Monday, September 30, 2013


A second flood, a simple famine, plagues of locusts everywhere,or a cataclysmic earthquake I'd accept with some despair.But no -- You sent us Congress.Good God, Sir, was that fair?

-- John Adams, 1776

This week everybody was talking about government shutdown

I covered that in a separate article, "Tea Trek: Into Darkness". The gist is that the current government-shutdown and debt-ceiling confrontation represents something bigger than a fight over ObamaCare. It's about the Republicans giving up on democracy and seeking to rule from the minority.

and lots and lots of nonsense about ObamaCare

Critics exaggerate the unpopularity of ObamaCare, usually by lumping together the people who want the government to do nothing to help the uninsured (i.e., most Republicans, as Ross Douthat more-or-less acknowledges) with the people who want universal insurance through a single-payer system (i.e., me).

But even to the extent ObamaCare is actually unpopular, you have to take into account that it is the most lied-about program in the history of government. If some guy wants ObamaCare repealed because Rick Santorum convinced him his special-needs child will be euthanized -- well, how much weight does that opinion deserve? How much consideration should you give to people who are against ObamaCare but support the Affordable Care Act?

Vanity Fair's Kurt Eichenwald refutes some of the most outrageous anti-ObamaCare claims, but he opens with a level of vitriol that your conservative friends will never wade through. (So send them excerpts rather than a link.) The NYT's Philip Boffey addresses the ObamaCare-is-killing-jobs argument. Gannett's Fact-Checker column gave a 0-out-of-10 rating to the truthfulness of the Congress-exempted-itself-from-ObamaCare claim.

As for various implementation glitches as the exchanges roll out on Tuesday: All large government programs have them. The difference with ObamaCare is that Republicans in Congress have refused to cooperate in the post-passage/pre-implementation process of legal fine-tuning that is usually bipartisan and uncontroversial. Any Republicans who genuinely wanted to improve the program rather than sabotage it would find Democrats more than willing to work with them.

Matt Yglesias points out the irony of Senator Cruz reading Green Eggs and Ham during his anti-ObamaCare pseudo-filibuster Tuesday: The Dr. Seuss classic is about irrational resistance to something you've never tried. If anyone is Sam I Am in this analogy it's President Obama, who knows the country will like ObamaCare if it ever gets to try it.

Posts by Middle Class Political Economist explain why two pillars of Republican health-care reform won't work.

We know selling insurance across state lines is a bad idea because we've seen this movie before with interstate banking: Rather than increase competition, banks just moved their credit-card operations to the states with the weakest consumer protections, South Dakota and Delaware. The framing of this idea is also weird, particularly for a party that claims to limit federal power: "Allowing" interstate competition is the same as "banning" states from regulating their health-insurance markets, i.e., the federal government will be the only effective health insurance regulator.

We know medical-malpractice reform won't cut costs, because 39 states have tried this kind of reform with no significant effect. Texas is the prime example.

I'll add a personal reflection on malpractice reform: The claim is that "defensive medicine" (doctors doing unnecessary tests or treatments to avoid malpractice lawsuits) drives up costs, and so legal reform can lower them. But my wife and I both believe that defensive medicine saved her life. In 1996 she had a mildly suspicious mammogram, and the radiologist recommended rescanning her in six months. But the doctor who had just changed her birth control to something riskier breast-cancer-wise (in other words, the one on the hook for malpractice) insisted on a biopsy. She had stage-2 breast cancer, which could have been stage 3 or 4 six months later.

and promising foreign-policy developments

Just a few weeks ago, I'd have said this was impossible: Friday the UN Security Council voted unanimously -- that means Russia and China too -- to make Syria give up its chemical weapons. Today, the international team that is supposed to oversee the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons is leaving from The Hague. They should arrive in Damascus tomorrow.

Now, there's a lot that can still go wrong. But so far nobody seems to be slow-rolling this process, which is what you'd expect if the critics are right and it's all some elaborate ruse to help Assad keep his weapons rather than get rid of them.

In other news, President Obama and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani talked on the phone. That may not sound like much, but nothing similar has happened since the days of the Shah. They said nice things to each other. Will that conversation go somewhere? Unclear, but it's the first optimistic turn in US/Iranian relations in a long, long time.

and the new IPCC report on climate change

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first part of its Fifth Assessment report, updating the Fourth Assessment in 2007. The report itself, even just the 36-page summary for policy-makers, is dense reading for the non-scientist. Grist's John Upton , ThinkProgress' Ryan Koronowski and Quartz' Eric Holthaus summarize.

If you've been paying attention to the climate-change issue, there are no big shockers. Between 2007 and 2013, models get better, levels of certainty increase, and the story remains the same: By burning fossil fuels, humans are raising the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, which causes the Earth to reflect less of the Sun's energy back into space. That's causing atmospheric temperatures to increase, the ocean to get more acidic, sea levels to rise, glaciers to recede, and so on.

Holthaus calls attention to one process detail worth noting:
What makes the IPCC so important is simple: They are required to agree. Last night, the group pulled an all-nighter to ensure that representatives from all 195 member countries agreed on every single word of the 36-page “summary for policymakers” (pdf).

in a saner world, that process by itself would lay to rest the idea that there is some kind of scientific "controversy" about global warming. There are disagreements about levels of certainty, or how fast things are changing, but the scientists who spend their lives studying this stuff agree on the general outlook.

Predictably but sadly, the release of any major new scientific report about climate change is matched by climate-change deniers turning up the volume on their disinformation campaign. Debunking climate-denier disinformation soaks up a lot of scientific effort that could be better spent elsewhere, but it has to be done: here, here, here, and elsewhere.

In a move you will understand if you read the comments on any major-news-service article on the IPCC report, Popular Science announced Tuesday that its web site will no longer allow readers to comment on news stories. The reason is kind of sad: The trolls won. PopSci realized that its comment threads were promoting more ignorance than knowledge.
A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to "debate" on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.

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When I'm not writing about politics, I write about religion. Here's my latest column for UU World.

The NSA revelations keep dribbling out. Now, the NSA is mapping social connections between Americans. In theory, the NSA is only supposed to spy on foreigners and Americans who have some connection to terrorism investigations. But more and more it looks like that's just about everybody. It's a six-degrees-of-Bin-Laden game.

In other NSA news, NSA head General Keith Alexander refused to give a straight answer to Senator Wyden's question of whether the NSA uses GPS data from American cell phones to track people. The larger theme of Senator Wyden's tenure on the Senate Intelligence Committee has to do with his frustration about knowing secrets that he can't tell the public, even though the public ought to know. So probably this interaction is about Wyden trying and failing to get something into the public record that he already knows is true.

New laws in Texas really are keeping people from voting. ThinkProgress tells the story of 84-year-old Dorothy Card, whose legal-aide daughter is making a fourth attempt to get Dorothy a voter-ID card.

Remember how for several years the economy would seem to be coming back in the winter only to sputter in the summer? Turns out that was a glitch. The 2008-2009 crash happened in the winter, so for three years after that the seasonal-adjustment algorithm tried to seasonally adjust to another crash. When the economy didn't re-crash in the subsequent winters, the seasonal adjustment made it look like it was doing great. The algorithm would then smooth things out by making the summer look bad.

I know, I know: The reporting system can't be that stupid, can it? Looks like it could. Major policy decisions were based on recoveries and set-backs that never really happened.

The early skirmishes of 2016 are taking place in image-making feature articles.

Liberal Democrats (i.e., people like me) are torn: As in the 2008 cycle, Hillary Clinton is the early favorite. In terms of name recognition and public respect, she looks like the Democrats' strongest candidate to keep the White House, particularly if she can sail through the primaries without a serious challenge. She'd also rally the women's vote, which has to be an important part of any Democratic strategy.

OTOH, Clinton would carry forward everything I (and folks like Jonathan Chait) dislike about Obama: the surveillance state, kowtowing to Wall Street, and so on. The presidency of her husband, Bill (The-Era-of-Big-Government-is-Over) Clinton, was a time of peace and relative prosperity, but it left us with a low-expectations liberalism that was content to watch the 1% capture all the economic growth.

That ambivalence is playing out in feature articles. Without discussing 2016 directly or putting forward somebody to run against her, what if we remind everyone of the downside of Clintonism and see if that story takes off? So New Republic has an article about sleazy Clintonista Doug Band, while New York Magazine runs a more positive Hillary profile.

and let's end with something to make you smile

The New York Times Magazine has a wonderful article about a 103-year-old New Yorker who still enjoys fine restaurants.
"Maybe because I’m eating alone at my age, people at other tables start conversations,” he said. Yes, he tells them, he lives alone, in a modest studio apartment on West 57th Street in Manhattan, and he always eats dinner out, always orders the fish. “They always ask my age, and I often lie and tell them I’m 90,” he said. “If I tell them my real age, it becomes the whole subject of conversation and makes it look like I’m looking for attention, which I’m not.”

Monday, September 23, 2013

Moral Masquerades

There is nothing so bad but it can masquerade as moral.

-- Walter Lippman, A Preface to Politics (1920)

This week's featured articles: "Hunger Games: Who's Right About Food Stamps?" and "Pots, Kettles, and Projections from the Religious Right".

This week everybody was talking about government shutdown

On Sunday's interview shows, Republicans and Democrats alike were predicting the government would avoid shutdown, which will happen a week from tomorrow unless Congress passes something. But nobody was presenting a plausible scenario for how that is going to happen.

Friday the House has passed a continuing resolution to fund the government at sequester levels until December 15, except for anything having to do with ObamaCare. The Senate will probably remove the ObamaCare provisions and send it back to the House. Nobody seems to know what will happen then.

and ObamaCare

The reason Republicans are so desperate to get ObamaCare derailed right now is that the exchanges start up October 1. When Americans start dealing with the reality of ObamaCare rather than the monsters-under-the-bed conjured up by right-wing propaganda, they're going to like it. And that might be good for America, but it will be bad for the Republican Party.

This week, Republicans finally got around to offering the "replace" part of their plan to repeal-and-replace ObamaCare. As Bloomberg's editorial notes, it doesn't really replace anything: ObamaCare lowers the number of uninsured Americans by about 25 million (more if red states would implement Medicaid expansion) and the Republican plan doesn't.

The Republican plan is basically the same hodge-podge of proposals they floated in 2009. The CBO looked at them back then and ...
CBO begins with the baseline estimate that 17 percent of legal, non-elderly residents won't have health-care insurance in 2010. In 2019, after 10 years of the Republican plan, CBO estimates that ...17 percent of legal, non-elderly residents won't have health-care insurance.

So President Obama has passed into law a plan to cut in half the number of uninsured Americans. Republicans counter with a plan that does not address that problem at all.

The most outrageous piece of the ObamaCare debate right now are the ads being run to get young people to "opt out" -- in other words, to stay uninsured. These ads are being funded by the richest men in America, the Koch brothers, who have a combined net worth equal to Bill Gates.

If those young people who opt out have a major health problem, will the Koch brothers be there to help them? Don't be silly. I tend to shy away from using the word evil, but this is evil. Rich people are trying to achieve their political goals by encouraging poorer people to do something that could ruin their lives.

and the Navy Yard shooting (i.e. guns)

It's hard to argue with Dr. Janis Orlowski's response:
There’s something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate. ... I would like you to put my trauma center out of business. I really would. I would like to not be an expert on gunshots and not to be an expert on this.

The gun issue seems to epitomize the entire liberal/conservative debate these days. On the one hand, you have liberals advocating a policy (gun control) that might or might not work. It seems to work in other countries (like Australia), but maybe America is different somehow. On the other hand you've got conservatives, who offer nothing.

Meanwhile, in as polite a way as possible, Starbucks asks people not to bring guns into their shops. And pro-gun commenters go ballistic.

and Food Stamps (but I wish we were having a more factual discussion)

Fox News would have you believe that Food Stamp recipients are freeloading surfing bums. MSNBC wants you to think they're hungry kids. I decided to look at what the House's proposed $39 billion in cuts actually are in "Hunger Games: Who's Right About Food Stamps?"

and Syria

The weirdest thing about Syria is the disconnect between the American people and the pundit class. The people think it's great that we might get rid of Syria's chemical weapons without entering another messy war. The pundits find this solution weak.

Meanwhile, the plan is puttering along. Syria submitted its chemical-weapon inventory to international organization in charge of destroying chemical weapons.

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It looks like it must be an Onion news parody, but it isn't: An op-ed in Fortune says it's time for the 99% to "give back" to the 1%.
All proper human interactions are win-win; that’s why the parties decide to engage in them. ... For their enormous contributions to our standard of living, the high-earners should be thanked and publicly honored. We are in their debt.

Here’s a modest proposal. Anyone who earns a million dollars or more should be exempt from all income taxes. Yes, it’s too little. And the real issue is not financial, but moral. So to augment the tax-exemption, in an annual public ceremony, the year’s top earner should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

As I recall, the original "modest proposal" was also pitched as a win-win interaction.

If you like the Fortune piece, this WSJ op-ed is right up your alley: A hedge-fund manager expresses his moral superiority over his son, who's feeding the homeless.

Peter Beinart argues that the formative political/economic experiences of 20-somethings will place them outside the Reagan/Clinton boundaries that have defined the last few decades of politics.

and let's end with something fun

I remember being a grad student: At certain points, any kind of time-consuming project seemed more interesting than finishing my thesis. So rewriting and re-performing "Bohemian Rhapsody" to explain string theory makes perfect sense.

I think this will be hard to beat for Gonzo Labs' 2013 "Dance Your Thesis" competition. (Only one more week to get your video in.) Watch the 2012 winners here.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Without Fighting

To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting. Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy's plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy's forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy's army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.

-- Sun Tzu, The Art of War

This week's featured articles: The Summer of Snowden I: language of denial and A brief meditation on white twerking.

This week everybody was talking about eliminating Syria's chemical weapons without war

Saturday, the Syrian government agreed to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the US and Russia agreed on a plan to eliminate Syria's chemical stockpile. If the plan works, then the Obama administration will achieve one of its main goals in Syria without using force.

As I wrote last week, though, American motivations in Syria have been muddled. So you should be happy if what you mainly wanted was to uphold international norms against chemical weapons. If, on the other hand, you wanted Assad overthrown, this plan won't do that. The civil war in Syria, with all its civilian casualties and displaced people, will go on. If you just wanted America to stay out of a situation that doesn't seem to have any clear solutions, you should be ecstatic.

Meanwhile, the UN inspectors are presenting their findings today. So far they seem in line with what the Obama administration has said: Sarin was used. According to a summary by The Guardian, the Secretary General "did not mention the Assad regime by name but the findings implicated forces linked to Assad."

On the issue of threatening war and then stopping short of it: WaPo's Dylan Matthews collects historians' work on how important it is for a world leader to follow through on his threats. Not very, it turns out.
Paul Huth (now at Maryland) and Bruce Russett (Yale) analyzed 54 historical cases and concluded, "deterrence success is not systematically associated…with the defender's firmness or lack of it in previous crises." ... The University of Washington's Jonathan Mercer's book, Reputation and International Politics, finds that there is no predictable effect of backing down in crisis.

Summarizing and over-simplifying a little: The usual reason leaders don't follow through is that their threat turns out to be stupid. Your opponents understand this, and if it wouldn't be stupid to carry out your next threat, they will take it seriously. Dartmouth's Daryl Press imagines how our failure to attack Syria might be viewed in Iran:
When Iran's leaders are trying to figure out if we'll really mess with them if they interfere with tanker traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, they'll ask, "Does the U.S. really care about global oil flows?" and "Can the US Navy really keep those sea lanes open?", and the answers are "Yes, we care deeply," and "Yes, the Navy can," It would be foolish in the extreme to think that our willingness to intervene in a civil war in which we have no allies and no friends is a good indication to how we'd respond to attacks on genuine national interests.

The weirdest part of this whole story has been the reaction of American conservatives, who somehow see Putin getting an advantage over Obama. Whose ally is giving something up? I guarantee you, if Putin had threatened war unless Israel gave up some kind of weapon, and Obama pressured Israel into promising to do it, conservatives would not be saying Obama had gotten the better of the deal. Steven Benen summarizes in "Revenge is a dish best served coherent".

and inequality

New numbers from economists Saez and Piketty show what you probably already suspected: The vast majority of the income gains from the post-2008 economic recovery have gone to the wealthy.

The WaPo's Wonkblog has a great set of graphs explaining "how everyone's been doing since the financial crisis". The short version: bankers, corporations, and the rich are doing fine; workers and families not nearly so well.

and whether the government will shut down on October 1 or two weeks later

The fiscal year ends on September 30, and the House Republicans still seem not to have decided on a negotiating position. Most recent estimates say the government will hit the debt ceiling by mid-October. President Obama is refusing to negotiate over that issue. (I agree with that position, BTW. You negotiate over issues where you want to do one thing and your opponents want to do another. But the debt ceiling is more like a hostage crisis. Nobody wants the US to default on its debts or promises; Republicans are just counting on Democrats not wanting it more than they do.)

but I wrote about the NSA

This week begins a series I call The Summer of Snowden. Part I of the series examines what the NSA's words really mean.

Just an aside: Foreign Policy reports that the NSA's "Information Dominance Center" was
designed by a Hollywood set designer to mimic the bridge of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek, complete with chrome panels, computer stations, a huge TV monitor on the forward wall, and doors that made a "whoosh" sound when they slid open and closed.

Well, at least it's not the Death Star.

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America makes the best TV shows because our dysfunctional systems produce more drama. (Could The Wire have been set in a clean, prosperous, well-managed city? Hats off to Baltimore!) Cartoonist Christopher Keelty observes:
One thing that really interests me about [Breaking Bad] is how it juxtaposes two of America’s most catastrophic policy failures: The for-profit health care industry and the failed War on Drugs

The next Fed chair won't be Larry Summers. As Treasury Secretary under Clinton, he championed the financial deregulation that prepared the ground for the Crash of 2008. And as President Obama's first Director of the National Economic Council he was one of the architects of the save-Wall-Street-first strategy. So I'm not sorry to see him shuffle off the stage.

I've had a policy of avoiding outrage-of-the-day articles, so I've barely mentioned Pat Robertson or Glenn Beck at all lately. AlterNet's Amanda Marcotte makes the case for covering them more closely, because otherwise they get to maintain one image for the general public and another for their followers.
There’s a widespread and concentrated effort on the right to keep the crazy talk as far out of sight of the opposition as possible, while simultaneously disseminating their ideas among the true believers. This reality doesn’t comport with the claim that they benefit from mainstream media attention, but the opposite.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Applying Pressure

What I'd like is if news accounts on pressure to intervene in Syria made it clear that the "growing calls ... for forceful action" aren't coming from the people, or Congressional majorities, or an expert consensus. The pressure is being applied by a tiny, insular elite that mostly lives in Washington, D.C., and isn't bothered by the idea of committing America to military action that most Americans oppose.

-- Conor Friedersdorf, "How an Insular Beltway Elite Makes Wars of Choice More Likely"
The Atlantic, August 28, 2013

This week everybody was talking about Syria

and so am I. This is one of those rare times when making yourself heard could change history, so say something, and try to get it right. I lay out my own thought process as methodically as I can in Congress Is Listening. What Should You Say?

Some of this week’s Syria talk was amusing, like the Onion’s Poll: Majority Of Americans Approve Of Sending Congress To Syria and Assad Unable To Convince Putin That He Used Chemical Weapons On Syrians.

and the hits just keep coming at the NSA

If you think that little lock icon in your browser is keeping them from watching you, think again. Also, they’re building back doors into software security. Even if you trust the NSA, what if somebody else finds those doors?

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All over the world, people tie sneakers together and throw them over wires. And all over the world, people have explanations of what it means.

A couple links to remind you that we’re not anywhere near a “post-racial America” yet. In Charlotte, a church tries to put its best foot forward by making sure that “only white people” greet newcomers at the front door. Meanwhile, a private school in Tulsa sends a little girl home for having dreadlocks.

Have you ever wondered whether those sponsor-a-child programs make any difference? It turns out they do.

50 years after Michael Harrington’s The Other America launched the War on Poverty, poverty is still holding its own.

Grist examines the is-global-warming-slowing-down question. Conclusion: Heat cycles in the Pacific Ocean are slowing the increase in air temperatures, but the planet as a whole is continuing to get hotter.

Monday, September 2, 2013


Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

-- Martin Luther King "Beyond Vietnam" (1967)

This week everybody was talking about war with Syria

Saturday, President Obama more-or-less said: "I can attack Syria if I want, but there's no hurry, so I'll give Congress time to agree with me." OK, what he actually said was:
I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. ... Yet, while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective.

I didn't hear any pledge to submit to the will of Congress if it follows the example of Britain's Parliament and doesn't give authorization. He's just offering media exposure to "members of Congress who want their voices to be heard".

What will this military action accomplish? Sadly, the person who summarized it best was satirist Andy Borowitz:
Attempting to quell criticism of his proposal for a limited military mission in Syria, President Obama floated a more modest strategy today, saying that any U.S. action in Syria would have “no objective whatsoever.”

The President is not claiming he can or will topple the Assad government or capture Assad for trial at the World Criminal Court or destroy Syria's capacity to use chemical weapons. (The chemicals are in artillery shells and could be anywhere.) The only possible point is to punish Assad's side in the civil war, thereby sending a message to all chemical-weapon-wannabees that the United States has appointed itself the enforcer of international norms. Doing nothing, on the other hand, would cause President Obama to lose face, because his talk of a "red line" and "serious response" would appear empty.

Anytime a problem can be solved by breaking things and killing people, the military is the tool for the job. But it's lousy at sending messages and saving face.

For once I find myself wishing Obama would follow President Reagan's example. Reagan dispatched Marines to Lebanon, and when a truck bomb killed hundreds of them, he pulled them back out. That was a huge loss of face for the United States and its president, but sometimes your best choice is to accept that all your options are bad and move on. Like a quarterback who realizes he called the wrong third-down play for a blitzing defense, you throw the ball out of bounds and punt.

and the anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech

It was ironic that President Obama spoke at the rally honoring America's greatest advocate of nonviolence, and then announced his decision to strike Syria a few days later. I agree with almost everything he said Wednesday, but what he didn't say was striking too.

To mark the anniversary, everybody but the white supremacists struggled to claim Martin Luther King's legacy. Bill O'Reilly invoked King, Joe Walsh invoked King ... it went on all week. Everybody, it seems, knows only the content-of-their-character quote, and is willing to bend that to support whatever position they favor. I protest this dumbing-down of Dr. King's legacy in MLK: Sanitized for Their Protection. (Joan Walsh and Matt Berman also wrote on this theme.)

Joan Walsh pointed out somebody else who gets mis-represented: another 1960s liberal, Senator Moynihan. His 1965 report The Negro Family: The Case for National Action is often cited by conservatives for its focus on out-of-wedlock births and other signs of dysfunction in black families. Walsh puts that report in the larger context of Moynihan's career:
Around the same time, Moynihan helped write President Lyndon B. Johnson’s famous Howard University speech on race, which committed the country not merely to equality of opportunity but demanded efforts to achieve a much more controversial “equality of results.” Working for Johnson’s Labor Department, Moynihan proposed public works jobs and affirmative action measures, as well as a guaranteed national income, to lift black families, whether they were headed by one or two parents, out of poverty. Later, under Richard Nixon (a career move that sealed his reputation as a proto neoconservative), he again proposed a guaranteed family income.

Wednesday's celebration also underlined the continuing chaos in the Republican Party. No Republican elected officials spoke at the rally and I have yet to find any claiming to have attended. A spokesman for the event claimed:
This was truly a bipartisan outreach effort. All members of congress were invited to attend and the Republican leadership was invited to speak.

But they all had scheduling conflicts. Eric Cantor is supposed to have tried to find somebody to represent the Party, but failed.

and (God help us) Miley Cyrus

Cyrus became famous as Disney's squeaky-clean Hannah Montana, so you knew she'd have to rebel against that at some point, just as Britney Spears and Christian Aguilera rebelled against their Mickey Mouse Club origins. So that inevitable event happened at the Video Music Awards. For the historical record, the video is here.

The subsequent flurry of commentary is more noteworthy than the performance itself (which -- to me at least -- seemed more desperate than sexy or shocking). My favorite is the Onion's faux-CNN "Let Me Explain Why Miley Cyrus' VMA Performance Was Our Top Story This Morning". There was also a discussion of slut-shaming (why isn't Robin Thicke's role bringing him criticism?), the rich-white-girl-exploiting-black-urban-culture angle (when is cultural cross-pollination legit and when does it cross over into blackface-minstrel territory?), and female-black-bodies-as-props-for-white-sexuality.

but I wish more people were paying attention to this

Hugo-winning science fiction author Charles Stross, who visualizes the future for a living, gave Foreign Policy magazine a glimpse of what he sees in “Spy Kids”, an article that explains why the basic assumptions of post-World-War-II organizations like the NSA and CIA are incompatible with the lived values of the next generation. Unless the security state fundamentally changes its culture, he believes, we're due for a generation in which Edward Snowden is the norm, not the exception.
These organizations are products of the 20th-century industrial state, and they are used to running their human resources and internal security processes as if they're still living in the days of the "job for life" culture. Potential spooks-to-be were tapped early (often while at school or university), vetted, and then given a safe sinecure along with regular monitoring to ensure they stayed on the straight-and-narrow all the way to the gold watch and pension. Because that's how we all used to work, at least if we were civil servants or white-collar paper-pushers back in the 1950s.

… To Generation Z's eyes, the boomers and their institutions look like parasitic aliens with incomprehensible values who make irrational demands for absolute loyalty without reciprocity. Worse, the foundational mythology and ideals of the United States will look like a bitter joke, a fun house mirror's distorted reflection of the reality they live with from day to day.

And that raises his concluding question:
If you turn the Internet into a panopticon prison and put everyone inside it, where else are you going to be able to recruit the jailers? And how do you ensure their loyalty?

and this was interesting too

You may have heard that Arkansas State Senator Jeremy Hutchinson "shot a teacher" with a rubber bullet. Not exactly. When a local police chief heard that Hutchinson supported arming teachers against a Sandy-Hook-style school shooting, he invited Hutchinson to take part in a police school-shooting exercise with rubber bullets. The chief wanted Hutchinson to understand how hard it is for police to tell the good guys from the bad guys when everybody is shooting at each other. And sure enough, in the course of a simulation of an armed teacher shooting it out with a bad guy, Hutchinson shot the "teacher" by mistake.

To his credit, Hutchinson got the point. (The story is public because he tells it.) He still supports armed security guards at schools, but not letting teachers have guns in their classrooms.

Major Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people and wounded 32 others in the Fort Hood shooting in 2009, was convicted by a military jury, which recommended a death sentence. A general still has to sign off before the sentence can be carried out.

In hopes of keeping the word terrorism from becoming completely meaningless, I'll repeat something I've said many times before: Hasan is a military officer who attacked his own base, targeting soldiers and collaterally killing some civilians. It was treason and may well merit a death sentence under military law, but attacks against soldiers on military bases are acts of war, not terrorism.

Back in July I told you what happened to the bold claims of South Carolina's attorney general that dead people had cast "over 900" votes in recent South Carolina elections: State police investigated the 207 cases from the most recent election, whittled the number of suspicious votes down to 4, came to no clear conclusion about those final 4, and recommended no action be taken.

Fox News gave the AG face time to make his claims, but the investigation debunking them wasn't covered.

Well, similar story recently in Colorado: The Secretary of State identified 155 votes "possibly" cast by non-citizens. Boulder DA Stan Garnett investigated and found:
the 17 people suspected of voting illegally in the November election in Garnett's district are citizens who were easily able to verify their status.

"Local governments and county clerks do a really good job regulating the integrity of elections, and I'll stand by that record any day of the week," Garnett said. "We don't need state officials sending us on wild goose chases for political reasons."

So once again: A big headline-grabbing story about voter fraud evaporates when somebody bothers to investigate.

He was an outstanding college quarterback: Heisman finalist and star of a national championship team. As an NFL rookie, he led his team to a series of miraculous come-from-behind wins that put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But his career subsequently floundered. Critics said his strong running but inaccurate passing had been a better match for the college game than the NFL. Recently he was competing to be the back-up to one of the NFL's legendary quarterbacks, but this weekend he was released. No one is sure where his career goes from here.

Tim Tebow? No, I was talking about Vince Young, who just got cut by the Packers with very little fanfare. What a difference it makes to be white and outspoken about your Christian faith.

You know that rhetoric about big government draining the life's blood out of the people? Well, in Tennessee it's literally true: On this holiday weekend, police in at least a dozen counties are setting up checkpoints to look for drunk drivers. If you're stopped and they find you suspicious, they can force you to give a blood sample. A similar law holds in Georgia.

I'm glad I live in a blue state, where we don't tolerate the kind of big-government oppression they have in red states.

I continue to think that The League of Ordinary Gentlemen is one of the blogosphere's best-kept secrets. In this post, Tod Kelly debunks the "pseudo-libertarian" argument that the free market will root out bigotry.
Businesses in the pre-civil-rights South that refused serve African Americans didn’t make less money for their bigotry – they made more; a restaurant owner’s primary motive for having a white’s only seating area (or entire establishment) was profit. In those bigoted communities, allowing economically disenfranchised blacks to sit with far wealthier whites meant losing profitable customers at the expense of ones who couldn’t afford to pay as much.

and let's end with something amusing

All the Katrinas and Sandies don't deserve to have national disasters named after them, but climate-change deniers do. "Senator Marco Rubio is expected to pound the eastern seaboard sometime early tonight ..."