Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
Andy Kroll has a good column at TomDispatch. Tom, as usual, provides an introduction:
Once upon a time, the election season began with the New Hampshire primary in early March and never really gained momentum (or much attention) until the candidates were chosen and the fall campaign revved up. Now, the New Hampshire primary is in early January, and by then, the campaign season has already been underway for a couple of years.
Consider campaign 2016, the next 1% presidential election of the twenty-first century. It’s more than underway with congressional hearings that are visibly organized to skewer possible Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and that special table-setter, the first Karl Rove super PAC attack video/ad, also lighting out after the former secretary of state. Looked at another way, like recent presidential campaigns, the 2016 version actually began before the last election ended. The initial media handicapping of future candidates by reporters and pundits, for instance, hit the news well before the first voter emerged from a polling booth in 2012 — and it’s never stopped. Similarly, the first Iowa poll for the next campaign season made it on the scene within days of the 2012 vote count (Hillary was ahead), and the first attack ads in early primary states are already appearing. With thousands or perhaps tens of thousands of polls to follow, Americans will repeatedly “vote” in contests set up by companies, often hired by political parties or politicians to take the pulse of the public in the unending serial ballots that now precede the actual election.
And don’t forget the single most obvious characteristic of supersizing American democracy: money that will flood the zone. Billions of dollars will go to “political consultants” (in 2012, an estimated $3 billion) and billions of dollars in ads will inundate TV, radio, and almost any other medium around ($6 billion in 2012 and expected to climb in 2016). Billions of words of punditry and commentary about the election (always) “of the century” will flow from well-funded TV news outfits stoked by all those ad dollars. Above all, there will be the money pouring into super PACs and the dark side, which will inundate everything else, shaping the new landscape in which U.S. elections now take place. The sums are staggering, and the limits on how much a wealthy person can “contribute” are rapidly falling away.
As a result, “earlier” and “more” are likely to be the operative political words for 2016, which means that, in a sense, American “democracy” couldn’t be more vigorous. Unfortunately, it’s the vigor of the wealthy, as TomDispatch Associate Editor Andy Kroll makes clear. Increasingly, it’s their system, politically speaking and in every other way, and welcome to it. Tom
The New Pay-As-You-Go Landscape of American “Democracy”
By Andy Kroll
Billionaires with an axe to grind, now is your time. Not since the days before a bumbling crew of would-be break-in artists set into motion the fabled Watergate scandal, leading to the first far-reaching restrictions on money in American politics, have you been so free to meddle. There is no limit to the amount of money you can give to elect your friends and allies to political office, to defeat those with whom you disagree, to shape or stunt or kill policy, and above all to influence the tone and content of political discussion in this country.
Today, politics is a rich man’s game. Look no further than the 2012 elections and that season’s biggest donor, 79-year-old casino mogulSheldon Adelson. He and his wife, Miriam, shocked the political class by first giving $16.5 million in an effort to make Newt Gingrich the Republican presidential nominee. Once Gingrich exited the race, the Adelsons invested more than $30 million in electing Mitt Romney. They donated millions more to support GOP candidates running for the House and Senate, to block a pro-union measure in Michigan, and to bankroll the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative stalwarts (which waged their own campaigns mostly to help Republican candidates for Congress). All told, the Adelsons donated $94 million during the 2012 cycle — nearly four times the previous record set by liberal financier George Soros. And that’s only the money we know about. When you add in so-called dark money, one estimate puts their total giving at closer to $150 million.
It was not one of Adelson’s better bets. Romney went down in flames; the Republicans failed to retake the Senate and conceded seats in the House; and the majority of candidates backed by Adelson-funded groups lost, too. But Adelson, who oozes chutzpah as only a gambling tycoon worth $26.5 billion could, is undeterred. Politics, he told the Wall Street Journal in his first post-election interview, is like poker: “I don’t cry when I lose. There’s always a new hand coming up.” He said he could double his 2012 giving in future elections. “I’ll spend that much and more,” he said. “Let’s cut any ambiguity.”
But simply tallying Adelson’s wins and losses — or the Koch brothers’, or George Soros’s, or any other mega-donors’ — misses the bigger point. What matters is that these wealthy funders were able to give so much money in the first place.
With the advent of super PACs and a growing reliance on secretly funded nonprofits, the very wealthy can pour their money into the political system with an ease that didn’t exist as recently as this moment in Barack Obama’s first term in office. For now at least, Sheldon Adelson is an extreme example, but he portends a future in which 1-percenters can flood the system with money in ways beyond the dreams of ordinary Americans. In the meantime, the traditional political parties, barred from taking all that limitless cash, seem to be sliding toward irrelevance. They are losing their grip on the political process, political observers say, leaving motivated millionaires and billionaires to handpick the candidates and the issues. “It’ll be wealthy people getting together and picking horses and riding those horses through a primary process and maybe upending the consensus of the party,” a Democratic strategist recently told me. “We’re in a whole new world.” . . .
Interesting post at Daily Kos by Joan McCarter:
Maine became the 13th state in the nation to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Twenty-five House Republicans (in the state House) and five Senate Republicans joined Democrats to “call upon each Member of the Maine Congressional Delegation to actively support and promote in Congress an amendment to the United States Constitution on campaign finance.”
Maine joins West Virginia, Colorado, Montana, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, Maryland, Vermont, New Mexico and Hawaii in calling for that Constitutional amendment. Which means momentum: . . .
Interesting article by John Sides where he offers four reasons why a presidential campaign may not be relevant to victory.
The narrative after the 2012 campaign was that President Obama’s victory was due to his superior campaign — better messaging, better technology, better organizing, better everything. But this narrative had a circular logic to it: Obama won because of his superior campaign, and we know that his campaign was superior because he won.
Several initial forays into the data on advertising and field offices suggest a much more qualified conclusion: yes, campaigning did matter, but it was not decisive in 2012. This parallels what Ezra wrote earlier last week: we got too excited over money in this election — and by extension the electioneering it could buy. In this post, I build on some previous work for Wonkblog and work with Lynn Vavreck for our book on the 2012 campaign, The Gamble. I’ll briefly explore 4 reasons why it is hard for all that money — in particular the ads and field organization, or what I’ll call “campaign activity” — to be the “game-changer” it is so often made out to be.
Reason #1: Campaign activity can be overwhelmed by other events in the campaign.
Throughout the 2012 campaign, candidates were spending millions every week — blanketing key states with advertisements — only to find that other events swamped any advantage they might have had on the airwaves. Consider what happened to Mitt Romney before his loss to Newt Gingrich in the South Carolina primary. Below are South Carolina polling and advertising data that was gathered by Kantar Media|CMAG and obtained by the Washington Post. (I analyzed these data throughout the fall of 2012 for Wonkblog.) . . .
Michael O’Malley is an ambitious politician who is generally liberal in his policies. He went from mayor of Baltimore to governor of Maryland, and in Washington Monthly Haley Edwards takes a look at his movement toward the presidential race:
Jay Baker/Office of Governor Martin O’Malley)
The governor is hungry.
Brown paper bag in hand, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley strides into a conference room on the fourth floor of an old government building in downtown Annapolis. “I brought lunch,” he whispers to no one in particular and, stooping slightly in the way that people do when they enter a meeting late, takes a seat. For a moment, he is quiet.
He’d spent the morning in discussion with various members of the state legislature, which is in session just a few steps away at the statehouse on the hill. Up there, laws are being shaped and votes cast, mostly in the governor’s favor, but it’s down here, in this windowless room, packed with staff from three of Maryland’s state agencies and his own executive team, that O’Malley’s political impact is deepest. In 2000, as a young mayor of Baltimore, he pioneered this type of meeting—biweekly, multi-agency, data-driven performance reviews—and thirteen years later they’re still the cornerstone of his legacy as a politician.
“So that’s the carrot at the end of the stick that you hope the community colleges are going to close in after?” O’Malley asks, breaking his short silence. He leans forward in his chair, his elbows on the table and the contents of his lunch—a dry deli sandwich, a bag of potato chips—lined up in front of him like a control panel.
“That’s right, sir,” a man in the back of the room says. They’re referring to an incentive to get students to use Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s online Workforce Dashboard. It was designed to help colleges, businesses, and job seekers get a snapshot of employment opportunities in the state, but also to allow the state to gather better data on who’s looking for jobs, where, and with what skills, to improve both monitoring and outreach efforts. As of now, not enough people are using the Dashboard to make it a valuable tool.
“I know everyone’s got budget constraints, but why don’t we all talk about how to market this more?” the governor asks, and as is typical in these meetings, the attention turns to an array of charts, maps, and digital reams of Excel spreadsheets, each illustrating the nuts and bolts of the program, the population it’s serving, and the various outputs and inputs and outcomes over the past few months. The idea is to use data like a scalpel to dissect how a government program works, to pinpoint where, exactly, it’s breaking down, and then to use these collaborative meetings to solve the problem at hand.
“We gotta get those numbers up,” O’Malley says, gesturing to one graph in particular and taking a bite of the sandwich. In addition to the Department of Labor, the Departments of Business and Economic Development (DBEV) and Veterans Affairs are also present. “What about DBEV? Can you guys help with this?” he asks, still chewing.
And with that, the governor launches a spirited question-and-answer session—he compares it to a cross-examination—that lasts for the better part of forty-five minutes, his voice sometimes muffled by mouthfuls of bread. As the meeting unspools, the topics shift, from the jobs Web site to foreclosure rates to reducing recidivism among recently released convicts.
Nearly an hour later, the governor stops for some air. He attends meetings like this only about once every couple months, usually delegating the day-to-day management to his executive staff, but it’s clear he enjoys the role. He leans back in his chair and wipes the smudges of his lunch off his iPad with his green-striped tie. “Sorry, Sam,” he says, chuckling and turning to one of his staffers, who usually heads up these meetings. “The witness is yours!”
O’Malley is not the kind of person who’s afraid to take over a meeting. “I’m an operations guy,” he tells me afterward, partly by way of explanation. “I’ve always liked digging into the numbers, figuring out what’s going on and doing the kind of analysis that the other guys won’t do.” In the hallway after the meeting, two staffers corroborate the point. He seems so much more relaxed in meetings like that, they say, when he’s not “doing all the politician stuff.”
In truth, O’Malley, who is fifty and handsome in a Kennedy sort of way, has made a career out of all the politician stuff, chomping his way up the political food chain like a man hungry for more than a deli sandwich. After serving as a Baltimore city councilman in the 1990s, he was elected mayor of Baltimore in 1999 and then governor of Maryland seven years later, where he’ll remain until 2015. Because of term limits, he can’t run again. Every pundit in America has predicted he’s going to run for president in 2016, and O’Malley has done everything he can to encourage that speculation, short of outright admitting it’s true.
As governor, he’s pushed a series of bills that are all but guaranteed to impress Democratic primary and caucus voters three years from now, on topics ranging from guns (against), gay marriage (for), the death penalty (against), medical marijuana (for), and implementing Dream Act-like policies at Maryland’s colleges and universities. Just as Bill Clinton did in the 1980s, when he too was a relative unknown, O’Malley has also sought positions in recent years that have allowed him to sidle into the national limelight. In both 2011 and 2012, he served as chair of the Democratic Governors Association, and he’s since stayed on as the finance chairman, which will allow him to continue to meet top donors. During the election last year, he was a regular fixture on the talk show circuit, often playing the role of President Barack Obama’s personal attack dog. In one interview with ABC’s This Week last summer, O’Malley managed to mention former Governor Mitt Romney’s “Swiss bank accounts” and “offshore” tax havens seventeen times in three minutes flat.
With that iron message discipline, plus his standing as one of the Democrats’ most successful governors (with thirty statehouses in GOP hands, the Dems’ roster is slim), O’Malley won a coveted primetime speaking slot for the second time (he spoke in 2004, too) at the Democratic National Convention last September. He whiffed it—again, just as Clinton did in 1988—but spent the remaining time juggling a packed schedule of schmooze, addressing swing state delegates by day and jamming with his Irish rock band, O’Malley’s March, by night. In recent years, the governor has also made public forays into Iowa and New Hampshire and launched a political action committee, the O’Say Can You See PAC, to raise money that he will be at liberty to distribute, one of his critics groused, “like favor-doing fairy dust,” to fellow Democrats before the midterm races in 2014. . .
Power leads to the due exercise of the power which seems inevitably to lead to overreach and the turning of power to inglorious ends. Katrina vanden Heuvel writes a report of a vivid example by Gov. Andrew Cuomo:
The last few weeks have seen an amazing move by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. In response to a prominent set of arrests of high-ranking Democrats and Republicans, the governor has proposed a series of proposals to strengthen the power of district attorneys to investigate corruption. Okay, that seems like a reasonable enough response.
But the governor has also proposed another response to the corruption scandal. He has proposed banning the Working Families Party. I know, he can’t ban a political party. But he has proposed to eliminate “fusion” voting. He calls it “cross-endorsement,” but fusion is the historical term. More on fusion below, but let’s stay in the news cycle for another moment.
The governor’s stated reason for banning fusion is silly. But his real, unstated reason is not. Let’s take them in turn.
Three weeks ago, State Senator Malcolm Smith was arrested for allegedly trying to bribe his way into the Republican Primary for mayor, despite being a registered Democrat. The governor seized on this and said to the New York Post, “In an ideal world, there would be no cross-endorsements.” In other words, because Smith attempted to bribe his way to a “cross-endorsement,” we ought to ban cross-endorsements. By this logic, as one Working Families Party leader said on television recently, if Malcolm Smith had tried to bribe someone to get his kid a job, would we then pass a law to ban jobs?
The more likely (if unvoiced) reason for this proposal is plain. For reasons both similar and different, the governor and the real estate/Wall Street/low-wage employer wings of the Democratic Party in New York would like to see the Working Families Party disappear. The WFP is the most persistent threat to the power of business interests in the Empire State, and the governor doesn’t want anyone to point out that he governs as a centrist on economic issues and a liberal only on social issues. The business lobby is serious about crushing “the little party that could” (a Newsday headline of a few years ago), spending millions of dollars on television and mail against WFP candidates, and even trying to hire well-known progressive public relations firms to wage a PR battle against them. So far, they have failed.
Now, the governor’s aides are pushing a line to the press that the “third parties” in New York have “too much” influence. It’s true that the Conservatives have power and influence with the Republicans, and that the Working Families Party has the same with the Democrats. But that’s because they have support among the voting public, they have ideas, and they have verve. The Millionaire’s Tax, Paid Sick Days, the minimum wage, Rockefeller Drug Law reform, the Green Jobs Act, the emergence of the Progressive Caucus in NYC, the inclusionary zoning rules, the passage of the Wage Theft and Domestic Workers Acts—each of these, in ways large or small, got a boost from the electoral savvy and relationships that the WFP shows day after day across the state.
So it’s not a surprise that the business class and its allies want to see them weakened or, better yet, destroyed. One can’t help but point out that this is not the first time that establishment power has decided that one potent way to weaken the progressive left is to eliminate fusion voting. It happened more than a hundred years ago, and it’s a vital if little-known part of our political history. It’s unlikely that the legislators and press corps in Albany are aware of this, but it’s a history worth reciting as they consider the current proposals from the governor and Senator Jeff Klein, the renegade/independent Democrat who has aligned with the Republican State Senate majority.
In a fusion system, a candidate can . . .
Maureen Dowd was widely pilloried over the weekend for writing this:
How is it that the president won the argument on gun safety with the public and lost the vote in the Senate? It’s because he doesn’t know how to work the system….The White House should have created a war room full of charts with the names of pols they had to capture, like they had in “The American President.” Soaring speeches have their place, but this was about blocking and tackling.
Instead of the pit-bull legislative aides in Aaron Sorkin’s movie, Obama has Miguel Rodriguez, an arm-twister so genteel that The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker wrote recently that no one in Congress even knows who he is.
The president was oblivious to red-state Democrats facing tough elections. Bring the Alaskan Democrat Mark Begich to the White House residence, hand him a drink, and say, “How can we make this a bill you can vote for and defend?”
My objectivity about Dowd’s advice is questionable, since I’ve been gobsmacked for years that the New York Times continues to publish her tedious rambles. I’m only surprised that her internal censor wasn’t quite sharp enough to understand that this particular critique—Obama should do things like they do in the movies!—was laughable even by her standards.
Still and all, maybe this is a good oppportunity to talk—yet again—about presidential power in domestic affairs. Presidents obviously aren’t powerless: they have agenda setting power, they have agency rulemaking power, and they’re always at the table since nothing becomes law without their signature. This provides them with a certain amount of leverage. But not much. The truth is that presidents have never had all that much personal power in domestic affairs. Modern presidents have largely succeeded when they had big majorities in Congress (FDR, LBJ, Reagan, Obama’s first two years) and failed when they didn’t. That’s by far the biggest factor in presidential success, not some mystical ability to sweet talk legislators.
But there’s more to this. Dowd’s real problem is that she hasn’t kept up with either academic research or simple common sense over the past half century. She’s still stuck in the gauzy past when presidents really did have at least a bit of arm-twisting power. LBJ’s real source of success may have been an overwhelming Democratic majority in Congress, but it’s also true that he really did have at least a few resources at hand to persuade and threaten recalcitrant lawmakers. The problem is that even those few resources are now largely gone. The world is simply a different place.
Party discipline, for example, . .
Paul Krugman has a good column today, and I believe his conclusion is right: the spreadsheet error is not so important because the austerity crowd already had their conclusion and were just piling up things that seemed to support it. They did not arrive at their position by reasoned analysis. They already had their position, and they were simply looking around for anything that might support it. With this one out, they’ll just find another without a break in step or a change in conviction. They simply want the poor to suffer.
Here’s an excellent AlterNet column by Lynn Stuart Parramore which illustrates how vigorously the conclusions of the original paper were challenged and how those in the field knew very well that the paper was weak even before the error was exposed, plus a good profile of the 28-year-old grad student that exposed the error. From the column:
. . . The editorial board of the Washington Post declared that “debt-to-GDP could keep rising — and stick dangerously near the 90 percent mark that economists regard as a threat to sustainable economic growth.” The economists cited were Reinhart and Rogoff, whom the WP passed off as speaking for the entire field. A new Washington consensus was born, and the public was hammered with the idea that cutting jobs, stripping away vital public services and letting infrastructure crumble was a good way to get the economy going. Most any ordinary person on the street would probably intuit that this made no sense, but there was this Academic Research By Esteemed Persons, so the argument was over.
Enter Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin of University of Massachusetts, Amherst, the heroes of this story. Herndon, a 28-year-old graduate student, tried to replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff results as part of a class excercise and couldn’t do it. He asked R&R to send their data spreadsheet, which had never been made public. This allowed him to see how the data was put together, and Herndon could not believe what he found. Looking at the data with his professors, Ash and Pollin, he found a whole host of problems, including selective exclusion of years of high debt and average growth, a problematic method of weighing countries, and this jaw-dropper: a coding error in the Excel spreadsheet that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries.
Herndon, Ash, and Pollin write: “A coding error in the RR working spreadsheet entirely excludes five countries, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, and Denmark, from the analysis. [Reinhart-Rogoff] averaged cells in lines 30 to 44 instead of lines 30 to 49…This spreadsheet error…is responsible for a -0.3 percentage-point error in RR’s published average real GDP growth in the highest public debt/GDP category.” . . .
Monsanto is not alone in attacking American democracy, of course: the 1% are united in an effort to undermine the common welfare and create a permanent new economic structure in the US—and are well along the way to success. Andrew Marshall writes at AlterNet:
Where there is the possibility of democracy, there is the inevitability of elite insecurity. All through its history, democracy has been under a sustained attack by elite interests, political, economic, and cultural. There is a simple reason for this: democracy – as in true democracy – places power with people. In such circumstances, the few who hold power become threatened. With technological changes in modern history, with literacy and education, mass communication, organization and activism, elites have had to react to the changing nature of society – locally and globally.
From the late 19th century on, the “threats” to elite interests from the possibility of true democracy mobilized institutions, ideologies, and individuals in support of power. What began was a massive social engineering project with one objective: control. Through educational institutions, the social sciences, philanthropic foundations, public relations and advertising agencies, corporations, banks, and states, powerful interests sought to reform and protect their power from the potential of popular democracy.
Yet for all the efforts, organization, indoctrination and reformation of power interests, the threat of democracy has remained a constant, seemingly embedded in the human consciousness, persistent and pervasive.
In his highly influential work, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, French social psychologist Gustav Le Bon suggested that middle class politics were transforming into popular democracy, where “the opinion of the masses” was the most important opinion in society. He wrote: “The destinies of nations are elaborated at present in the heart of the masses, and no longer in the councils of princes.” This was, of course, a deplorable change for elites, suggesting that, “[t]he divine right of the masses is about to replace the divine right of kings.” Le Bon suggested, however, that the “crowd” was not rational, but rather was driven by emotion and passion.
An associate and friend of Le Bon’s, Gabriel Tarde, expanded upon this concept, and articulated the idea that “the crowd” was a social group of the past, and that “the public” was “the social group of the future.” The public, argued Tarde, was a “spiritual collectivity, a dispersion of individuals who are physically separated and whose cohesion is entirely mental.” Thus, Tarde identified in the growth of the printing press and mass communications a powerful medium through which “the public” was shaped, and that, if managed appropriately, could bring a sense of order to a situation increasingly chaotic. The newspaper, Tarde explained, facilitated “the fusion of personal opinions into local opinions, and this into national and world opinion, the grandiose unification of the public mind.”
Andy Kroll has a very intriguing article in Mother Jones:
Investigators with California’s election watchdog and attorney general’s office are hot on the trail of the true source of millions in dark money spent to defeat two hard-fought ballot propositions last fall. The wide-ranging probe has conservatives worried that a network of nonprofit groups used to move secret money around the country could be in for some unwanted exposure.
The investigation, led by the state’s nonpartisan Fair Political Practices Commission, has already done more than most watchdogs to pry open the black box of the conservative dark-money groups that spent freely in 2012 without disclosing the sources of their money. Last fall, the FPPC revealed what it called “the largest contribution ever disclosed as campaign money laundering in California history” after it discovered that three nonprofits had funneled $11 million from Virginia to Arizona to California.
As the probe progresses, some conservatives are nervous that more details—such as the identities of actual donors—could be publicized. “This case has got very, very deep and significant implications,” says a conservative lobbyist with knowledge of the investigation. “A lot of folks are going to have their dirty laundry hung out, and it’s not going to be pretty. Why would money go through such a circuitous route if not to conceal the donors?”
Obviously Federal disclosure rules need to be tightened.
In Alternet Paul Thomas discusses the rise of dogmatic scholars:
By oft repeating an untruth, men come to believe it themselves.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Melish, Jan. 13, 1812
The moment a person forms a theory, his imagination sees, in every object, only the traits which favor that theory.
Thomas Jefferson to Charles Thompson, 1787
My university sits in the socially and politically conservative South, and our students tend toward a conservative political and world view as well. The most powerful student organizations are self-identified as conservative as well as being awash in power and funding, some from outside the university.
One conservative student organization, supported and funded by a network of such organizations spreading throughout campuses across the U.S., has for years dominated the Cultural Life Program of the university, a series of events students must attend as part of graduation requirements.
Several years ago, this organization brought Ann Coulter to campus, and when I mentioned my own concerns about her credibility during class, a student quickly defended Coulter by saying, “But she has footnotes in her book.”
Coulter’s confrontational conservatism speaks to the world views of many of our students and the greater public of SC, and thus seems credible even without footnotes. That student’s defense highlights a key element in the rise of the dogmatic scholar that has its roots in the 1980s, a period identified by Isaac Asimov as “a cult of ignorance”  guided by a new ethic, “Don’t trust the experts.”
April of 2013 is the thirty-year anniversary of A Nation at Risk , a political and popular turning point for America’s perception of not only public education but also education reform as well as the discourse surrounding both. John Holton (2003) and Gerald Bracey (2003) have since then detailed that the report was also, in Bracey’s words a decade ago on the cusp of No Child Left Behind, “false”:
It has been 20 years, though, since A Nation at Risk appeared. It is clear that it was false then and is false now. Today, the laments are old and tired – and still false. “Test Scores Lag as School Spending Soars” trumpeted the headline of a 2002 press release from the American Legislative Exchange Council. Ho hum. The various special interest groups in education need an other treatise to rally round. And now they have one. It’s called No Child Left Behind. It’s a weapon of mass destruction, and the target is the public school system. Today, our public schools are truly at risk.
What was “false” about A Nation at Risk?
First, Holton, as an insider, exposed  that Ronald Reagan himself directed the commission to insure his agenda for public schools:
We met with President Reagan at the White House, who at first was jovial, charming, and full of funny stories, but then turned serious when he gave us our marching orders. He told us that our report should focus on five fundamental points that would bring excellence to education: Bring God back into the classroom. Encourage tuition tax credits for families using private schools. Support vouchers. Leave the primary responsibility for education to parents. And please abolish that abomination, the Department of Education. Or, at least, don’t ask to waste more federal money on education – ”we have put in more only to wind up with less.” Just discover excellent schools to serve as models for all the others. As we left, I detected no visible dismay in our group. I wondered if we were all equally stunned.
Second, Bracey noted that despite the report depending on research and data, only one trend line out of nine suggested anything negative—and that the commission focused on that one trend line in order to comply with the political pressure aimed at the committee.
And third, A Nation at Risk as a political document parading as scholarship received not only a pass from the media but also a rush to benefit from the bad news by many stakeholders, as Bracey explained : . . .
Interesting article at ConsortiumNews by Lawrence Davidson:
In 2008, Rick Shenkman, the Editor-in-Chief of the History News Network, published a book entitled Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth about the American Voter. In it he demonstrated, among other things, that most Americans were: (1) ignorant about major international events, (2) knew little about how their own government runs and who runs it, (3) were nonetheless willing to accept government positions and policies even though a moderate amount of critical thought suggested they were bad for the country, and (4) were readily swayed by stereotyping, simplistic solutions, irrational fears and public relations babble.
Shenkman spent 256 pages documenting these claims, using a great number of polls and surveys from very reputable sources. Indeed, in the end it is hard to argue with his data. So, what can we say about this?
The Death of Socrates, as depicted in an 18th Century painting by Jacques-Louis David.
One thing that can be said is that this is not an abnormal state of affairs. As has been suggested in prior analyses, ignorance of non-local affairs (often leading to inaccurate assumptions, passive acceptance of authority, and illogical actions) is, in fact, a default position for any population.
To put it another way, the majority of any population will pay little or no attention to news stories or government actions that do not appear to impact their lives or the lives of close associates. If something non-local happens that is brought to their attention by the media, they will passively accept government explanations and simplistic solutions.
The primary issue is “does it impact my life?” If it does, people will pay attention. If it appears not to, they won’t pay attention. For instance, in Shenkman’s book unfavorable comparisons are sometimes made between Americans and Europeans. Americans often are said to be much more ignorant about world geography than are Europeans.
This might be, but it is, ironically, due to an accident of geography. Americans occupy a large subcontinent isolated by two oceans. Europeans are crowded into small contiguous countries that, until recently, repeatedly invaded each other as well as possessed overseas colonies.
Under these circumstances, a knowledge of geography, as well as paying attention to what is happening on the other side of the border, has more immediate relevance to the lives of those in Toulouse or Amsterdam than is the case for someone in Pittsburgh or Topeka. If conditions were reversed, Europeans would know less geography and Americans more.
Ideology and Bureaucracy
The localism referenced above is not the only reason for widespread ignorance. The strong adherence to ideology and work within a bureaucratic setting can also greatly narrow one’s worldview and cripple one’s critical abilities.
In effect, a closely adhered to ideology becomes a mental locality with limits and borders just as real as those of geography. In fact, if we consider nationalism a pervasive modern ideology, there is a direct connection between the boundaries induced in the mind and those on the ground.
Furthermore, it does not matter if the ideology is politically left or right, or for that matter, whether it is secular or religious. One’s critical abilities will be suppressed in favor of standardized, formulaic answers provided by the ideology. Just so work done within a bureaucratic setting.
Bureaucracies position the worker . . .
As Thoreau observed, “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.”
Kevin Drum offers that kind of evidence in this post.
Kevin Drum points out that praising a woman for her appearance is damaging to her career. It’s not a good thing to do. Judge people on competence. Any remark on a woman’s appearance, positive or negative, damages her.
Paul Krugman points out the hollowness of the GOP’s concern for our children and grandchildren:
So, about that fiscal crisis — the one that would, any day now, turn us into Greece. Greece, I tell you: Never mind.
Over the past few weeks, there has been a remarkable change of position among the deficit scolds who have dominated economic policy debate for more than three years. It’s as if someone sent out a memo saying that the Chicken Little act, with its repeated warnings of a U.S. debt crisis that keeps not happening, has outlived its usefulness. Suddenly, the argument has changed: It’s not about the crisis next month; it’s about the long run, about not cheating our children. The deficit, we’re told, is really a moral issue.
There’s just one problem: The new argument is as bad as the old one. Yes, we are cheating our children, but the deficit has nothing to do with it.
Before I get there, a few words about the sudden switch in arguments.
There has, of course, been no explicit announcement of a change in position. But the signs are everywhere. Pundits who spent years trying to foster a sense of panic over the deficit have begun writing pieces lamenting the likelihood that there won’t be a crisis, after all. Maybe it wasn’t that significant when President Obama declared that we don’t face any “immediate” debt crisis, but it did represent a change in tone from his previous deficit-hawk rhetoric. And it was startling, indeed, when John Boehner, the speaker of the House, said exactly the same thing a few days later.
What happened? Basically, the numbers refuse to cooperate: Interest rates remain stubbornly low, deficits are declining and even 10-year budget projections basically show a stable fiscal outlook rather than exploding debt.
So talk of a fiscal crisis has subsided. Yet the deficit scolds haven’t given up on their determination to bully the nation into slashing Social Security and Medicare. So they have a new line: We must bring down the deficit right away because it’s “generational warfare,” imposing a crippling burden on the next generation.
What’s wrong with this argument? For one thing, it involves a fundamental misunderstanding of what debt does to the economy.
Contrary to almost everything you read in the papers or see on TV, debt doesn’t directly make our nation poorer; it’s essentially money we owe to ourselves. Deficits would indirectly be making us poorer if they were either leading to big trade deficits, increasing our overseas borrowing, or crowding out investment, reducing future productive capacity. But they aren’t: Trade deficits are down, not up, while business investment has actually recovered fairly strongly from the slump. And the main reason businesses aren’t investing more is inadequate demand. They’re sitting on lots of cash, despite soaring profits, because there’s no reason to expand capacity when you aren’t selling enough to use the capacity you have. In fact, you can think of deficits mainly as a way to put some of that idle cash to use.
Yet there is, as I said, a lot of truth to the charge that we’re cheating our children. How? By neglecting public investment and failing to provide jobs.
You don’t have to be a civil engineer to realize that . .
California does get some things right. Michael Marois reports in Bloomberg Businessweek:
California politicians used to joke that the state’s U.S. House delegation had less turnover than the Soviet Politburo. It’s funny because it’s true. Only once in 265 races from 2002 to 2010 did a district’s representation flip parties. Incumbents held onto all but one seat they vied for in a general election. That’s because like most politicians around the country, they controlled the maps laying out the boundaries of their districts.
In 2010, California voters stripped lawmakers of their authority over redistricting, the once-a-decade process of redrawing congressional lines to account for demographic shifts, and awarded that power to an independent citizens’ panel. By the 2012 elections, the group’s work had done exactly what it was supposed to: create competition for seats that had long been safe. After the 53 new districts were revealed, 14 House members decided not to seek reelection or lost their race in November, resulting in a 26 percent turnover in the state’s delegation.
“You’ve had voters shoehorned into districts for the sake of maintaining incumbency, and we aren’t doing that in California anymore,” says Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan advocacy group. “That’s probably what would happen everywhere if you had fair redistricting.”
Legislators control the process in most states, using the centuries-old tradition of gerrymandering to ensure job security for politicians already in power. In every congressional race from 1964 to 2012, at least 85 percent of incumbents nationwide retained their seats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics and data compiled by Bloomberg.
A handful of states—Iowa, Washington, Idaho, and Arizona among them—have undertaken redistricting reforms. Yet most continue to give party leaders some say over the final maps. New York’s legislature recently approved a constitutional amendment, which will go before voters in 2014, to create a 10-member redistricting commission. However, lawmakers would pick eight of its members.
No state has come as close as California to getting partisan politics out of legislative mapmaking. Advocates for fair elections say the state’s reform could be a model for others, leading to more competitive races. And because representatives whose constituents are disproportionately Republican or Democratic are under less pressure to find middle ground on legislation, more competition could produce a House that’s much less polarized. At least theoretically. . .
It’s obvious—as Willie Sutton famously noted, he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is.” The GOP is now courting the poor because, under the GOP-created economic failures in the US, there are more votes in that category than ever before, and with the GOP budget control, it’s an ever-increasing gold mine of votes. Blake Zeff has an excellent column in Salon that points this out:
It’s safe to say that the Republican Party’s recent decision to “relaunch” itself and suddenly reach out to poor people is motivated more by a naked desire to win votes, than by some Gandhi-like benevolence. If the party’s policy platforms — highlighted by an Edward Scissorhands-like budget that slices programs for the indigent — weren’t a dead giveaway, the RNC’s new ballyhooed strategy plan comes right out and says it.
And yet, despite its dubious origins, the party’s new approach is a striking statement regarding the political power — and numbers — of lower-income people in this country: Rather than dismiss, slur or divide poorer Americans (as in prior elections), Republicans have now made the political calculation that they’ve no choice but to talk directly to them and win their votes.
It bears reminding, this is the Republican Party whose iconic political heartthrob famously demonized “welfare queens,” and whose current “leaders” recently referred to Barack Obama as the “food stamp president.” It’s the party that has almost exclusively talked about poor people, not to them – and when it did mention them, it often was to attack and engender resentment from others (or to express their lack of concern for them).
“The notion that Republicans now say they have to talk to everyday poor people, that they have to present their ideas in a way that struggling Americans see as valuable, is a real shift,” the Rev. David Beckmann, president of the influential anti-hunger organization Bread for the World, tells Salon. “The ideas have to be, in fact valuable, too. And they haven’t yet come up with a real agenda. But just making the shift to say that it’s in our self-interest to pay attention to what Latinos and African-Americans and low-income whites think is a big change.”
In describing the new strategy to start talking to poor Americans, the aforementioned strategy document says (emphasis mine): . .
The weapons they now use are lies. Salon has an interesting excerpt from Tracy Thompson’s book The New Mind of the South:
In the course of our conversation, Yacine Kout mentioned something else—an incident that had happened the previous spring at Eastern Randolph High School just outside Asheboro. On Cinco de Mayo, the annual celebration of Mexico’s defeat of French forces at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, a lot of Hispanic students brought Mexican flags to school. The next day, Kout said, white students brought Confederate flags to school as a message: This is our heritage.
The Civil War is like a mountain range that guards all roads into the South: you can’t go there without encountering it. Specifically, you can’t go there without addressing a question that may seem as if it shouldn’t even be a question—to wit: what caused the war? One hundred and fifty years after the event, Americans—at least the vast majority who toil outside academia—still can’t agree. Evidence of this crops up all the time, often in the form of a legal dispute over a display of the Confederate flag. (As I write, there are two such cases pending—one in Oregon and the other in Florida, making this an average news week.) Another common forum is the classroom. But it’s not always about the Stars and Bars. In 2010, for instance, Texas school officials made the news by insisting that Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address be given equal prominence with Abraham Lincoln’s in that state’s social studies curriculum. The following year, Virginia school officials were chagrined to learn that one of their state-adopted textbooks was teaching fourth graders that thousands of loyal slaves took up arms for the confederacy.
At the bottom of all of these is one basic question: was the Civil War about slavery, or states’ rights?
Popular opinion favors the latter theory. In the spring of 2011, in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, pollsters at the Pew Research Center asked: “What is your impression of the main cause of the Civil War?” Thirty-eight percent of the respondents said the main cause was the South’s defense of an economic system based on slavery, while nearly half—48 percent—said the nation sacrificed some 650,000 of its fathers, sons, and brothers over a difference of interpretation in constitutional law. White non-Southerners believed this in roughly the same proportion as white Southerners, which was interesting; even more fascinating was the fact that 39 percent of the black respondents, many of them presumably the descendants of slaves, did, too.
We pause here to note that wars are complex events whose causes can never be adequately summed up in a phrase, that they can start out as one thing and evolve into another, and that what people think they are fighting for isn’t always the cause history will record. Yet, as Lincoln noted in his second inaugural address, there was never any doubt that the billions of dollars in property represented by the South’s roughly four million slaves was somehow at the root of everything, and on this point scholars who don’t agree about much of anything else have long found common ground. “No respected historian has argued for decades that the Civil War was fought over tariffs, that abolitionists were mere hypocrites, or that only constitutional concerns drove secessionists,” writes University of Virginia historian Edward Ayers. Yet there’s a vast chasm between this long-established scholarly consensus and the views of millions of presumably educated Americans, who hold to a theory that relegates slavery to, at best, incidental status. How did this happen?
One reason boils down to simple convenience—for white people, that is. In his 2002 book “Race and Reunion,” Yale historian David Blight describes a national fervor for “reconciliation” that began in the 1880s and lasted through the end of World War I, fueled in large part by the South’s desire to attract industry, Northern investors’ desire to make money, and the desire of white people everywhere to push “the Negro question” aside. In the process, the real causes of the war were swept under the rug, the better to facilitate economic partnerships and sentimental reunions of Civil War veterans.
But an equally important reason was a vigorous, sustained effort by Southerners to literally rewrite history—and among the most ardent revisionists were a group of respectable white Southern matrons known as the United Daughters of the Confederacy. . .
Whenever you hear the phrase, “It just stands to reason that…”, be on your guard. One thing we’ve learned repeatedly is that reason operates with simplistic generalizations, which sometimes are quite powerful (Maxwell’s equations, for a notable example) but also can be totally off the mark. The canonical example is how bodies fall under the influence of gravity: it stands to reason that, given two balls of the same size, the one that’s 10 lbs will fall faster than the one that’s 2 lbs. You can figure that out by simply handling the balls and noticing how much more force is required to hold the 10-lb ball against the force of gravity than the 2-lb ball. But experience confounds reason: the balls fall at the same rate.
Similarly with (say) shaving brushes: it stands to reason that a very soft and fluffy brush will have a harder time making a good lather from a hard soap than a firm, stiff brush—and again experience reveals that reason here also is deluded.
Particularly in political discussions one should beware chains of logical disconnected from experience: things that seem utterly reasonable can indeed be totally contrary to what is found by experience. Distrust theoreticians and subject ideas to experience.
To take an obvious example of an oversimplification: the Libertarian idea that a free market, with no government regulation or interference and indeed with practically no laws, will produce optimal solutions for everyone. It seems an alluring idea—that one can produces much value for the common welfare from simply having everyone attempt to maximize profit, which then produces optimal resolutions to all problems. Unfortunately, it fails dismally the test of experience. History is studied because it allows us to observe experience in action and the frequent failure of grand, simple ideas. Of course, pushing ideas already roundly disproved by history is not uncommon, so look to your books and your experience as part of checking out ideas.
Fascinating read by Michael Clune in LA Review of Books, reprinted in Salon:
HOW DID IT HAPPEN? In the early 1970s, Western governments, academia, and the media understood the relationship between the state and the market according to the same liberal consensus that had been in place since the end of World War II. During what is commonly called the “golden age of capitalism,” government, capital, and labor had reached the uneasy agreement that markets produced social ruin when left to their own devices. The state was needed to mitigate inequality, to provide basic services, and — through a combination of monetary and fiscal means — to even out capitalism’s boom-bust cycle. By the early 1980s, all that had changed: the British and American governments, joined by large segments of the media and intelligentsia, declared that the state was the root of social evil, that free markets could do nearly everything better than government, and that the economic crises of the past were the result of state meddling.
This view is often called “neoliberalism,” a term first used by interwar continental and British economists and philosophers to describe an economic doctrine that favors privatization, deregulation, and unfettered free markets over public institutions and government. These philosophers saw themselves as championing the values of classical liberalism in a mid-20th century world threatened by unchecked state power — a threat vividly embodied in the totalitarian societies of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Writers like Ludwig von Mises and Karl Popper saw hope in the liberalism of J.S. Mill and Adam Smith. They shared the earlier philosophers’ skepticism about the capacity of human reason to design functional and ethical social orders, and were committed to processes of “liberated” or open exchange to create knowledge and distribute wealth.
The meaning of the prefix has aroused a great deal of debate. For thinkers on the left, “neo” signals a liberalism shorn of many of the features that made classical liberalism plausible and effective. Recent scholarship on Adam Smith, for example, has emphasized the extent to which neoliberal thinkers such as F. A. Hayek focus on Smith’s celebration of self-organizing markets in The Wealth of Nations while neglecting Smith’s argument, in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, for the importance of non-market values in sustaining social orders. Indeed, the neoliberal embrace of the prospect of a social world almost wholly organized by market relations strongly distinguishes this thought from the classical liberal tradition, which fostered a capitalism embedded in the institutions of civil society, the norms of civilized communication, and state regulation of the economy.
There are two popular accounts of how this philosophy of free markets and minimal government came to determine the economic policies of the US and UK. For the right, including the heirs and acolytes of Milton Friedman, the failures of both state socialism and the Keynesian welfare state made the political triumph of neoliberal ideas inevitable. For the left, including figures like the Marxist geographer David Harvey and the activist-journalist Naomi Klein, neoliberal policies were the expression of the interests of capital, which systematically infiltrated government in order to reverse postwar regulations.
In Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics, the economic historian Daniel Stedman Jones persuasively argues that both these popular accounts are wrong. That neoliberalism won out was due neither to the failures of the welfare state nor to a “master plan” pushed by the agents of capital. The story Stedman Jones tells is considerably more nuanced. He shows neoliberalism’s ascendance to be the result of a series of more or less ad hoc moves on the part of politicians, activists, media figures, and economists in response to a series of political and economic shocks that began in the 1970s. The image of a dramatic face-off between neoliberals and proponents of the postwar center-left consensus is largely an artifact of retrospective right-wing propaganda, which the left seems to have accepted in its essential features.
The main lines of Stedman Jones’s narrative are as follows: . . .
The current New Yorker is quite good:
“The House of Pain: Eric Cantor and the Republicans” – by Ryan Lizza
A truly thoughtful and interesting review by Louis Menand of Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time, by Ira Katznelson. This is behind a paywall, but I wanted to quote one paragraph from the review:
The Constitution “is an experiment, as all life is an experiment,” Holmes wrote in a famous dissent. That is wwhat Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address: democracy is an experiment the goal of which is to keep the experiment going. The purpose of democracy is to enable people to live democratically. That it. Democracy is not a means to something else; there is no higher good that we’re trying as a society to attain. When we compromise with demoracy in order to achieve some other purpose, even when the purpose is to defend democracy, then we are in danger of losing it.
Notice how intensely pragmatic in outlook is the view expressed. “Keep it going, and find what works.” I think we have found, for example, that discrimination against classes of people does not work. We are finding that corporations unchecked by effective regulation and enforcement of thoughtful legislation to protect the common good will wreak havoc and decrease not only democracy but also prosperity—and the more poverty-stricken the citizenry become, the more powerless they are, and the government, now in control of corporations and the well-to-do, will tilt toward protecting the powerful and persecuting the powerless, who are feared because they have lost pretty much everything and lead lives of deprivation and burdens: economically abandoned, but with excellent communications skills, which is a combination that perhaps merits fear.
And I, for one, think the experiment of the 2nd Amendment has led to a situation that is not for the common good: as gun ownership goes up, the homicide rate goes up. Having more guns to protect ourselves not only is not working, there’s every indication that it is in fact counter-productive. Time for a change.
But read the whole review.