Monday, February 24, 2014

Worth and Respectability

It may be well and proper, that a man of worth, honesty, industry, and respectability, should have the rank of a white man, while a vagabond of the same degree of [negro] blood should be confined to the inferior caste.

-- Justice William Harper of the South Carolina Supreme Court
State v. Cantey (1835)

This week's featured post is "Are You Sure You're White?", a review of Daniel Sharfstein's The Invisible Line: a secret history of race in America.

This week everybody was talking about the Ukraine

As I've said before, a one-man blog is not the ideal operation for covering breaking news, so I mostly don't try. But the wall of fire during the Kiev protests was impossible to ignore.


And when Olympic skier Bogdana Matsotska left Sochi intending to join the protests, she raised even more attention.

By Saturday, President Viktor Yanukovych had been voted out of office and left the capital. New elections are planned for May. For the moment it looks like the good guys have won, but as we saw with the Arab Spring demonstrations in Egypt, it's hard to turn street protests into a functioning democracy. Best of luck to the Ukrainians.

ThinkProgress provides background on what this was all about.

BuzzFeed reports that the Yanukovych government had been trying to buy favorable coverage from right-wing blogs. This fits the pattern I discussed in "Keeping the Con in Conservatism".

For the record, I received no money to mention Ukraine in this post.

and (oddly) not Venezuela

A new reader pinged me with his hope that I'll explain what's going on in Venezuela, which left me too embarrassed to say "Is something going on in Venezuela?" It weird how little coverage this is getting.

As in Kiev, there are massive street protests in Caracas. Here's some background from BuzzFeed. And the latest from Reuters.

The current president, Nicolás Maduro, has been in office ten months after succeeding the late Hugo Chavez.

and Ted Nugent

I try to stay away from the outrage-of-the-week, but this week I failed. The front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor in Texas campaigned with Ted Nugent, who recently called President Obama a "subhuman mongrel", a phrase that had more zing in the original German. (Subhuman is untermenschen and mongrel is mischling.)

Nugent is a clown who doesn't deserve my attention or yours, but a state attorney general and potential governor of Texas is another matter. Wolf Blitzer (who is Jewish and knows how the phrase translates to German) reacted with as much reserve as he could muster:
Shockingly, Abbott's campaign brushed aside the criticism, saying they value Nugent's commitment to the second amendment issuing a statement, "Ted Nugent is a forceful advocate for individual liberty and constitutional rights, especially the second amendment rights cherished by Texans. While he may sometimes say things or use language that Greg Abbott would not endorse or agree with, we appreciate the support of everyone who supports protecting our constitution."

The incident raised the question of whether there is any criticism of Obama that conservatives will denounce, or any right-wing personality who is too hateful to associate with. Fortunately, Rand Paul and John McCain decided the line had been crossed. But it was sad to watch Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, and other Republicans dance around a clear condemnation.

If anybody wants to do a liberals-do-it-too comment, start with who the Ted Nugent equivalent is and what they said that equals "subhuman mongrel". Then find me a Democrat as highly placed as Greg Abbott who campaigned with them.

and a raft of discrimination-against-gays-is-OK bills

A bunch of states are passing laws to meet the "religious freedom" needs of people whose God demands that they treat gays badly. The most extreme is Arizona, where Governor Brewer is weighing whether or not to sign the bill. (The business community is against it, perhaps fearing another boycott similar to what happened after Arizona passed its anti-immigrant law.) But similar bills are being debated in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee, Kansas and Oklahoma.

The text is here. It's short and sweeping, and does not directly mention gays at all. The key section is:
A person that asserts a violation of this section must establish all of the following:

1. That the person's action or refusal to act is motivated by a religious belief.

2. That the person's religious belief is sincerely held.

3. That the state action substantially burdens the exercise of the person's religious belief.

"State action" has been expanded to mean a court's enforcement a civil rights claim. Proponents are trying to fix what they see as the injustice of a New Mexico case, in which a photographer was sued and lost after refusing to deal with a gay couple.

Reading the Arizona law, I fail to see why it wouldn't apply to a restaurant owner who wanted to turn away black people, if his white supremacism were religiously based. (There are certainly churches you can join if you want to claim that right.) And even if I'm missing some legal distinction, I don't see the moral distinction. The only justification I can see for separating the anti-gay bigot from the anti-black bigot is to argue that religious white supremacism is wrong, but religious rejection of homosexuality isn't. And I don't think the government should be empowered to decide whose religion is true.

In the larger view, I've stated my opinion before: I think this is all passive aggression.No one sincerely believes that his or her immortal soul is imperiled by taking pictures of gay couples or putting two grooms on the top of a wedding cake. It's an exaggerated sensitivity invented to control the actions of others and justify acts of bigotry.

and looked back at the stimulus

It's been five years since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was signed into law, so it was time to restart the argument about what it accomplished.

The point hardly anybody appreciates is that when you combine state and federal spending, there was no stimulus. Federal spending just replaced state cutbacks. The graph below shows the number of employees at all levels of government. (The blip in 2010 is temporary workers for the census. You can find a similar blip during the previous census in 2000.)

Overall, federal employment has been down slightly during the Obama years. State and local employment dropped drastically when the recession hit, and would have fallen much further if not for money in the stimulus that went to the states. People ask: "Where are the jobs from the stimulus?" A lot of them are the teachers, police, firefighters, and nurses who didn't get laid off.

So the main thing the stimulus did was prevent a massive deflationary cut in government, like what happened so disastrously in Europe.

but I'm still thinking about racism

"What Should 'Racism' Mean?" became the fifth post in Weekly Sift history to go over 10,000 page views. Last I checked, it had over 19,000, which made it the fourth-most-popular Sift post ever.

It's been drawing a number of comments, including objections, which I've been trying to answer as best I can.

Here's the thing that has struck me in the negative comments. It would be entirely possible to look at the examples I gave (of President Obama and his family being denounced for things previous presidents have done without incident) and say: "Yeah, there is a small group of racially motivated folks who claim to be conservatives so that they can attack the black president, but that’s not really who we are. Real conservatives have plenty of legitimate objections to Obama and don’t have to stoop to this stuff."

Instead, many commenters identify with anyone criticizing Obama for whatever reason and circle the wagons around them. As a result, it becomes easier to paint all conservatives as racists, which is not at all what I claimed.

This week I continued to focus on race in Are You Sure You're White?, a review of Daniel Sharfstein's The Invisible Line. I also ran across this great video illustrating the implicit bias I talked about last week.


In a hidden-camera experiment, three young people try to steal a bicycle in a well-traveled public park. The young white man draws a few questions but no one makes a serious effort to stop him or call the police. The young black man draws a crowd and the police are called. But most hilarious is what happens to the young white woman: Men stop to help her. That poor girl, she'll never saw through that chain on her own.

Here's a similar hidden-camera test where black and white men try to steal a car in broad daylight.

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This 99-year-old Bulgarian spends every day on the street begging, but not for himself.

I love Rachel Maddow, but I have to agree with Bill Maher in this conversation when Rachel was a guest on his show: MSNBC is over-covering the Chris Christie scandal. Like Bill, I think BridgeGate is a legitimate scandal and I want to get to the bottom of it, but there's not a whole segment (or more) worth of new developments every night.

I regularly tune in to Rachel's show or Chris Hayes' or Steve Kornacki's , but these days I often think "Jesus, not this again." Partly it's the generic cable-news tendency to over-hype stories and try to get us hooked on every new detail. And I'm willing to be convinced that Rachel is accurate when she says that she covered Democratic governor Rob Blagojevich's scandal just as intensely. But I found Blago's villainy more amusing, and even so, I remember getting sick of that story too.

If you are similarly ignoring MSNBC and/or Bridgegate these days, I'll let you know when something important happens.

Salon's Brian Beutler blows up another ObamaCare horror story, and then suggests the obvious question:
I know the right is heavily invested not just in ignoring Obamacare success stories, but in cultivating the very horror stories they then use to attack the law. This, at least, doesn’t appear to be a case of the latter. I’m perfectly willing to believe that the Affordable Care Act has really left some people in categorically horrible situations. Given the numbers involved, I’d be pretty surprised if such people didn’t exist. But at some point it’s worth asking whether the apparent difficulty conservatives have finding them suggests that maybe the law isn’t wreaking all the devastation they want you to believe it is.

Wonder why other countries have faster, cheaper internet? Big cable companies like the proposed Comcast/Time-Warner monolith, and an FCC that caters to them.

Michael Sam won't be the first openly gay player in a major American professional sport after all. The Brooklyn Nets picked up Jason Collins' contract, and he played briefly Sunday. ESPN New York reports how strangely normal it all was.
Sure there was applause, and a few folks who stood up to recognize the magnitude of the moment, but if you didn't know what was happening, you really would've had no idea something historic had just happened.

Economist Jared Bernstein challenges the idea that jobs are going unfilled because Americans aren't trained for them.
When you hear employers complaining about how they can’t find the skilled workers they need, remember to plug in the unstated second part of the sentence, “…at the wage I’m willing to pay.”

Atlantic's Garrett Epps points out that the Hobby Lobby case is open-and-shut if the Supreme Court follows its own precedents:
If so, Hobby Lobby and the other challengers don’t even get out of the starting gate. The Burger, Rehnquist, and Roberts Courts have all been clear: These plaintiffs have not suffered any injury worthy of redress under the Constitution.

However, that's not how this Court's conservative majority behaves. Witness the ObamaCare decision of 2012. In prior cases, the Commerce Clause clearly allowed such laws; constitutionality was not even seriously discussed when the law was being passed. But magically, a new legal theory appeared just in time to disallow the individual mandate under the Commerce Clause, and five Supreme Court justices signed on to that brand new interpretation. Chief Justice Roberts had to find a different justification to avoid invalidating the law completely.

Maybe the same thing will happen here. Law isn't supposed to be suspenseful like this.

and let's end with something fun

I never knew NBC's Brian Williams did a cover of "Rapper's Delight". (Compare to the original.)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Déjà vu

If I had ever been here before
I would probably know just what to do.
Don't you?

-- David Crosby, "Déjà vu" (1970)

This week's featured posts are "Sam We Am" and "What Should 'Racism' Mean?"

This week everybody was talking about Michael Sam and the NFL

I cover this in detail in "Sam We Am". It's part of this week's déjà vu theme: The arguments we're hearing against Sam joining the NFL are the same ones that get trotted out -- and usually defeated -- whenever some new group wants to be included somewhere. And they're almost exactly the ones that the public just rejected in 2011 when Don't Ask Don't Tell was being repealed. As a result, public discussions that used to take months to play out are happening in days.

Friday we got a better view of what Sam might be walking into with the release of the independent report the NFL commissioned on the locker-room culture of the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins bullying story broke in November, when Jonathan Martin left the team and Richie Incognito was suspended.
After a thorough examination of the facts, we conclude that three starters on the Dolphins offensive line, Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey, engaged in a pattern of harassment directed at not only Martin, but also another young Dolphins offensive lineman, whom we refer to as Player A for confidentiality reasons, and a member of the training staff, whom we refer to as the Assistant Trainer. We find that the Assistant Trainer repeatedly was targeted with racial slurs and other racially derogatory language. Player A frequently was subjected to homophobic name-calling and improper physical touching. Martin was taunted on a persistent basis with sexually explicit remarks about his sister and his mother and at times ridiculed with racial insults and other offensive comments.

and more advances for same-sex marriage

In another example of déjà vu, you can add Virginia to the list of states (Utah, Oklahoma, ...) where federal judges have thrown out the state constitution's same-sex-marriage ban after last summer's Windsor decision. And Kentucky now has to recognize marriages performed in other states.

Like the debate over Michael Sam, these cases have a same-old-same-old quality. No matter how many times judges shoot down their arguments, traditional-marriage-only advocates offer nothing new. In her Virginia decision, Judge Allen repeated what all the other judges have been saying:
The legitimate purposes proffered by the Proponents for the challenged laws -- to promote conformity to the traditions and heritage of a majority of Virginia's citizens, to perpetuate a generally-recognized deference to the state's will pertaining to domestic relations laws, and, finally, to endorse "responsible procreation" -- share no rational link with Virginia Marriage Laws being challenged.

These arguments have become batting-practice pitches, not serious attempts to strike the same-sex couples out. The obvious implication is that the Religious Right's quiver is empty, and that (while there's still considerable mopping up to do) the national debate is over, at least as far as the law goes.

and -- surprise! -- a clean debt ceiling extension

President Obama signed it Saturday. The Tea Party can't hold the world economy hostage again until March 15, 2015.

John Boehner allowed this vote in the House (and was one of only 28 Republicans to vote yes) and Mitch McConnell voted to kill Ted Cruz' filibuster. You've got to figure they looked at the political fallout of the October crisis and said, "We're not doing that again."

It probably also means that Mitch McConnell is more afraid of Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes than of his Tea Party challenger in the Republican primary. Still, outside-group ads like this one from the Senate Conservatives Fund can't be doing McConnell any good.


There's a rude justice to lines like: "Mitch McConnell is trying to bully conservatives just like the IRS is." The GOP leadership helped create this fantasy world. Now they have to live in it.

and the Republican Civil War starting to get real

The NYT reported:
“I’ve been told by a number of donors to our ‘super PAC’ that they’ve received calls from senior Republican senators,” said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, which is supporting challengers to Republican incumbents across the country. The message from these donors was blunt: “I can’t give to you because I’ve been told I won’t have access to Republican leadership,” Mr. Kibbe said. “So they’re playing hardball.”

Interfering with the donor base really is hardball. TPM commented: "It's hard to overstate the animosity that House GOP leaders feel for outside tea party groups these days."

and the Michael Dunn verdict

Guilty, but not of murder. It's hard not to see this as another racial statement by a Florida jury. If a black adult had sprayed bullets around a car of white boys, I find it hard to imagine a jury taking his I-thought-I-saw-a-gun defense seriously.

Sunday on MSNBC's "Disrupt with Karen Finney", Faith Jenkins reacted like this:
Every racial stereotype you could possibly advance about a young black teen, Dunn used it: thug, gangster, rap music. ... We see from the Zimmerman trial and now with this trial, some sort of perfect defense emerging when you kill a young black kid. All you have to do is say, "I was in fear for my life." "They were reaching for my gun." or "They had a gun." ... and then "They said they were going to kill me." ... That seems to be the perfect defense now.

and Comcast's bid to take over Time Warner Cable

The deal valued at $45 billion says a lot about the way antitrust law has been interpreted since the Reagan administration. Comcast argues that the two cable companies don't compete in many markets (and it's willing to spin off the TWC franchises in those areas), so consumers shouldn't see any difference.

But the full impact of the merger hits in two ways: It limits the number of companies who might come up with a new model entirely; but more important, it gives the new Comcast an even larger bulk it can throw between producers and consumers. I talked about this phenomenon in 2012 in "Monopoly's Role in Inequality". In that piece I argued for transparent markets that would make common carriers out of middlemen like the cable companies. Instead, we have opaque markets, where giant media conglomerates duke it out with giant distribution networks.
In an opaque market, the way to get rich is not to produce things, but to build middleman power that allows you to dictate terms up and down the supply chain.

At the time, I used a skuffle between Viacom and DirectTV to illustrate.
Maybe you couldn’t watch Jon Stewart for a week, but the problem had nothing to do with either you or Jon Stewart. He wasn’t asking for a raise; you weren’t balking at the price of watching the Daily Show. But both you and Jon were irrelevant when two giant middlemen had a power struggle. ... These middlemen outweigh both you and Jon Stewart. If Jon doesn’t work for one of the six big media companies, he can’t reach a major audience. If you don’t deal with either DirectTV or a cable monopoly, your TV choices shrink considerably.

That's the threat. Not that you'll have fewer companies to deal with in your town, but that the industry will continue to re-configure for the benefit of middlemen rather than producers or consumers.

I hope The Week and Quartz are right when they predict the merger won't go through.

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Robert Draper's profile of Wendy Davis in the NYT Magazine puts her in a good light, but its title -- "Can Wendy Davis Have it All?" -- exemplifies the gender double-standard he criticizes. Nobody ever asks whether a male candidate can "have it all".

The WSJ's Valentine's Day advice to women comes from Susan Patton.
Think about it: If you spend the first 10 years out of college focused entirely on building your career, when you finally get around to looking for a husband you'll be in your 30s, competing with women in their 20s. That's not a competition in which you're likely to fare well.

I think your first mistake was looking for relationship advice in The Wall Street Journal.

I know you're all just dying to know what connection religion might have to porn addiction, so here it is:
There was no connection between the religious devotion of the participants and how much porn they actually viewed, the studies showed. However, stronger religious faith was linked with more negative moral attitudes about pornography, which in turn was associated with greater perceived addiction.

Three Republican senators have outlined a plan to replace ObamaCare -- years after Republicans floated the "repeal and replace" slogan. We'll see if the GOP leadership actually gets behind the plan, or if it's just a we-have-a-plan-too puff of smoke.

The WaPo suggests several reasons the plan would be worse than ObamaCare, but in some sense that misses the point. ObamaCare, after all, is based on the Republican alternative to HillaryCare in the 1990s. That Republican "plan" evaporated as soon as HillaryCare was off the table, and when Republicans controlled both Congress and the White House during the Bush administration, they did not pursue it. When Obama gave them a serious opportunity to implement the ideas they had said they supported, they denounced it as "socialism" and claimed it was unconstitutional.

Voters need to ask themselves whether the same thing would happen here. I think it would: The day Republicans successfully repeal ObamaCare, their "alternative" will be history ... until a future Democratic president revives it in 2030 and it becomes socialism too.

Republicans in the Missouri legislature have a new plan for pushing schools to "teach the controversy" about evolution.

I keep thinking that someday, as the 1% accumulate more and more power, workers are going to rediscover unions. Well, it didn't happen this week in Chattanooga: The UAW failed to organize the VW plant, in spite of VW's neutrality in the matter.

You know who wasn't neutral? Tennessee's Republican Senator Bob Corker, who claimed that unionization would send production of a new VW SUV to Mexico -- even though VW management had claimed otherwise. Also Republican State Senator Bo Watson, who threatened a loss of state incentives if the plant went union.

Whether those threats swayed the election or not, it hard to argue with Business Week: "If the UAW couldn't win this one, what could they win?"

Monday, February 10, 2014

Good Intentions

Be humble about the limitations of your good intention. If someone is hurt or triggered by your words, it isn’t because they failed to understand your intentions. It is because your intentions don’t have the power to shape the meaning of your words in the larger social world.

-- Feminist Hulk, "How to Like Woody Allen on Facebook"

This week's featured posts are: "9 Things I Think About Education and the Common Core" and "What the CBO Really Said about ObamaCare and the Economy".

This week everybody was talking about ObamaCare's effect on jobs

I cover this in detail in "What the CBO Really Said about ObamaCare and the Economy".

Deep in an appendix of a new CBO report is a projection that, for a variety of reasons, workers will choose to work 2% fewer hours under ObamaCare than they would if they were desperate for health insurance. Over the whole economy, that totals up to 2.3 million full-time jobs. That got covered as if the CBO had said "ObamaCare will get 2.3 million workers fired."

Eventually the fact-checkers weighed in and got the story right (raising the question of why the original reporters couldn't be bothered to check facts). But the damage is done. For years, we'll be hearing that "the CBO says ObamaCare will kill jobs", the same way that we keep hearing "the IRS targeted conservative groups" and "Obama left people to die in Benghazi" long after both claims have proven false.

and Philip Seymour Hoffman

I've seen Hoffman in a few movies and appreciated that he was a very good actor, but I wasn't prepared for the number of people who felt personally devastated by his death by heroin overdose at 46.

It's well known that opinions change when an issue affects someone you know and care about. (Dick Cheney and Rob Portman on same-sex marriage, for example.) Celebrities are people we all feel we know and care about. So now maybe we'll start paying attention to the growing heroin problem.

and Woody Allen

Last week I linked to Dylan Farrow's account of being molested at age 7 by Woody Allen. Sunday Allen published his response. (In my mind I can hear Allen's publicist pleading, "Don't, Woody. Don't. ... At least let me rewrite it. You're not doing yourself any favors here. Even people who believe you aren't going to like you." But you can't convince a writer he needs somebody else to write for him.) Dylan then countered.

Allen repeated the defense he made at the time: Dylan was coached by her furious mother Mia Farrow, who was divorcing Allen after discovering his affair with Farrow's 21-year-old adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn (whom he subsequently married).
Not that I doubt Dylan hasn’t come to believe she’s been molested, but if from the age of 7 a vulnerable child is taught by a strong mother to hate her father because he is a monster who abused her, is it so inconceivable that after many years of this indoctrination the image of me Mia wanted to establish had taken root?
Zoe Zolbrod had already addressed that possibility two days before (in a generally insightful Salon article discussing how the Allen/Farrow controversy interacts with the public's pre-existing misconceptions about child abuse).
None of that is impossible, but it’s far less likely than people seem to believe. ... [R]esearch shows that it is not more common for accusations made during custody battles to be proved false than it is for any other sex abuse accusation, which is to say that it’s not very common at all. ... Research also shows that children are not nearly so suggestible on the topic of sex abuse as previously believed, especially school-aged children.

Kids make unimpressive witnesses because the details of their stories tend to shift depending on who's questioning them and how the questions are phrased. So they often look like they're making it all up when they're not. But inducing false traumatic memories that persist into adulthood ... that's pretty difficult. If Mia Farrow has figured it out, I'm sure there are totalitarian governments that would like to speak with her.

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Chescaleigh gives a lesson in a basic life skill: How to apologize when you offend people you didn't mean to offend.

Here's something you might look at if you're interested in ethical investing: Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructre (HASI). (Bear in mind that nothing in my training or background qualifies me to give investment advice, so you should make your own judgment rather than trust mine. Also, since I've already bought some shares, I have a conflict of interest. Conceivably, if all my readers invested their life savings in HASI, it might drive the price up and make me a profit. Buying obscure stocks and then selling them after you've convinced other people to drive up the price is a con known as pump-and-dump.)

The idea is that there are many situations where sustainable energy investments would make long-term sense, if only you could raise the capital without paying too much interest. And even if you could, the increased debt might make your finances look shaky or involve you in market risks that are tangential to your business or public mission. So lots of economically sensible sustainable-energy investments don't get made.

HASI specializes in finding those situations and providing the capital. For example, HASI owns the rooftop solar array on a Coast Guard base in Puerto Rico, and sells the electricity back to the Coast Guard. You can find other examples on the HASI web site.

It's structured as a real estate investment trust, so it focuses on yield rather than growth (and may complicate your tax return). Current yield -- which, as they say, is no guarantee of future yields -- is 6.7%.

The Bill Nye vs. a creationist debate happened.

I tuned out about halfway through, but my impression is that the creationist championed such an extreme version of the theory that he probably did his cause a disservice. A lot of people who might support a God-had-something-to-do-with-it position are not going to buy that the fossils were all laid down by a global flood 4,000 years ago, or that language diversity is due to a literal Tower of Babel sometime after that.

A new front in the war on women: Right-wing groups are boycotting Girl Scout cookies. It sounds like satire, but it isn't.

Now that an All-American college football player has announced that he's gay, the NFL is likely to have its first openly gay player next season.

When someone at Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine's town hall meeting says President Obama "should be executed as an enemy combatant" and the next questioner says we should "impeach the SOB", the congressman does nothing to rein them in or cool them down. Instead, he finds other parts of their statements that he can agree with.

Pay attention to John Sarbanes proposed law, the Government By the People Act. It parallels proposals in Lawrence Lessig's Republic, Lost. Without a new Supreme Court or a constitutional amendment, you can't limit the amount rich donors can spend on political campaigns. But you can encourage and subsidize small donors to create a path to Congress that doesn't go through the rich donors.

Ta-Nehisi Coates interviews the mother of a stand-your-ground victim. .

Ezra Klein's diagnosis of what's wrong with journalism sounds a lot like my diagnosis in Confessions of a Blogger in 2006. But Ezra has youth, energy, talent, and big-money backing. I eagerly wait to see what he'll do with it.

and let's end with something amusing

I'm sure parents will appreciate (and may contribute to) the Reasons My Son is Crying blog. Here's one:

Monday, February 3, 2014

Unstable Equilibrium

There is nothing more destructive than a ruling class that simultaneously has too much power and is genuinely convinced it's being persecuted. That is the situation we have now. And history has shown that's a very unstable equilibrium indeed.

-- Chris Hayes, All In1-30-2014

This week's featured posts: "Occupying the State of the Union" and "Subtext in the State of the Union (and its responses)"

This week everybody was talking about the State of the Union

I think this is the first time I've ever done two articles on the same news event in the same week. But I had two very points to make: "Occupying the State of the Union" is about how the Occupy message is changing political common sense, just like Occupy's theorists said it would. "Subtext ..." is a combination of debunking nonsense and observing what the different parties spin choices says about where they think they are.

and still Bridgegate

The most complete reporting on this story comes from MSNBC's Steve Kornacki, on his weekend program Up. The major developments this week are:
  • Today is the deadline for complying with the legislature's subpoenas. Expect new developments soon.
  • A lawyer for David Wildstein (the Christie appointee at the Port Authority who replied "Got it" to the "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" email) claims in a letter that Christie knew about the lane closures while they were still happening. "Mr. Wildstein contest contests the accuracy of various statements that the Governor made about him, and can prove the inaccuracy of some." Christie and his defenders denied this and hit back hard.
  • Rather than produce the documents the legislature has subpoenaed, Bill Stepien (Christie's re-election campaign manager), is challenging the subpoena on Fifth Amendment (self-incrimination) grounds.
  • Another Christie staffer resigned Friday.
  • Bookending the Hoboken mayor's claim that her city was short-changed on federal Sandy-reconstruction money for political reasons, $6 million turns out to have gone to a senior-citizen center in a town largely unaffected by Sandy, whose Democratic mayor endorsed Christie.

On Saturday's program, Kornacki described how the Christie administration has maneuvered to circumvent transparency laws for the Sandy money. He discussed the case with various Jersey insiders, who agreed on this interesting point: You hire one kind of lawyer to fix political problems, and another kind to keep you out of jail. Christie's people are picking the second kind.

and the Wendy Davis dog whistle

An article in the Dallas Morning News poked a few holes in the Wendy Davis campaign biography, which gender scholar Peggy Drexler sums up like this for CNN:
Turns out the Texas senator and gubernatorial hopeful had some help paying for her Harvard Law School education (though she never said she didn't). Turns out, too, that Davis' two children spent most of their time back in Texas while Davis got that education (though she never said they hadn't). She claimed she was 19 when she divorced, but the truth appears to be that she was separated at 19 and divorced at 21 (busted!).

For some reason, this has evoked massive hostility from right-wing pundits, and really nasty comments from readers of the online news articles. Erick Erickson's tweets ("So Abortion Barbie had a Sugar Daddy Ken") were so obnoxious that Fox News' Greta Sustern called him out on her blog (and was herself savaged in the comments).

You know what this reminds me of? The flap over Elizabeth Warren's claim of Native American ancestry (which she can't document, but never campaigned on). At the low point in the controversy, Brown staffers were making war whoops and doing tomahawk chops to mock her.

So: Fairly minor dispute over biographic details becomes major campaign issue for a female candidate, evoking (at least from some quarters) real hostility. It's hard for me to imagine anything of similar size being a significant problem for a male candidate.

I'm starting to think there's a Lying Bitch stereotype that opponents of female candidates can dog-whistle up with just about any claim of deception. Not sure how this will play out in Texas, but in Massachusetts the men went too far and caused a backlash. If you raise too much of a ruckus, the whole point of dog-whistling gets lost.

but I'd like to call your attention to Lesterland

The $2 e-book and the TED talk. Lawrence Lessig describes how the U.S. is run by a group of people ("the relevant funders") with about as many members as there are people named "Lester".

and you also might be interested in ...

Dylan Farrow's account of being molested by Woody Allen, published in protest of the lifetime achievement award Allen received at the recent Golden Globes, is a powerful piece of writing. It raises a number of issues: the difficulty of proving a case when your star witness is a child; the easy relationship the law has with wealthy, famous people; the difference between the law's presumption of innocence and the moral judgments we make as individuals; and finally the extent to which great art can stand apart from the flawed (or perhaps even villainous) people who make it.

Last week I talked about multi-millionaire Tom Perkins and his remarkable comparison between Occupy-style criticism of the 1% and Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany. Perkins got roundly denounced, and eventually realized that bringing up the Nazis was over the top. But he still hasn't grasped the full absurdity of considering America's mega-rich as a persecuted class. (If I could ask Perkins one question, it would be: "What kind of worship do you think you deserve?")

Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal (which started this controversy by publishing Perkins' letter) weighed in on Perkins' side: He should have left the Jews out of it, but the persecution of "the successful one percent" is real. (The idea that Americans might reject a society where only one percent can be "successful" seems lost on them.) (Along the way, they repeated the long-discredited claim that "President Obama's IRS targeted conservative political groups".)

Two liberal views are worth bringing into this discussion: First, Josh Marshall's:
we miss the point if we see this in isolation or just the rant of one out-of-touch douchebag. It is pervasive. The disconnect between perception and reality, among such a powerful segment of the population, is in itself dangerous.

and Chris Hayes' (in a segment that starts around the 28-minute mark of Thursday's All In):
I wrote an entire book about the psychology and the psycho-pathologies of the American elite, and if there's one thing I've taken away, it is that there is nothing more destructive than a ruling class that simultaneously has too much power and is genuinely convinced it's being persecuted. That is the situation we have now. And history has shown that's a very unstable equilibrium indeed.

Speaking of the persecuted 1%: As Sean Hannity talks about leaving liberal New York, Jon Stewart gets the cast of Jersey Boys to beg him to stay.

Climate denial doesn't just happen in this country. Here's an account from New Zealand that reveals all the same underhanded tactics.

and let's close with Pete Seeger

As we say good-bye to Pete Seeger, this is how he might say good-bye to us: "Well may the world go, when I am far away."