A lot of people can’t seem to get their heads around politics

28 Aug 2015 07:01 am
Posted by: Donna

David Roberts’ latest piece for Vox, Tech nerds are smart. But they can’t seem to get their heads around politics. is a spectacular explication of the frustrating inability of a lot of otherwise smart people to grasp the U.S. political situation. He begins by describing his admiration for wicked-smart Tim Urban, who writes brilliant things on a site called Wait But Why:

One of the purest expressions of the nerd spirit is the site Wait But Why, started in 2013 by Tim Urban, a Harvard graduate and co-owner of a tutoring company but really, by his own testimony, just some dude.

Urban is a nerd. He gets interested in some complicated subject, digs into it until he feels like he really understands it, and he explains it. (To get a flavor, start with the one about procrastination and the epic series on artificial intelligence.) It’s a bit like the explanatory journalism that’s so popular these days, but in the case of WBW, it is completely untethered from the web-media demands for speed, volume, and topicality.

Urban originally promised to post twice a week. Then it was “every Tuesday.” Now it’s “every sometimes.” He takes his time. But the posts, when they come, are a delight — 3,000, 8,000, even 26,000 (seriously) words, complete with crude but hilarious illustrations, diagrams, and infographics, written in friendly, nontechnical language that still manages to honor the complexities of the subjects.

Roberts is one of the smartest writers around and I’m eagerly looking forward to exploring Urban’s offerings. Unfortunately, as Roberts explains in what is the main thrust of his piece, Urban buys into common and erroneous narratives of how politics works in this country:

…The second [problematic narrative] is the conception of politics as a contest of two mirror-image political philosophies, with mirror-image extremes and a common center, which is where sensible, independent-minded people congregate (“both parties have good points; both also have a bunch of dumb people saying dumb things”)…

Read the whole thing (it’s that good) but the above sentence provides a good, brief summary of where Urban is mistaken. The belief in “extremes on both sides” ignores just how lopsided things really are and how people on the Democratic side (both politicians and rank-and-file) are earnestly trying to govern while those on the GOP side are committed to obstructing it. Progress lies in understanding the two sides and realizing which one is most conducive to realizing it. And no, there’s not a middle way since:

…[In] practical coalitional politics, the “center” will tend to be shaped not by rational thinking but by money and power. If there is any space left for bipartisanship in US politics, it is around measures that benefit corporate elites.

The only thing I’d add to David Roberts’ superb analysis is the issue of “civility” politics and the automatic sidelining of anyone deemed partisan, especially if they are from the Left. My social media timeline and real life is filled with liberals grousing about the supposed spinelessness of Democrats and wondering why they won’t forcefully defend their positions. Well, I’m one of those who does do that. For my efforts, I am constantly derided for being the “Tea Party equivalent of the Left!”, mostly by people ostensibly on the same side as I am, despite my never having expressed mirror-image leftist stances to those of the science-denying and bigoted ones of Tea Party counterparts on the Right. It’s mostly an objection to my tone. So sorry!

Whatever. I say that if you want liberal ideas to gain a toehold in society, then they are going to have to be expressed boldly and loudly. There’s no other way.

EJ Montini would like people to discuss jailing women for abortion more politely

25 Aug 2015 06:13 am
Posted by: Donna

StaffPortraits

Arizona Republic columnist EJ Montini finds the way that some people engage in the ongoing debate over the fair use of the female breeding chattel to be unseemly.

What?

No placards? No shouting? No exchange of insults and accusations?

Actually, no. Just people with different opinion having their say and responding to others in a way that suggests that they actually listened to the other side.

It began when a long-time anti-abortion advocate I hear from now and then wrote to me with this question:

“Was throwing away a baby worse than abortion?”

She was talking about the case of Samantha Perez, who was 16 years old when she gave birth to a baby girl in her family’s bathroom then dropped the newborn out a window into an outdoor storage room, where the injured infant was found by sheriff’s deputies. (The child is fine now, according to authorities.) Perez had hidden her pregnancy from her parents.

This week she was sentenced to five years in prison and lifetime probation.

“Do you agree with her getting prison time?” the woman asked me.

Yes.

“And yet if she’d had an abortion nothing would have happened to her, how is that right?”

EJ appears to be unaware of how vigorously some public anti-abortion advocates deny that they intend to prosecute and jail women for abortion. They claim this is lie concocted by “pro-aborts” to defame their movement. However, rank-and-file antis who are not carefully trained to sidestep the prospect of prosecuting women will often let loose with that very desire, as EJ’s interlocutor did here. I’m honestly glad when they come right out with the straightforward argument that women who abort should be charged with murder. It’s refreshing, for one thing, and it also dispenses with the distracting, disingenuous nonsense about “protecting women”, laying bare the true agenda of the anti-choice movement.

Sadly, EJ Montini did not seize the opportunity to call attention to the horrors that await women under criminal abortion bans and the viciousness of the people pushing said bans. No, he instead chose to focus on the importance of maintaining decorum when discussing whether or not the female breeding chattel should face incarceration.

There is a sameness about the exchanges I have with this woman.

Her opinion is never changed. My opinion is never changed.

I argued that there is a difference between the attempted murder of a baby and the termination of a pregnancy. The woman does not accept that there is. I wrote about our exchange, and readers joined in.

And they were respectful of one another.

Imagine that.

These days, showing respect for someone with whom you disagree is news. Or should be.

Priorities!

Montini goes on to cite examples of this respectful dialog on both sides. They include this one:

“If you knowingly take another’s life, then the matter in which you take it becomes irrelevant.”

That is a courteous way of stating that women who abort pregnancies should be treated as first degree murderers, I suppose. A medical student weighed in with a “scientific” argument. Here is his full comment, from Montini’s August 20th post about the 16 year old who hid her pregnancy and discarded the baby:

As science advances, and our understanding of genetics and the human body improves, we as Americans are being forced to reconsider preconceived notions about gender identity, homosexuality, and tansgender individuals. It is time we begin to apply the same scientific understanding to determine issues surrounding abortion, and the science is clear: a “fetus” as we call them has a heart beat at 6-8 weeks post-conception, and can feel pain and touch anywhere from 8-20 weeks post-conception. This understanding should be haunting our conscience as a society. Mr. Montini, as science is forcing conservatives and America as a whole to reconsider gender issues, so too should it begin to guide our decisions on abortion. Science has shown us that some individuals are born with same-gender attraction. As a medical student, I ask you to consider the science behind abortion. Why do we fight so hard to keep some “fetuses” alive when they are born prematurely as early as 18 weeks post-conception, while senselessly murdering others? As a society, we should be asking ourselves your neighbors poignant question [sic].

I guess Montini was so impressed by the medical student invoking science and LGBT rights that he missed the part where the guy basically accused women and their doctors of being senseless murderers. That seems like the kind of provocative language that should trouble EJ Montini yet, somehow, it doesn’t. EJ worries that people on either side of the abortion divide aren’t listening to each other but I can promise him, as one of those truculent and unruly pro-choicers, that I am most certainly listening to the other side. I pay careful attention to both the “polite” ones asking “poignant questions” and those who don’t bother with such niceties. I pay way more attention to the anti-abortion movement than EJ Montini ever will and I’m not at all interested in a civil debate with them over how much pain, misery, and death should be dealt to women over other people’s arbitrary judgments of their private lives.

So sorry if that’s impolite of me, EJ.

Planned Parenthood was rallied for and protested in Phoenix!

24 Aug 2015 07:00 am
Posted by: Donna

phx anti choice protest.jpg-largeIdiots

On Saturday morning I went to the rally for Planned Parenthood at its new location in midtown Phoenix, which was held in response to an anti-choice protest planned to be held outside. Abortion opponents were there as part of a nationwide protest of Planned Parenthood locations (several of which don’t actually perform abortions, as pro-choice advocates noted on social media). I showed up at the Phoenix event fully prepared with water and sunscreen for what was to be a brutally hot August morning. I was pleasantly surprised to find that our rally was to be held in the parking garage where we’d be warm but at least out of the sun. And those of us who showed up in support of Planned Parenthood were treated to donuts and rousing speeches and music, which was blasted on to the anti-choice crowd outside.

The anti-choicers weren’t so lucky but it was their decision to hold their protest outside the Planned Parenthood building so they could block Pierson Street, which was ridiculous because the building was still easily accessible from 15th Street and Pierson is not even remotely a major thoroughfare. I hear that a few protesters collapsed from the heat (not surprising). It was rage-inducing to see how several of the antis brought their youngsters with them to roast in that hot sun, including one Father of the Year strutting around showing off his toddler and baby, both of whom were uncovered and the baby wasn’t even wearing a hat. If grown idiots want to make themselves martyrs to the cause of anger over women having unpunished sex, that’s one thing, but endangering non-consenting children like that is simply criminal.

Many of the signs the protesters held up contained the usual messages declaring abortion to be murder, likening it to various genocides and massacres throughout history, claiming that abortion harms women (cuz they love us dontchaknow), and deprives men of their God-given ownership of women (“Men Regret Lost Fatherhood!”). Because the national day of action was ostensibly to call attention the bogus claim that Planned Parenthood is profiting from the sale of fetal tissue, there were also several signs about that. It was amusing when, at one point, a woman with a sign listing “sales” prices for various fetal organs ranging from $30 to $60 was standing near another woman whose sign had those same organs going for $300 to $600. The inflation in the fetal organs market is rapid, apparently.

Of course, people with the dimmest grasp of reality (and I include those who want to sob about the collection process in that group) know that Planned Parenthood isn’t selling any tissue to medical researchers and the money they do get is reasonable reimbursement for storing and transporting it. But the signs at the protest and the speeches by the right wing politicians at the protest made it clear that anti-choicers have fully sewn the “Planned Parenthood is selling baby parts!” claim into their ever-expanding quilt of urban legends.

The war on women goes on…

Sorry Trump fans, but it’s good having grownups in charge

21 Aug 2015 05:31 pm
Posted by: Donna

“The fundamental cause of the trouble in the modern world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”—Bertrand Russell.

I brought a handful of books to Sedona with me when we were up there but the one I read from start to finish was Jimmy Carter’s A Full Life: Reflections At Ninety. As the title suggests, it’s a straightforward account of Carter’s entire life spanning his childhood on his family’s farm in Plains, Georgia, to a career as a submariner and nuclear engineer in the Navy, and then his lengthy career in public service. I have to admit to rolling my eyes through parts where he would describe his religiosity and the pride he took in his missionary work (not my thing) and puzzling over a few occasions where he described his “moderate views on race” during the Civil Rights era but, for the most part, Carter’s account of his life left me more impressed with the guy than I already was.

Carter devoted a good part of the book, unsurprisingly, to his time as President. Whether or not you think he performed well in that role, no one can deny he was hit with a farrago of challenges from the moment he took office. Carter meticulously explains his approaches to several of them (the list is exhaustive and it includes well-known crises such as the gas shortage, the hostage situation in Iran, and the tricky Egypt-Israel peace negotiation but also arguably less memorable events like Love Canal nuclear crisis, the Panama canal treaty, the Mount St. Helen’s eruption, and bailing out both New York City and the Chrysler Corporation, just to pick items a few at random). He spares himself and others no criticism for failures while taking, and giving, credit where due for successes. In other words, he acts like the thoughtful and responsible adult he has been since roughly 1942. As President, Jimmy Carter was the honest and responsible politician everyone said they wanted after Watergate. As a reward for that, Carter got news coverage that was negative 46 out of the 48 months he was in office, cartoonists regularly depicting him and his family as having straw coming out of their ears, and a prominent columnist opining that the Reagans would “restore grace to the White House” when Carter lost his bid for reelection.

Quite the contrast from that is the current GOP primary front-runner, blowhard man-baby Donald Trump, who is definitely not taking a measured approach to the pressing issues of the day. Trump is leaning hard on his supposed business expertise* while blustering that he will be able to solve all kinds of geopolitical problems through his magical deal-making ability. President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal is a “total and complete catastrophe”, according to Trump, who assures his followers that he would simply sashay into the negotiations with a bunch of non-negotiable demands and have all of them met immediately by Iranian leaders cowering in submission. Yeah, okay.

Trump epitomizes the corporate “no excuses” ideology that is now pervasive in America. It is supposed to produce results and excellence but often leads to miserable workplaces and chaos when applied to governmental functions. Guys like Trump, who brag and self-promote at every opportunity, whether justified or not (often not, as they tend to be highly adept at taking credit for other people’s work), and refuse to admit to mistakes, do very well in these environments. Or they at least appear to, which seems to matter more than their actual performance.

The “no excuses” mentality Trump espouses means that he can never admit to being wrong no matter what.

When reporters confronted Trump, he hadn’t yet heard about the incident. At first, he said, “That would be a shame.” But right after, he went on:

“I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate. They love this country. They want this country to be great again. But they are very passionate. I will say that.”

This is not someone who should be running the country and I agree with Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi (whose article I just linked) that he is no longer funny. I sincerely hope Trump has reached the ceiling of his public support but I don’t expect any erosion in that which he already has, since people who admire a guy because he acts like he’s always right tend to be the type of people who refuse to admit to being wrong themselves.

*It’s worth noting that Jimmy Carter took over his late father’s farming and supply enterprise in the early ’50s and has managed it quite successfully since then. I’d say Carter could have run rings about Trump as a real estate developer had he devoted his life to that rather than public service.

The not-so-mysterious reason so many GOP women like Trump

19 Aug 2015 06:51 am
Posted by: Donna

Donald_Trump_hair
Not for his looks, for sure.

On my post-vacay trek to the gym I decided to watch Anderson Cooper as I rode the exercise bike. The top story of the night was, of course, the GOP primary and CNN’s latest poll that has Donald Trump in the lead plus favorable ratings, including by gender:

But there is no gender gap among Republicans on favorable views of Trump: 60% of Republican women voters have a positive impression as do 57% of GOP men. Outside the Republican Party, women are less apt to hold a favorable view of Trump, just 17% of women voters who are independents or Democratic leaners see him favorably, compared with 29% of non-Republican male voters.

That’s a startlingly high favorable rating among women, though not really, as the video from CNN’s Randi Kaye demonstrates. Iowa Trump supporter Heather Halterman feels that Trump’s ugly comments about various women are not degrading and are secondary to her vague conception of the “good ideas” he has for a country “going down the drain” and his promise to protect her two sons from the (again, vague) threat posed to them by immigrants from south of the border. Halterman also likes Trump’s “pro-Israel” stance (who knows why?) and some non-specific things he has said about the tax code and building up the military.

Okay, whatever, lots of people have become enamored of politicians based upon charisma and other intangible qualities they have. The Halterman clip was followed by an interview with 20 year old Katie Utterback, who is currently the youngest caucus organizer for Trump in Iowa. Utterback claims that: “If you’re in the business world as a woman, you’re playing a man’s game. You’re going to saddle up your boots and you’re going just going to have to take it like a woman. Like a cowgirl.”

Whoa there, Katie! What’s with this “man’s game” shit? Like women mainly work for funsies and pin money? Women have worked and run businesses throughout history for the same reason men have, to earn a living and support our families. And the money that we women earn and circulate to uphold the economy is every bit as green and important as that of our male counterparts. Unless and until there are special (and generous!) Lady Subsistence Checks distributed to every female person on the planet by dint of our existence, I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to sign on cheerfully to tolerating a barrage of misogynist bile by the likes of Donald Trump and his wannabes as the purchase price for entering a business world that I have no choice but to operate in and for appearing in public while doing so. I mean damn, girl.

I am very much done with the whole concept of “strong woman” since it’s difficult to discern what is expected to earn that descriptor as opposed to “doormat”. It is odd to me, though, this idea that smiling and not pushing back while someone describes you as a fat disgusting pig or whatever would be the definition of toughness and would help propel you to success in your career as a woman. I’m pretty sure it has never worked that way for men.

It is obvious that Heather Halterman and Katie Utterback are fairly confident that, by aligning themselves with Trump and ignoring (or cheering) his disdain for women, they are somehow immune from it. They’re not necessarily wrong for thinking that, as I doubt Trump is going to be attacking either the way he attacks female critics any time soon. This is no mystery. The easiest Easy Button for a woman to push is to join with misogynists in dumping on other women.

Required reading while I’m on vacay

14 Aug 2015 06:04 am
Posted by: Donna

BASE CLOSINGS CARTER

Mark and I are headed off to Sedona until Wednesday but I wanted to leave a post before we left. Read these things!

First, read Rebecca Schoenkopf’s tribute to Jimmy Carter, which is the best.

Jimmy Carter has liver cancer. Jimmy Carter is 90 years old. Jimmy Carter is one of the great Americans, if you count a globetrotting sense of adventure coupled with near-constant service to his nation and our earth. And he is fer fucking sure the greatest ex-president alive today.

Let me add my own pecunious reason for loving President Carter for all time. He was elected when I was eight years old and left office when I was twelve. This is a very important time in a child’s life in terms in intellectual development, since it’s after the lizard brain stuff and before it all goes to shit when puberty sets in. What I remember most about Jimmy Carter’s administration was his emphasis on energy efficiency. The indelible affect it left upon me was how you should set the thermostat. No higher than 65 degrees in the winter and no lower than 78 in the summer. In adulthood I have followed this rule as if it were a Biblical precept. Jimmy Carter has probably saved me thousands of dollars, for real. Stay strong, Jimmy!

Next, read Blake Morlock of Tucson Sentinel on the bus strike in that city.

One of the least discussed aspects of the 1 percent versus 99 percent paradigm is how the 99 percent need to at least try to bargain up their wage based on the value they create for an employer.

Workers who take the first salary offer as the last salary offer need to learn how to bargain better. My empirical experience in Tucson is that workers negotiate salaries by first thanking employers for giving them a job and then agreeing to punch themselves daily as a show of unworthiness for the gift they have been given.

No, Virginia, jobs don’t come from Santa Claus. No one “gives you one.” You are hired to do work that needs being done to add value to a company. Workers get a cut of that percentage. How much is often up to the worker being a dick about it.

So, the problem is not bus drivers wanting to make more money. Instead in the United States, and especially Tucson, it is workers not valuing their contribution enough to demand more money.

Maybe, just maybe, if we all wake up in a world tomorrow where bus drivers earn a better living than half of the other workers in town, everyone else will start demanding their value. Remember, a wage is a negotiation. You are worth what someone is willing to pay. If you are thankful for the job and think your labor is a dime an hour, you aren’t likely pushing. In other words: why should Sun Tran workers suffer because no one else in town knows how to bargain?

It’s called savvy bargaining when a comfortable and well-fed businessman does it but when a lowly worker does it’s somehow offensive? GMAFB. And hell, who among us with our “higher” skills would be able to drive a city bus if that job were suddenly thrust upon us? That has looked difficult to me since I started taking buses as a kid (between age eight and twelve, and I knew it at the time).

Finally, and because (for my arbitrary purposes) it seems to tie the aforementioned topics together, behold the wisdom of this neo-conservative from the Chicago Tribune:

Envy isn’t a rational response to the upcoming 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

But with Aug. 29 fast approaching and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu making media rounds, including at the Tribune Editorial Board, I find myself wishing for a storm in Chicago — an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto the rooftops.

That’s what it took to hit the reset button in New Orleans. Chaos. Tragedy. Heartbreak.

Residents overthrew a corrupt government. A new mayor slashed the city budget, forced unpaid furloughs, cut positions, detonated labor contracts. New Orleans’ City Hall got leaner and more efficient. Dilapidated buildings were torn down. Public housing got rebuilt. Governments were consolidated.

The whole thing is basically a neo-conservative wet dream. A very ugly one at that. Like they’re telling you what they really think because it’s okay to do that now. Yikes.

See y’all Wednesday!

There is no “Republican establishment” and the GOP Presidential slate proves it

11 Aug 2015 08:55 am
Posted by: Donna

gop debate

Nothing drives me up the wall these days more than pundits (including many on the putative “liberal” cable news network) engaging in endless, pointless dissections of the GOP and pondering if the “Tea Party fringe” is winning over the “moderate, establishment wing” or vice versa. Stop it, pundits. There is no “Republican establishment” today. None. If there (arguably) was one in the past it does not exist anymore. I’ll let a Grover Norquist, writing at The American Spectator, explain it to you:

So where does this narrative of liberal Republican leaders battling the Tea Party grassroots come from?

Talk radio hosts created some of this confusion by focusing on tactical differences, for instance Senator Ted Cruz’s attempt to “defund” Obamacare in the fall of 2013. Cruz argued that the GOP House could force Harry Reid to repeal Obamacare, and then somehow get Obama himself to agree to destroy his life’s work. These tactics, which led to a government shutdown, did not work as advertised. Polls showed support for Republicans hit new lows and approval of Obamacare hit new highs. Both turned around only after the shutdown threat disappeared and the nation could focus on the problems with the Obamacare rollout. Tactics may be wise or foolish, but disagreements over them does not change the underlying unanimity within the Republican Party, top to bottom, that Obamacare should be repealed.

A second reason many see an imaginary fight between the Tea Party movement and the establishment is that both terms are rather amorphous, and are often used and defined dishonestly. Fringe candidates with little or no support have cried out that they are the true Tea Partiers, and some national groups foolishly echo these claims. Local activists who support the more electable conservatives are drowned out by national voices claiming to speak on the Tea Party’s behalf. For instance North Carolina’s Speaker of the Assembly Thom Tillis, who is running for U.S. Senate, was attacked by national “Tea Party” groups as the establishment candidate. But Tillis has a solid conservative record, and real-life polling in the state found that he won strong support from self-identified Tea Party voters.

The national media loves to cover fights between conservatives, which damage the Right and distract from the very real divisions on the Left. But there is no fight between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment; the Tea Party is the Republican establishment. Fewer political victories have been more rapid and more complete than the one it has won in five short years.

Norquist, the bathtub drowner, pretended it was all about spending and ignored all the conspiracy nuttery (Birtherism, Benghazi, etc.) and cultural backlash (racist, misogynistic, homophobic) that went along with it but he is right that conservatives are being defined as “establishment” or “fringe” in a slipshod manner that has more to do with whatever story the person doing the defining is pushing than the actual characteristics of the conservative. It’s completely arbitrary at this point.

The GOP Presidential candidate most consistently deemed “establishment” is Jeb Bush. This is usually attributed to his support for Common Core (it’s important to note that he was for it before President Obama was for it) and a stance on immigration slightly to the left of Pat Buchanan (which both he and Marco Rubio have been walking back).

And how is Jeb(!) on a host of other issues? Well, he’s a long-time forced birth fanatic and let’s not forget his famous intervention in the Terri Schaivo matter. Bush’s plan to tackle climate change is, wait for it, fracking, and he plans to appeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with essentially nothing. Yep, as Norquist says, the Tea Party takeover is complete.

After Jeb(!), the other middling (by how they’re polling after Donald Trump) ones are considered “establishment” – or perhaps “moderate” or “libertarian” or whatever descriptor is meant to distinguish them from Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum – on whatever haphazard basis the pundits see fit to place them. Rand Paul is for civil liberties! Chris Christie has worked with Democrats! Carly Fiorina gave a crisp performance at the earlier debate! Ben Carson is a doctor! What about that fresh, young Marco Rubio??

There are infinite reasons (because reasons!) to put all the aforementioned GOP candidates into the category of electable, which then tends to morph into “establishment” (or whatever word that means “not a total wackobird” they want to use). Yet how is Trump, still the front-runner, not “establishment” in his own way? He’s a billionaire businessman who proudly admits to donating to politicians of both parties. He praised the Canadian single payer medical plan. He held fundraisers for “moderate” Mitt Romney in 2012. And despite his incendiary rhetoric about women, policy-wise Trump is less offensive than Rubio, Walker, or Huckabee. And that is plain terrifying.