Stuck in the Antithesis

Schopenhauer thought the guy was full of crap, that his philosophy was “a pseudo-philosophy paralyzing all mental powers, stifling all real thinking” – and among philosophers those are fightin’ words – but at least Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was thorough:

Hegel developed a comprehensive philosophical framework, or “system”, of absolute idealism to account in an integrated and developmental way for the relation of mind and nature, the subject and object of knowledge, psychology, the state, history, art, religion, and philosophy. In particular, he developed the concept that mind or spirit manifested itself in a set of contradictions and oppositions that it ultimately integrated and united, without eliminating either pole or reducing one to the other. Examples of such contradictions include those between nature and freedom, and between immanence and transcendence.

What? All that is usually summed up as in the thesis-antithesis-synthesis model – the world is always working toward opposites slamming into each other to form some final better thing that actually incorporates those opposites.

That’s an easy enough idea. Someone comes up with a new way of looking at things – say, Obama comes up with a notion of a post-partisan America, where we do things for the common good, and actually use the dreaded and useless government to do those things, because there’s no real reason to dread the government and it was, after all, created by us to be useful. That’s the thesis. Then the reactionaries, or, if you wish, the principled conservatives, do everything they can to prove that the new thesis is absurd. They present an anti-thesis, that things must remain the same, for what they claim are very good reasons. They might even come up with a counter-thesis – say, a well thought-out alternative to Obamacare for example – but sometimes mere ridicule of the new thesis is enough. Both sides then butt heads and shout a lot, and then we inevitably get something new and wonderful, better than both the original thesis and whatever is offered to undermine it. We get a synthesis of ideas from both sides, something far better than either side was offering. That’s how all human progress happens.

Schopenhauer was right. Hegel was full of crap. People butt heads all the time – the new idea excites some and appalls others – but that synthesis thing never happens, or it happens a generation or two later, when all parties to the argument are dead and gone. In a generation, or maybe a bit sooner, no one will remember what all the fuss was about gay marriage. In a generation no one will think that universal healthcare, guaranteed by the government, with standards set by the government, is the most awful thing imaginable – it will just be a given. That happened with Social Security, and that happened with Medicare, after all – even the Tea Party crowd thinks both those are not only just fine, they’re both part of who we are as a people – a given. But the Hegelian synthesis was a long time coming, and there’s no guarantee it will ever arrive. Hegel was an idealist. Sure, people butt heads over new ideas – it happens all the time – but it’s far too easy to get stuck in the antithesis. Sometimes there’s no way to move on. Synthesis never happens.

An example of that is something that Doyle McManus explains here – that Republicans haven’t quite worked out a foreign policy beyond “not Obama” – but of course they haven’t quite worked out a health care reform policy or an immigration reform policy or even a federal budget policy either, other than the usual “not Obama” stuff. It’s just that the foreign policy stuff is so odd:

That’s partly because it’s still early in the campaign and the GOP boasts a bumper crop of potential candidates, some of them governors who never needed a foreign policy until now.

It’s also because one probable GOP candidate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), has already broken from the pack and argued for a minimalist foreign policy with lower defense spending and fewer military commitments. Some of Paul’s opponents have charged that his views add up to isolationism; the senator prefers “conservative realism.”

But the debate isn’t only about Paul. Ever since President George W. Bush’s long misadventure in Iraq, his Republican successors have been struggling to refashion conservative foreign policy in a way most voters would embrace.

They can’t move toward a synthesis, of the best of Bush and some of Obama, that’s very compelling, because they can’t agree among themselves:

Divisions have emerged over many issues (sanctions in Iran, arms for Ukraine, trade with Cuba) but the crucial question in the campaign will probably be military intervention in the Middle East, the terrain on which the last Republican administration came to grief. If airstrikes alone aren’t enough to defeat Islamic State, should ground troops be deployed? And should the United States do more to dislodge the government of President Bashar Assad in Syria, including aid to Syrian rebels, airstrikes and ground troops?

Three rough camps among potential Republican candidates can be discerned. There are interventionists, who want the United States to do more. There’s the lone anti-interventionist, Paul. And, in between, there’s a big group of straddlers who say they would be tougher than Obama but, when pressed, don’t offer much in the way of specifics.

Here are the real specifics:

The interventionists include Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who has called for more U.S. aid to Syrian rebels. Last week, he dismissed Obama’s request for authorization to fight Islamic State as too limited and suggested he would delete Obama’s proposed prohibition on long-term ground combat. “I think we ought to authorize the president to destroy ISIL, period,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

They may also include Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who told ABC News, “We have to go beyond just aggressive air strikes…. We have to be prepared to put boots on the ground, if that’s what it takes.”

The straddlers include Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has demanded that the Obama administration fight its wars more aggressively but has also said he sees no need for U.S. ground troops. Last week, when Obama requested authorization for the air war in Iraq and Syria, Cruz sidestepped the question of limits and said the main defect of Obama’s request was that it failed to identify the adversary as “Islamic terrorists.”

The problem is the names we use to designate the bad guys? McManus suggests it’s something else:

This time, the debate isn’t over how to handle a world transformed by a war the United States and its allies won; it’s about the legacy of the last Republican president, George W. Bush, and a war most people think we lost.

Steve Benen noted a few years ago that this has led to a default strategy of total obstruction, to buy time, and has led to six years of them being the “post-policy” party:

They were more invested in pure politics, just positioning themselves vis-a-vis the president, and they weren’t actually invested in any particular outcome for the country.

I could use the identical phrasing to talk about the debate over health care policy, reducing gun violence, energy policy, infrastructure, the list goes on (and on). Why else would Republican leaders vote 39 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and then vow to keep going, indefinitely, just because they feel like it?

Nancy LeTourneau at the Washington Monthly adds this:

So let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and think about what was happening at the time. The policies of tax cuts and de-regulation that were embraced by President George Bush had contributed to our economy careening towards another great depression. Osama bin Laden was still alive while our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seemed both futile and endless. And so, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the country elected a president who promised to take things in a different direction. Republican policies had turned out to be a disaster – both domestically and abroad.

It was at that point that the GOP had some tough choices to make. They could re-examine their policies and priorities based on these results in order to reframe the conservative alternative politically. Or they could avoid all of that by playing a power game of trying to destruct [sic] the liberal alternatives. Of course well all know that they chose the latter.

In order to make that work, they had to fan the flames of anger/fear/racism in their base against President Obama. Hence, the Tea Party was born on lies about death panels, birth certificates and Kenyan socialists.

Now Republicans have a whole slate of presidential candidates who seem eager to run on the threat posed by “Islamic terrorists.” But they have no idea about how to do that that doesn’t harken back to the disasters created by the Bush administration. So all they’ve got is to suggest that President Obama’s foreign policy is a retreat from our domination on the world stage.

That’s a tough sell. Many Americans would welcome a retreat from our domination on the world stage – they’ve had enough of that stuff and would rather our government worked on fixing things here, even if it’s just the roads and bridges. Ah, but the Republicans had answer to that. Israel! Jesus was born there and he’ll be returning there soon, and Obama keeps ragging on Benjamin Netanyahu to stop building settlements on land that international law says belongs to the Palestinians, making things worse, and telling Netanyahu to back off while all the major Western nations negotiate with Iran about their nuclear program, because it looks like we can get them to agree to not develop nuclear weapons without a major war in the Middle East, if we concede a few other things. Netanyahu wants us to bomb Iran back to the Stone Age now, or they’ll do it themselves. He says their very survival depends on it. There’s no way to talk to these people.

That was the opening, the Republican anti-thesis to the Obama thesis, and anyone who disagrees with Netanyahu is an anti-Semite and probably hates Jesus too, so inviting Netanyahu, the guy who made it clear he wanted Mitt Romney to win in 2012, to address Congress, would be powerful. They’d bypass the White House – they wouldn’t even tell them Netanyahu was coming – and Netanyahu would, at the request of Congress, tell America that Obama is a fool, who probably hates Jews, and certainly hates Israel. Congress would invite our closest ally, from the country that’s almost our fifty-first state, to tell us we elected the wrong guy and no one should listen to him, ever. It was brilliant. What could go wrong?

Plenty could go wrong:

A large majority of Americans believe that Republican congressional leaders should not have invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress without consulting the White House, according to a new CNN/ORC survey.

The nationwide poll, released Tuesday, shows 63% of Americans say it was a bad move for congressional leadership to extend the invitation without giving President Barack Obama a heads up that it was coming. Only 33% say it was the right thing to do.

And as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to simmer in the Middle East, the survey found that a similar majority thinks the U.S. should stay out of that fight altogether.

So Obama is on firm ground here, and the poll shows that:

Obama has said he will not meet with Netanyahu during his visit because the trip comes too close to Israel’s elections. A growing number of Democrats in both chambers have announced over the past two weeks that they won’t be attending the speech, prompting some to question whether the Israeli leader should cancel or move his speech.

Though the speech has become a partisan issue on Capitol Hill, even Republicans are split on whether it was a good idea for leadership to invite Netanyahu without alerting the White House, with a slight majority – 52% – backing the move. Just 14% of Democrats say it was the right thing to do, and just over a third of independents support the move.

Being anti-Obama just doesn’t cut it now:

Even Republicans, typically seen as the party offering the strongest defense of Israel, are split on whether the U.S. should officially support Israel in the conflict. Forty-nine percent supports backing the nation while 47% say the U.S. should stay out of it.

And a significant age gap suggests U.S. sentiment may, in the long term, be moving further in favor of neutrality in the conflict. While 56% of those aged 50 or older believe the U.S. should stay out of the Israeli-Palestinian fight that number skyrockets to 75% of Americans under age 50.

John Boehner, who set this up, said that he had intentionally kept his plans secret from the Obama administration, because he feared White House “interference” with the speech – but almost two-thirds of Americans see Netanyahu is the one who is interfering, in our politics, to help the Republicans. Apparently they don’t like that at all. Hegelian opposition to the new thesis can backfire, and the Republicans backed the wrong guy:

European leaders have rejected calls by the Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, for Jews to migrate en masse to Israel, pledging to ensure their safety at home.

Following shootings in Copenhagen at the weekend, Netanyahu echoed remarks he made after the Paris attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in January, saying on Sunday: “This wave of terror attacks can be expected to continue, including anti-Semitic and murderous attacks. We say to the Jews, to our brothers and sisters, Israel is your home and that of every Jew. Israel is waiting for you with open arms.”

But the French prime minister, Manuel Valls – who was speaking after several hundred Jewish headstones were vandalized at a cemetery in eastern France – said that he regretted Netanyahu’s call, noting that the Israeli prime minister was “in the midst of a general election campaign”.

The French president, François Hollande, insisted on Monday that he would not allow people to believe that “Jews no longer have a place in Europe”. “Jews have their place in Europe and, in particular, in France,” he said.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said her government would do everything possible to make sure Jewish sites were secure. “We are glad and thankful that there is Jewish life in Germany again,” Merkel said in Berlin. “And we would like to continue living well together with the Jews who are in Germany today.”

Denmark’s chief rabbi, Jair Melchior, said he was disappointed by Netanyahu’s remarks. He said on Sunday: “Terror is not a reason to move to Israel… If the way we deal with terror is to run somewhere else, we should all run to a deserted island.”

That’s just a taste of it, and then there’s this:

In a scathing report with potential political and criminal repercussions, Israel’s state comptroller sharply criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday for excessive spending of public funds in his official and private residences.

The highly anticipated report, which came just four weeks before Israeli elections, faulted Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, for using public funds to spend lavishly on a variety of personal goods and services, including cleaning, clothing, water and grooming, between 2009 and 2012.

There are lots of juicy details – they live large – and this:

A statement from Netanyahu’s Likud party accused the news media of pushing the issue for weeks in a “clear effort to remove the prime minister from office … through a focus on irrelevant minutia.”

The statement added that the uproar was distracting from “the real issue at hand,” which is “who will defend Israel in the face of the real security threats and pressure from the international community” – Netanyahu or rivals…

But for others, money matters are a real issue, and the prime minister’s spending has struck a nerve with some voters who are concerned about the high cost of living and are demanding what they consider a more just distribution of resources.

Housing prices have soared since Netanyahu took office, and with 1.6 million people below the poverty line, Israel has the third highest poverty rate in the 34-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

John Boehner wanted to stand in opposition to everything Obama, but he chose the wrong guy to stand beside him. And if Hegel is right about human progress, it’s thesis-antithesis-synthesis, not thesis-nonsense-synthesis. The whole process stalls at nonsense.

Ah, but some things are going right:

One day before hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants were to begin applying for work permits and legal protection, administration officials on Tuesday postponed President Obama’s sweeping executive actions on immigration indefinitely, saying they had no choice but to comply with a federal judge’s last-minute order halting the programs.

The judge’s ruling was a significant setback for the president, who had asserted broad authority to take executive actions in the face of congressional Republicans’ refusal to overhaul the immigration system. White House officials have defended the president’s actions as legal and proper even as his adversaries in Congress and the states have accused him of vastly exceeding the powers of his office.

On the other hand:

Judge Hanen, who was appointed in 2002 by President George W. Bush, has excoriated the Obama administration’s immigration policies in several unusually outspoken rulings… At a hearing on Jan. 15, Judge Hanen said Brownsville, which sits on the border with Mexico, was an appropriate venue for the suit because its residents see the impact of immigration every day. “Talking to anyone in Brownsville about immigration is like talking to Noah about the flood,” Judge Hanen said.

In a long and colorful opinion last August, Judge Hanen departed from the issue at hand to accuse the Obama administration of adopting a deportation policy that “endangers America” and was “an open invitation to the most dangerous criminals in society.”

The case involved a Salvadoran immigrant with a long criminal record whom Judge Hanen had earlier sent to prison for five years. Instead of deporting the man after he served his sentence, an immigration judge in Los Angeles ordered him released, a decision Judge Hanen found “incredible.” Citing no specific evidence, he surmised that the administration had adopted a broader policy of releasing such criminals.

While acknowledging that he had no jurisdiction to alter policy, Judge Hanen said he relied on his “firsthand, in-the-trenches knowledge of the border situation” and “at least a measurable level of common sense” to reach his conclusions about the case.

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum is not impressed:

Judge Andrew Hanen so obviously hates both Obama and his immigration actions that no one is going to take his decision seriously. It’s a polemic, not a proper court ruling. The case will continue its dreary way through Hanen’s docket, but I imagine an appeals court will stay the injunction pretty quickly, and then overrule his inevitable final ruling in short order. The right-wing plaintiffs in this case may have thought they were being clever in venue shopping to get the case before Hanen, but it won’t do them any good. It might even backfire, given just how transparently political Hanen’s ruling is.

This story makes for a good headline, but it probably means little in real life. At most we’ll have a delay of a few weeks in implementing Obama’s immigration orders.

And there’s this at the National Journal:

A federal judge’s stay of President Obama’s executive action on immigration could give congressional Republicans a lifeline to avoid a partial shutdown of the Homeland Security Department. But it’s not clear yet that they’ll take it.

With funding set to lapse at the end of the month, and a House-passed bill stalled in the Senate over provisions rolling back Obama’s executive action, some Capitol Hill sources began speculating privately that the temporary injunction could give House and Senate leaders cover to pass a clean DHS funding bill – either one that covers the remainder of the fiscal year, as Democrats have demanded, or a short-term measure that would set up another looming deadline.

It’s unclear if Republican leaders want to seize the opportunity…

But, but, but… there is now a way out of this. Take it. Or don’t:

If Democrats continue their refusal to vote for a bill undercutting Obama’s executive action, Republicans could remain equally unflinching, and the result would be a funding lapse for DHS (although more than 80 percent of the agency would remain operational because it is considered essential). But there are signs that it is the GOP who would lose the most politically in such a standoff. A CNN/ORC poll released Tuesday found that 53 percent of Americans polled would blame Republicans in Congress if the department shuts down, while just 30 percent would blame the president.

Given those numbers, Republicans could call Monday’s decision in Texas a victory and pass a clean funding bill to keep the Homeland Security Department running at full capacity. But, given the party’s victories in 2014 despite a full government shutdown one year earlier, many members continue to believe that a short-term DHS shutdown would not harm them politically in the long-run, which could make a clean bill a tough sell in the GOP Conference. Outside groups, such as Heritage Action and NumbersUSA, meanwhile, keep urging members to stand firm, noting that the court decision only reinforces their constitutional high ground.

As they discuss strategy, Republican leaders will have to keep an eye on the courts. The Obama administration is already pursuing an appeal, which could overturn the judge’s decision, leaving GOP members empty-handed. That uncertainty over the judge’s stay has some members cautioning that Republicans should not cede their leverage over DHS funding until an injunction is upheld in an appeals court.

Damn, the Hegelian synthesis was right in front of them. Not the one thing or the other, but a way to move forward – and they won’t move forward. They’ll only get to grin and say that they really stuck it to Hispanics this time. Now they’ll know not to mess with white folks. Obama will know that too.

Was that their intention? Who knows? But clearly Hegel was wrong. Things do not move inevitably from thesis to antithesis to synthesis. Sometimes things get stuck forever at the second step. Or maybe that’s just with Republicans.

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Knowing a Few Things

It’s better to know things than not know things. That’s why parents want the children to get a good education, even if there will always be some dispute about what a “good” education is – and a lot of dispute about who should pay for that education. The dispute about who pays for it was settled a long time ago in America, at least for education through high school. Everyone chips in to support a public school system, through local property taxes, supplemented by state funding, and further supplemented by federal spending – we’ll get all our kids through high school, one way or another. That’s good for everyone, and the economy depends on a minimally educated workforce – so we have a history of compulsory education – and by the late nineteenth century we had state colleges and universities. Those weren’t free, but they were relatively cheap – because they were subsidized by states that wanted college-educated citizens in their state, making good money and thus paying substantial taxes, ensuring growth and prosperity. Out here in California, when Pat Brown was governor – Jerry’s father – we made state colleges and universities and community colleges free to all residents, and the economy took off.

California grew by leaps and bounds, as they say, and there was money to complete our massive freeway system and for all sorts of things – and our education system was the envy of the nation. And then we elected Ronald Reagan, who didn’t think the government should be doing what the private sector should be doing – providing education beyond the mere basics – so we cut funding of education at all levels, over and over and over again, in the name of freedom from an intrusive big-brother government or something – and now our primary and secondary schools are ranked as almost the worst in the nation and our state colleges and universities cost a whole lot of money, nearly as much as private universities, and they’re just limping along – but we’re free. Jerry Brown is trying to fix that, but this isn’t his father’s California. Globalization is part of that – California isn’t so special anymore – and the collapse of the whole nation’s economy at the end of the Bush years makes growth anywhere a bit iffy. And the GI Bill and the post-war boom, that fueled the prosperous fifties, were one-off events. That won’t happen again.

Don’t tell President Obama, as Jonathan Alter explains:

President Obama this month gave the best State of the Union address of his presidency but it was largely written in disappearing ink. Like the vast majority of presidential speeches, little of it lingers.

But one proposal in the speech could prove historic. While Obama’s $60 billion plan for two free years of community college is dead-on-arrival in the Republican Congress, it is very much alive in American politics, where progressives now have an aspirational, easy-to-understand issue to rally around. When it’s finally signed into law by President Hillary Clinton or another Democrat in the White House, we’ll look back on the idea as Barack Obama’s GI Bill, a powerful engine for restoring the American middle class.

That’s the idea:

“Free” is always a crowd-pleaser and the idea is already wildly popular. In Tennessee, an astonishing 90 percent of high school seniors are enrolling in the state version, designed under a Republican governor and now promoted as a prototype by a Democratic president. After Obama first unveiled his plan while aboard Air Force One on January 8, the video broke the record for most downloads from his website. Not bad, considering that the White House has released more than 2,000 such videos – including cute ones of the president’s dog.

The excitement isn’t hard to figure. Even at the depths of the Great Recession, unemployment was relatively low among college-educated adults. Young Americans understand that they need some kind of degree after high school to join or stay in the imperiled middle-class. Otherwise they’re road kill in the global economy.

The initial reaction to this was mixed – but there was the expatriate Ann Jones writing from Oslo:

Wherever I travel, Europeans, Asians and Africans ask expatriates like me to explain everything odd or troubling about the conduct of the United States. Polite people, normally reluctant to risk offending a guest, ask pointedly about America’s trigger-happiness, cutthroat free-marketeering, and “exceptionality.”

Their questions share a single underlying theme: Have Americans gone over the edge? Are you crazy?

Folks over there just don’t get it:

In the Scandinavian countries, long considered to be the most socially progressive in the world, a national (physical and mental) health program is a big part – but only a part – of a more general social welfare system. In Norway, where I live, all citizens also have access to free education from age six through specialty training or university; low cost, subsidized preschool; unemployment benefits, job-placement and paid retraining; paid parental leave; old age pensions, and more. These benefits are not a “safety net” – that is, charitable payments grudgingly bestowed upon the needy. They are universal: equally available as a human right, promoting social harmony.

Jones talks of free education through college in the Nordic countries, and Germany just made college free for anyone who shows up, even foreigners, but we seem to have a problem with that:

Earlier this week, Ann Coulter spoke with Florida radio host Joyce Kaufman about President Barack Obama’s plan to subsidize community college educations for millions of students across the country. Surprise, surprise – she hates it.

“If colleges are so confident that their students are going to go out and make all kinds of money, why is the taxpayer on the hook for this?” Coulter asked. “This is such a scam how middle-class Americans are being taxed to subsidize the most left-wing industry in America – that spends its days indoctrinating kids to hate Republicans.”

“And to hate white people,” Kaufman said. “The whole white privilege thing that’s going on there is killing me.”

“Yeah, and they’re never called to account for it,” Coulter said.

There’s nothing new here. Back in 2012, Glenn Beck was clear on the matter of universities in general – “We have been setting up re-education camps. We call them universities.” People go to such places and learn too much about other forms of government, like socialism, and other religions, like Islam, or even Buddhism. That sort of thing ruins you.

The problem was that in his 2012 campaign, Obama had said he wants as many kids to go to some sort of college as possible, which is why Rick Santorum called Obama a snob:

There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate him. I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.

Hell, go to college and you might even end up black. Well, maybe not, but you’ll end up a snob, thinking that because you know lots of stuff, you know lots of stuff, because you know lots of stuff. No, wait – that can’t be right. It’s hard to tell just what Santorum was getting at here, but if folks resent Obama because he’s smart and knows stuff, they should vote Republican. Republicans aren’t snobs. They don’t look down on folks who aren’t that smart and don’t know much of what is going on, because those are the good folks. No, wait – that can’t be right either. But Mike Huckabee has a new book, because he running for president again, and that’s God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy – which makes the same argument. If your car breaks down on a country road, who do you want to fix it, a couple of good ol’ boys who know a thing or two about cars – or some college-educated dweeb who can’t help at all? There are educated people and there are people who know how to fix things. Education is fine, but it is of little practical value in the world Mike Huckabee knows. He doesn’t use the example of what happens if you develop a brain tumor and need a neurosurgeon. A good ol’ boy who’s right with Jesus and like grits may not be the guy to help you out.

Back in 2012, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent saw a Paul Ryan vulnerability that Mitt Romney didn’t anticipate in such matters:

Obama is campaigning today in Ohio, where he is giving a speech right now hitting Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan on education. He’s highlighting Romney’s suggestion that students worried about tuition costs should “shop around” or borrow money from their parents, and slamming the Ryan budget’s cuts to education funding, Head Start, and Pell grants.

This highlights something that has gotten a bit lost: While there’s a ton of discussion about the political implications of the Ryan budget’s Medicare reforms, Dems also view its education cuts as a major target.

Those proposed education cuts were the ideal target:

Dems see the Ryan plan’s impact on education as absolutely central to their efforts to portray the GOP ticket’s priorities as dangerously out of whack for everyone but the wealthy. It’s also a key to Dem hopes of winning over key swing constituencies, such as independents, Latinos and non-college “waitress moms,” and central to firming up support among the “Rising American Electorate,” the Dem coalition of minorities, young voters and unmarried women.

That’s the other half of the country, the half that thinks education is kind of useful, and Team Obama simply did their homework, using a poll on the Ryan budget done in July by their research firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner:

The poll, which tested various messages about the Ryan plan, found that one of the leading voter concerns about the Ryan budget is cuts to education, particularly among key constituencies, and that those cuts raise serious doubts about Romney when voters are told that he supports the Ryan agenda.

Among white non-college women, 66 percent say the education cuts raise serious doubts about Romney. Among Latinos the number is 67 percent. Among independents it’s 61 percent.

“There’s a lot the voters don’t like about the Ryan budget, but education is at least as important to voters as the Medicare piece is,” Andrew Baumann, vice president of Greenberg Quinlan, tells me.

“Education is a core concern for middle income and working class voters that gets underestimated,” Baumann continued. “The idea that Romney and Ryan would gut education programs that those voters see as important to pay for more tax cuts for millionaires illustrates whose side they’re on.”

Education really is a core concern for middle income and working class voters – the Romney team didn’t know that. They assumed otherwise. They’d been listening to themselves a lot, assuming everyone thinks like them. It was the wrong assumption, but that’s ancient history now, and Scott Walker is the new Paul Ryan, of sorts, and from David Fahrenthold in the Washington Post, there’s this background:

Scott Walker was gone. Dropped out. And in the spring of his senior year.

In 1990, that news stunned his friends at Marquette University. Walker, the campus’s suit-wearing, Reagan-loving politico – who enjoyed the place so much that he had run for student body president – had left without graduating.

To most of the Class of 1990 – and, later, to Wisconsin’s political establishment – Walker’s decision to quit college has been a lingering mystery.

Not even his friends at Marquette were entirely sure why he never finished.

He just wasn’t into learning things:

Even in politics class, Walker could appear disengaged.

“He seemed utterly bored,” said Michael Fleet, who taught him in a class on the politics of the Third World. Fleet said he’d hoped to get Walker into debates with the liberals in the room. But it didn’t work. Walker would only give occasional short speeches that made conservative arguments.

“It wasn’t always on key. It wasn’t always in response to anything,” Fleet said. “He wasn’t engaged. It was like he came in with a script.”

Glenn Reynolds is fine with that:

A lot of people don’t know much about him yet, and he may not even be running, but if Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is elected president in 2016, he’ll immediately accomplish something that no other candidate being talked about can: He’ll lay to rest the absurd belief that you’re a nobody if you don’t have a college degree. And he might even cut into the surprisingly recent takeover of our institutions by an educated mandarin class, something that just might save the country. …

And that’s why a President Walker would accomplish something worthwhile the moment he took office. Over the past few years in America, a college degree has become something valued more as a class signifier than as a source of useful knowledge. When Democratic spokesman Howard Dean (who himself was born into wealth) suggested that Walker’s lack of a degree made him unsuitable for the White House, what he really meant was that Walker is “not our kind, dear” – lacking the credential that many elite Americans today regard as essential to respectable status.

Reynolds, a fully tenured law professor at the University of Tennessee, wants to go back to the good old days:

As late as the 1970s, it was perfectly respectable for middle-class, and even upper-middle-class, people to lack a college degree. And, of course, most non-elite Americans still do: 68% of Americans, like Scott Walker, lack a college diploma. But where 50 years or 100 years ago they might not have cared, many now feel inferior to those who possess a degree.

But without much reason, as many college degrees don’t signify much besides a limited ability to show up on time most of the time, and avoid getting so falling-down-drunk that you flunk out. Nor does attendance at college necessarily even produce a leg up economically. Some studies suggest that attending college can actually increase economic inequality, as graduates emerge with no better prospects of employment, but heavy student loan debt. …

But the college degree – especially a degree from an elite school – has become an entry-level ticket into the educated mandarinate. … Today, the Supreme Court is composed entirely of Ivy Leaguers: five from Harvard Law School, three from Yale Law School, and one, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, from that scrappy Ivy League upstart Columbia Law School.

Likewise, you have to go back to 1988 to find a U.S. president who wasn’t a graduate of an Ivy League school – George W. Bush and Barack Obama upped the ante by having attended two each, Yale and Harvard for Bush, Columbia and Harvard for Obama. In Congress, 94% of the House, and 100% of the Senate, have college degrees of some sort. President Obama’s Cabinet is all college-educated, with just under half having an Ivy League undergraduate degree; almost 35% have an Ivy League graduate degree.

All this credentialism means that we should have the best, most efficiently and intelligently run government ever, right? Well, just look around. Anyone who has ever attended a faculty meeting should recognize that more education doesn’t produce better decision makers, and our educated mandarinate doesn’t seem to have done much for the country.

Ed Kilgore has an immediate reaction:

I guess progressives will have to dutifully line up and confirm that no, we do not consider a college degree a requirement for the presidency. Like an awful lot of things, educational credentials are a data point, and to that extent, conservatives touting Walker should admit not finishing college (after all, if elected Walker would be the first president born after 1884 to have no college degree) isn’t some sort of positive accomplishment. If it was, then maybe Republicans should find a candidate who didn’t finish high school, or who is illiterate; they’d sure be immune from all that Marxist propaganda, wouldn’t they?

The blogger BooMan is a bit more nuanced:

I don’t consider it an iron-clad requirement that the president of the United States have a college degree. There could be extenuating circumstances that make a lack of formal education less damning. In Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s case, he did receive a formal education even if he didn’t complete it. And he’s had extensive political and executive experience. We have many examples of highly successful people who have no college degree, although both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates did, like Walker, at least begin an undergraduate career before dropping out.

All things being equal, however, a thorough education should be considered highly preferable for someone being hired to be the most powerful person on Earth, and I can’t think of a single argument against this idea that makes any sense.

The problem is that being a college dropout is not an automatic asset:

The reason I want my president to have a thorough education is not because it’s a “class signifier,” nor because I prefer to have a mandarin class running our government. In fact, I have criticized the Obama administration for neglecting state schools and non-elite college graduates in their hiring practices.

A good president needs many skills and character traits, but a huge foundation of knowledge is extremely important because it makes them less dependent on their advisers. George W. Bush managed to get a couple of Ivy League degrees without learning much about the world, which was even less impressive when you consider that his father was, among other things, our unofficial ambassador to China, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, a two-term vice president with a national security brief, and the president when the Berlin Wall came down. Under the circumstances, you’d think that George W. would have learned enough by osmosis to dwarf the knowledge of someone like Bill Clinton, but he didn’t even know as much as Gary Bauer who was a lowly janitor’s son.

If you can acquire this broad base of knowledge outside of college classrooms, that’s preferable to not acquiring it within them. The important thing is that you have it. Without it, the foolishness of a Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld or Condoleezza Rice might be what counts for wise counsel, and where are we then?

We’re in deep shit, again, but at Salon, Jim Newell suggests that Scott Walker’s lack of a college degree is a non-issue that Democrats should avoid – after seeing Howard Dean mixing it up with the crew at Morning Joe, trying to say that Walker is not dumb but that’s he’s unknowledgeable:

Take heed, everyone else who’s considering levying this criticism at Scott Walker, of how quickly Howard Dean is sent on the defensive, looking like a snooty liberal snob jerk. And that’s after only the most modest pushback from the likes of Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist.

This isn’t just about the “optics” of bringing up Scott Walker’s lack of a college degree, either. If there was a strong criticism to be had that ran the risk of making someone sound like a jerk by saying it, then fine. But Scott Walker dropping out of Marquette before he completed his bachelor’s degree is not a strong criticism for why he shouldn’t be president. It is meritless.

It’s time to get real:

Why do people seek bachelor’s degrees? Because that’s the only way to be learned – or “knowledgeable,” as Howard Dean would say? Please. Most people who get bachelor’s degrees do so because it helps them get a good job. Some enjoy learning as much as they can, others just take the bare minimum in credits, but the goal is by and large the same: to certify themselves as employable via this imperfect credentialing process our society has settled on. If someone like Scott Walker has been able to achieve the career goals that usually require a college degree without having gotten that college degree, then more power to him. People who don’t have a college degree shouldn’t be relegated to lower-tier economic status because they didn’t spend four years as young adults reading Cliffs Notes. Scott Walker was able to get a good job without finishing his degree. If only everyone could be so lucky!

There might be something else going on here:

The idea that Scott Walker says dumb things about evolution or foreign policy because he didn’t complete the second semester of his senior year at Marquette is bogus. Anyone who doesn’t think it’s bogus – or thinks it’s a good political look for liberals to mock someone for not having a college degree! – should question the value of their own formal education. Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz, to name just two of Walker’s potential rivals, have absolutely impeccable academic credentials, degrees up to their knees, and this certainly doesn’t prevent them from saying dumb things about evolution or foreign policy.

Perhaps we should give Scott Walker a pass on this, and see what he does, which seems to be stuff like this:

Gov. Scott Walker has cited his experience battling unions here four years ago as proof that voters appreciate a political leader willing to “go big and go bold.”

So as he woos supporters around the country for a possible presidential bid, Walker (R) is once again picking a fight against a powerful institution at home – public universities.

Walker’s new budget proposal would slash $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system over the next two years. That’s a 13 percent reduction in state funding.

This would ruin one of the best public university systems in the world, but he knows what he’s doing:

It is unusual for a governor pondering a presidential run to take on what could be an all-consuming political brawl at home – and a distraction from the coast-to-coast travel and fundraising required to build a national campaign.

But the university budget debate has a clear upside for Walker, who is shaping his political brand around the idea that he does not shy away from a fight. Whether or not he succeeds in transforming the universities, the battle itself, coming in the midst of Walker’s effort to rise above a crowded field of prospective Republican presidential candidates, is likely to play well with conservative voters who see universities as elite institutions and hotbeds of left-leaning activism.

In Wisconsin, university advocates say their schools could be a far more difficult target for Walker, with a broader and deeper base of support than the unions had.

He doesn’t care. He could do to Wisconsin’s educational system what Reagan did to California’s – destroy it – and then he really would be the next Reagan. It may be better to know things than not know things, but it’s better to be president.

Posted in Education Policy, Scott Walker | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Another Pause

There is no Sunday evening column. There are two family birthdays, and a big party, far south of Hollywood, but not quite in Mexico. The world can wait one day. It’s time for cake and all that stuff. Hollywood will still be here Monday, and the world we still be an odd mess. Maybe there’ll be a new mess. That’s for Monday evening, not now.

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Deciding to Ask For Permission

John McCain was a fighter pilot, and by all accounts a kick-the-tires-and-light-the-fires kind of guy. He didn’t like those preflight checklists. He wanted to be up there, blasting away, right now. If some part of his A-4 Skyhawk wasn’t working right, so be it – he’d take his chances. The point was to take the fight to the enemy, not to be plodding and methodical – and he was shot down early in that war in Vietnam. That sometimes happens when the bold, who don’t sweat the details, are the real warriors willing to take chances – and McCain missed most of that war, entirely. He was a guest at what they called the Hanoi Hilton. He was a prisoner of war, but he parlayed that into a brilliant political career, as a war hero who knew a lot about war. He knew how to deal with our enemies – defeat them – but what he had done, with courage and honor, was to survive years of being cut off from knowing anything at all about what was happening over there, day to day, week to week, and over the long years as the tide turned against us, no matter what we did. He heard about the 1968 Tet Offensive, that was the beginning of the end for us in Vietnam, years later, after the fact. He knew nothing of Kissinger’s Paris negotiations that gave us a way out, or of Nixon’s massive Christmas carpet-bombing of anything that moved in North Vietnam, to make a point in the middle of those negotiations. We were not to be trifled with.

This was a chess game, with bombs, and on the ground there were daily changes in tactics, and periodic shifts in our strategy, and, in the end, a reassessment of what our objective was. Nixon settled on Peace with Honor. There was no winning this war, and the nation had finally sided with the hippies. It was time to get out. Peace with Honor was the best we could do.

John McCain missed all of that. He had a different expertise – heroic survival, alone and isolated, in the worst possible circumstances. He was a real hero, but he was never an expert in geopolitics, and he had never wrestled with the question of whether to go to war in the first place, and with who gets to decide that. Only Congress can formally declare war, as we did in 1941, against Japan and then against Germany a few days later, to make things clear – but we’ve been in war after war since then. The commander-in-chief has needed permission to take military action from time to time, but without a Pearl Harbor attack or a Hitler, a formal declaration of war seems like overkill. Military action from time to time isn’t war, really, and Congress always authorizes some sort of military action to take care of this problem or that, with restrictions of course.

For a kick-the-tires-and-light-the-fires kind of guy, who sat out the Vietnam War, being tortured and abused, all of that is like the preflight checklist on the Skyhawk. Is that really necessary? Can’t we just take the fight to the enemy? That’s why, in his 2008 campaign, McCain was all for bombing Iran – they wouldn’t develop nuclear weapons if we turned the place into smoking rubble. That summer, when Russia invaded Georgia – their former province, not the one here with the peaches and the grits – McCain said it was time to confront Russia, militarily, because we were all Georgians now, as he put it. Obama urged caution, and waiting to see how things worked out – both with Georgia and Iran. That meant that that November, America was faced with the choice between the kick-the-tires-and-light-the-fires guy, and the careful guy, who really should have mentioned to McCain, in one of those debates, that presidents can’t just do those sorts of things. He would have to ask Congress for permission, and they’d have questions, and they’d insist on restrictions. Heck, it was just like those preflight checklists he’d hated. They have a say in these things too. McCain might have been a war hero, of sorts, but Obama had been a constitutional law professor. The Constitution was designed to tamp down enthusiastic boldness – a check here, a bit of balancing there.

John McCain never had to face that depressing reality, but with Vietnam, what the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1964 established is still unclear, but one way to look at it is to say it was a resolution ceding the authority to wage war to the executive branch, as the legislative branch didn’t want to decide or declare anything – in short, it was tossing the constitutional authority and prerogative to declare and wage war down the street to the White House, in that case to Lyndon Johnson. In a way it was an admission that the Constitution doesn’t work in this modern world – one man in the White House should decide these things. It’s quicker, more efficient, and, if you’re in Congress you don’t catch crap when things go badly. Let the executive branch do what it will, and Lyndon Johnson flooded Vietnam with, finally, more than a half-million American troops – but there was a reaction. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 tried to walk that back a bit – now the president has to notify Congress within forty-eight hours of committing armed forces to military action, and forbids those armed forces from remaining for more than sixty days wherever they are sent, except for a thirty-day withdrawal period, unless the president gets an authorization for the use of military force or a declaration of war.

Presidents do get that, however. McCain had seen that. In 2002 there was the Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq – to match the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force against Terrorists – which was really a catch-all. George Bush got to be bold, and the terms of the 2001 act were wonderfully vague. Bush could do whatever he wanted, anywhere, and Congress would advance the funds, because jihadist terrorism was everywhere, not just in Iraq, and we were fighting terrorism in general, really, which is everywhere, and as Bush put it, we were really fighting evil itself, which is certainly everywhere. That was blanket permission and that resolution is still in force.

Obama has that 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force against Terrorists in his hip pocket – he has had his folks say that everyone should assume that gives Obama authorization to bomb the crap out of those ISIS folks, not just in Iraq but now in Syria too. Maybe it does, but Obama doesn’t have a declaration of war, and now he seems to be realizing the previous authorizations may not cover the current situation, and it’s time to fix that, which prompted the editorial board at the New York Times to offer this:

Nearly five months after launching a war against the Islamic State, in Iraq and Syria, the Obama administration has gotten around to requesting formal authorization from Congress to conduct that war.

While indefensibly late, the move is nonetheless welcome if it triggers the long-needed substantive debate about the goals, scope and justification of a military intervention that was launched with the claim of authority from laws passed more than a decade ago to allow the use of force in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In seeking a three-year authorization, President Obama appears to be trying to avoid leaving an open-ended mandate that his successor could interpret unjustifiably broadly, much as his administration has. The request sets limits on the use of ground forces, which is good news if Congress and the White House view that as explicitly ruling out another protracted intervention.

But don’t get all excited:

The parameters of a proposed war authorization the White House sent to Congress on Wednesday, however, are alarmingly broad. It does not limit the battlefield to Syria and Iraq, the strongholds of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which is attempting to form a caliphate. It also seeks permission to attack “associated persons or forces” of the brutal group, a term that appears to be excessively expansive and could undermine Mr. Obama’s stated intent to limit the force authorization.

And here’s the prediction:

While that type of sweeping mandate makes some Democrats uneasy, Mr. Obama is likely to get backing from many Republicans. Certainly, there is cause to be alarmed by the threat posed by the Islamic State. The savagery of the group, which has beheaded journalists and aid workers, warrants a muscular response from the international community. “If left unchecked, ISIL will pose a threat beyond the Middle East, including to the United States homeland,” Mr. Obama wrote in the letter.

Obama will get his authorization and things will be fine, or as Josh Rogan reports, perhaps they won’t be:

Congress is flummoxed about how to deal with President Barack Obama’s proposed authorization for war against the Islamic State. While there’s a sizeable majority of members who favor putting congressional guidance on the war, the lack of agreement on how to do so raises the possibility that efforts to pass legislation will flounder on Capitol Hill.

All week, Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate have been meeting behind closed doors to strategize on the White House’s proposal, which places vague limits on the use of ground troops, allows the president to expand the war to any country, and sunsets in three years. Many Republicans want to give Obama (and his successor) more flexibility; many Democrats want to tighten restrictions.

Both parties acknowledge the need for some bipartisan support for their ideas. But neither leadership has figured out how to craft a coalition that can muster 60 votes in the Senate and 218 in the House.

That is a problem:

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker favors a compromise that can create broad bipartisan support, several senior Senate aides told me. His committee has jurisdiction over the bill, so it will go first with hearings and approve the first version of the legislation. That bill is likely to track the president’s version, which was based on legislation written by Committee ranking member Robert Menendez and his Democratic colleague Senator Tim Kaine.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, led by John McCain, will have its own hearings. McCain and committee Republican Lindsey Graham favor removing all restrictions on the use of ground forces.

The kick-the-tires-and-light-the-fires guy is still at it, for what that’s worth, but he may not have the final say:

The divisions inside the Republican Senate caucus were visible in a Wednesday afternoon meeting at the Capitol. Prior to the conference, a memo circulated to all Republican senate offices (which I obtained) outlined the Republican concerns with the president’s version of the bill.

“A legislative restriction on the president’s ability to use force may test the Founders’ wisdom that we have one Commander-in-Chief under the Constitution, rather than 535. It may also undermine the seriousness of purpose, conviction, and perseverance the United States likely wishes to signal in its conduct of the armed conflict against ISIL,” the memo stated.

The memo also discussed widespread frustration and skepticism on Capitol Hill about how the White House has handled the whole issue of seeking war authorization. It noted that the administration has long called for Congressional authorization publicly but waited six months before seriously engaging Congress on the issue or proposing actual legislation.

This is a bit of a mess, but Obama still has the previous authorizations and may have wanted a mess:

For months, the Obama administration and Congress have had an unspoken agreement; both sides publicly called for a new war authorization while neither side actually pushed the issue out of a mutual comfort with the status quo. Now that the White House has made its move, Congress is forced to respond, but infighting among lawmakers could result in a failure to exert the oversight power they claim to wield.

For the White House, it’s actually a win-win. If Congress manages to pass something, it will be seen as a bipartisan endorsement of the president’s war, despite widespread discontent with how he is actually prosecuting it. If Congress balks, the president retains even more flexibility to fight the war than he is asking for, and Congress will have ensured its own irrelevance in the debate.

That’s cool, and Ryan Lizza notes that Obama certainly did force folks to take a position:

Speaking for the doves, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent who is considering a campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination, immediately came out against the resolution because, he said, it does not sufficiently restrict the deployment of American troops in Iraq and Syria. “I oppose sending U.S. ground troops into combat in another bloody war in the Middle East,” Sanders said in a statement. “I therefore cannot support the resolution in its current form without clearer limitations on the role of U.S. combat troops.”

The hawks have been led by Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, who is also weighing a Presidential run. Rubio didn’t say that he would oppose Obama’s resolution, but he made it clear he wanted a more expansive version. “There is a pretty simple authorization he could ask for, and it would read one sentence,” Rubio said in a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday. “And it would read one sentence. And that is: We authorize the President to defeat and destroy ISIL, period.”

This is certainly an important debate to have, even if it is happening, absurdly, six months after the United States went to war against ISIS. But unless Congress also revisits the authorization of force passed on September 14, 2001, which President Obama has claimed applies to strikes against ISIS, the new debate is all but meaningless.

Salon’s Jim Newell doesn’t think so:

The good news for people who don’t like open-ended ground wars – which, shockingly but not shockingly, is not everyone – is that the administration won’t pursue what could euphemistically be described as “maximum flexibility.” It has backed away from its previous posture, as annunciated by Secretary of State John Kerry in congressional testimony last December, that it didn’t want an explicit ban on ground combat troops. That’s the key thing here, and it was a pleasure to make such a fuss over it.

The president has always claimed that he will not deploy combat troops to fight a ground war against ISIS in multiple countries in the Middle East. But according to the administration’s current, dicey justification for war – the 2001 AUMF against Al Qaeda and affiliates, and conveniently lenient legal readings thereof – the only thing getting in the way of a ground war is the president’s judgment. As in: President Obama could simply change his mind. Or incoming President John Bolton or Hillary Clinton could decide that yes, an open-ended ground war in multiple countries in the Middle East would be an excellent investment of resources. This is why it’s so important to straitjacket the presidency, and Obama seems to understand how this could affect his legacy.

Now it’s just a matter of getting the words right. Specifically, five words: “enduring offensive ground combat operations.” This is what the White House’s draft AUMF prohibits – the language it uses to bar the “long-term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our Nation conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

But in the text of Obama’s letter to congress there are exceptions:

The authorization I propose would provide the flexibility to conduct ground combat operations in other, more limited circumstances, such as rescue operations involving U.S. or coalition personnel or the use of special operations forces to take military action against ISIL leadership. It would also authorize the use of U.S. forces in situations where ground combat operations are not expected or intended, such as intelligence collection and sharing, missions to enable kinetic strikes, or the provision of operational planning and other forms of advice and assistance to partner forces.

Newell sees problems there:

If the prohibition on “enduring offensive ground operations” explicitly means everything but those itemized exceptions – special ops on high value targets, spotters, search and rescue teams, intelligence officials, advisers – then that’s not so bad. Most of the AUMF proposals have allowed these exceptions. The “boots on the ground” that are important to restrict are those that could blossom into tens or hundreds of thousands.

But that’s just what the letter says, and a letter is just a letter.

And Newell adds this:

The obvious problem with regards to tightening the prohibition of ground combat troops is that the Republican Party controls Congress. And its leaders will want to move in the opposite, more expansive direction. It seems ironic – at first – that the Republican Party would want to give the Imperial Tyrant President the broadest imaginable executive authority here, authority that the Imperial Tyrant President himself isn’t even calling for. This isn’t really about the current president, though. It’s about the presidency. The stakes aren’t just about who’s in charge today, but about who’s going to be in charge come January 2017 and beyond. If that person wants a ground war against ISIS, they should have to come to Congress and make that case.

Obama may know that, and he may have changed his mind since, when he was running for president the first time, he gave that now largely forgotten 2007 speech:

These last few years we’ve seen an unacceptable abuse of power at home. We face real threats. Any President needs the latitude to confront them swiftly and surely. But we’ve paid a heavy price for having a President whose priority is expanding his own power. The Constitution is treated like a nuisance. Matters of war and peace are used as political tools to bludgeon the other side. We get subjected to endless spin to keep our troops at war, but we don’t get to see the flag-draped coffins of our heroes coming home. We get secret task forces, secret budgeting, slanted intelligence, and the shameful smearing of people who speak out against the President’s policies.

All of this has left us where we are today: more divided, more distrusted, more in debt, and mired in an endless war. A war to disarm a dictator has become an open-ended occupation of a foreign country. This is not America. This is not who we are. It’s time for us to stand up and tell George Bush that the government in this country is not based on the whims of one person – the government is of the people, by the people and for the people.

We thought we learned this lesson. After Vietnam, Congress swore it would never again be duped into war, and even wrote a new law – the War Powers Act – to ensure it would not repeat its mistakes. But no law can force a Congress to stand up to the President. No law can make Senators read the intelligence that showed the President was overstating the case for war. No law can give Congress a backbone if it refuses to stand up as the co-equal branch the Constitution made it.

Now he’d rather they didn’t stand up to him, unless he secretly thinks they should, or something. He does seem to want to play by the rules, even if he may be asking for almost as much leeway as George Bush was given, which led to our Iraq disaster. At least he’s asking – and this is his preflight checklist. What would President McCain have done? That’s not a pretty thought.

Posted in Authorization for Use of Military Force Against ISIS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Resolving Conflict Resolution

Libertarians are a ton of fun, and so are the free-market absolutists, and the Ayn Rand folks. They hold, each in their own way, that if everyone were allowed to do whatever they wanted, with no rules and regulations, and no taxes to pay for the creation and enforcement of rules and regulations, the world would be a wonderful place, a place of amazing innovation and vast new wealth. With no constraints on any kind of human behavior, good things would finally happen, because they finally could happen. Government only gets in the way – the standard line from Republicans from before there even were Republicans. For the free-market absolutists, market forces will weed out the bad stuff that might happen – no one will buy your goods or services if you offer anything less than the best, or you lie about what you’re offering. But there should be no rules about lying about what you’re offering. The market will take care of that – people will eventually figure it out that they’ve been lied to, and they’ll go elsewhere for what they want. You’ll go broke. There’s no need for government to be involved, and that’s why Obamacare was totally unnecessary – just like the EPA and almost all the rest of government. Let the free market sort it all out.

The Ayn Rand crowd is just pissed that the few morally and ethically superior people are always pulled down and neutered by the losers in life, and the superior people, like her fictional John Galt, should simply go on strike, and then those losers would be sorry. Our current libertarians, like Rand Paul, don’t put it that way. They say they simply love freedom – so Rand Paul has some problems with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – specifically where it tells private businesses what they can and cannot do. People would do the right thing on their own, if you let them – so let them. As for those few morally and ethically superior people, Mitt Romney said there were more than a few of them – it was the morally and ethically inferior people, the forty-seven percent, who were ruining America. Everyone else was just fine, and his running mate, Paul Ryan, raised on Ayn Rand, talked about the Makers and the Takers – but he never said any of the few morally and ethically superior among us should go on strike, to show the losers how awful life would be without the Nietzschean Übermensch – to whom no rules apply, or should apply – among us. Paul Ryan was running for office, after all. Ayn Rand, a big fan of Nietzsche, would be disappointed, but she’d dead, and she never ran for office. Our current libertarians do what they can.

All of this is great fun in theory – the stuff for late night bull sessions in the college dorm room, at least in that goofy freshman year – but for society to work there must be constraints on behavior. Everyone cannot do anything they want, any time. There’d be chaos that the free-market cannot fix. Conflicts arise, and I cannot shoot you if you disagree with me, and many conflicts do have to be resolved. We have to get along to get things done, a matter of constant give and take. You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes, if you try real hard, you get what you need – or so the song goes. So, listen carefully, try to find areas of compromise, or at least accommodation, be honest, and smile, if you can. That always helps. You can’t always punch the other guy in the nose and be done with it. He’ll probably punch you right back. Negotiate. Everyone has to. Men and women do – that’s marriage. Work is negotiation, day in and day out. Team sports are negotiation – be a ball-hog and your team will lose. Politics is negotiation – in spite of what the Tea Party folks think – and international politics is negotiation, unless you think a decisive war in the only answer to any dispute. This requires a skillset that has nothing to do with Ayn Rand. Listen carefully, try to find areas of compromise, or at least accommodation, be honest, and smile if you can – the übermensch must be a mensch. That doesn’t imply weakness. It’s simply necessary.

Some don’t believe that. There are those who prefer dominance and submission as the model for all conflict resolution. You may not be able to punch the other guy in the nose, but you can put him in his place, so the other guy is submissive and compliant. It’s just a way of looking at this difficult world, as it’s almost reflexive:

An NRA board member and leader of the Texas State Rifle Association wrote on Wednesday that disciplining a child through corporal punishment may prevent him from “having to put a bullet in him later.”

Complaining of State Rep. Alma Allen’s (D) bill to “prohibit the use of corporal punishment in public primary and secondary schools,” NRA board member Charles Cotton took to TexasCHL Forum to vent his frustration.

“I’m sick of this woman and her ‘don’t touch my kid regardless what he/she did or will do again’ attitude,” Cotton wrote in a thread titled “HB567: Corporal punishment in schools.”

“Perhaps a good paddling in school may keep me from having to put a bullet in him later,” he added.

That’s one view of conflict resolution, and then there’s this:

A Georgia woman claimed in a lawsuit that police officers in Albany beat her so badly that she had a miscarriage.

In a complaint filed in federal court, Kenya Harris explained that she went to the Albany Police Department in May 2011 to pick up her minor son after he was arrested, according to Courthouse News.

Harris said she waited five hours for her son before informing Officers Ryan Jenkins that she needed to return home to take care of her other children.

“Defendant Officer Jenkins stated that he did not appreciate the tone in which she was communicating with him, and further stated that if she continued he would take her head and ‘put it to the floor,'” the lawsuit stated.

That’s what he did:

“Defendant Officer Jenkins, without provocation, grabbed plaintiff, who weighs less than one hundred twenty (120) pounds, by her neck and slammed her to the ground,” the lawsuit said. “Plaintiff momentarily blacked out and came to with defendant Officer Jenkins sitting on her back, and with his knee on her arm. Plaintiff was pregnant at the time.”

“Defendant Officer Jenkins put handcuffs on plaintiff and slammed her against the wall. Plaintiff was placed into an interrogation room after she was beaten and handcuffed.”

Harris asked for medical attention, but officers denied the request. Instead, she was charged with obstruction, and spent one night in the Dougherty County Jail.

In the lawsuit, Harris asserted that excessive force caused her miscarriage. She also suffered injuries to her knee, neck and other areas.

Why? He didn’t like her tone. That was it. She was not submissive and he was NOT going to negotiate – and if this goes to trial, he will likely win. Juries do tend to see police work in terms of appropriate dominance and submission – as with the grand juries in Ferguson and Staten Island. Citizens do not negotiate with police. They comply, or they often die, as they should, or in the case the fetus dies. It could be that Kenya Harris wasn’t spanked enough by her third grade teacher – but this will probably be settled out of court. The Albany Police Department will give Kenya Harris some money to just go away. The last thing they want is the national media coming to town, and they certainly don’t want to be the town where the discussion of appropriate dominance and submission in these matters starts up again. People understand police work or they don’t – but everyone needs to understand certain folks need to watch their tone.

In Ferguson it was Michael Brown. On Staten Island it was Eric Garner. In Chicago, in the summer of 1968, it was every hippies in site, and every young person watching the hippies – someone was going to get their head busted. Many got their head busted. And certain parties didn’t like the tone of those Charlie Hebdo cartoons, and those cartoonists and editors in Paris died. The dominant won’t be challenged, and those who should be submissive will be submissive, or they’ll die. Watch your tone.

It’s the same in international relations. We don’t like Vladimir Putin’s tone. He grabbed Crimea, then a lot of eastern Ukraine, so we slapped on economic sanctions that, along with the crash of oil prices, devastated the Russian economy, but he won’t back down. He’s still thumbing his nose at us. We slammed him to the ground and he’s still sending his folks, and their equipment, and a lot of firepower into eastern Ukraine. He was supposed to be submissive, damn it.

Ah, but there is the other conflict-resolution model. Negotiate. See if something can be worked out, so we got this:

The cease-fire accord announced in Minsk on Thursday was hailed by Secretary of State John Kerry and European leaders as a potential breakthrough that could finally bring the bitter conflict in Ukraine to an end.

But while the agreement may succeed in establishing a cease-fire by mid-February, it is likely to leave Russia and the separatists it supports holding the upper hand in eastern Ukraine for months, if not longer. That is because the accord delays the resolution of a central issue – restoring Ukraine’s control of its eastern border with Russia – and sets no deadline for the withdrawal of Russian forces, weapons and equipment from Ukraine.

“The deal likely was the best that Poroshenko could have achieved under difficult circumstances, with Russia continuing to back the separatists,” said Steven Pifer, a former American ambassador to Ukraine, referring to Petro O. Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president.

This wasn’t much, but it was something:

Germany and France said that their goal was to find a way to defuse the conflict – and avert the need for the United States to consider sending defensive weapons to the Ukrainians – by coming up with a plan for carrying out the peace agreement that was announced in Minsk in September.

That earlier accord has been regularly violated by Russia and the separatists it supports, Western officials said. So the challenge was not just to produce a cease-fire but also to find a way to make a broader agreement stick.

The approach Germany and France pursued was to negotiate a new plan with the Russians and Ukrainians, which would be implemented in stages. But as the agreement was drafted, some of the most important elements were left for the end of the implementation process.

You can’t always get what you want:

A major concern for Ukraine and its Western supporters, for example, has been restoring Ukrainian control over its border, which NATO says the Kremlin has repeatedly violated when it sent troops and heavy weapons to eastern Ukraine.

“The U.S. position, all along has been that the international border in particular should not be a question that is sort of deferred further down into the implementation phase, because what we don’t want is a situation where we have a partially implemented deal that leaves that question unresolved,” a senior State Department official told reporters who were attending a security conference in Germany on Saturday. The official cannot be identified under the ground rules the department set for the briefing.

The agreement, in fact, addresses the issue. But it states that the process of restoring “full control of the state border by the government of Ukraine throughout the conflict area” is to happen by the end of 2015. And it is only to happen then if constitutional reforms that will decentralize authority to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are first carried out and local elections held.

One senior Western official, who asked not to be identified because the official was discussing internal deliberations, said the delay in restoring Ukraine’s control over the border was a major weakness in the agreement and voiced concern that the local elections could be seriously flawed if Ukraine’s border is left open for Russian agents and operatives.

There are other ambiguities, officials say. The accord calls for disarming illegal groups. But the separatists may maintain that their militias are not illegal and that therefore the provision does not apply to them.

Maybe we should have just sent in two hundred thousand troops and be done with it. Putin is doing just fine here. Perhaps his teachers never spanked him, ever, so he doesn’t know how to behave. If someone had only spanked him way back when we wouldn’t have to use a bullet on him now, and this was inevitable:

Hawkish Republicans have leaned on President Obama for the better part of a year to give weapons to Ukraine as it battles Russian-backed separatists. Now it’s members of Obama’s own party – both within Congress and from members of his own administration – that are calling on the president to arm the Ukrainians, before they lose even more territory to the Kremlin’s proxies.

On Capitol Hill there is a renewed sense of urgency: The top-ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, will join with his Republican counterpart Mac Thornberry on Tuesday to present a bill that would further pressure the president to give the Ukrainian government weaponry, although legislators have yet to spell out the specifics of the bill.

And in the last week, a bevy of Democratic pols and former diplomats have said that the United States should do more.

The pressure is mounting:

Last Thursday, more than 30 House lawmakers wrote a letter urging the White House to swiftly increase military assistance. Signatories included Democratic heavyweights like Engel, Smith, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, and Ukrainian Caucus co-chairs Reps. Marcy Kaptur and Sander Levin.

That same day, Democratic Sens. Harry Reed, Richard Blumenthal, Joe Donnelly, and Bill Nelson joined with Republican hawks to warn against the Russian threat to Ukraine.

“Ukrainians are being slaughtered and we have a role to play in imposing restraint… We need to see that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin understands nothing but force. He is a thug, he has not responded to sanctions,” Blumenthal said.

Nelson added, “We simply cannot let Vladimir Putin get away with invading another sovereign country.”

Here we go again, but we need to be dominant:

Democratic hawkishness may seem surprising. But since at the least the 1990s, there’s been a growing wing of liberal interventionists who believe U.S. intervention is the best resource to stop a foe; the push to intercede in Kosovo was one early example. Such advocates, most notably presumed 2016 presidential Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, have more recently pushed for U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria.

But then there’s the other guy who believes in a different model of conflict resolution:

All the while, Obama has become more reticent to get America involved in conflicts that do not pose a direct threat to the United States, particularly after U.S. and NATO intervention in the 2011 uprising in Libya, a nation now overwhelmed with jihadis from groups like the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Obama’s foreign-policy approach is shared by most Americans, according to several polls. The result is that many of Obama biggest critics on Ukraine reside within his own party – sometimes within his coterie of advisers.

Slate’s Fred Kaplan tries to straighten this out:

First, sending weapons to the Ukrainian military, as several U.S. senators and think-tank analysts urge, is a losing game. Unless we turn on the spigot full blast, with the aim of “prevailing” in a head-on East-West war (which would be insane for many reasons), the Russians could match each step up the ladder – and win a propaganda battle besides: Putin would be proved right that Kiev is a Western pawn, that its democratic activists are Western tools, and that further controls at home and “fraternal assistance” abroad is necessary. The Western Europeans, whose support has been vital to the politico-economic campaign against Putin’s aggression, would jump off the coalition bandwagon, to stave off the pressures for further escalation.

Besides (and I know this sounds cold), the fate of eastern Ukraine doesn’t make the list of vital U.S. security interests – that is to say, interests worth going to war for. This is one reason President Bill Clinton didn’t include Ukraine in his NATO “enlargement” campaign, which did bring Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Baltics into the fold, nor did President George W. Bush amend the list after mulling the pros and cons.

In the unlikely event that President Obama (or, less unlikely, a successor) decided to send lethal weapons to Ukraine, he (or she) should do so in full awareness that war with Russia would be a real possibility. The Ukrainian army would have to be trained to use these weapons – that is to say, we would need to put trainers on the ground. We’ve seen this movie before.

We may need to look at this from the other end of the telescope:

Ukraine has been integral to Russia for 1,000 years, a vital trade partner, agricultural supplier, and security buffer. Neither Putin nor any other Russian leader would sit passive while Ukraine slipped away to the Western camp – and, last year when the conflict began, Putin feared that Kiev’s new leaders were about to do just that.

This is no excuse for Putin’s annexation of Crimea or his brutal aggression in eastern Ukraine. But it helps explain his behavior (it’s not just the product of an ex-KGB man’s paranoia), and it helps predict how far he might go if pushed to the brink. Ukraine is a vital national-security interest for him, and it’s right on his border. The senators and advisers who want to intervene in the conflict directly by sending arms and advisers to Ukraine – and this group includes Obama’s new secretary of defense- need to tell us what their next move would be.

Yeah, well, we might have listened to what Putin was actually saying, which would have meant addressing the real issue here:

What Putin fears most in this whole confrontation isn’t the introduction of some Western tanks or rockets; it’s a thriving, prosperous Ukraine – it’s an example to the rest of the former Soviet republics (and to the people of eastern Ukraine, and for that matter Russia) that a better, richer life can be had under Western styles of governance and economics than under Putin’s dream of a resuscitated USSR.

So, don’t invade or even send arms:

On the military front, NATO needs to step up its commitments to its eastern member-nations, especially Poland and the Baltic states, in part to deter Putin from getting any dangerous ideas of pushing further, in part to instill confidence in all allies, and in part to demonstrate NATO’s unity – which, by the way, Putin’s actions in Ukraine have done more to solidify than anything else in the past decade. Obama has taken a few steps in this direction, but he and the other allied leaders could take more.

Above all, everyone, including McCain and his worrywart amigo Sen. Lindsey Graham, should take a breath. Putin’s a bad guy, but he’s not Hitler. The Russian army is not the Nazi Wehrmacht. Russia’s economy is in the tank; by comparison, World War II–era Germany’s was so resilient that, as late as 1943, its factories were still churning out lace and other luxury goods. 2015 is not 1939 or 1949: not remotely. But what won the Cold War can win this competition, too: patience, endurance, shrewd containment, and the example of something better just across the horizon.

What, we don’t get to slap someone around, because even more than what they’ve done, we don’t like their attitude, their tone? We listen and finally understand their issues, and in response, we do what we do, as an example of an alternative approach? We play the mensch, not the übermensch? That seems to be the general idea here. What if our police departments did that? What if we told teachers they couldn’t spank their pupils?

We’d be better off. No one seems to understand what an unusual president Obama is. But then he’ll be gone soon, and President Hillary Clinton will send in the troops, or President Jeb Bush will. We’ll revert to the norm, demanding submission, even if that never works.

Posted in Ukrainian Crisis, Vladimir Putin, Conflict Resolution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Not Quite Ready to Govern

It’s going to be a long two years, or a little less than two years now, but this was predictable. We’re in the sixth year of a two-term president, who can’t run again, after a midterm election that gave him a Congress he’ll have to deal with for those last two years. Everything is locked in. There will be no further referendums on President Obama – there’s nothing the Republicans can do about him now – and he now faces a solidly Republican House and Senate – and there’s nothing he can do about them either. He will veto that Keystone Pipeline thing, and the Republicans don’t have anywhere near the votes to override that veto. That issue is moot, even if there will be a lot of shouting back and forth after the veto. The nation will yawn. That’s over.

The Republicans may shut down the Department of Homeland Security unless Obama agrees to immediately deport all eleven million undocumented workers in the country, every one of them, right now. Obama has to rescind his administrative directives to the appropriate enforcement agencies, to start with the criminals and deadbeats, and then, later, get around to the folks who are here working hard, raising a family, and not hurting anyone. If he doesn’t rescind those directives, well, there will be no more money for the Department of Homeland Security – not one penny. That’s not a full government shutdown, but cutting off funds to the agencies that keep us safe, day to day, hour by hour, to stop Obama from being so uppity, would be interesting. Who would get the blame if someone hijacks a few airliners and flies them into a few other tall buildings in Manhattan?

There’s the gamble. The Republicans set up the confrontation, with DHS funding legislation that had their unrelated immigration demands embedded in the thing, so one could blame them. The two issues are not related, but then all Obama has to do was enforce immigration law, to the letter of the law, and rid us of all these pesky brown people, so it would be Obama’s fault. Someone has to take the blame for all the dead people in Manhattan, or maybe Chicago this time, if it comes to that.

This might not be the ideal way to govern the country, and the Republicans, who set up this particular confrontation, seem to sense no one is impressed with their clever trap. It’s the dead-people thing. They should have known better, and some of them are admitting it:

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk said Wednesday that his party made a mistake by picking a fight over President Barack Obama’s immigration actions, and said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) should bring up a “clean” bill to keep the Department of Homeland Security funded.

“I generally agree with the Democratic position here. I think we should have never fought this battle on DHS funding,” the Illinois senator said in the Capitol. “I think it’s the wrong battle for us at the wrong time.”

Does the GOP share blame for the impasse over DHS?

“It does,” Kirk said. “Had I been consulted, which I wasn’t, I don’t think we should have ever attached these issues to DHS funding. I always thought the burden of being in the majority is the burden of governing.”

Yes, there is that, but old habits are hard to break:

House and Senate GOP leaders are at an impasse – with each saying it’s incumbent on the other chamber to make the next move to avoid a partial shutdown of DHS on February 27. Conservative activists are keeping up the pressure on Republicans not to blink. Anxieties are growing that Congress will fail to act in time.

Kirk’s comments reflect a marked change in tune from one day earlier, when he excoriated Democrats over their handling of the issue. “The Republicans – if there is a successful attack during a DHS shutdown – we should build a number of coffins outside each Democratic office and say, ‘You are responsible for these dead Americans,'” he said Tuesday, as quoted by Politico.

Kirk must have realized how stupid that sounded. The dead Americans would still be dead. People don’t like that sort of thing. They like even less some politician asking them, now their husband or wife or son or daughter is dead, if it isn’t time to join them in ridding America of these pesky brown people, the ones without papers – not Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, of course. Their folks came here from Cuba, to escape Fidel Castro and all that, and were fast-tracked for citizenship because of Fidel, so folks like Cruz and Rubio are the good ones. That would be the real point of all this, and Kirk must have imagined himself making that argument. He’d rather not. He’d rather not be a total asshole, and he just warned his party not to be the asshole at the funeral asking for campaign contributions. The Republican Party has a little less than two years to prove they can govern. This sort of thing doesn’t cut it. It’s time to knock it off.

But what cuts it? None of them seem to know at the moment, and the two frontrunners, for now, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, are in the process of figuring that out. Imagine each as president. President Scott Walker would make sure America isn’t ruined by American workers, messing things up for big business – there would be no labor unions and no minimum wage – and he’d make sure that as many colleges and universities as possible went under. Those produce folks who command high salaries, so he just cut three hundred million dollars from the University of Wisconsin and will spend five hundred million on a new NBA arena – a surprise move. That was something he never even mentioned in any campaign. It was bold, and he would be an interesting president – he’s all for what the general public, not his party’s base, is adamantly against. Can he make that stuff sound reasonable?

And then there’s Jeb Bush, the pro-immigration Republican, and all for Common Core, the national basic standards for public schools, so kids at least learn the basics, even if his party finds both positions appalling. The public doesn’t, so that might prove he’s not a total asshole, but he is a Bush. His father couldn’t get elected to a second term – four years of him was more than enough – and his brother was a disaster. Here’s a rundown of his brothers disasters – and Jeb will have to defend it all. What will he say about Iraq? What will he say about the collapse of the economy? What will he say about how his brother handled Hurricane Katrina, when all those folks died down in New Orleans?

Jeb Bush needs to change the subject. This cannot be about his family, about the past. This is a new century, and if his brother George started the century off badly, with eight years of neoconservative nonsense, and economic policies that ruined the economy for a generation, or more, Jeb could get all hip and high-tech and be a cool sort of ePresident, starting off by being a way-cool eCandidate. Jeb could be our first wired president, but this isn’t going well:

The newly hired chief technology officer of Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise PAC resigned Tuesday amid controversy over inflammatory comments he had written on Twitter and a blog for a college radio show.

“The Right to Rise PAC accepted Ethan Czahor’s resignation today,” a Bush spokesperson said in a statement. “While Ethan has apologized for regrettable and insensitive comments, they do not reflect the views of Governor Bush or his organization and it is appropriate for him to step aside.”

Damn! And the guy was totally hip:

Czahor, a co-founder of, originally came under fire for tweets he made from 2009 to 2011 that referred to women as “sluts” and disparaged homosexuals at his gym. The tweets were originally reported by BuzzFeed News.

Tuesday, The Huffington Post used the Internet Archives’ Wayback Machine to unearth comments Czahor had made on a website for his college radio program, “The Ethan Show,” that praised Martin Luther King Jr. for not speaking in “slang” or “gibberish,” and not wearing his “pants sagged to his ankles.”

There’s much more – a lot of talk about nerdy women being sluts and so on – and there’s also a rule that Jeb’s folks ignored. Anyone who says they’re hip isn’t – the claim refutes itself. Those who are hip do not actually believe in hip – the whole notion is tiresome – and of course any site called is a pretentious scam, unless the site is deeply ironic. Ethan Czahor seems immune to irony.

Millennials rolled their eyes, and there was also this:

The political action committee for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) is redacting Social Security numbers in the public release of his emails after the document dump revealed constituents’ private information, according to ABC News.

Bush, who is mulling a presidential bid in 2016, publicized hundreds of thousands of emails from his time as governor in an effort at transparency. But tech bloggers and others immediately criticized the release after discovering that Bush’s Right to Rise PAC did not redact Social Security numbers, health insurance plan identification numbers and personal stories of Floridians in the emails.

But it wasn’t their fault:

The committee told ABC News on Wednesday that Bush’s attorney asked the state to review the emails before releasing them to ensure that Social Security numbers and other private information were removed before the release.

“Our site contains the public records that were made available by the State of Florida,” Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell told ABC in a statement.

Yeah, but they didn’t see the problem right in front of them. They don’t get this wired stuff at all. Some things just don’t go out, whatever the source, so this is just sad:

Bush called himself the “eGovernor” in a short book released online with his emails. As governor, he released his personal email,, and asked constituents to email him. He added that he spent around 30 hours a week answering those emails.

“After a long day of meetings or travel, answering emails is sometimes what actually energized me,” he wrote.

“They allowed me to stay connected and get first-hand knowledge from Florida’s citizens.”

Yeah, he was wired and connected and hip – and he loved it – and now a lot of folks in Florida are going to discover they’ll have to pay for a weekend in Cannes that they never took, or they have a mortgage on a second house in Aspen they’ve never seen. Oops. Someone needs to explain this new century to Jeb.

As for Scott Walker, he’s still working on what he wants the rest of us to think of him:

In a speech short on policy and long on restraint, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker addressed Great Britain’s most prominent think tank Wednesday, avoiding questions on foreign affairs and evolution while emphasizing the “special relationship” between the two English-speaking countries.

The Republican governor sought to bolster his foreign policy credentials ahead of his likely presidential run even as he evaded question after question on international affairs. In his last response, Walker ducked a question and follow-up from his interviewer about whether he believed in evolution, saying politicians were better off steering clear of that issue.

“I’m going to punt on that one as well,” Walker said. “I’m here to talk about trade, not to pontificate about other things.”

The event’s moderator, Justin Webb of BBC Radio 4, responded by saying he believed any British politician would answer by readily accepting evolution.

That got to Walker, but he couldn’t fix that:

The governor later Wednesday issued a statement through his campaign that again avoided stating where he stands on the issue.

“Both science and my faith dictate my belief that we are created by God,” Walker’s statement said. “I believe faith and science are compatible, and go hand in hand.”

It was the same on other matters:

Taking international affairs questions from his audience, Walker largely avoided giving answers outside of his area of expertise by saying he subscribed to the “old-fashioned” approach of not criticizing the U.S. president or the host country while outside the United States.

“I just don’t think you talk about foreign policy while you’re on foreign soil,” Walker said, adding later, “I don’t think it’s wise to undermine your own president” in such situations.

That left Walker talking about his own record in the state Capitol and Wisconsin products including Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Colby cheese.

James D. Boys, a visiting fellow at King’s College, professor at Richmond College in London and specialist on American foreign policy, left Chatham House after the speech unimpressed.

“I know he’s your governor and I wouldn’t want to be rude, but he’s flown thousands of miles to talk about cheese,” Boys said later in a phone interview. “Nobody in that audience was there to hear about cheese or the Wisconsin economy. Full stop.”

This didn’t go well, but things can go badly over there:

Walker’s evolution dodge came a week after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another likely GOP presidential candidate, drew controversy during a visit to England by saying parents need to have choice on whether to vaccinate their children.

For his part, Walker criticized journalists during his Chatham House talk for focusing on Christie’s immunization comments and afterward tweeted that the media had opted to “politicize this issue (evolution) during our trade mission.”

If only it were that easy:

Walker attends Meadowbrook Church in Wauwatosa, a nondenominational church, which says on its website that its members believe that the Bible is “without error” and that “man was created in the image of God but fell into sin.”

Ronald Numbers, a UW-Madison emeritus professor who has studied the teaching of creationism, said that suggested a preference for that view of human development.

But he stressed that wasn’t enough to definitively identify the views on evolution for either Walker or his church. Calls to Walker’s church were not returned Wednesday.

So, do we want a president who thinks science is bunk, and God made everything long ago, as is? That may not be exactly what Walker thinks, be no one knows what he thinks, really. And presidents can’t punt.

Then, from David Fahrenthold in the Washington Post, there’s this background:

Scott Walker was gone. Dropped out. And in the spring of his senior year.

In 1990, that news stunned his friends at Marquette University. Walker, the campus’s suit-wearing, Reagan-loving politico – who enjoyed the place so much that he had run for student body president – had left without graduating.

To most of the Class of 1990 – and, later, to Wisconsin’s political establishment – Walker’s decision to quit college has been a lingering mystery.

Not even his friends at Marquette were entirely sure why he never finished.

He just left, but people do remember him:

Walker was known for something else: his political ambitions. If you met him, they were as plain as the photo of him with Ronald Reagan on his dorm-room desk.

“He would comment that, you know, ‘I’m going to be president of the United States someday,’ ” said Patrick Tepe, a former dorm mate who is now a dentist.

As a freshman, Walker was elected to the student senate. He plunged into the job, leading a hard-charging impeachment inquiry into charges of misspent money.

So far so good, but on the other hand:

In his classes, some professors said they never saw the same level of focus on schoolwork. In introductory French, for instance, Walker routinely barged into the room after the lesson had begun, loudly making excuses.

“He would talk to me, you know, say, ‘I’m very sorry, I had very important business'” with the student government, instructor Marc Boutet recalled. “I’m like, ‘En francais! En francais!'”

Boutet said the other students tired of the daily disruptions. They started preemptively stealing Walker’s favorite desk, so he had nowhere to sit when he arrived.

“I think I gave him a D-minus,” Boutet said, adding that he saw Walker years later, and the two laughed about the class. French, Boutet said, “was not his thing.”

He had other priorities, or he didn’t:

Even in politics class, Walker could appear disengaged.

“He seemed utterly bored,” said Michael Fleet, who taught him in a class on the politics of the Third World. Fleet said he’d hoped to get Walker into debates with the liberals in the room. But it didn’t work. Walker would only give occasional short speeches that made conservative arguments.

“It wasn’t always on key. It wasn’t always in response to anything,” Fleet said. “He wasn’t engaged. It was like he came in with a script.”

Campaigning, on the other hand, was something Walker seemed to enjoy. But he had trouble winning. As a freshman, for instance, he ran for a higher office in student government and was defeated by a write-in candidate.

“I remember walking out and thinking, ‘Oh, we’ll never have to worry about that guy again,’ ” said Glen Barry, who had helped organize the write-in campaign. He was one of the people Walker had investigated for impeachment, and he was still upset about how he’d been treated. “We used to call him ‘Niedermeyer,'” Barry said, after the power-mad ROTC leader in the movie “Animal House.”

Some things don’t change, and Jason McDaniel, an assistant professor of Political Science at San Francisco State, looks at where Walker is now:

Walker is well to the right end of the conservative spectrum, residing in the ideological neighborhood of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul… It is not a stretch to argue that if nominated, Walker would be the most conservative Republican nominee since Barry Goldwater in 1964…

In contrast, Jeb Bush’s ideological position closely resembles previous Republican nominees. Bush most closely resembles John McCain in 2008… In Scott Walker versus Jeb Bush, party elites and primary voters are presented with clearly contrasting visions of the future direction of the Republican Party… If the recent history of Republican nomination contests is any guide, the party is likely to decide that Scott Walker is too ideologically extreme to be the Republican nominee in 2016.

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum isn’t so sure of that:

Walker may be as conservative as, say, Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, but he doesn’t seem as conservative. He doesn’t have Cruz’s bombast and he doesn’t go around hinting that we should go back to the gold standard, like Rand Paul. In practice, that may put him closer to the center of the field than his actual positions warrant.

Still, McDaniel’s data is worth taking note of. If Walker remains hardnosed in his views, it may be hard to hide this from the voters. Eventually he’s going to say something that will cause the Jeb Bushes and Chris Christies to pounce, and that might expose him as too much of an ideologue to win the mainstream Republican vote. It all depends on how well he learns to dog whistle and tap dance at the same time. But then, that’s true of everyone running for president, isn’t it?

Of course that’s true, but there’s Mark Kirk’s warning. Don’t be a total asshole about things. Show that you’re ready to govern. That’s simple advice, but it’s harder than it seems.

Posted in Jeb Bush, Scott Walker | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trusted Voices Falling Silent

The sun will come out tomorrow – bet your bottom dollar – unless it doesn’t. It could be another rainy day, but the sun will come out eventually, and that simpleminded cloying song isn’t that stupid. In that irritatingly heartwarming musical Little Orphan Annie sings it to a despondent FDR, and a worried Eleanor, looking on, suddenly smiles. She’s charmed and awed at the wisdom of little children, who, alone, know that things will work out, one way or another. They know that despair is not wisdom. One must trust in… well, that’s not clear. Perhaps one must trust that things will simply work out, for no reason at all. Otherwise, one goes mad, or at least turns bitter and resentful and angry and generally unpleasant. The song is about what keeps us all sane – blind trust. That offers hope. Without hope we all might as well just shoot ourselves right now. Optimism, even when there’s no reason for optimism, isn’t stupid – it’s a survival mechanism that keeps us sane.

So, the New Deal will work out just fine, the Great Depression will end, and the Wall Street boys will be just fine with that new SEC and all the new financial regulations, and Republicans will come to love Social Security, and so on and so forth. Sure, but the Great Depression actually ended with Pearl Harbor and the subsequent massive deficit spending and mobilization of every possible American worker to create the American war machine that would decisively win a long worldwide conflict. That’s not in the musical, but one does not turn to Broadway for macroeconomic analysis, and Wall Street and the Republicans are still trying to undo everything FDR did.

Those are the real issues, but Annie’s little song wasn’t about that stuff. It was about trust, trust that things will work out. That’s posited as necessary. Unexamined trust is all we have to keep us alive. Your friends won’t lie to you. Your parents will always love you, and so will your dog and maybe your wife. Most everyone will obey the traffic rules and you can drive to and from work each day and not die. The government won’t lie to you, unless it’s for your own good, and what you see on the news each evening is what’s really going on – the important stuff conveniently ranked in descending order of importance, clearly explained – the basics, so you know what’s really going on in this overwhelming world.

Don’t bet your bottom dollar on that bit about the government. There was Iraq. In this vein, the Wall Street Journal published this Op-Ed by Laurence Silberman, the conservative federal judge who co-chaired the 2004 Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction – to get to the bottom of things. Silberman argues that George W. Bush did NOT “lie” to anyone:

Our WMD commission ultimately determined that the intelligence community was “dead wrong” about Saddam’s weapons. But as I recall, no one in Washington political circles offered significant disagreement with the intelligence community before the invasion. The National Intelligence Estimate was persuasive – to the president, to Congress and to the media.

Simon Maloy counters that:

It was just bad intelligence! Everyone was fooled! You can’t say Bush “lied” about Iraq pursuing WMDs or about the Saddam Hussein regime having ties to 9/11 because he was just echoing what the intelligence community said, which was wrong.

This is a line of argumentation that Bush administration officials and Iraq war boosters have been clinging to ever since it became clear that U.S. troops would found no mobile biological weapons labs and no Mutual Admiration Society correspondence between Saddam and Osama. “We were wrong just like everyone else” isn’t a particularly compelling argument, though I suppose that if you’re responsible for one of the modern era’s most significant foreign policy disasters, “shared incompetence” is a more appealing excuse than “willful deception.”

Maloy then goes on to discuss every “lie” in detail – the Bush administration carefully manufactured each of those dead-wrong “mistakes” for a desired end – as if it matters now. Silberman hates that sort of analysis of course, even now, because those were NOT lies, per se, and saying they were is dangerous – “I am reminded of a similarly baseless accusation that helped the Nazis come to power in Germany: that the German army had not really lost World War I, that the soldiers instead had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by politicians.”

Nazis! Say politicians lie and… Nazis! That is supposed to end the argument. One must trust politicians or all is lost.

That sort of thing is why people turned elsewhere, but not to the press. Silberman is right. The press, except for the McClatchy papers, and much the foreign press, didn’t look into what the Bush folks were saying. The Bush folks said it. They reported what they said. The bloggers were the ones who looked into things, most notably Andrew Sullivan.

Chris Taylor explains the Sullivan approach:

Sullivan himself, a British-American gay conservative pro-pot Catholic libertarian who supported Bush and the Iraq War, recanted, and tilted towards Obama. Nothing about his transition from one side to the other felt forced, and this was part of what was compelling about reading him every day, even if you didn’t agree with him – you knew he was basically intellectually honest, and willing to change his mind if and when new evidence came to light.

That meant that Sullivan was someone you could trust. Just as the sun will come out tomorrow, he was always there, examining the evidence, all of it, thinking things through, in post after post. He gained a massive following – you have to trust someone – and then, after more than thirteen years, he quit. Here’s his last post – he was burnt out – and here’s a survey of the reaction – he may have been the dominant intellectual influence on the issues of the day, each day. And now he’s gone. That sun will not come out tomorrow.

Ah well, there’s always the evening news, and a few specials. No one there thinks things through – there’s no money for the networks in that sort of thing – but you can still get the basics, or maybe not:

“NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams was suspended for six months without pay for exaggerating his role in a helicopter incident in Iraq, marking the first time a network news anchor has been stripped of his duties.

The disciplinary action Tuesday was a stunning fall from grace for Williams, who presided over America’s top-rated newscast for a decade and helped lead it to numerous Emmy and Peabody awards. The punishment follows his Feb. 4 on-air apology for falsely saying that a helicopter in which he was flying on a combat mission in 2003 had come under fire.

Like Bush, he lied about Iraq, but this was a different kind of lie:

The apology touched off a firestorm and was widely perceived as insufficient by a chorus of media critics and war veterans. NBC launched an internal investigation as Williams took a temporary leave of absence. By then, though, the damage to the anchor’s credibility proved too extensive to keep his job.

“Brian has jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News,” Steve Burke, president of NBCUniversal, said in a statement. “His actions are inexcusable and this suspension is severe and appropriate.” …

Specifically, NBC News President Deborah Turness confirmed in the memo that Williams “misrepresented events” from his original report from Iraq. He had also done the same while telling the story on talk shows and at other events, until Stars and Stripes reported that veterans involved in the incident disputed the anchor’s version.

She did not cite Williams’ remarks about his experience covering Hurricane Katrina, which helped win the anchor a Peabody Award. He described seeing a body floating through the French Quarter of New Orleans and fending off marauding gangs at the hotel where he stayed. Both accounts have been disputed by local news media and authorities.

Turness said the network still had “concerns about comments that occurred while Brian was talking about his experiences in the field.”

No one actually died in New Orleans? No, he just embellished a bit, so we get this:

The question now is what happens during the six months Williams is off the air.

One NBC News executive not authorized to discuss the matter publicly said it would be “a period of reflection” for Williams. His future beyond that will most likely be decided by viewers.

Or not:

The NBC News executive confirmed there were two distinct camps within the company on what needed to be done with Williams.

One group thought the network should cut its losses and let Williams go, saying his problems with the truth had damaged his reputation and the brand of NBC News. The other camp’s view was to try to allow him to redeem himself after a lengthy suspension.

The issue is embellishment, and the man from the Network of Embellishment rose to his defense:

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly came to the defense of embattled NBC newsman Brian Williams Monday night.

“There are a lot of people that seem to be real happy that his career’s going down the drain,” O’Reilly said Monday during an appearance on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” …

“Look, every public person in this country is a target,” O’Reilly said. “And with the internet – and you know what it is, it’s a sewer – and these people delight in seeing famous people being taken apart. And I just think it’s wrong. I mean, we’re human beings just like everybody else.”

Perhaps O’Reilly had Andrew Sullivan in mind. Sullivan fact-checked O’Reilly all they time, and Sullivan was merciless. O’Reilly had his facts wrong most of the time and would never admit it. His defense of Williams was no surprise. O’Reilly may be the one in the sewer, but Fox News is Fox News.

Kathleen Parker is more thoughtful:

Williams told stories that, among other things, misrepresented his proximity to danger or death. Some have called his reportage “humble-bragging,” trying to enhance his reputation by focusing on supposed duress.

Others saw Williams’s false reports as outright lies for self-aggrandizement, while still others conceded that sometimes stories change in the retelling. Over time, don’t we all conflate incidents and mess up details to some degree?

Some mixture of all this may have been at play in Williams’s case, though one persistent thought nags like a rude kid yanking on your coat sleeve: “Hey, lady, that guy’s a 10-million-buck newsman; he ain’t supposed to get the facts mixed up!”

It’s not that easy:

The first misremembrance, for which Williams apologized last week, pertains to a 2003 incident in Iraq. Williams said that the Army Chinook he was riding in was forced down by a rocket-propelled grenade – except that his helicopter wasn’t the one that was hit.

Then in 2006, while covering the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, Williams initially reported on MSNBC that he was flying at about 1,500 feet and could see two rockets launched from about six miles away.

A month later, the story changed when he told Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart that rockets passed 1,500 feet below his helicopter. Then in 2007, he told an audience at Fairfield University that the rockets sailed just beneath him.

These are conflicting statements, to be sure, but were they malicious or intentionally misleading? Or, are they just stories that get better in the retelling, as humans tend to do? Our recollection of traumatic events is often flawed in some part because fear alters the brain and memory. Whether one is hit or not, surely the terror of flying where rockets are near can magnify and distort events.

This is not to make excuses for Williams but to put into perspective this particular chapter. He wasn’t officially reporting in subsequent renditions but was entertaining an audience with war stories. Is an anchor always an anchor, or does Brian Williams get to be just Brian on occasion?

Perhaps Brian Williams gets to be just Brian in his spare time, his personal time, but news anchors don’t have that any longer. They’re “personalities” the networks market in other venues and on other platforms, to maximize return on the ten-million-dollar investment. This was a train wreck waiting to happen, but it does remove another trusted voice.

And then there were three:

Jon Stewart, who turned Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” into a sharp-edged commentary on current events, delivering the news in layers of silliness and mockery, said on Tuesday that he would step down after more than 16 years as its anchor.

Mr. Stewart, whose contract with Comedy Central ends in September, disclosed his plans during a taping of the program on Tuesday. Saying that “in my heart, I know it is time for someone else” to have the opportunity he had, Mr. Stewart told his audience that he was still working out the details of his departure, which “might be December, might be July.”

“I don’t have any specific plans,” Mr. Stewart said, addressing the camera at the end of his show, at times seeming close to tears. “Got a lot of ideas… I got a lot of things in my head. I’m going to have dinner on a school night with my family, who I have heard from multiple sources are lovely people.”

“I’m not going anywhere tomorrow,” Mr. Stewart added, “but this show doesn’t deserve an even slightly restless host, and neither do you.”

Like Sullivan, he was burnt out and restless, and like Sullivan, he was trusted:

In becoming the nation’s satirist in chief, Mr. Stewart imbued the program with a personal sense of justice, even indignation. For a segment of the audience that had lost its faith in broadcast and print news outlets or never regarded them as sacrosanct in the first place, Mr. Stewart emerged a figure as trusted as Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow.

There’s no survey data to confirm that – perhaps none is possible. That doesn’t make it any less true, and he was at it to the end:

As recently as Monday night on the show, Mr. Stewart had been taking aim at the recent scandal that has engulfed the NBC news anchor Brian Williams, a frequent “Daily Show” guest who on Tuesday was suspended without pay for six months. Mr. Stewart cast him as a journalist with a propensity for personal exaggeration and commented on the failure of the news media to thoroughly question the underpinnings of the Iraq War.

Speaking of Mr. Williams, Mr. Stewart said, “See, I see the problem. We got us a case here of infotainment confusion syndrome.”

Noting the widespread media coverage of Mr. Williams’s woes, Mr. Stewart wryly added, “Finally someone is being held to account for misleading America about the Iraq War.”

Who is going to say that sort of thing on national television now? Frazier Moore wonders about that:

Stewart didn’t invent satire, but he modernized it and tailored it for an information age ruled by TV and the internet. In compact “Daily Show” segments, he struck a blow against the flabby boundlessness of cable-news and talk-network fare.

No wonder political leaders, authors, scholars and others with useful things to say flocked to his show right along with celebrities who came to pitch their latest projects. Stewart, playing his designated role as court jester, goaded them with humor to get them to say what they meant in ways “serious” interviewers can’t or won’t. In the process, he usually displayed them to their best advantage.

And on those rare occasions when the news was too awful to abide the usual sassiness and Stewart’s passion burned through, viewers knew to take special note. On “The Daily Show,” unlike so many “real” news dispensers, everything that happens ISN’T “Breaking News.”

Now what? At least he had a farm system:

As the lead phony anchor, Stewart stewarded a star system of supporting fake journalists. These included John Oliver, who last year launched HBO’s investigative-comedy half-hour, “Last Week Tonight,” and Larry Wilmore, who recently bowed in the post-Stewart slot with his as-yet-unproven “Nightly Show.”

But Stewart’s greatest protégé is Stephen Colbert, whose “Colbert Report” was a masterful masquerade presided over by a willful nincompoop. The culture is much the poorer for Colbert’s jump to CBS to host the slot vacated by David Letterman in what will likely be a conventional talk show.

Fine, but that doesn’t help:

And, now, fans have been hit with the second of a double whammy that no one let themselves see coming.

The timing of Stewart’s departure could hardly be worse from the viewer’s perspective, with the 2016 presidential campaign gearing up. In recent cycles, Stewart had made himself as much a part of the electoral process as ballot-counting disputes.

For that and many other reasons, it’s hard to fathom the scope of the void he will leave. As a champion of enlightened phoniness in TV journalism, Stewart has proven himself to be one-of-a-kind, a fake who’s unrivalled as the real deal.

Will Leitch puts that this way:

Stewart’s genius turned the mix of comedy and politics into a sort of rationalist warfare. He took the audience’s frustrations and fury with the whole process and gave it a voice. Colbert pointed out how ridiculous this all was, but that wasn’t Stewart’s bag; he wanted you to know how much of an asshole everyone was. He was far more moral, far more outraged. He took himself more seriously than most comedians, which was often his Achilles’ heel. (His first show after 9/11, unlike Letterman’s, is difficult to sit through now; you want him to take some deep breaths, remember he’s on TV and just chill for a second.) But that self-righteousness gave his show an undeniable momentum – and power.

This was why Stewart’s show was never better than during the Bush years, when Stewart’s self-seriousness was most desperately needed, not as a “liberal” matter but one of simple public discourse. While we watched idly as a group of men remade the planet without really asking us, Stewart began to scream. Stewart was one of the first skeptics of the Iraq war, of President Bush, of Donald Rumsfeld’s press conferences, all of it, and as you saw him have more and more material handed to him each night, you slowly began to realize: Oh shit they don’t know what they’re doing, do they? What Stewart was doing wasn’t satire: It was the simply calling of bullshit, every night, when no one else was doing so, when the country was pleading for it. It was brilliant, and it was transcendent.

Your friends won’t lie to you. It’s like that. There are some voices you can trust, implicitly. That keeps us sane. And when they go silent everything goes dark. You can sense it. The sun won’t come out tomorrow, unless, in this case, NBC hires Jon Stewart to replace Brian Williams. But don’t bet your bottom dollar on that. And stop humming that tune.

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