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Hullabaloo


Friday, August 22, 2014

 
If tasers aren't for use in place of deadly force what are they for?

by digby

I've written a couple of things about tasers this week, one on Salon in which I questioned their use as torture devices for cops' convenience and one here where I explained why I don't think they should be banned. I explained that while they are often misused, if they were deployed only in situations where lethal force would be the only other option, they would be a very useful tool in the toolbox. I raised the Powell killing in St. Louis as an example of how they should be used.

Well, I think I'm changing my mind.  From what I gather on the internet, a lot of police and other experts believe that tasers cannot be used in situations where a citizen is wielding a knife or other weapon other than a gun because there is no guarantee that a taser will stop them. Therefore, the protocol is to use deadly force in any situation where they feel threatened. The St. Louis police chief was quoted on CNN saying "Tasers aren't 100%. That's what guns are for."

And that means the only use for tasers is to force compliance of unarmed citizens with the use of 50,000 volts of electricity --- which is torture. Like this:

In police reports and in the document charging Hulett, the officers said they told Hulett he was under arrest on the bus before hitting him with the Taser. But in a video of the incident, no such statement can be heard.

Schiano said he reviewed all the available evidence, including the bus video, but found nothing to corroborate the officers' statements that they told Hulett before tasering him that he was under arrest.

"I listened closely and I didn't hear it," [District Attorney]Schiano said outside the courtroom. "I can't speak for them. That's for them to answer." 
Hulett was charged with disorderly conduct by intending to cause annoyance and alarm by obstructing vehicular traffic.

"He wasn't obstructing any traffic," Schiano said. "He was on the bus. As I see the video, he was just trying to go home or wherever he was trying to go."

And if there was no disorderly conduct, there was no reason to arrest him, Schiano said. So the resisting arrest charge was also improper, he said.

The video, taken from a security camera above the driver's seat, shows the officers lifting Hulett's shirt then hitting him with the Taser after warning him that it's coming.

Hulett then falls as the officers, Sgt. William Galvin Jr. and Officer William Coleman, move him off the bus. They drag Hulett away from the bus and one of the officers stands over him as Hulett lies on the pavement.

Hulett, who says a back condition makes it difficult to sit while riding a bus, suffered a broken hip in the incident, according to hospital records. 
"You want it again?" the officer yells repeatedly at Hulett in the video.

Galvin then grabs Hulett's right foot and drags him about 10 feet along the pavement. 
Hulett, 35, suffered a broken left hip in the incident, according to medical records from Upstate Medical University.

In his news release today, Fitzpatrick said he was concerned about the timing of a use of force report filed by the police department. It was dated Aug. 1, three months after the incident and just hours after a story about the case was published in The Post-Standard and on Syracuse.com.

That report said the officers were justified in the force they used.
or this:

McFarland hurt himself June 30, 2009, in a fall at his Woodacre home. His wife called 911, but when paramedics arrived, McFarland refused to be taken to a hospital and signed forms declining medical assistance.

Sheriff's Deputies Justin Zebb and Erin Mittenthal arrived at the home shortly thereafter "without consent and without a warrant," said McFarland's suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Deputies are automatically dispatched to most medical calls.

County officials said McFarland made a comment to the deputies about shooting himself. His attorneys have said an embarrassed McFarland was joking about his fall.

After McFarland ordered the deputies to "get out of (the) house," Zebb pulled out his Taser and told McFarland to come with him to the hospital, the suit said.

When McFarland got up from his sofa, the deputy shocked him several times.

Marin County paid that man over a million dollars in damages. Most people, however, don't have these altercations filmed and even if they do cops are usually found to be justified. This man had the means to get a good lawyer.

The only good reason for cops to have tasers is to use them in place of lethal force. If the only legitimate use for these weapons is to torture citizens into compliance then they need to be banned.



Update:  For a thorough rundown of everything done wrong in the Powell shooting this piece gets to it all. Yes, they could have tasered him.
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What are they going to do now?

by digby

Some news on the Hobby Lobby front:
A "proposed rule" by the Department of Health and Human Services lets female employees of for-profit businesses, like Hobby Lobby, obtain birth control directly from their insurer, at no extra cost, if their boss opts out of covering the service in the company's insurance plan for religious reasons.
[...]
In the same announcement, HHS will also unveil an interim rule tweaking the nonprofit accommodation, in an effort to put an end to a separate lawsuit against it. Instead of informing the insurer or third-party administrator directly, the new rule says, an objecting employer will have to notify the government, which will inform the insurer.

The existing rule requires objecting employers to directly inform their insurer, at which point the insurer must pay for it. Some entities, like Wheaton College, sued and said that also violates their religious belief because it amounts to a "permission slip" for contraception. The theory is that under the new rule, it'll be the government that triggers the provision of birth control, not the employer.
It is inane that they have to do this at all since these employers aren't actually paying for birth control and it's none of their goddamn business if their employees use it but there it is.

I wonder how they're going to react now. Because we know that this isn't really about them violating their conscience don't we? It's about preventing women from getting birth control. I'm sure they have something else up their sleeves ...


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Making whistleblowers necessary

by digby

David Sirota at Salon reports on a number of developments in the government's repression of the press and the public right to know:
As states move to hide details of government deals with Wall Street, and as politicians come up with new arguments to defend secrecy, a study released earlier this month revealed that many government information officers block specific journalists they don’t like from accessing information. The news comes as 47 federal inspectors general sent a letter to lawmakers criticizing “serious limitations on access to records” that they say have “impeded” their oversight work.

The data about public information officers was compiled over the past few years by Kennesaw State University professor Dr. Carolyn Carlson. Her surveys found that 4 in 10 public information officers say “there are specific reporters they will not allow their staff to talk to due to problems with their stories in the past.”

“That horrified us that so many would do that,” Carlson told the Columbia Journalism Review, which reported on her presentation at the July conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

Carlson has conducted surveys of journalists and public information officers since 2012. In her most recent survey of 445 working journalists, four out of five reported that “their interviews must be approved” by government information officers, and “more than half of the reporters said they had actually been prohibited from interviewing [government] employees at least some of the time by public information officers.”

In recent years, there have been signs that the federal government is reducing the flow of public information. Reason Magazine has reported a 114 percent increase in Freedom of Information Act rejections by the Drug Enforcement Agency since President Obama took office. The National Security Agency has also issued blanket rejections of FOIA requests about its metadata program. And the Associated Press reported earlier this year that in 2013, “the government cited national security to withhold information a record 8,496 times — a 57 percent increase over a year earlier and more than double Obama’s first year.”
There's more at the link. Obsessive government secrecy ends up making whistleblowing necessary way beyond the prosaic revelations of corruption and malfeasance. You simply can't have a functioning democracy if the people doesn't know what the government is doing. I get that they might think they are "protecting" us but that's patronizing at best and just plain dishonest at worst.

Something's gone wrong these past few years and it doesn't seem as if either party has any real interest in transparency. And the Democrats are arguably worse because they pretend to care about it and then crack down with the same fervor as Bush and Cheney. If all this is being done to "protect" us we have a right to know specifically what it is we're being protected from. They're infantalizing us by keeping it from us. Unfortunately, it's far more likely they are using the excuse of "protecting" us to expand their power as bureaucracies (and human beings) are wont to do when they have the chance. And that's very dangerous.


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Austerity is giving Europe one of its greatest economic crises in history

by David Atkins

Matt O'Brien at the Wapo's Wonk Blog puts out this sobering graph and commentary:



As I was arguing last week, it's time to call the eurozone what it really is: one of the biggest catastrophes in economic history.

There have been plenty of those lately. And it's not just the Great Recession. It's the way we've struggled to make up the ground we lost since. The United States, for one, has had its slowest postwar recovery. Britain has had its slowest one, period. But, six and a half years later, Europe has distinguished itself by not having much of a recovery at all. And, as you can see above, that's about to make it worse than the worst of the 1930s.

...

It's a policy-induced disaster. Too much fiscal austerity and too little monetary stimulus have crippled growth like almost never before. Europe is doing worse than Japan during its "lost decade," worse than the sterling bloc during the Great Depression, and barely better than the gold bloc then—though even that silver lining isn't much of one. That's because, at this rate, it'll only be another year until the eurozone is well behind the gold bloc, too.

So how is Europe making the Great Depression look like the good old days of growth? Easy: by ignoring everything we learned from it.

Back then, there were two types of countries: ones that had left the gold standard, and ones that were about to. But that "about to" could take awhile. That's because governments were sentimentally attached to gold, even though, as Barry Eichengreen has shown, giving it up led to recovery. They simply equated the gold standard with civilization, so they were willing to sacrifice their economies for it. And sacrifice them they did. Although there were limits in extremis.
O'Brien goes on to compare the Euro itself and the fight by Eurozone countries to defend it as comparable to the gold standard. I think he's right to an extent, at least in terms of how the Euro has been constructed without the flexibility to allow Eurozone countries to spend themselves out of an economic crisis.

The idea of a single currency uniting European nations has a lot going for it. I'm no economist and thus not equipped to suggest a path forward, but there has to be a way to promote trade, travel and solidarity in Europe without denying Eurozone nations at varying stages of economic development the flexibility to do what is necessary to grow their economies.

I also suspect that the austerity mania has more to do with the elites' social and economic philosophy than it does with defense of the Euro per se. The Euro simply gives rich people with a perverse sense of cosmic justice the excuse to tell the plebs how much belt-tightening they need to do, under the excuse that the unified currency will collapse if they don't. Something tells me that the IMF would likely be doing the same thing to Greeks using the drachma that Germany is doing to Greeks using the Euro.

So yes, the Euro has its problems. But the mentality that leads to austerity economics and the abandonment of everything we learned since the Great Depression is by far the bigger problem.


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Thursday, August 21, 2014

 
"The Real America is with you!"

by digby

Via Mother Jones, here is a sampling of the thinking among donors to Officer Darren Wilson's support fund:




I can't wait for this summer to be over ...
 
Another "qualified" player on the GOP's deep bench

by digby


Would you hire this man?

Adam Laxalt was described by his firm's evaluation committee as "a train wreck" who "doesn't even have the basic skill set," according to a review of his performance two years ago.

The assessment by the Lewis & Roca Associate Evaluation and Compensation Committee (AECC) suggested that Laxalt attend seminars to "address basic legal principles" because of his "horrible reviews" and because he "has judgment issues and doesn't seem to understand what to do."

The recommendation: A "freeze in salary, deferral, and possible termination."

The summary of the findings, which I have obtained, authenticated and posted below, is incredibly scathing and derogatory. The conclusion: "You need to work on the quality of your work. You need to work on your legal writing skills."

Other than that....

Soon after this assessment by the firm, Laxalt was made "of counsel," a position that allowed him the luxury of not being evaluated. Not only was Laxalt known inside the firm to be pursuing a political career, but the evaluation also chided him for linking to "political articles" on the firm's website, a likely reference to his anti-gay-marriage screeds.

Laxalt's brutal evaluation also was markedly dissonant from his self-assessment, in which he described himself as exceeding expectations and "outstanding" in his performance. That lack of self-awareness was also noted by the evaluation committee.

Ok. So he's a lousy lawyer with a very inflated, somewhat delusional, ego. Why should anyone care about this?

He's running for Attorney General of Nevada.

You cannot make this stuff up:

Dick Cheney calls him “courageous” and says electing him “is of the highest priority.

John Bolton traveled across the country to headline a fundraiser for him. Newt Gingrich, Frank Fahrenkopf, Tom Ridge and Ed Meese (remember him?) all appeared at the same D.C. event to celebrate his candidacy. Donald Rumsfeld gave him a personal check for $5,000, part of a half-million-dollar haul.

Who is this remarkable contender attracting such a list of national GOP luminaries? What remarkably accomplished figure could warrant such attention? Who can command encomia from a former vice president, attorney general, defense secretary, House speaker, chairman of the Republican National Committee and Homeland Security secretary?

Adam Laxalt, that’s who.

Who?

Laxalt is only 34, has never run for office before and is campaigning for attorney general—attorney general!—in Nevada, where he has been a cipher until just recently and whose last name explains … everything. That’s because Laxalt has one of the most unusual pedigrees in American politics: He’s the grandson of Paul Laxalt, the former senator and Ronald Reagan confidant once known as “the first friend”—still, at 91, casting a long if not always visible shadow in Nevada politics. Awkwardly, young Laxalt is also the illegitimate son of Sen. Pete Domenici, his grandfather’s longtime Senate colleague. In fact, it was only last year that Adam Laxalt’s mother Michelle, a 24-year-old Reagan operative at the time of the affair and now a well-known Washington lobbyist, revealed her son’s parentage for the first time, a sensational revelation that almost certainly had the effect of clearing the way for his political career.
Of course it did. He's GOP royalty.

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About that Tea Party alliance

by digby

This, from Tea Party Nation:

The real outrage here should be that groups are going through Ferguson and looting. Brown’s death is simply an excuse for some people to go and get “free stuff.”

Michael Brown is dead because he fought the law and the law won. Had Michael Brown decided not to fight the police, he would be alive today.

Michael Brown’s death is no excuse for rioting and looting. But then again, those on the left want to encourage this.

Michael Brown's mistake was in not being a white guy in a cowboy hat.

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The cupcake wars

by digby

George Will:

Contempt for government cannot be hermetically sealed; it seeps into everything. Which is why cupcake regulations have foreign policy consequences.
Yes, he said that.

His point is that people mistrust government because of silly regulations and therefore they mistrust it to make foreign policy decisions too. And from my perspective, if that's what it takes to mistrust the government's foreign policy then so be it. They should mistrust the government's foreign policy and question the hell out of it.

To be fair, Will takes the right and the left to task for this by pointing out the bloodthirsty border politics of the right wing as an example of government overreach although he then throws a little red meat to the wingers by implying that Joe Biden and Harry Reid are the leaders of a nanny state movement emanating from Washington when the militarization of police he decries throughout the piece is energetically backed by the right wing warhawks and law and order Republicans. And he also fails to address the fact that Republicans are acting batshit crazy which almost certainly has an effect on the public's faith in government. Watching these clowns on TV doesn't exactly inspire a lot of confidence. (But then George Will appears on FOX news every day so he's an accomplice to the crime.)

The funny thing is that the silliest of these "nanny state" laws Will holds responsible for the mistrust in government come from the vaunted local governments so revered by conservatives as the most legitimate form of democratic representation. It turns out they can be very petty bureaucrats too. How odd. Why one might just think that it's not really a problem with government, big or small, but with flawed human beings, an insoluble problem that can only be mitigated by education and social/cultural influence, a much harder task and one that's ongoing. Devolving to the local governments will hardly make things better. It's likely to make it much worse for a whole lot of people. Think Salem and witches.
 
This is what tasers are good for

by digby

I've written many, many posts about the dangers of tasers being used as a torture device to obtain instant compliance as a convenience for the police. (I just wrote one today for Salon.) But I have been reluctant to call for the total banning of tasers for one reason: if they are used as they were designed to be used, that is, in place of bullets in cases where officers might otherwise use lethal force, they would be an extremely useful tool in the law enforcement toolbox. Unfortunately, they are far more often used simply as a "clean" way to inflict pain on subjects who are arguing or ignoring police orders. That is not a life and death situation and impatient cops casually using electro-shock, usually within no more than a few seconds, is an authoritarian control mechanism not a life-saving alternative to deadly force.

This is what tasers are supposed to be used for:

We may never really know what happened in the three minutes between when Michael Brown was stopped for jaywalking and when he was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson.

But we do know what happened on Tuesday during the 23 seconds between when St. Louis police arrived and when 25-year-old Kajieme Powell was shot and killed on Riverview Blvd. We know because police released the video. Powell walks around the sidewalk and a small grass embankment. He ignores police warnings to drop his knife. He advances on police at a normal speed, his arms swinging at his sides. And he is shot nine times, including while on the ground.

I forced myself to watch it even though it makes me sick. And this situation was an excellent example of where police could have used the taser gun instead of a real gun. He was close enough to hit easily and he had a knife which would have required him to be a lot closer to the police to inflict harm on them. That is a situation in which it makes sense to use a taser.

It's harder to say in the Michael Brown case because the accounts we've heard indicate that the stop was for something very minor from which the officer could have just moved on instead of escalating it. Common sense says that the confrontation should have never happened at all. But even if it had been a reasonable confrontation and Brown went for the weapon, the fact that he had walked away and was unarmed argues for the use of the taser over the gun.

Tasers should be a very useful tool. But until police agencies start putting them in the same category as a deadly weapon (which they can be) and train officers to use them only in cases where they would otherwise feel obliged to use a gun, tasers are going to be used as torture devices rather than replacements for the use of guns in self-defense.

With the proper training police wouldn't be torturing and killing citizens with tasers. But they could have been used in the Powell case for sure and probably in the Brown case and two young men would be alive today. It's not the tools that are the problem. It's the way they're used.


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"Just do what I tell you..."

by digby

My piece in Salon today is about this un-American idea that you are required to instantly comply with a police officer's orders lest you get shot, electrocuted, pepper sprayed or beaten:
Earlier this week, an LAPD police officer (and current professor of “Homeland Security,” whatever that means) by the name of Sunil Dutta wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he offered this piece of advice to members of the public when dealing with police officers: 
"[I]f you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you."
Later he suggested that one needn’t submit to illegal searches or stops and said that citizens are allowed to refuse to consent to a search of your car or home if there’s no warrant. He also says that an officer must let you go if there’s no legal basis to stop and search you. How that’s supposed to work is a little bit obscure. After all, that would easily be seen as arguing and telling him that he can’t stop you — and then he will feel free to tase you, pepper spray you, shoot you or beat you.
I go on to discuss this notion that you cannot argue with police and how that's been particularly impacted by the taser.

From my twitter timeline, I get the impression this really upsets the right wingers. I wonder how many of them defended the Bundy protesters against the tasering they received?

I know I did.

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A Village full of Very Serious People

by digby

Where being wrong means never having to say you're sorry --- or give up your lucrative job:




If the name doesn’t ring a bell, maybe you know his work. He’s the Republican pollster who predicted just weeks before the June election that then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) would win his primary by 34 points. This week, Cantor packed up his Capitol Hill office, having lost that election by 10 points.

“The worst part of it is, you build a relationship with a longtime friend and you never want to lose,” McLaughlin says now, noting that he has not seen Cantor — a client for almost 15 years — since before that fateful night. “That’s a loss that you never get over.”

That might be especially true if you were a young Republican congressman climbing the ranks of leadership, as Cantor was. For McLaughlin, the anguish may be real, the embarrassment may keep him up at night, but his employment status? That hasn’t changed.

“We got attacked right after it,” he says, adding that he didn’t lose any of his current clients running in the 2014 cycle. “There was a feeding frenzy of people calling up all our clients asking if they would continue to use us. But they stuck by us."

He's just a pollster. But the same holds true if you are an economist, policy analyst, military tactician or top political strategist. They take care of each other. Which is nice. For them.


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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

 
Lyin' Ryan

by digby

He just can't help himself:

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday praised welfare reform for reducing child poverty, even though child poverty is higher today than it was before welfare reform. Speaking to former GOP congressman and current MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, Ryan said, "You voted for a bipartisan bill in 1996, welfare reform, that did more to reduce child poverty than any reform in the modern era."

The child poverty rate in 1996 was 20.5 percent, according to the government's numbers. The rate declined each year after Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act until 2000, when it fell to 16.2 percent. But then something sad happened: The rate started going back up. It reached 21.8 percent in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available.

What happened was that an epic tech bubble that had everyone working burst. Welfare reform was a failure. But the Jack Kemp Travelling Tribute show isn't going to admit that.


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"They return just to die"

by digby

Good God this is awful:
By the time Isaias Sosa turned 14, he'd already seen 15 bullet-riddled bodies laid out in his neighborhood of Cabañas, one of the most violent in this tropical metropolis. He rarely ventured outside his grandmother's home, fortified with a wrought iron gate and concertina wire.

But what pushed him to act was the death of his pregnant cousin, who was gunned down in 2012 by street gang members at the neighborhood gym. Sosa loaded a backpack, pocketed $500 from his mother's purse, memorized his aunt's phone number in Washington state and headed for southern Mexico, where he joined others riding north on top of one of the freight trains known as La Bestia, or the Beast.

Crossing the Rio Grande into Texas, Sosa was apprehended almost immediately by Border Patrol agents as he desperately searched for water.

After a second unsuccessful attempt to enter the U.S. last fall, he now spends most of his days cooped up at home, dreaming of returning yet again.

"Everywhere here is dangerous," he said. "There is no security. They kill people all the time."

"It's a sin to be young in Honduras."

Like thousands of other undocumented Honduran children deported after having journeyed unaccompanied to the U.S., Sosa faces perilous conditions in the violent neighborhood from which he sought to escape.


"There are many youngsters who only three days after they've been deported are killed, shot by a firearm," said Hector Hernandez, who runs the morgue in San Pedro Sula. "They return just to die."

At least five, perhaps as many as 10, of the 42 children slain here since February had been recently deported from the U.S., Hernandez said.

I wish I could understand how people could send these kids back to that hell. It's just beyond.


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Conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed Part XXIV

by digby

Steve Kornacki:
The Tea Party, properly understood, is a term that describes the heart of the modern Republican base – people with similar cultural anxieties and economic grievances and the same deep distrust of Washington and hostility toward entrenched power.

And since 2009 their political energy has been directed both at fighting President Obama and at waging a purity campaign within the Republican Party. That intra-party aspect stems from the Tea Party’s understanding of how what to them is the most traumatic political development in the recent past – Obama’s election in 2008 – came about. For this, they blame George W. Bush and the Republicans who stood with him last decade as he enacted his “compassionate conservative” agenda. To the Tea Party, a direct line can be drawn from Bush’s fiscal profligacy and expansion of government (new prescription drug entitlement, expanded federal role in education, a brand-new Cabinet-level department) to the collapse of the economy and the rise of an anti-Republican mood that lifted Obama to victory in ’08 and handed him massive congressional majorities.

This reading of history is absolutely critical to understanding the Tea Party mind-set. It is driven by a belief that Bush and the GOP establishment betrayed conservative principles and gave Americans the wrong idea of what conservatism is – and that Americans therefore ended up falling prey to the false promises of Obama and the left.

All true and his greater point that the far right is as powerful in the GOP as ever is also true. But just for clarity's sake, it must be noted however that this same faction was very happy with George W. Bush for a long time:
Gallup Poll December 2008

George W. Bush remains popular among conservative Republicans (72% approve of him) despite his low overall approval rating. Meanwhile, moderate and liberal Republicans are as likely to disapprove as to approve of the job he is doing, and Democrats of all political orientations hold Bush in low regard.


As Bush serves his final weeks in office, he does so with the support of a small minority of Americans. Conservative Republicans essentially stand alone in their solid support of Bush. However, over the years, Bush has lost a significant number of supporters even among this core group, which formerly supported him at better than 90%. 

I'm going to guess that most of the Tea Party was among them at the time.  In retrospect they surely hate him. He was a Big Government conservative and they are embarrassed they used to worship him. But worship him they did:



President Bush is a Leader who has the courage to lead. It is political courage. It is not poll driven it is conviction driven. It is consistent and does not change because of pressure or threats of political survival. It is reconfirmed every day. It differs from combat courage in that it is thought oriented not reaction oriented. Combat courage does not necessarily translate into political courage. Combat courage is admirable and you only know if you have it when you are in combat. President Bush has demonstrated that he has political courage and this is why he was re-elected. By owning a bust of President Bush, Commander in Chief you will be making a statement and in a politically charged environment, it takes courage.





 
That "libertarian moment"

by digby


I wrote a piece yesterday about the exciting new coalition between the libertarians and the liberals coming out of Ferguson. I'm skeptical about this turning into a beautiful friendship, as you might imagine. But that doesn't mean it isn't useful. The difference is in recognizing the difference between legislative and voting coalitions:

[D]espite [Gun Owners of America's Larry] Pratt’s odious views, it is still useful to have him in a legislative coalition on the issue of police militarization. It’s impossible to cobble together enough votes for this sort of congressional initiative without a bipartisan coalition. (Even then, it’s usually impossible.) And just because the GOA's reasoning is repulsive doesn’t mean Johnson’s bill isn’t reasonable legislation on its own terms. In any case, the demilitarization of police is completely meaningless to the pursuit of Pratt's goals since they are based on fantasy. But the ACLU’s concerns will be addressed.

The fact is that defending civil liberties almost always requires strange bedfellows for the simple reason that it rests on the principle that they must protect everyone, even people who say and do things you do not like. Especially people who say and do things you do not like. It does not mean there is a meaningful alliance on goals or a meeting of the minds beyond the basic rules of the road, which require us to respect each other’s freedom. There is no hope for an ideological alignment that “breaks the two party system ” and liberals will not be singing the same tune as Larry Pratt and his gun-toting extremists any time soon.

When it comes to civil liberties it’s often the case that civil libertarians of the left will find themselves holding hands with the far right (as well as their noses) to ensure that the Bill of Rights is kept safe for both of them. And then they’ll go back to fighting each other with everything they have. It’s not a perfect system but it’s all we’ve got.

And here's Roy Edroso on the "libertarian moment" in the wake of Ferguson. He uses Jonah Goldberg's momentary genuflect to libertarian principles to illustrate the ephemeral nature of the phenomenon:

Mostly it's a fist-shaking fart-cloud about stupid liberals and black people who are always rioting for reasons he can't understand. It might have been written after an Abner Louima demonstration, that how old-school this joint is -- Goldberg even namechecks the Nation of Islam, and the column is illustrated with a photo of Al Sharpton! But you don't get to be a top Professor of Liberal Fasciology by ignoring what the new breed is up to, and in his summation Goldberg makes room for the trope du jour:
Nearly everything about this story is ugly: the gleeful ideological and bureaucratic point-scoring, the spectacle of a militarized police force and bunkered police leadership, the self-congratulatory advocacy journalism, the Molotov cocktails and despondent victims of looting, the feeding frenzy of Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and countless lesser activist remoras, and — perhaps most of all — the constant soul-corrupting rationalizations of lawlessness that come with seeing the right “context.” (Context! Is there nothing it can’t do?)

See? He got the militarized police in there, nestled among the usual bullshit, so you New Age types can enjoy your racism and authoritarianism with a clear conscience.

He forgot to use the term "race hustler" though, so he loses at least a couple of points ...

I might also mention this piece from Cliff Schecter on the shocking disappearance of the NRA in a situation that you would think they'd be all over, screaming about jack-booted thugs and 2nd Amendment remedies and the like. He reminds us of a recent speech by Wayne LaPierre that may shed light on why that might be:

We don't trust government, because government itself has proven unworthy of our trust. We trust ourselves and we trust what we know in our hearts to be right. We trust our freedom. In this uncertain world, surrounded by lies and corruption everywhere you look, there is no greater freedom than the right to survive and protect our families with all the rifles, shotguns, and handguns we want. We know in the world that surrounds us there are terrorists and there are home invaders, drug cartels, carjackers, knockout gamers, and rapers, and haters, and campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse our society that sustains us all.

(Boo!)

I think it's fairly clear there that while they may not care for the government thugs it's because they haven't cracked down hard enough on the "you-know-whos" not that they've been too rough. This is the reality which requires God-fearing Real Americans to arm themselves. In fact, they see themselves as cops themselves, only savvy and smart and unencumbered by all this due process bs. Like George Zimmerman.

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"Strategic Insight"

by digby

If you want to know what they really think:



The Center for Strategic & International Studies provides strategic insights & bipartisan foreign policy solutions to help chart a course toward a better world.
 
When the general population is the enemy

by digby

My Salon post today is about all the really exciting new "crowd control" weapons the Military Industrial Complex is preparing to deploy on the streets of America --- and the world.
The Department of Defense touts the use of these weapons as battlefield devices, but considering the huge market for military gear among police forces, it’s fairly obvious that they have been developed for domestic use as well. You can watch a demonstration of the device here. You’ll note the demo opens with the question: “What if you could drop everyone in a given area to the ground with the push of a button?” (They leave out the part where they are all screaming and writhing in terrible pain …)

And then there’s Taser’s new shotgun style taser called the XREP (for Extended Range External Projectile).It has the advantage of being able to be shot from a real gun and it delivers 20 long excruciating seconds of unbearable pain as opposed to the wimpy 5 seconds of the regular taser — which kills people with regularity. (You can see a demonstration of that one here.) The Taser drone is still in development but it’s sure to be a very welcome addition to the electroshock weapon arsenal...

The military has been developing something called the Active Denial System, also known as the Pentagon’s Ray Gun. “60 Minutes” did a laudatory story on it a few years back in which it showed the training exercises the Army was using to test the weapon for potential use in Iraq. The funny thing was that the exercises featured soldiers dressed as protesters carrying signs that said “world peace,” “love for all,” which the “60 Minutes” correspondent characterized as something soldiers might confront in Iraq. (Who knew there was a large contingent of American-style hippies in Iraq staging antiwar protests?) The weapon itself is something out of science fiction: It’s a beam of electromagnetic radiation that heats the skin to a painful 130 degrees allegedly without inflicting permanent damage. They claim there have been almost no side effects or injuries. It just creates terrible pain and panics the peaceniks into dispersing on command. What could be better than that? Imagine how great it would be if any time a crowd gathers and the government wants to shut it down, they can just zap it with heat and send everyone screaming in agony and running in the opposite direction.

Reporter Ando Arike called this "the first arms race in which the opponent is the general population."

I don't think "opponent" is quite the right term, though. "Enemy" is more like it.


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You're Intolerant of My Intolerance!

(Be warned that this is a long post, if that ain't yer thing.)

by Batocchio

Discussions about gay marriage and other LGBT rights, as well as the recent Hobby Lobby decision with its issues of religious belief, have occasionally featured an argument that amounts to 'you're intolerant of intolerance.' Sometimes that argument appears verbatim, or almost so. For instance:

"I should be able to express moral views on social issues, especially those that have been the underpinning of Western civilization for 2,000 years — without being slandered, accused of hate speech, and told from those who preach 'tolerance' that I need to either bend my beliefs to their moral standards or be silent when I'm in the public square."

Kirk Cameron in 2012

"But you're saying we need to tolerate the intolerant!" — I see that objection every time I write something critical of liberal dogmatism and bigotry.

To which my stock response is: Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying — because that's what liberalism is, or should be, all about. Toleration is perfectly compatible with — indeed, it presupposes — disagreement. That's why it's called tolerance and not endorsement or affirmation.

Damon Linker in 2014

Although such arguments are often sincere, I'd contend they don't survive close scrutiny. John Holbo recently wrote a good post responding to Linker, and pieces earlier in the year from Henry Farrell, djw and Scott Lemieux (one and two) also cover the subject nicely. (The Cameron link above goes to a solid rebuttal by John Aravosis.) Here's another crack at the issue myself (cribbing from some older pieces), on the off-chance a different framework helps. Basically, I'm suggesting that the 'you're intolerant of intolerance' argument stems from a semantic disconnect, ignoring power dynamics and failing to distinguish between beliefs about personal conduct and beliefs about how the overall system should work. There's also confusion about a tolerant system (legal rights) versus public manners (social and cultural norms).

These issues have broader applications, but for the purposes of this post, I'm going to concentrate on gay rights and opposition to them, especially when that opposition is justified by citing religious beliefs. Meanwhile, Linker supports gay marriage himself, but views criticism of anti-gay social conservatives as "intolerant." For the purposes of readability, when I mention anti-gay social conservatives, I generally also mean defenders such as Linker (there will be some obvious exceptions), but the difference is duly noted.

Power Dynamics and Levels of Belief

A tolerant person says, "I will live my life the way I like, and you can live your life the way you like." An intolerant person will say, "I will live my life the way I like, but you must also live your life the way I want you to." These are not equivalent. Both people have beliefs, it's true, but one is seeking power over the other. This distinction is clearest in the private sphere. For instance, compare the viewpoint that whatever consenting adults choose to do in the bedroom is fine versus the notions that homosexuality should be criminalized or birth control should be outlawed. Power dynamics shouldn't be ignored, but in debates over "tolerance," they often are. We can visualize a tolerant society, with equal rights for all, like so:

(Click any image for a larger view. These groups aren't drawn to scale, of course, and most of the graphics in this post are pretty simple, but I hope they do the trick.)

Meanwhile, an intolerant society is hierarchical; one group can imposes its will on others (at least in some areas), and looks something like this:

A 2012 post offered a framework for discussing this further, and although it focused on claims about religious persecution, the same dynamics hold true for many arguments against gay marriage even when religion is not invoked, or really any issue involving some form of social conservatism or cultural dominance:

Most of the time, when conservatives say "freedom," they really mean "privilege." Typically, they do not recognize this, because they view their preferred power structure as the natural order. Theocrats and other religious authoritarians will raise a great hue and cry about their religious freedoms being violated. Most will honestly believe this, but they do not truly seek freedom of religion, which they already possess. What they seek is power and preferential status, the ability to impose their religious beliefs on others. Consequently, to use a shorthand, it's important to recognize the difference between personal beliefs – for instance, an individual's specific religious beliefs or lack thereof, that affect that person – and system beliefs – beliefs about how our overall system should be organized, including whether religious faiths (as well as no faith) should be treated equally and neutrally, or whether a particular faith or faiths should be given precedence. These are not equivalent, and when we discuss "belief" and "tolerance," we must put them in context. Individual, personal beliefs that affect that person primarily are categorically different from shared, public policies that affect everyone. The First Amendment contains both an exercise clause and an establishment clause regarding religion; theocrats consistently ignore the latter (in fact, that's one of the defining characteristic of theocrats). While the law makes a number of accommodations for religious beliefs (and individual communities may make far more), as a rule religious beliefs do not trump the law; a murderer could not successfully argue that prosecuting him was a violation of his First Amendment rights because he belonged to the Cult of Kali. Understanding these distinctions is crucial.

For a slightly silly example, "Vanilla ice cream is the best" and "Strawberry ice cream is the best" are both personal beliefs, and a fair system that's ice-cream-flavor neutral (as the Founding Fathers intended) treats them as equivalent. There are no legal repercussions for preferring one flavor over another, and people are free to argue about the best flavor. However, "Vanilla ice cream is the best, and all other flavors must be outlawed" is not equivalent to "Vanilla ice cream is the best" or "Strawberry ice cream is the best" – it's a system belief – and if it were allowed to dominate, would result in an unfair system. Likewise, to turn serious, "We should all have equal rights" and "You should be treated as a second-class citizen" are clearly not equivalent. Unfortunately, we keep on seeing arguments that they are, as well as arguments that objections to bigoted system beliefs are a form of intolerance.

Here's another way of visualizing the situation. Let's start with a basic setup:

For demonstrative purposes, let's say that Person B's intolerance is bigotry against gay people; he's a homophobe. Now let's add each person's desired influence:

In our example, everybody agrees on some issues and society considers them settled (murder should be illegal, etc.). But Person B doesn't just want to decide his own private conduct or to have a say in the public sphere; he wants to dictate what others do privately, too, even when it doesn't directly affect him. (Whether he obsesses about others' private conduct is his choice, but he has no automatic rights over them.) Although Person A and Person C both desire some basic influence in the public sphere, including shaping social and cultural norms – for instance, perhaps they don't want bigoted slurs shouted at a gay couple in a restaurant – they're not seeking to dominate Person B's private conduct. He's free to rail against gay people in his home. If he belongs to a house of worship that believes that homosexuality is morally wrong, he and his fellow congregants are free to inveigh against it there. He's also free to express his opinion in more public places that he shares with Persons A and C – but he doesn't have a right not to be criticized. Other people can exercise their own First Amendment rights and disagree, including calling him a bigot.

Continuing with the First Amendment, the Establishment Clause can be regarded as a system belief that trumps the Free Exercise Clause, which covers personal beliefs. This is as it must be, given that personal beliefs on religion (including atheism) sometimes clash. The system belief of fairness is what creates the space for different personal beliefs and mediates conflicts. Although reasonable accommodations for personal beliefs can be made (and are, in the U.S.), when there's a significant clash, the Establishment Clause should win (not that the courts always agree – ahem). The opposite system is theocracy, where the "Exercise" rights of one group supersede the rights of everybody else. For the sake of argument, let's suppose that the system of neutrality expressed by the Establishment Clause occasionally causes harm; it certainly makes some people upset. It's possible to acknowledge such incidents yet still note that it's the fairest system possible; the tradeoff is worth it. (For another example, thinking a specific defendant is "guilty" or "innocent" are personal beliefs, but "due process" is a system belief. Things don't turn out well when someone tries to do an end-run around it.)

Pushing for gay rights, including marriage and protection from getting fired for one's sexual orientation, isn’t about seeking elevated status, but mere equality. This is a crucial distinction. Yes, the push for gay rights makes social conservatives upset, and yes, it entails a change from decades ago. It is not, however, an assault on their freedom, which has not changed, only a diminishing of their privilege, which they took for granted. Cultural norms have shifted and no longer support what they view(ed) as the natural order. The same thing happened with slavery and women's suffrage and Jim Crow laws – things changed, and frankly, progressed. To quote another old post that can apply to bigotry or cultural narcissism in general, "of course people of faith have a role in the public square, they just shouldn't have a privileged role. They can propose public policies, but they don't automatically get to have their way by citing their religion. They don't automatically get to win."

Real Life and Real Harm

It's easy to discuss these issues as "a low-stakes cocktail party argument" (to borrow a phrase from Jamelle Bouie on discussions about racism). In some circles, the notion that gay people deserve fewer rights than everybody else may be stated, um, "politely." (We’ll come back to that.) Regardless, plenty of places exist in the U.S. and the world where that is not the case, and public, negative statements about gay people create a hostile environment. In some cases, these amount to threats, bullying, and precursors to violence. The CDC states that:

A 2009 survey* of more than 7,000 LGBT middle and high school students aged 13–21 years found that in the past year, because of their sexual orientation—
● Eight of ten students had been verbally harassed at school;
● Four of ten had been physically harassed at school;
● Six of ten felt unsafe at school; and
● One of five had been the victim of a physical assault at school.

LGBT youth are also at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, suicide attempts, and suicide. A nationally representative study of adolescents in grades 7–12 found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers. More studies are needed to better understand the risks for suicide among transgender youth.

A 2010 study by the Center for American Progress estimated that 5% to 10% of youth are LGBT, but among homeless youth, that range shoots up to 20% to 40%, often because they are runaways from unsupportive homes. Some of the other estimates, about the "higher rates of abuse and victimization," are also sobering.

Exact numbers can be elusive, but the American Association of Suicidology summarizes:

Many studies have found that LGB youth attempt suicide more frequently than straight peers. Garafalo et al. (1999) found that LGB high school students and students unsure of their sexual orientation were 3.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide in the last year than their straight peers. Eisenberg and Resnick (2006) found LGB high school students were more than twice as likely as their straight peers to have attempted suicide.

Meanwhile, opposition to anti-bullying efforts in schools has been lead by the religious right and other social conservatives because they believe that "All of it is being used as an opportunity to force homosexual teaching into the schools." It is their belief, whether justified by religion or otherwise, that it's important to be able to bully gay kids to enforce what they see as social norms and the natural order. (It also ties into their "gay cooties" theory, that it's contagious.)

Personally, I'd call the anti-anti-bullying efforts dangerous, asshole behavior, not tolerance. Let's grant that certain prominent anti-gay pundits and their defenders don't condone such behavior. But let's also note that feeling upset about being called a bigot, while unpleasant, is categorically different from facing the real threat of violence. Even with shifting attitudes, in the nation as a whole, hostility toward LGBT people is not theoretical. Anti-gay social conservatives may be verbally chewed out in some arenas, but there aren't wide swaths of America where they're routinely beaten up for their views or identity. (Not to mention that being a bigot, unlike being gay, is a choice, even if one makes caveats about upbringing.) If publically calling out not only anti-gay behavior but rhetoric is necessary to create a less hostile environment for gay youth (as it surely is on some level), but this comes at the cost of making some social conservatives uncomfortable, that's not a remotely hard tradeoff.

Not long ago, Josh Barro, who's both Republican and gay, tweeted that, "Anti-LGBT attitudes are terrible for people in all sorts of communities. They linger and oppress, and we need to stamp them out, ruthlessly." The last part's a bit inartful perhaps, but as Roy Edroso chronicled, right-bloggers jumped on it as a call for violence versus a call to speak out, and started invoking Kristallnacht and making other Nazi analogies, with no fucking irony at all. (As those who weren't asleep through history class will remember, the Nazis killed homosexuals, and the pink triangle branding they employed was repurposed as a gay rights sign in memory of this. Also: Godwin!) So, for those of you keeping score at home, in right-wing land, speaking out against anti-gay bigotry is just as oppressive as gay people getting murdered.

We'll get to more polite expressions of anti-gay sentiment in a second, but while those have their problems as well, let's note the standards of tolerance and discourse here, and make no mistake, this level of animosity is more common than the "polite" stuff. This isn't just a sense of privilege – it's ideological and cultural narcissism. It's a sense of entitlement so deep that they can act like complete dicks to other people yet still insist that they're the victims. (In other words, movement conservatism. The politics of tribal aggrievement have made Rush Limbaugh very rich.)

The Public Sphere

Can someone believe that another group, by virtue of some immutable characteristic, deserves to be treated like second-class citizens, yet be truly "tolerant"? I believe that Cameron, Linker and Ross Douthat, among others, would argue that there's a relatively polite form of opposition to gay marriage and other gay rights that represents "tolerance." I would argue that no, that position – that someone else deserves fewer rights (justified because of religion or tradition or personal discomfort or whatever) is inherently and inescapably bigoted. (Use "prejudiced" if you prefer, and want to designate gradations.) Such people may be pleasant enough on other issues, but it doesn't change that they do not support a system of tolerance.

Here's where I think it's useful to distinguish between tolerance on a system level (especially involving legal rights) and tolerance on (inter)personal level, and what could be called "public manners." This chart is a bit tongue in cheek, but might be helpful:

("Liberal" is, as noted, liberal in the Enlightenment sense, which would include tolerant small "c" conservatives and the like, anyone who is committed in general to basic social equality.)

Using these definitions, both Cameron and Linker seem to be conflating (inter)personal "tolerance" in a social situation with support for a tolerant system. They can coexist but they are not the same thing. It's absolutely fine if they feel that, say, Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins or Josh Barro (or yours truly) is an asshole on a personal level. But their complaint is about a social interaction, about speech in the public sphere. This group ("smug hipster asshole" in the chart) nonetheless supports a tolerant system (unless I've missed some public statement otherwise). They support the right of Cameron, for instance, to speak out, and would oppose him being jailed for his views. In this sense, they are tolerant of him (on the system level). However, they also will exercise their right to call him out on his bigotry. Flipping this, Mike Huckabee has a pretty amiable manner, but he opposes gay marriage. He may be personally "tolerant" in that he wouldn't use gay slurs when meeting a gay person, but he still doesn't support a tolerant system (he'd be a "friendly but misguided authoritarian" on the chart).

Using these definitions, (inter)personal "tolerance" isn't always a virtue, either – imagine a teacher who witnesses one student making a bigoted remark to another – a good teacher would intervene on behalf of the victim, which would necessitate being personally "intolerant" to the student making the bigoted remark while simultaneously upholding a tolerant system that protects the victim. That wouldn't mean the insulter was an irredeemable kid, either, and the teacher could work with him later. But in the immediate moment, the teacher's duty is to uphold a community standard, a system, of tolerance. Those who speak out against anti-gay bigotry in the public sphere, whether gently or bluntly, gracefully or clumsily, are essentially trying to do the same thing.

"Tolerance" can be a somewhat ambiguous term, unfortunately. For someone ignoring the power dynamics involved, it's possible to sincerely view bigots who believe that other people should be treated as second-class citizens as "tolerant" and people who object to that view and speak out about it as "intolerant."

There's something to be said for the more polite forms of bigotry – it's definitely better than violence, or bullying. It's the relatively, um, enlightened bigotry of a certain breed of missionary, that "you people are inferior, but you still deserve some degree of decent treatment." Social conservatives who adopt "the missionary position" can still screw things up royally, but admittedly, they're much better than their side's more belligerent and hateful wankers.

It might help to delve further into the concept of public manners. One last chart might prove useful:

(Click the image for a larger view, or you can read a text version here.)

The main points here are that some people will recognize prejudice in themselves, but nonetheless realize it's their own hang-up, trust "the better angels of their nature" and support equality for others. No one is really giving such people grief. On the contrary, activists for gay rights appreciate the support.

Other people will be prejudiced as well, but will oppose equality. They'll also keep this largely to themselves and only talk about it with a small few. Their bigotry, typically of a more mild form, is restrained in the broader sphere by their sense of "public manners." They might feel uncomfortable from time to time, but no one's really giving them grief either, because their discretion prevents it, as intended. Eventually, their side will probably lose the vote. Some may eventually change their mind.

The real conflicts arise from the more vocal opposition, when social conservatives bring their views into the public sphere but also expect them to dominate and go unchallenged. Basically, this is what Linker, Cameron, and others are asking for – special privileges for anti-gay activists in the public sphere. (Obviously they don't see it this way.) They want to define "public manners" in a way that allows anti-gay activists to express their bigoted views (sorry, there's no honest way around it) yet simultaneously prevents gay rights advocates from criticizing them on those grounds. Hey, they're free to make that pitch, but the boundaries of acceptable public discourse are an ongoing negotiation between different groups. (djw's post is especially good on these points. I'll add that "We get to win because of religion" isn't a convincing argument – it's not a good system belief – about how public discourse should operate.)

The Overdue Finale

As Henry Farrell points out:

Bigotry derived from religious principles is still bigotry. . . .

And if [Conor] Friedersdorf wants to defend his sincerely-religiously-against-gay-marriage people as not being bigots, he has to defend the sincerely-religiously-against-racial-miscegenation people too. They fit exactly into Friedersdorf’s proposed intellectual category.

The standard, the "system belief," proposed by Linker, Friedersdorf and others as an alternative to the liberal one of equality, where instead bigotry justified by religion gets special treatment, is fundamentally unworkable. As Scott Lemieux puts it, "I am not arguing that the religious beliefs are trivial; I am arguing that the burden on these beliefs is trivial."

Gay marriage makes Ross Douthat, Kirk Cameron and their fellow social conservatives uncomfortable, and they believe it harms society somehow. Okay, duly noted. Now let's weigh that against the happiness of gay couples and the sometimes significant financial burden that not being able to marry imposes on gay couples. That's not a hard tradeoff. Similarly, Kirk Cameron, Damon Linker and others don't like that social conservatives are called bigots, or intolerant – also noted. Let's weigh that once more against bullying, violence and general hostility against LGBT youth, and the value gained from challenging such behavior and attitudes. Again, it's no contest. It's not that the social conservative position hasn't been given a fair hearing – it's that it's not a good one, and an increasing number of people don't find it convincing. As this trend continues, and cultural and social norms shift, the freedom of social conservatives remains the same, but their privilege is being diminished. This is not a bad thing. But of course they don't like it, and not all of them are dealing with it gracefully.

Apologies for a long and somewhat repetitive post. (As it is, I didn't address some arguments, but I think the posts I linked at the start handle other points extremely well.) I do hope some scrap of this helps break through those recurring arguments about "tolerance," especially from the 'you're intolerant of our intolerance' crowd. It's vital to remember – they're not being oppressed. They're simply losing a fair fight (and some are whining about it).


 
Every election matters, all the way down the ballot

by David Atkins

A very perspicacious Hullabaloo reader might remember me writing about the Republican mayor of San Diego who vetoed an increase in the minimum wage.

Well, the Republican mayor was overruled by the city council:

San Diego is the latest city to pass a minimum wage hike despite a veto from Mayor Kevin Faulconer.
On Monday, the San Diego City Council overrode his veto to approve a gradual wage increase and paid sick days.

On January 1, 2015, the minimum wage will jump from $9 an hour to $9.75; it will reach $11.50 by 2017. Beginning in 2019, the minimum wage rate will be tied to inflation.

The legislation approved Monday also grants workers five paid sick days annually.

Advocates argue that a higher minimum wage and other benefits help low-wage workers make ends meet and can lift some out of poverty.
Elections matter, including for city council. They make a big difference in people's lives, something that is also becoming strikingly obvious in Ferguson, MO.

As we approach November, make sure you take the time to examine every race all the way down the ballot. It's a big deal.


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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

 
The Fallacy of the Golden Mean
(A "Both Sides" Reader)

by Batocchio

The bad argument's natural habitat is the political talk show. (Well, it's one of its natural habitats, anyway.) Nourished by a steady supply of moist bullshit in the studio and the heat of the 24-hour news cycle, bad arguments flourish, thrive and proliferate. Many a breed of bad argument can be spied, but one of the most common and pernicious inside Beltway blather pits is the fallacy of the golden mean (also known under other aliases). Basically, it entails that in any dispute between two parties, the truth must lie somewhere in the middle (generally roughly halfway).

Obviously this could indeed be the case, but the problem is that this conclusion is repeatedly forced onto situations where it doesn't apply, facts be damned. (It's a socially predetermined conclusion versus a logical deduction.) Calling things accurately to the best of one's ability and letting the chips fall where they may seems to be a foreign concept. Moreover, the fallacy of the golden mean – often expressed as "both sides do it" or "both sides are equally to blame" – and preferably delivered with a sage, thoughtful look or amused, knowing cynicism – is almost unfailingly invoked as a means of shutting down greater scrutiny and deeper discussion. It’s a beloved, go-to move of lazy pundits who don't want to spend their time studying those pesky facts or who desire to appear worldly and above it all. (It's also a useful maneuver for party hacks seeking to avoid accountability for their side. In such situations, it's not unusual to also see the superficial brand of tu quoque arguments beloved by conservative rearguard action specialist David Brooks.)

This position conveys the image of wisdom, but closer inspection almost always reveals it to be shallow and overly simplistic. One party could be mostly right and the other mostly wrong. Both could be mostly in agreement and also mostly wrong. One could take a position that's 40% corrupt but 60% useful, while the other position might be 10% useful, 50% corrupt and 40% insane. Other valuable points of view, beyond the binary opposition of establishment figures in the two major parties, might be excluded. (For instance, back during the Iraq War and the run-up to it, many news outlets represented the full range of opinion from the pro-war New Republic to the pro-war National Review, as Atrios and others noted.) When the goal is discussing real problems and actually trying to solve them, versus conjuring bullshit to fill air time, an amazing world of facts, substance, nuance and complexity opens up.

In the U.S. context, the fallacy of the golden mean is particularly misleading because the Republican Party has grown so extreme, in both its policy positions (see DW-NOMINATE scores) and its unwillingness to compromise. (It bears mentioning that prominent conservatives have long held similar views, but merely lacked the power to impose them.) "Centrist" and "moderate" tend to be viewed as positive labels among the pundit class, but what each actually entails tends to be defined in relative terms as a midway point between shifting poles. (For instance, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, appointed by Republican Gerald Ford in 1975, came to be regarded over time as one the most liberal members of the court, if not the most liberal. Yet he's never seen himself that way, remarking, "I don’t think of myself as a liberal at all. . . .I think as part of my general politics, I’m pretty darn conservative." He didn't change much; the power dynamics in his party did. )

It's hard to watch the news for long without spotting misleading false equivalencies, and the shallow, knee-jerk nature with which they're offered can be maddening. Recently, Roy Edroso chronicled the remarkable phenomenon of conservatives calling for Obama's impeachment, then pivoting and claiming they never did any such thing – it was Obama's fault! From "Rightbloggers to Obama: Why're You Impeaching Yourself?":

And here's where the real "sordid sort of genius," to steal from Douthat, comes in: As crazy as rightbloggers may seem to you and us, when their thinking correlates this perfectly with the conservative-Republican mainstream, there will always be thumbsucking MSM types who will look at it, pull their chins, and think, hmm, both sides seem passionate, and that the obvious solution is to split the difference and call it a draw. Thus, nutcases whose credibility should have been shattered around their three-hundredth call for impeachment are ridiculously afforded a place at the table, leaving advocates for common sense at a massive disadvantage, since most of their energy must be devoted to restraining themselves from screaming, "this is fucking bullshit."

Driftglass has been exploring the "both sides" dynamic for years, and a recent post, "Both Siderism Remains The Last Refuge of The Morally Bankrupt," quoted an older post from 2005, addressing the media (emphasis in original):

In your weird fetish to be “objective”, the Republicans learned the little trick that makes [the media] dance like organ grinder monkeys. Whatever goofy-assed idea they came up with, you’d reflexively cede them half the distance between the truth and their goal.

There was a book I loved when I was a little driftglass called, “Half Magic” by Edgar Eager, about a talisman that granted the user exactly half of what they asked for. Wish to be ten times stronger that Lancelot, you’ll get five. Wish for a million in cash, you get 500K. In the Mainstream Media, the Right Wing of the Republican Party found their Half Magic Charm. And each time you met them halfway, they moved the goalposts another twenty yards again...and you jogged right on along behind them, ten yards at a time.

Fred Clark offers a similar diagnosis in "Third Way-ism and Hegel’s Bluff":

Most of the time, when someone invokes a “Third Way,” they’re simply committing Hegel’s Bluff:

Simply find two extreme views roughly equidistant from your own along whatever spectrum you see fit to consult. Declare one the thesis and the other the antithesis, and your own position the synthesis. Without actually having to defend your own position, or to explain the shortcomings of these others, you can reassure yourself that you are right and they are wrong. Your position, whatever its actual merits, becomes not only the reasonable middle-ground and the presumably correct stance, but the very culmination of history.

Hegel’s Bluff is usually an exercise in self-reassurance. It’s a way of telling oneself that one is being reasonable. It works for that, well enough — well enough, that is, that Third Way-ers applying this bluff seem genuinely confused when others fail to perceive them as being as eminently reasonable as they perceive themselves.

But persuading others isn’t really what the Third Way of Hegel’s Bluff is designed to do. It rarely persuades. It fails to offer a persuasive argument mainly because it fails to offer any argument at all. That’s not really what it’s for. Arguments are made in support of particular conclusions, but this bluffery is more about just trying to reach that state in which any given dispute is concluded. That’s what it values most — that the unsettling argument be settled, not that it be resolved. It’s more about conflict-avoidance than about conflict resolution.

Having said all of that, please don’t misunderstand me as saying that no truth can ever be found “somewhere in the middle.”**

Back in 2000, Paul Krugman coined the phrase “Views Differ on Shape of Planet" to mock these dyanmics. In a 2011 op-ed, "The Centrist Cop-Out," he applied it to the media's unwillingness to call out Republican extremism and inflexibility on the debt ceiling. It's worth reading the whole thing, but his general critique remains sadly relevant:

The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation. And Democrats — who would have been justified in rejecting this extortion altogether — have, in fact, gone a long way toward meeting those Republican demands.

As I said, it’s not complicated. Yet many people in the news media apparently can’t bring themselves to acknowledge this simple reality. News reports portray the parties as equally intransigent; pundits fantasize about some kind of “centrist” uprising, as if the problem was too much partisanship on both sides.

Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?

The answer, it turns out, is yes. And this is no laughing matter: The cult of balance has played an important role in bringing us to the edge of disaster. For when reporting on political disputes always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty for extremism. Voters won’t punish you for outrageous behavior if all they ever hear is that both sides are at fault. . . .

Many pundits view taking a position in the middle of the political spectrum as a virtue in itself. I don’t. Wisdom doesn’t necessarily reside in the middle of the road, and I want leaders who do the right thing, not the centrist thing. . . .

So what’s with the buzz about a centrist uprising? As I see it, it’s coming from people who recognize the dysfunctional nature of modern American politics, but refuse, for whatever reason, to acknowledge the one-sided role of Republican extremists in making our system dysfunctional. And it’s not hard to guess at their motivation. After all, pointing out the obvious truth gets you labeled as a shrill partisan, not just from the right, but from the ranks of self-proclaimed centrists.

But making nebulous calls for centrism, like writing news reports that always place equal blame on both parties, is a big cop-out — a cop-out that only encourages more bad behavior. The problem with American politics right now is Republican extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse.

Lastly, here's one of my cracks at the subject, from 2012:

Both Sides Do It

As we've explored before, in most cases:

…saying "both sides do it" is a form of trolling. In almost every case, when a Very Serious Person says "both sides do it," "both sides are to blame" or any of its variants, it is to shut down discussion, not to bring it to a deeper, more nuanced level.

Among honest, sane, reasonably intelligent and well-informed adults, the following are taken as givens:

1. Neither major party is entirely pure or entirely corrupt. You can find despicable and honorable people in both parties.

2. There is an inherent level of bullshit in politics. All politicians lie to some degree.

Naturally, the same crowd also holds that:

3. Nevertheless – actually, because of this – it's very important to take a closer look at politicians, parties, and their policies, and try to make an informed, comparative, qualitative judgment. Responsible citizenship and basic voting depends on it. Policy matters.

Strangely, most Beltway political commentators will endorse #1 and #2, but reject #3. The same media figures who sagely inform the public that politicians lie, as if this a revelation... will also refuse to fact-check their political guests. Instead of #3, they tend to hold the following views:

A. Wisdom lies precisely between the parties. One side cannot be significantly better/more correct than the other. It's impossible that one side can be overwhelmingly better!

B. It is rude to call out liars, or not invite them back after they lie.

C. Giving both parties a fair hearing necessitates judging that both arguments have equal merit.

D. Anyone saying harsh things about conservatives/Republicans clearly is closed-minded, hyper-partisan and not a Serious Person, regardless of the evidence.

All of this also entails:

E. Policy doesn't matter.

This mindset, whatever you want to call it – faux centrism, "sensible" centrism, centrist fetishism, establishment groupthink, bourgeois authoritarianism, the world view of Very Serious People, the Emperor's New Clothes, the ol' ruling class circle jerk – is absolutely fucking imbecilic. The people who shill it are often highly educated and have sterling pedigrees by Beltway standards, but they are shockingly shallow.

Saying "both sides do it," "both sides are equally to blame," or anything similar doesn't always spring from the exact same motives, however. There are three general categories (a future post may delve into more detail):

1. Social: The old maxim is that, in polite conversation, one should avoid discussing politics and religion. Beliefs on them can be strongly-felt and deeply personal (and sometimes irrational), so it's easy for people to fight. When this happens, a host or other peacemaker might offer "both sides do it" as a way to change the subject, de-escalate the situation and placate whoever's agitated. The person (more) in the right on the political dispute is expected to play the adult and let the matter drop in the name of comity. Strictly speaking, "both sides are equally to blame" is almost always bullshit, but it has its place in friendly social situations, where it can be well-intentioned, defensible, and useful.

All that said, politics and religion can be discussed among honest, sane, reasonably intelligent and well-informed adults. It has to happen somewhere, and at gatherings whose express purpose is discussing politics (or religion), it's pretty ridiculous and childish to try to shut down adult conversation by insisting that "both sides do it." The issue is knowing the venue and the participants, and how candid and in-depth one can be.

2. Bullshitting: When someone says "both sides do it" or the equivalent on a political show, it's nearly always bullshitting. This does come in different flavors, however. Cokie Roberts will say "both sides do it" to fill time and collect her paycheck; it's insipid Beltway conventional wisdom, but to her fellow travelers and a certain audience, it sounds smart and will receive approving nods. The benefit is that you really don't need to know anything (certainly not any policy details) to say it, so it's a wonderful gift to lazy pundits. Thomas Friedman says "both sides do it" to affect the persona of a Very Serious Person and Sensible Centrist. It supplies the illusion of being independent and thoughtful to middle-information voters, even if anyone who knows the subject well knows you're talking out of your ass. (More on Friedman's shtick here.) Meanwhile, David Brooks and other conservative propagandists will say "both sides do it" as a rearguard action to minimize the damage to their party. The conservative movement and Republican Party have become so extreme and so irresponsible, it's hard to justify their actions. (This increasing extremism is why Brooks' hack arguments to defend his side have grown more obviously ridiculous, and have become more widely mocked.) The best tactic for this type of bullshitter is to hit the false equivalences hard, cherry-picking and pretending some minor incident or minor player in the Democratic Party is as bad as some glaring offense by conservatives/Republicans. It's possible to find Democratic hacks doing similar spin on individual news items, but they're simply not operating on the same scale. The rules of polite Beltway discourse, mirroring some of the "social" motives mentioned above, dictate that it is terribly rude to point out that Republicans are the (chief) problem.

3. Serious Analysis: This is the rarest form of saying "both sides do it," but it does exist, most often as a criticism of both the Republicans and Democrats "from the left." A good example is Matt Taibbi's work investigating Wall Street corruption and reckless greed, and political complicity with it from both major parties. Taibbi has been criticized for occasionally going slightly overboard in blaming both parties equally. (After all, the Dems passed relatively weak Wall Street reform in a climate where the Republicans wanted none at all, the Republicans have steadfastly opposed the Consumer Protection Agency and related appointments, conservative justices delivered the horrible Citizens United decision, and Republicans have twice blocked campaign disclosure requirements designed to minimize some of the damage from Citizens United.) Still, Taibbi and similar figures are qualitatively different from the bullshitters in that they want to stop corruption and encourage good policies and responsible governance, and they are willing and able to discuss detail and nuance. While saying "both sides are equally to blame" may be sloppy and overstated to make a point, for this group, it's normally meant as the start of a deeper conversation, not a trite conclusion to end it.

Another important note, related to bullshitting and serious analysis on political shows: pointing out significant hypocrisy in a politician or party generally isn't the same as a serious "both sides do it" assertion, although bullshitting pundits on the same panel will try to twist it as such. For instance, Paul Krugman has often pointed out that Republicans are not serious about deficit/debt reduction. The David Brooks of the world might pretend otherwise, but this does not mean that neither party is serious about deficit/debt reduction. (Pointing out bad faith, bad policies and bullshit in one party does not magically transfer those to the other party, just to make anxious wannabe centrists feel better.) While some individual Dems might be fairly criticized, colossal bad faith on the deficit/debt is a distinctly Republican failing – in fact, it's one of the defining traits of the party. If Krugman brings something like this up, it's to have a deeper, more accurate conversation, whereas a Brooks will try to shut it down.

Here's another way to break it down:

If you argue that wisdom often resides outside of conventional thinking, I'll agree with you.

If you argue that wisdom lies precisely between two poles of conventional thinking – which are moving, no less! – I'll say you're a fucking moron.

(It's terribly uncivil to say all this, I know, but I still think there's some truth to it.)



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