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Tue May 05, 2015 at 09:46 AM PDT

What IS the purpose of David Brooks?

by xaxnar

  In case you missed it, David Brooks is pimping promoting his latest book in the New York Times today by asking "What Is Your Purpose?" To wit:

Every reflective person sooner or later faces certain questions: What is the purpose of my life? How do I find a moral compass so I can tell right from wrong? What should I do day by day to feel fulfillment and deep joy?

As late as 50 years ago, Americans could consult lofty authority figures to help them answer these questions.

        You can read the whole thing at the link above, but rather than reciting more of the piece, let me leave with you a response I submitted, which may or may not make it in before the Times closes the comments section.
Sheep without shepherds - that seems to be the gist of Mr. Brooks complaint. The appeal for authority figures is a "tell" - Mr. Brooks appears to be longing for a world where everyone knew their place, followed orders, and carried out the roles assigned to them by society without dissent.

He claims there are no authority figures today to bring order to a troubled society, but there is a rather egregious omission in his plaint. He fails to note the existence of a dedicated media machine to promote conservative ideology 24/7, just running over with authority figures who are always ready to tell us what every thing means, who is right, who is wrong, and what we should do.

He fails to note how this apparatus, funded largely by corporate interests, oligarchs, and the like, has deliberately engaged in the politics of division and active sedition against the very idea of democratically elected government as a means to order and progress in society. Instead, he seems to be longing for some father-figure leader to settle things once and for all.

There's this thing about sheep and shepherds: the sheep get sheared on a regular basis, while the shepherd enjoys a steady diet of mutton and lamb.

I do not think we need to speculate about the purpose of Mr. Brooks - it's rather like that of the sheepdog to the shepherd. Herd the sheep where the shepherd wants them to go.


         Kevin Drum may be undergoing some intense medical treatment, but a Washington Post article made his day. Freddie Gray’s life a study in the sad effects of lead paint on poor blacks

          Drum's 2013 story at Mother Jones and follow-up reporting detailed research making a pretty good case that exposure to lead in gasoline and elsewhere (Paint as in Gray's case) has serious effects leading to violent criminal behavior among other things. The use of lead in gasoline and its removal tracks almost precisely changes in violent crime rates - with a roughly 20 year lag as the effects of exposure in children affect them as they become adults. The latest research shows there appear to be no safe levels at which the effects of exposure to lead can be ignored.

           We no longer put lead in gasoline, but we still have the crime policies in place that reflect that toxic era. As Drum concludes

This is important, because even if you're a hard-ass law-and-order type, you should understand that we no longer need urban police departments to act like occupying armies. The 90s are gone, and today's teenagers are just ordinary teenagers. They still act stupid and some of them are still violent, but they can be dealt with using ordinary urban policing tactics. We don't need to constantly harass and bully them; we don't need to haul them in for every petty infraction; we don't need to beat them senseless; and we don't need to incarcerate them by the millions.

We just don't. We live in a different, safer era, and it's time for all of us—voters, politicians, cops, parents—to get this through our collective heads. Generation Lead is over, thank God. Let's stop pretending it's always and forever 1993. Reform is way overdue.

        To the extent that cities like Baltimore still have a legacy of lead in old buildings and in the environment from air pollution, lead is still going to be a factor. Blaming what happens on social failures, government policies, etc. may not be entirely off the mark - but the legacy of a deliberate poisoning of people for profit (as Neil deGrasse Tyson showed in "The Clean Room" episode of Cosmos) is one we still need to keep in mind.

Fri May 01, 2015 at 06:54 AM PDT

Krugman Hits One Out of the Park Again

by xaxnar

         Paul Krugman's May 1 column in the New York Times states the devastatingly obvious: Ideology and Integrity.

...Nonetheless, many in the news media will try to make the campaign about personalities and character instead. And character isn’t totally irrelevant. The next president will surely encounter issues that aren’t currently on anyone’s agenda, so it matters how he or she is likely to react. But the character trait that will matter most isn’t one the press likes to focus on. In fact, it’s actively discouraged.

You see, you shouldn’t care whether a candidate is someone you’d like to have a beer with. Nor should you care about politicians’ sex lives, or even their spending habits unless they involve clear corruption. No, what you should really look for, in a world that keeps throwing nasty surprises at us, is intellectual integrity: the willingness to face facts even if they’re at odds with one’s preconceptions, the willingness to admit mistakes and change course.

And that’s a virtue in very short supply.

emphasis added

       Read the whole thing - and spread the word. Krugman takes on the shallowness of reporting that refuses to see the elephant in the room, and the moral cowardice/dishonesty of politicians who not only won't admit their mistakes, but insist they were right all along and wouldn't change a thing. He names names while he's at it:

Jeb Bush, for example, has declared that “I’m my own man” on foreign policy, but the list of advisers circulated by his aides included the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, who predicted that Iraqis would welcome us as liberators, and shows no signs of having learned from the blood bath that actually took place.

Meanwhile, as far as I can tell no important Republican figure has admitted that none of the terrible consequences that were supposed to follow health reform — mass cancellation of existing policies, soaring premiums, job destruction — has actually happened.

Conversely, he notes Hillary Clinton supported trade agreements in the 1990s, but now is critical - so does this mean she's a flip-flopper, or has she learned from experience? Two guesses how the press will spin that.

      It's obvious that Paul Krugman has been paying attention to what's been going on in the world over the past few years, and is increasingly dismayed by the inability of political leaders to learn anything, admit mistakes, or be called on that by the press. He had a long piece in The Guardian recently: The Austerity Delusion - The Case for Cuts Was a Lie; Why Does Britain Still Believe It? It's a fascinating article with a lot of relevance to the U.S.

        Read both, and get the word out. Krugman's one of the few voices speaking out on this.


Thu Apr 30, 2015 at 08:38 PM PDT

Must See TV: Alan Grayson on TPP

by xaxnar

  Hat tip to Gaius Publius over at Digby's Place for posting about this. Alan Grayson has a video that must be seen. In 9 minutes, Grayson blows away all the BS about the 'Free Trade" benefits. GP has a short transcript of parts of the video - here's an excerpt.

...[TPP and TAFTA] would put our $30/hour workers directly in head-to-head competition with workers in Vietnam and Brunei, who are lucky to make 30 cents an hour.

"Free trade" countries like that are free of health and safety rules and environmental protection, free of social security, pensions and health care, free of child labor laws, free of the right to organize, and even free of the rules against slave labor.

    The "Freedom" in Free Trade is the freedom of the rich to get richer at the expense of us. That's what it's all about.

Here's the video:

         Share this one widely people - the message needs to be hammered home. And while you are at it, check out


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          So, one more commentary on Baltimore tonight. I'll keep this short. If you want some background on the relationship between the Baltimore Police and the community, The Baltimore Sun had an extensive report back in September 2014. Undue Force looked at the $12 million dollars the city has paid out in settlements and legal fees to over 100 victims of police misconduct in just that past 4 years. (Hat tip to Charles P. Pierce for digging it up.)

         The victims have been barred from discussing their cases; talk and the City can go after the money. It's part of the settlement. (So, it's not just 'justice' - it's also hush money.) The Sun managed to uncover the details of some cases however, and it is pretty disturbing. Read the whole thing, and you'll have a much better idea of the context of this latest chapter in 'post-racial' America.

        Meanwhile, Pierce is still on the case tonight, with something of a wrap up on the day and a preliminary shot at parsing blame. Governor Larry Hogan is getting called out for being rather feckless about the whole thing, while throwing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake under the bus.  And then there is O'Malley:

But if there's one politician who had an even worse day, it was former Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, currently running a demi-campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. More than a few people have cited O'Malley's law-and-order turn toward "zero tolerance" policing as one of the root causes of the cowboy mentality that infected the Baltimore P.D., which is not the first time anyone made this connection, as anyone who has watched The Wire knows.
       Pierce's quote from the BBC piece is spot on:
...To keep the affluent Baltimore viable, city officials have pursued a laser-like focus on crime, ensuring its new up-and-coming neighbourhoods stay safe. Meanwhile, in sprawling low-income areas on the city's east and west sides, the police have been omnipresent. Sometimes their methods have bordered on draconian.

The success of the new Baltimore has never touched many parts of the city, most prominently the west side where this week's violence began. Take away the towering downtown, the waterfront and other affluent enclaves and Baltimore suddenly looks a lot like Ferguson - poor, harassed and angry.

        If there is anything good about this, it's not just that it's calling attention to America's problem in dealing with race and/or police brutality. It's also focusing attention on the massive inequality in this country and the economic and political choices of the last 40 years that have led us into a very dark place indeed.

       There is going to be a very determined attempt by the Right Wing to yet again frame this as the result of failed Liberal policies, above and beyond the usual "blame Obama" for everything. Sean Hannity was already hammering away at this today on his radio show, along with blaming the victims.

        It's about time we shoved it right back down their pie-holes. The election of 2016 is not going to be fun - but it may be the tipping point at which the nation can be pushed around to a new direction - IF Democrats don't lose their nerve and finally dump the neoliberal fallacies that have enabled so much of the Republican agenda. It's not too soon to start getting progressive candidates into position NOW for the upcoming primaries at all levels. That Hillary Clinton is promising a campaign from the precinct level on up through all 50 states is a good start - and the opportunity to not only get Democrats back into state houses, governorships, and Congress, but to get the right kind of Democrats into place to turn this country around.


Tue Apr 28, 2015 at 06:49 AM PDT

David Brooks is a Fun Read Today

by xaxnar

        WTF!?!! You may ask. Well, Brooks is displaying the art of projection, taking all one's faults and flaws, and projecting them onto others. It's a psychological defense mechanism - but it's also a deliberate political strategy. By smearing an opponent with one's own worst attributes, the idea is immunize yourself from being called out on them, make it a "he said - she said" type argument. When a target responds by saying the accuser is the one really guilty of the alleged faults, well onlookers have to go to the trouble of sorting out who is really telling the truth, and it's too easy for them to just say the hell with it and become disgusted with both.

         Partisans for either side will go with their candidates; the 'mushy middle' will be turned off. That is one factor in low voter turn outs. When the mud starts to fly, people stay out, and the side with the most mud to throw can triumph. The trick is to find an answer to these attacks that puts the attacker off balance somehow, or at the very least, the Pee Wee Herman defense of "I know you are, but what am I?"

          In any case, to read Brooks musing about Hillary Clinton and then shoveling out tripe like this is amusing.

"People who are dishonest, unkind and inconsiderate have trouble attracting and retaining good people to their team. They tend to have sleazy friends. They may be personally canny, but they are almost always surrounded by sycophants and second-raters who kick up scandal and undermine the leader’s effectiveness.

Leaders who lack humility are fragile. Their pride is bloated and sensitive. People are never treating them as respectfully as they think they deserve. They become consumed with resentments. They treat politics as battle, armor up and wall themselves off to information and feedback.

You may think they are championing your cause or agenda, but when the fur is flying, they are really only interested in defending themselves. They keep an enemies list and life becomes a matter of settling scores and imagining conspiracies. They jettison any policy that might hurt their standing."

       I can't think of a better description of the Republican field these days. And then Brooks delivers this 'insight" with all apparent sincerity:
Modern politics, like private morality, is about building trust and enduring personal relationships. That means being fair, empathetic, honest and trustworthy. If you stink at establishing trust, you stink at politics.
     Of course, the Republican approach turns that on its head; to paraphrase Brooks:
Modern Republican politics, like private moral hypocrisy, is about building social dominance over, and enduring fealty among, your supporters. That means creating the appearance of being fair, empathetic, honest and trustworthy - while always being ready to sell them out. If you stink at conning the marks, you stink at G.O.P. politics.

         If you can read between the lines, Brooks is revealing way too much about himself and the Conservative Mind.  


    There has been a lot of attention on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) this week, including posts here at Daily Kos. I'm going to try to make this one worth your time. I've been putting together a round up of news stories that have keyed in on the HST's 25 years in space, from its troubled beginnings to its current and final configuration. The images coming down from the HST have become iconic. The information obtained by the HST has changed our understanding of the universe, and challenged our theories about the fundamental nature of the Cosmos.

      But if there's only one article you have time for, it's one that was written back in 2007. It's one of the most evocative pieces I've seen about a machine that exhausts our supply of superlatives. Follow me past the Orange Omnilepticon, and I'll lead you to that and much more.

Continue Reading

Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 03:55 PM PDT

Three Links for Earth Day

by xaxnar

       If you are a carbon-based life form, odds are there's only one known place in the Solar System where you really feel at home - Earth. Yes, it's Earth Day again, that one day a year we're supposed to pay extra special attention to the one place where we know of in the galaxy where human life can survive.

       It's been a rough year, for reasons too numerous to mention. Let's let all that slide for the moment ("When are you kids going to clean up your room!" - Mother Nature) and step back for a little perspective, three different ways.

        More below the Orange Omnilepticon.


Of these three perspectives,

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      There's a certain amount of wrangling back and forth here at Kos over the prospect of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee for president. I am NOT going to go into the pros and cons of Hillary as a candidate. I am instead going to point to Charles P. Pierce and Paul Krugman who are both making an important observation.

       More below the Orange Omnilepticon.


Do you agree with Krugman and Pierce, that party is going to be more important than personality?

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        The fatal shooting of Walter Scott by a police officer in North Charleston, SC while he presented absolutely no threat to the officer has horrified a lot of people - justifiably. Digby writing at Salon has picked up on something in addition as deserving of attention:

....journalists have gone back and studied the officer’s record and found that he was previously investigated for taser abuse. And on even further investigation it was found that this jurisdiction is known as “Taser town”:

Until the eight shots heard ’round the world, cops in North Charleston, South Carolina, were primarily distinguished by their zesty use of Tasers.

As computed by a local newspaper in 2006, cops there used Tasers 201 times in an 18-month period, averaging once every 40 hours in one six-month stretch and disproportionately upon African Americans.

The Charleston Post & Courier did the tally after the death of a mentally ill man named Kip Black, who was tasered six times on one occasion and nine times on another. Black died immediately after the second jolting, though the coroner set the cause of death as cocaine-fueled “excited delirium syndrome.”

        Digby makes the not unreasonable inference that one reason Scott may have run was because he fully expected to be tasered. Further:
It’s important to note that Taser International has spent large sums convincing local coroners that this syndrome (which primarily seems to kill people in police custody) makes it the victim’s responsibility if they have the bad luck to die from being shot full of electricity with a taser. It’s not just illegal drugs in the system which can allegedly cause it. Adrenaline can as well. So if a person fails to remain calm in face of an arrest and finds the feeling of 50,000 volts going through their system to be stressful they have no one to blame but themselves if they die.
emphasis added

        This diary from Shaun King is a horrible example of how taser abuse has come to be regarded as no big deal, a way for police to demonstrate to a victim that they are completely powerless and had better damn well do whatever the officers want. And even then, that may not be enough. As King relates from the Washington Post report:

A mentally ill woman who died after a stun gun was used on her at the Fairfax County jail in February was restrained with handcuffs behind her back, leg shackles and a mask when a sheriff’s deputy shocked her four times, incident reports obtained by The Washington Post show.
emphasis added

         The problem is, tasers have been sold to the public as harmless, at least when compared to being shot. Used as strictly as firearms are supposed to be, that might be the case. What was supposed to have been an alternative to lethal force has become instead a compliance device, torture at the pull of a trigger. And when a police officer with sadistic impulses wants to 'send a message', it has the advantage of not leaving bullet holes in the victim, or telltale bruises/broken bones. Zap 'em, and walk away.

        Of course, if the results are too serious to ignore, even fatal, well we're seeing now how easily and routinely such things are explained away, especially in the absence of any video, and how easily the victim can be blamed for 'bringing it on themselves."

       Digby hits on one of the key elements that makes this possible: the treatment of tasering in the press. Referring to this news report as an example, Digby observes:

In video captured by cameras aboard a helicopter for KNBC, deputies gather around the man after he falls from a horse he was riding to flee from them. The video shows deputies using a stun gun on him and then repeatedly kicking and hitting him.

KNBC reported that the man — identified by authorities as Francis Pusok — appeared to be kicked 17 times, punched 37 times and hit with a baton four times.

Again, if you look at the footage, Pusok was on the ground, face down with his hands behind his back before anyone tasered him or physically assaulted him. And yet the tasering is apparently considered a-ok. At the very least, it isn’t mentioned as something that shocks the conscience the way the beating does. Perhaps this is because the searing pain of electro-shock doesn’t leave much in the way of a mark. But hideously painful it is. Yet for some reason, delivering this particular agony to a suspect is not something people reject when there is no danger to police or bystanders, and the suspect is compliant. But police do it routinely, and are rarely sanctioned for it.

emphasis added

          Setting guidelines for police taser use, insisting on proper training, etc. etc. is a good thing - but not enough by itself. It's just too easy to torture someone when there's no penalty for doing so without justification - or oversight.

         This video of Army MP's in Alaska getting tasered as part of their training is instructive. It's so they'll know exactly what it feels like to be tasered, what it does to the body. Keep in mind these are young people who are in good health and high physical fitness - yet they all scream and twitch uncontrollably as they are carefully lowered to a padded mat. They know what's going to happen - but they also know they are among people there to see they don't get seriously hurt, and it's only going to happen once.
(Warning - this video may contain triggers)

        Police officers who use tasers simply because they can have no excuse. From their own training they have to know how painful it is. When they dismiss it as being 'no big deal' because they've been through it and survived, that's essentially BS. Some don't survive, and nobody in their right mind ever wants to go through it again once they've been tasered.

         The press has been buying into the 'tasers are harmless' talk because A) a determined PR effort by the company, B) reluctance to confront the police, C) "blame the victim" syndrome, and D) because odds are most of them simply have never been tasered. There's not a lot that can be done about A, B, or C - but any reporter covering news stories involving the police should consider being tasered once so they will know exactly what it is like. (After all, it's supposed to be harmless, right?) While they're at it, they might try a little bit of pepper spray to the eyes, and try breathing some tear gas, other non-lethal 'compliance' tools...

        If nothing else, it would give them something to write about.


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Sun Apr 12, 2015 at 09:03 AM PDT

Change - It Can Happen

by xaxnar

        If you heard the news about GE getting out of finance to go back to 'making things', Paul Krugman has a take on it you may find interesting. From his blog...

There are two big lessons from GE’s announcement that it is planning to get out of the finance business. First, the much maligned Dodd-Frank financial reform is doing some real good. Second, Republicans have been talking nonsense on the subject. OK, maybe point #2 isn’t really news, but it’s important to understand just what kind of nonsense they’ve been talking.

...the more or less official GOP line is that the crisis had nothing to do with runaway banks — it was all about Barney Frank somehow forcing poor innocent bankers to make loans to Those People. And the line on the right also asserts that the SIFI designation is actually an invitation to behave badly, that institutions so designated know that they are too big to fail and can start living high on the moral hazard hog.

       What's really going on, as Krugman notes, is that Dodd-Frank financial reforms have changed the playing field to the point that GE has found the game is no longer rigged in their favor, so they're getting out. (And it's not like they're hurting all that bad - see who takes #1 on Bernie Sanders list.) There's some fundamental principles at work. Kauffman's Rules 8 and 11 seem to apply here. Via Sara Robinson...
8. Look for high leverage points. Nearly every feedback system has weak spots. These are almost always the control points which measure the system's behavior and determine its response to change. The best way to change a system's behavior is either to change the "setting" of the control unit or to change the information which the control unit receives. If you want to make a cold house warmer, turn the thermostat up or stick an ice pack on it, but don't build a fire in an inefficient fireplace--it will do little if any good.


11. Don't try to control the players, just change the rules. When the National Football League wanted to make football games a bit more exciting, it didn't order quarterbacks to throw more passes. Instead, it changed the rules slightly so that pass plays would have a better chance of working. If the, league had gone the first route, teams would have looked for ways to evade the order, perhaps by throwing a few more short, safe passes, and the game would still have been dull. In the actual case, however, teams were aggressive about taking advantage of the new opportunities to pass. The same principle applies in economics, politics, science, education, and many other areas. If the system tries to make choices for people, the people will try to outwit the system. It is much more effective to change the "rules of the" game" so that it is to most people's advantage to make the choices that are good for the whole system.
(You can find all four parts of Robinson's series on Kauffman's Rules with commentary on each at Orcinus; Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.)

       While Dodd-Frank gets complaints from the Left that it didn't go far enough, it would be much more productive to point out that it is already making a difference for the better - hence the determined effort by the usual suspects to roll it back as far as possible. The market fundamentalism cult of the GOP holds that government has no role in regulating business, that markets are inherently self-correcting if left alone. This is not only nonsense, it is dangerous nonsense. The only way one can argue for this belief is by either ignoring history or distorting it all out of recognition - which pretty much sums up the GOP approach to every disaster they're responsible for.

       It's taken decades of digging to put us in the hole we're currently in - and it's been a bipartisan affair all too often. (TPP really, Mr. President?) Nonetheless, there are signs that the light is beginning to dawn. (YES on boosting Social Security!) Guy Kawasaki some years ago compared competing with IBM (during his time at Apple Computer) to "putting your head in a vice and tightening it as hard as you can stand - and then tightening it some more" IIRC. We're currently at that stage with the conservative narrative and framing that has been force-fed to us for so many years; change isn't necessarily going to be fast - but it can happen. Let's recognize when it does - and keep building momentum.


Dodd-Frank in the light of GE's decision to go back to making money by making things....

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Fri Apr 03, 2015 at 01:55 PM PDT

About those job numbers...

by xaxnar

     Here's how to explain them to your conservative friends. They came in lower than expected, and already conservatives are screaming it's Obama's fault. Never mind that it is one blip in an economy that has been expanding for months. Never mind we are coming out of a tough winter. Never mind the dollar getting stronger may hurt trade. Never mind that oil prices have been really low, hurting US energy workers. Never mind California's drought may raise food prices.

None of that matters - because it is always Obama's fault - or is it?

       Here's how you stop the conservative blame game. Ask them if there wasn't something big that happened just a few months ago, something that is having a terrible effect on the whole country.

        And while they're scratching their heads, look 'em right in the eye and let 'em have it: Republicans took complete control of Congress; what else did they expect?

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