Lack of accountability is the problem

The conditions for success in American politics are based on hate. That’s… suboptimal.


From the American Conservative, a well-written reminder that no one trusts our political institutions very much anymore. This is a pretty big issue: in America, the most common binding factor among supporters of candidate A is not that they like candidate A, it is that they hate candidate B. And if you’re not voting for a strong policy position, then you’re really only voting to let someone else pursue their own flavor of bad idea.

Functionally, the incentive for American politicians to think deeply or offer policy ideas founded on underlying principles is finishing and it wasn’t ever terribly strong to begin with. Their optimal strategy is to be not as hated as much as their opponent, which is a much different sort of environment to optimize within.

To add insult to injury, poor performance is almost never cause for replacement. In historic terms of enacting legislation, this Congress is the most inactive in a century, seemingly incapable of getting anything done – and this, with a single party in control of both the House and Senate. We’ve fought two wars for a decade+ and can’t seem to win them, declare a loss, or even just leave, yet the number of high-ranking officers that have been stripped of command for failure to perform is basically nil (though we do seem to fire them for sleeping around). There’s a case to be made that they’re not responsible, which is a reasonable point… but where is the CIA’s falling on the sword for poor intelligence? Or mea culpas from politicians forced to resign in disgrace? The NSA lies to Congress behind closed doors in committee and then again out in the open because they feel like they don’t need to tell anyone anything, other than the President, but we still have the USA PATRIOT act and Snowden as an exile so it isn’t like Congress has actually managed to do much in the meantime.

It’s no wonder that institutional trust is at an all-time low: our institutions are failing and have only managed to learn how to avoid punishment rather than learn from their mistakes, and the voting public is largely given the option of either being complicit in it by re-electing incumbents or selecting a replacement who promises to add to the dysfunction.

The greatest failing of democracy is that it foists upon the people the government they ask for.

Painting into racist rhetorical corners with Coulter and Trump

The argument from Coulter (and the pro-Trump right) is either 1, the Loony Left are racist and so is Donald Trump, or 2, the Loony Left is correct about White Supremacy in America and Donald Trump is being railroaded by a Mexican. Turns out both statements are wrong!

I don’t know why, but I’m always at least a little bit shocked at the breadth of what smart people can profess to believe. In this case, it’s Ann Coulter backing up Donald Trump, which really should surprise no one, and that goes double when it’s finding clever ways to make a point about how bad white folks have it these days.

It should surprise no one that Trump is a whiny asshole, nor should Coulter defending a whiny asshole be shocking either. But the rhetorical arguments she uses are worth dissecting, because it’s basically saying that you can’t have a racial critique of society in America without also letting people baselessly denigrate each other. Leave aside the fact that on its face, Coulter’s argument is either 1, the Loony Left are racist and so is Donald Trump, or 2, the Loony Left is correct about White Supremacy in America and Donald Trump is being railroaded by a Mexican. She doesn’t spend any time on that unmentioned conclusion because it’s embarrassing, and when you’re being paid to say provocative shit but you still have some ability to self-reflect you stop thinking once you hit your word quota for the day.

So, let’s take on the two points; 1, that there are meaningful racial critiques of justice and law to be made that aren’t racist, and 2, that Donald Trump is/is not full of shit (SPOILER: it’s the former).

  1. Judges are informed by their experiences. It’s why we don’t have federal judges with, say, no experience as a judge. That’s the easy call. The more interesting bit is that experience matters for all kinds of things, and that experience includes your ethnicity, your education, and generally what’s happened to you in life. There’s a reason why Plessy v Ferguson (that’s “separate but equal is okay”) was overturned: people’s experience between that ruling and later courts changed, and society decided that perhaps racial injustice is a thing that should be considered more deeply. Experience matters, and yes, you want diverse courts because there is no immaculate divine experience of the law that mortals channel into their rulings: courts made up of solely white educated liberals from the Northeast are not going to reflect the myriad experiences of life in America and that’s something you want to account for in your courts. There’s a reason you’re tried by a jury of your peers, and that experience of life is why. When an all-white jury is considered your peer group sometimes you can end up with statistically significant disparities in sentencing length and so that’s why appeals courts are a thing, and jury selection, and all that jazz.So, when someone (say a Supreme Court judge) thinks that having a different background is a good thing, she’s not professing the superiority of one outlook over another, she’s professing the utility of her own background in an arena that is largely white and male and lacking wider perspective.
  2. It is entirely different when you say, “because this person is Mexican they can’t judge me”, which is essentially what Trump was saying and what Coulter is defending here. And that difference is pretty large, because what Judge Curiel actually did is pretty straight-forward and that point seems to be lost. There are actual, formal things you can do if a judge is screwing you and Trump can afford them… but he isn’t disputing any of that. He didn’t like a ruling that looks solid, and so because he can’t win in court he’s going to just make a slur out of it. This is not Trump standing up to a power-hungry judge out of control, this is Trump getting a ruling he didn’t like and doing two nasty and dysfunctional things: 1, blaming that person rather than himself, and 2, deciding that the best, clearest reason why this judge ruled against him was because he was a Mexican (even though he isn’t).You know, if a judge ruled against me with bias and hate in his eyes because, I don’t know, he thought me some kind of virulent Communist pervert, and the ruling doesn’t pass the smell test and I find out that this guy is a John Bircher teetotaler celibate, then I might have some room in there to make hay. But if the judge issues a ruling and all my pricey lawyers shrug and move on to the next phase of the trial because it turns out the ruling is sound, and THEN I say it’s because the guy is an Italian, then clearly I’m unhinged and a whiny asshole.

I hope that both people that read this find it useful and everyone in America can now get on with being adults and selecting a coherent conservative opponent for Hillary Clinton in the fall.

UPDATE NOTE: the term “la raza” probably deserves mention. It does mean race, but it’s use is generally for Mexican-Americans or mestizos. It’s distinct from Hispanics in general, which is considered kind of a stuffy term. It’s a ethnic and cultural identifier, but is a lot more specific in application than an actual race; it’s more specific, like Afro-Cuban, than just “black”.

You’d have to be kind of ignorant of Chicano culture to think that la Raza is meant to generally imply superior genetic stock.

Paul Ryan is a coward, Trump is Racist, and the GOP is lost

When you’d take a racist over Hillary, you’re pretty much a racist too.

Paul Ryan is pathetic and cowardly. You know, if you’re pushing paper for The Man and keeping your head down to make rent and put your kids through school, I can accept some degree of moral flexibility. But if you’re the Speaker of the House and you don’t stand for something more than “hey let’s not make waves here I’ve got a great office” then you’re straight up despicable.

This guy believes that a racist President is better than a neoliberal one. I’m guessing he thinks a racist DoJ is somehow made up for by lowered taxes (or something similar), and that’s fucking amazing. It explains everything awful about the current GOP, just in higher contrast: they just don’t care about minority rights, and it isn’t even an issue of “not seeing color” and being post racist, whatever that is. It’s now, starkly clear it’s because they just don’t care: they’ll literally accept an outright racist with a long history of racism, someone who really does see color and doesn’t like it. And they’ll embrace it because Hillary Clinton is… what?

Among antiabortion folks, I could see why they’d like a GOP Congress and President and could endure a racist to achieve that end: from their perspective they’re fighting a holy war for thousands of innocent children. But Ryan? A near-libertarian hawk? Does he really love lowered taxes enough that he’d endure a racist?

… I can’t believe we know the answer to that question, and it isn’t even rhetorical. Not only that, but Ryan is joined by all kinds of folks in the GOP willing to turn their heads and just pretend like this isn’t a big deal even as they acknowledge it is very much a big deal.

UPDATE: I beat Vox by a day. They’re stealing my lines!

Police States, Real and Imagined

We’re fascinated by all the wrong things and it’s literally killing us.

It’s no great secret that the American police have become more militarized: they have bigger weapons and trucks, the use of SWAT teams is way up, and the ongoing use of what constitutes proper application of state-sanctioned violence in enforcement of the law is a key component of the cultural struggle between the Black Lives Matter movement and the law-and-order backlash against that movement.

In fact, crime has been falling steadily for decades, with a recent small uptick in violent crime (fuel for the struggle noted above). Yet here we are, with a decade+ of fears of terrorism managing to worm their way into America’s law enforcement management and execution. There haven’t really been any major devastating terror attacks in America since 9/11; the Boston bombing was the most spectacular, but even that couldn’t compare to a hundredth the destruction of 9/11.

It seems that police killings, on the other hand, are up, and steadily, slowly rising.

So at the least, it’s pretty clear that the fear we’ve constructed out of fear is turning on ourselves. Still, the police killed around a thousand people last year, it’s safe to assume at least some of those shootings were actually justified (rather than “police justified”, which is the kind of standard that’s applied legally and the reason that it’s so rare for murder charges to be brought against police), putting the number of unjustified shootings, at worst, in the realm of some few hundreds in what are probably a million police encounters in a year.

Dead innocents are tragic, but let’s stay focused on the militarization of police and the threat of a police state.

What can we say about all this?

Well, the police are clearly over-armed. They don’t need dozens of rifles for police work unless they’re putting down some kind of insurrection. They’re overly aggressive, given what we know about the frequency of police killings. And their uses of force fall disproportionately on minorities (though not quite as much as some may have you believe: it’s a real data artifact all the same). And yet? This is, in the end a thousand times less deaths and destructive a presence than, say, medical errors, themselves products of a medical system that doesn’t manage to even attempt care on a significant minority of our population.

The NSA is meanwhile reading your emails illegally but pointing that out gets you a decade in prison, the TSA is afraid of liquids and will gently pat your genitals and throw you in prison for noncompliance despite a 95% failure rate, and the FBI can’t find terrorists so it makes them up.

I’m not terribly sure why people are fascinated with these high profile things when accidentally being killed by your doctor is more likely, but one is treated as a statistical anomaly and the others the foundation for a massive police state.

Conservativism, Socialism, America, and Fear

America is so afraid of Communism that we’d rather go bankrupt than buy better health, cheaper

I rather like the information here, especially the median wealth information, and what it means compared to the information here, about median income, and the information here, on net debt-to-GDP. In the end they tell a story about some tremendous, obvious failings within America’s economic system, failings with both antiseptic negative economic impacts as well as moral failings. It’s a story about fear, and what it means to be culturally American.

There are a few stories here when you look at all these links together:

  • The gap between median wealth and net mean wealth is a good measure of how unequal the distribution of wealth is in the country. Consider a place with ten people in it, nine owning $0 and one owning $10M: it has a median wealth of $0 and a mean wealth of $1M. That’s not a great place to live.
  • The median wealth countries all tend to embrace socialized medicine and strong public support for post-secondary education. Medical bankruptcy is the most-common form of bankruptcy in the US, an incredibly disruptive and wealth-destroying event, and university education is a tremendous hole of American debt. It’s no wonder that the US can draw in such good income (see the second link) yet have much less to show for it.
  • The US has, in terms of median wealth, 64% of the OECD average of median wealth. We’re on par with Portugal and Slovenia, places that make two-thirds or half of what Americans do. Put differently: for every $1 a typical American makes in a year, they end up converting that, year-on-year, to $1.46 in wealth over their lifetime. Someone in Portugal converts $1 in yearly income to $2.75 in ultimate wealth. They’re more frugal to some extent because they earn less and culture is clearly part of this equation rather than just numbers, but there’s still a story in those numbers about how inefficiently the US converts income into wealth.
  • Taking a look at the third link, with debt-to-GDP, and you see that the US is on par with France. Running a nationalized healthcare system is economically wise at both the personal and national level: free market healthcare is a scam. The US spends 17% of our GDP – the highest in the world – on healthcare (about $2.9T), it is an average product, it is bankrupting us, and we have nothing to show for it. Sweden is in second place in the OECD with 12% of their GDP towards healthcare. If we could wave a magic wand and have Sweden’s system, we’d be spending around $800B a year on anything else other than a system that bankrupts us. It’s a terrible inefficiency.

It seems clear to most that there are some industries, services, what-have-you, which are not well-managed by markets with respect to the customers/citizens at large. That rationale is precisely why I support things like socialized medicine; it just so happens that others draw the line at, say, roads and parks. I’d call that overly conservative, but in the end the exercise of the rationale feels to me to be an ultimately conservative line of thought: test, move cautiously, keep what works… the part that seems missing in American conservativism is that one ought to eventually feel comfortable also tossing aside what doesn’t.

“Seizing the means of production” is an overwrought phrase that, when unreservedly adhered to in practice, tends to look like Zimbabwe. Central planning is not a universal panacea. Making wise decisions about what markets can and can’t do, however, and respecting that there are certain things that they magically cannot or will not do will in certain cases look like big bad Communism, and the question then is what are you scared of, and is it truly relevant. For example, I don’t see many gulags in France because of universal health care and generous leave policies and their post-secondary education system. Their finances are doing rather well, actually, at the national and personal level – in the latter case, much better than the US in terms of widely building wealth between generations regardless of class distinctions. Yet Zimbabwe and Venezuela are held up as what happens when you decide that markets run healthcare systems rather poorly, despite the tremendous gap between “socializing the healthcare system” and “nationalizing your country’s most-vital export” that only seems to be bridged by fear rather than an appreciation for what it actually takes, socially and historically, for that final event to come to fruition.

Progressive conservativism is a thing. It’s about as popular as libertarianism, I imagine, though I think it’s the fundamental position of the reformacon commentariat.

One Legacy of White Supremacy in America

The GI Bill helped build post-war America, but it wasn’t really for everyone

The GI Bill was instrumental (in addition to the central planning industrialization and unionization of America that happened during World War 2) in creating the modern American middle class, and its racist implementation yet another serious impediment to equality and justice in America. There are generations of people that followed in the wake of the GI Bill – such as myself – who are able to build on the wealth and resources of what my parents and grandparents were able to build thanks to the Bill, and those are precisely the resources that were denied black Americans.
The American history of white supremacy is an ugly one, and it has lots of manifestations: the GI Bill implementation, red-lining, highway routing, Jim Crow laws, the abandonment of Reconstruction… and what’s interesting to me is that I figure that the financial impacts are probably the longest-running and most pernicious and damaging manifestations. Seeing old photos of lynchings are obvious and brutal in their testament to inequality and the cruelty of the past, but because they’re so obviously awful and public, they’re much easier to discount: “well, there hasn’t been a lynching like THAT in decades”. And in some sense, that’s true. Blacks have been voting on equal terms (or near-equal terms, depending on your state’s laws regarding districting and IDs) for decades… and yet and it isn’t like Baltimore or Montgomery or Charlotte have been transformed into bastions of black freedom because of it.
Meanwhile, the financial effects chug along. They’re hidden, but their impacts go on for decades.

Bernie Sanders and democracy get screwed in Nevada

There’s no way to lash out in fear that conveys strength

The only reason this stands out is because we thought we got rid of party bosses. Apparently we didn’t, we just thought we did. It’s a quirk of unfinished business.

I get that democracy is dangerous. It leads to all kinds of unfortunate outcomes – Hamas winning in Gaza, or the Muslim Brotherhood winning in Egypt. Of course, bombs and coups can make up the difference in foreign lands. Here, it need not be so violent: pretending to follow rules is as good as following rules so long as you’re in charge.

What’s kind of gross about this is that Hillary is going to win the nomination, with or without superdelegates. This doesn’t need to happen. It did because a threat to power, a belief that control isn’t a given, that the mob may have a voice, are so dangerous that they should be quashed on sight. This is bigger than the count, and the very real fact that Hillary will win on the merit of her popularity among state Democratic nominations. This is the system showing itself out of fear, because it cannot tolerate dissent.

Hillary will win on her own appeal to the people. That’s fine. It’s not how I’d like it to go, but it’s how it is. But this is something different; it’s how the acceptable and unacceptable ideas are filtered by the aristocracy. This is how the deeper game goes, and it’s showing its seams out of fear.

If the GOP could’ve pulled this off, it would’ve. Instead it wrote about #NeverTrump for nine months and then followed up with what will be #AnyoneButHillary. The Democratic machine, too, could’ve learned to deal with a counterinsurgent campaign, but the limited candidate field created conditions for Hillary’s victory. There’s been an active effort in America from the major parties to shut down major constituencies within the parties, and its a telling battle.