challenging Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2016. And, even if Warren doesn’t run, this book is part of that race.

Warren’s book was originally called Rigged, a reference to her contention that the American political system places power in the hands of plutocrats and bankers at the expense of ordinary, middle-class Americans. “Big corporations hire armies of lobbyists to get billion-dollar loopholes into the tax system and persuade their friends in Congress to support laws that keep the playing field tilted in their favor,” Warren writes. “Meanwhile, hardworking families are told that they’ll just have to live with smaller dreams for their children.”

A Fighting Chance is in many ways heir to a book published a century ago. Other People’s Money and How the Bankers Use It, by Louis Brandeis, appeared in the spring of 1914. Brandeis believed that the country was being run by plutocrats and, especially, by investment bankers, who, by combining, consolidating, and aggregating the functions of banks, trusts, and corporations, controlled both the nation’s credit and the majority of its resources—including the railroads—and yet had not the least accountability to the public or any sense that the functions they had adopted were essentially those of a public utility. “The power and the growth of power of our financial oligarchs comes from wielding the savings and quick capital of others,” Brandeis wrote. “The fetters which bind the people are forged from the people’s own gold.”

Brandeis was concerned with Gilded Age plutocrats’ use of people’s bank savings to build giant, monopolistic conglomerates answerable not to the people but to shareholders. Other People’s Money, which originally appeared as a series of essays in Harper’s, is a polemic, but it’s also a huge compilation of facts and figures. Brandeis pointed out, for instance, that J. P. Morgan and the First National and the National City Bank together held “341 directorships in 112 corporations having aggregate resources or capitalization of $22,245,000,000,” a sum that is “nearly three times the assessed value of all the real estate in the City of New York” and “more than the assessed value of all the property in the twenty-two states, north and south, lying west of the Mississippi River.” (Brandeis’s ability to enlist data in the service of a legal argument, a statement known as a “Brandeis brief,” is among his many legacies.) In 1933, Brandeis arranged to have Other People’s Money republished—in an edition that cost only fifteen cents—so that it could exert the same influence on F.D.R.’s Administration that it had exerted on Woodrow Wilson’s. In the first decades of the twentieth century, arguments made by writers like Brandeis led to a series of antitrust reforms and financial-industry regulations that, in the middle decades of the century, made possible the growth of the middle class.

Warren is concerned not with saving but with borrowing, not with monopoly but with debt. Since the nineteen-eighties, many Progressive-era and New Deal reforms have been repealed, including a cap on interest rates and a wall, erected in 1933, separating commercial and savings banking from investment banking. In the second gilded age, the fetters that bind the people were forged first from the people’s own credit cards and then from their mortgages. Credit-card companies lured borrowers in with “teaser rates.” Rates of consumer bankruptcy skyrocketed. Eying the profits made by credit-card companies, mortgage companies began selling an entirely new inventory of “mortgage products,” with low down payments, ballooning rates, and prepayment penalties. Home prices shot up, and then they collapsed. “When the housing market sank,” Warren writes, “so did America’s middle class.”

Warren speaks Brandeis’s language. “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own,” Warren said at a campaign stop in 2011, in remarks that defined her candidacy. “Nobody. You built a factory out there, good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.” You used other people’s money. “You built a factory, and it turned into something terrific or a great idea—God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.” It’s the Brandeis in Warren that got her elected. What she does next will have to do with the many ways in which 2014 is not 1914.

A Fighting Chance begins this way: “I’m Elizabeth Warren. I’m a wife, a mother, and a grandmother.” Nowhere in Other People’s Money did Brandeis mention his life or his family; no doubt, these matters did not strike him as relevant to his discussion of financial oligarchy. Also, Brandeis wasn’t running for office. He was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1916, but, even if he had run for office, and had been required to write the necessary campaign autobiography, its first words would not have been “I’m Louis Brandeis. I’m a husband and a father.”

Warren, like Brandeis, is a lawyer and a scholar. She was born in Oklahoma in 1949, the youngest of four children. When she was twelve years old, her father, a salesman for Montgomery Ward, had a heart attack and lost his job. The family lost a car and might have lost their house if Warren’s mother hadn’t managed to get a job at Sears. Warren went to college on a debating-society scholarship but dropped out when she was nineteen to marry an old high-school boyfriend, Jim Warren. She later finished college and moved with her husband to New Jersey; he’d been transferred there by his employer, I.B.M. Warren started work as a schoolteacher; by the end of her first year teaching, when she was twenty-one, she was pregnant. “Somewhere in between diapers and breast-feeding, I hatched the idea of going to school,” she writes. Her husband didn’t want her to work full time, but agreed that it would be O.K. if she took classes. She decided on law school, because she liked the lawyers on TV. Every day, she brought her daughter, Amelia, to a woman who took care of half a dozen kids, and went to class at Rutgers Law School. By the end of her third year, she was pregnant again; she had a boy named Alex. Much of Warren’s book is about her children and grandchildren. She writes about a moment in 1978: “It was early evening, the cranky time of day. I was jostling Alex on my hip and frying pork chops. Amelia was on the floor with crayons scattered all around. I kept an eye on the clock, knowing Jim would come through the door in about twenty minutes.” The phone rang. It was a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, asking her about a job inquiry she’d sent because her husband might be transferred to Houston. Warren writes, “I tried to sound smooth and relaxed, even as I jiggled Alex furiously in the hope that he wouldn’t start crying. And I kept looking at those damn pork chops.”

Warren got a teaching position at the law school (where she was routinely mistaken for a secretary), and the family moved to Houston. One day in 1979 when she picked up Alex from a day-care center in a strip mall, he held on to her and cried and cried and cried. She took him out of the day-care center. “I was so tired that my bones hurt,” Warren writes. She was about to quit. Then her aunt Bee volunteered to move to Houston from Oklahoma, to help take care of the children. “Nearly eighty years old and so needed,” Bee said. Not long afterward, when Warren’s marriage fell apart, her parents moved to Houston to help out, too. In 1980, Warren remarried.

Warren’s interest in debt, she says, is partly personal. “My daddy and I were both afraid of being poor, really poor. His response was never to talk about money or what might happen if it ran out—never ever ever. My response was to study contracts, finance, and, most of all, economic failure, to learn everything I could.” Her research led her to conclude that the bankruptcy rate is a canary in the economy’s coal mine and that, sometime during the Reagan Administration, the canary died.

The argument Warren offers in A Fighting Chance is one that she began to make in As We Forgive Our Debtors: Bankruptcy and Consumer Credit in America, a monograph written with Teresa A. Sullivan and Jay Lawrence Westbrook and published by Oxford in 1989. Sullivan, a sociologist, is now president of the University of Virginia; Westbrook teaches bankruptcy law at the University of Texas School of Law, where Warren taught from 1981 to 1987. (In 1986, Warren and Westbrook wrote a textbook, The Law of Debtors and Creditors, currently in its seventh edition.) In As We Forgive Our Debtors, Sullivan, Warren, and Westbrook reported the results of a study they made of twenty-four hundred bankruptcy petitions filed in 1981. Bankruptcy rates had risen because of the 1978 Bankruptcy Reform Act, which made filing for bankruptcy easier, but also because, by the nineteen-seventies, consumer spending had become the engine of the American economy. Sullivan, Warren, and Westbrook found that most filers weren’t cheats or frauds and they also weren’t poor; they were members of the middle class, undone by the volatility of the economy and by a six-hundred-billion-dollar consumer-credit industry. More than half were homeowners, and many were women rearing children.

In 1987, Warren began teaching at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. In 1995, she moved to Harvard. In The Fragile Middle Class: Americans in Debt, published by Yale in 2000, Sullivan, Warren, and Westbrook reported the results of a follow-up study of another twenty-four hundred bankruptcy filings, these from 1991. Even more Americans were drowning in debt. Between 1979 and 1997, the number of personal-bankruptcy filings rose by four hundred per cent.

In an age of debt, an unexpected loss can drive almost anyone to ruin. “Divorce, an unhappy second marriage, a serious illness, no job,” Warren writes. “A turn here, a turn there, and my life might have been very different, too.”

Louis Brandeis had a knack for making himself an expert on just about anything, but the original “Brandeis brief” was a hundred-and-thirteen-page document that he submitted to the Supreme Court in 1908, in Muller v. Oregon, a case concerning a law limiting the workday for women in laundries and factories to ten hours. “The decision in this case will, in effect, determine the constitutionality of nearly all the statutes in force in the United States, limiting the hours of labor of adult women,” Brandeis explained in his brief. He proceeded to cite and summarize the findings of hundreds of reports and studies by physicians, municipal health boards, public-health departments, medical societies, factory inspectors, and bureaus of labor, demonstrating the harm done to women who worked long hours, an argument that relied on ideas about women’s weakness relative to men. The Oregon law was upheld.

The efforts of a generation of Progressive reformers, including Brandeis, lies behind the abolition of child labor and the establishment of maximum-hour and minimum-wage laws for both men and women. A century later, Warren’s brief, too, has to do with the long hours that women work. She’s interested in the unintended economic consequences that arise when women rearing children enter the paid labor force. Warren’s counterintuitive argument is that, for all the public and private good that has come from gains made by women in education and employment, earning money has made women who are mothers more economically vulnerable, not less.

Warren believes that the two-income family has contributed to the bankruptcy rate. “For middle-class families, the most important part of the safety net for generations has been the stay-at-home mother,” Warren and her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, wrote in The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke (2003), a book aimed at a wider audience than Warren’s earlier, academic work. (“Mom, you are boring,” Tyagi told Warren. “Collaborating with my daughter is not for sissies,” Warren says.) It used to be that when a middle-class family was faced with a financial crisis the woman in the house could get a job, to tide things over, which is what happened when Warren’s father had a heart attack and her mother got a job at Sears. This cushion doesn’t exist in the two-income family, which, in its short history—it has its origins, as a middle-class phenomenon, in the nineteen-seventies—has also taken on a great deal more housing debt. The 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act required lenders to count a wife’s income when evaluating borrowers; the deregulation of the mortgage lending industry began in 1980. With two wage earners and low down payments, middle-class families took on bigger mortgages and contributed to an increase in the cost of housing, especially when families with children paid a premium for property in school districts with high test scores. Financial crisis, for a two-income family, usually means having to live, quite suddenly, on one income. In these straits, families with children tend to totter on the edge of ruin. “Having a child is now the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse,” Warren and Tyagi reported. Between 1981 and 2001, the number of women filing for bankruptcy rose more than six hundred per cent.

Warren entered the world of policymaking when, in 1995, she was appointed to serve on the National Bankruptcy Review Commission, during the Clinton Administration. She found the work thrilling and the results maddening. She describes a report, sponsored by the banking industry, alleging that bankruptcy protection amounted to a five-hundred-and-fifty-dollar “hidden tax” levied on every hardworking American family: “I’d spent nearly twenty years sweating over every detail in a string of serious academic studies, agonizing over sample sizes and statistical significance to make certain that whatever I reported was exactly right. Now the banks just wrote a check, commissioned a friendly study, and purchased their own facts.” Warren’s frustration was part of what led her to seek a broader audience for her research by writing The Two-Income Trap, which led to appearances on the “Today” show and “Dr. Phil,” where she spoke with a family struggling with debt. “Year in and year out, I’d been fighting as hard as I could,” Warren writes. “But by spending a few minutes talking to that family on Dr. Phil’s show—and to about six million other people who were looking on—I might have done more good than in an entire year as a professor.”

Nevertheless, the solutions that Warren has proposed often fail to convince. To counter both the crisis in public education and the high cost of housing, Warren and Tyagi recommend a universal public-school voucher system in which parents could send their kids to any public school: “An all-voucher system would be a shock to the educational system, but the shakeout might be just what the system needs.” Yes, that would be a shock. It would also be reckless.

In 2008, Warren joined a five-person congressional-oversight panel whose creation was mandated by the seven-hundred-billion-dollar bailout. She found that thrilling and maddening, too. In the spring of 2009, after the panel issued its third report, critical of the bailout, Larry Summers took Warren out to dinner in Washington and, she recalls, told her that she had a choice to make. She could be an insider or an outsider, but if she was going to be an insider she needed to understand one unbreakable rule about insiders: “They don’t criticize other insiders.” That’s about when Warren went on the Jon Stewart show, and you get the sense that, over that dinner, she decided to run for office.

Elizabeth Warren has a case to make about what bankers do with other people’s money; she’s been making it for twenty-five years. It’s hardly uncontested, but it rests on collaborative, peer-reviewed, empirical research. Getting that argument across to voters in 2012 required a great deal of compression and simplification, even more than was required to write The Two-Income Trap, but Warren’s expertise—her authority as an intellectual—also helped get her elected. Running against Scott Brown, she had to tell a stump-size story about her life, a story that includes this fact: for a time, she was a single mother. That story helped get her elected.

My life explains my fight has been the argument of every American political biography for a long time. When you’re grafting a life story onto a political argument, there will always be places where the grain runs in different directions. (An argument that the system is rigged tends to be somewhat undermined, for instance, by the success of the person pointing that out.) And, particularly for women with children, campaign biography can be a snare. When Wendy Davis decided to run for governor of Texas, her consultants advised her to tell the story of how she started out as a single mother before becoming a lawyer; conservatives accused her of having abandoned her children. This snare exists because political biography as a genre follows conventions whose origins lie with Andrew Jackson, in the early nineteenth century, long before women gained the right to vote or to hold office. Discrimination is the afterlife of discredited ideas. By the standards applied to Davis, who left her two young daughters with their father so that she could go to law school, most candidates elected to office in the United States in the past two centuries abandoned their children.

But there’s another snare here: the danger of adopting, in place of the conventions of the Andrew Jackson’s-bootstraps political biography, the newer conventions of diaper-pin Girl Jacksonianism. Political consultants appear to be eager to advise their female candidates to include, when telling the story of their lives, gauzy intimacies, silly-little-me confessions of domestic ineptitude, stagy performances of maternal devotion, and the shameless trotting out of twinkle-eyed tots. In A Fighting Chance, Warren argues that the federal government has allowed an unregulated financial industry to prey on the middle class; she also writes no small amount about peach cobbler and burned frying pans. Still, she is not adorable; instead, she’s fierce in her affections. “Sometimes, late at night, when the house was quiet, I’d scoop Lavinia out of her crib and hold her,” she writes, referring to one of her grandchildren. “Not because she needed it but because I did.”

Warren is also smart enough to use the conventions of political biography, old and new, to insist on the existence of a relationship between caring for other people and caring about politics. Her brief is really about the abandonment of children, not by women who go to school or to work but by legislatures and courts that have allowed the nation’s social and economic policies to be made by corporations and bankers. Writing about her children and grandchildren—rocking that baby—is more than the place where Warren leaves Brandeis behind. It’s an argument about where our real debts lie. Ω

[Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History at Harvard University as well as the chair of the History and Literature Program. She also is a staff writer at The New Yorker. Her latest books are The Story of America: Essays on Origins (2012) and (2013). Lepore earned her B.A. in English from Tufts University, an M.A. in American Culture from University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University.]

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, U.S. Democracy Sleeps With The Fishes!

The anchors of the Action McNews Network — Wanda and Biff — are joined by a correspondent, Betty McBettie, live from the search zone for democracy at the Venetian Palazzo in Las Vegas, NV. Recently, Mr. Israel (Sheldon Adelson) with orange hair convened a meeting of Dumbo Zionists at his hotel/casino. Many Dumbo governors flew to Sin City to kiss Mr. Israel's ring or another low portion of his anatomy and Sin City is where Betty McBettie went searching for democracy. The batteries in democracy's black box have lost power and Betty found nothing except repacious Dumbos. Now this message: if this is (fair & balanced) pandering, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
The Mysterious Disappearance
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political weblog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. Earlier this year, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning.]

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

LBJ, A Hero? No So Much

Never forget that Tom Lehrer proclaimed in 1965 that LBJ was "practicing escalatio on the Vietnamese people." This past week, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum observed the semicentennial of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with appearances by four ex-POTUSes: Mr. Peanut, The Slickster, The Dubster, and POTUS 44. It was ironic that this blogger was at ground zero for the dedication of the LBJ Library and Museum in 1971 with The Trickster in attendance. Now, in 2014, this blogger was subjected a weeklong tribute to LBJ. As a corrective, this blog turns to Professor Michael Kazin, a lifelong leftist for a less-hagiographic view of LBJ's leagacy. It is estimated, now, that more than 1 million Vietnamese died thanks LBJ's Cold War adventure. Add to that total the 58,209 U.S. military personnel who died in the Vietnam conflict. This blogger only knows the names of two of the 58,209 names engraved in the black marble of DC's Vietnam Veterans Memorial: John Manzanares of Larayette, CO (boyhood friend) and Stanley McPherson of Hobbs, NM (acquaintance). Think a good thought, if you will, for their families as well as the people of Vietnam who suffered for LBJ's Folly. If this is a (fair & balanced) tribute to human sacrifice, so be it.

[x TNR]
Stop The Revisionism: LBJ Was No Liberal Hero
By Michael Kazin

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created at

From 1964 to 1968, close to 34,000 Americans died in South Vietnam. We will never know how many Vietnamese women, men, and children perished during those years, but the total, according to most estimates, was at least one million. Among the dead were tens of thousands of civilians—blown apart by explosives dropped from planes, burned to death by napalm, or gunned down by U.S. troops whose commanders told them that, in a village considered loyal to the Vietcong, they should “kill anything that we see and anything that moved.” Their commander-in-chief was Lyndon Baines Johnson.

This past week, on the golden anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, four of LBJ’s successors went to his library in Texas to praise his character and his deeds. George W. Bush lauded him for turning “a nation’s grief to a great national purpose.” Jimmy Carter chided his fellow Democrats for not emulating Johnson’s determination to fight for racial equality. Barack Obama remarked that LBJ’s “hunger” for power “was harnessed and redeemed by a deeper understanding of the human condition, by a sympathy for the underdog, for the downtrodden, for the outcast.” Bill Clinton reflected that Johnson “saw limitless possibilities in the lives of other poor people like him who just happened to have a different color skin.”

Some liberal journalists echoed the chief executives, past and present. LBJ, wrote my friend E.J. Dionne, presided over “a consensual period when a large and confident majority believed that national action could expand opportunities and alleviate needless suffering. The earthily practical Johnson showed that finding realistic ways of creating a better world is what Americans are supposed to do.” Not a word about those countless people in Southeast Asia whose lives reached their unnatural limits when they encountered an American infantryman with an M-16 or a bomb dropped from a B-52.

Of course, to remember what the United States, during LBJ’s tenure, did to Vietnam and to the young Americans who served there does not cancel out his domestic achievements. But to portray him solely as a paragon of empathy, a liberal hero with a minor flaw or two, is not merely a feat of willful amnesia. It is deeply immoral.

In 1965, as Johnson was pushing Congress to enact the Voting Rights Act and Medicare, he was also initiating the bombing of North Vietnam and signing the orders which eventually sent over 500,000 U.S. troops to occupy and fight to “pacify” the Southern half of that country. At the time, liberal Democrats who opposed the war condemned the hypocrisy of a President who could help millions of Americans win their rights and a degree of medical security while he oversaw the destruction of what he called “a raggedy ass little third rate country.” Fifty years later, powerful Democrats in search of a usable past would just prefer to ignore the contradiction.

They would also, it seems, like to forget the profound damage which Johnson’s conduct of the war did to the fortunes of liberalism back home. As every politician and journalist once knew, mass discontent about the debacle in Vietnam split the Democratic Party in two and convinced LBJ not to run for re-election in 1968. The party’s nominee, that flaming liberal Hubert Humphrey, then won less than 43 percent of the popular vote. It would be another 40 years before another unabashed liberal (uh, “progressive”) was elected president.

The disastrous conflict was not the sole reason why national politics slid rightward after LBJ left office; the energy crisis and stagflation of the 1970s also soured voters on the ability of government to keep the economy humming. But the turmoil caused by a war that Johnson could neither win nor justify was integral to that change.

A big reason why LBJ failed to persuade Americans to support his escalation is that he didn’t really believe in the cause himself. In May of 1964, he asked his old friend and sometime mentor, Senator Richard Russell, for his advice about what to do in Vietnam. Russell told him air strikes on the North would mostly just “kill old men, women, and children.” The conservative Georgian added, “It’s just one of those places where you can’t win. Anything that you do is wrong.” Johnson listened carefully and did not disagree. He ended their conversation that day with a sigh, “Well, they’d impeach a president though that would run out, wouldn’t they?”

The great musical satirist Tom Lehrer once remarked that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger made political satire obsolete. The same might be said for those who would turn the President most responsible for ravaging Vietnam into a great liberal hero. Ω

[Michael Kazin is editor of Dissent magazine and teaches history at Georgetown University. His most recent book is American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation (2011) and he is now at work on War against War: The Rise, Defeat, and Legacy of the American Peace Movement, 1914-1918 (forthcoming). Kazin received a BA (Social Studies) from Harvard University, an MA (History) from Portland State University, and a PhD (History) from Stanford University.]

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