Posts tagged ‘Frank Bruni’

By George I Think They’ve Got It!

Frank Bruni, NYT columnist and liberal, had a long column this morning on my favorite topic, Cheeto-head isn’t shrewd or strategic, he is really just a petulant child:

For all of the negative news coverage that he receives, there has also been a strand of analysis that insisted on, or at least sought, a silver lining to the golden-haired huckster. It reflected all the rationalizations that I heard from Americans who had voted for Trump or were willing themselves to see some upside to his election:

The tweets weren’t merely splenetic. They were strategic, providing distractions when he needed them most. He was amoral, sure, but that was part and parcel of his craftiness, which could do the country some good. He was a liar, yes, but the best deals and the bent truth often went hand in hand — and he was a deal maker above all. He flouted norms, but that might be precisely the purgative our politics needed.

Commentators strained to spot and savor any flicker of something more dignified. Remember the accolades for his address to a joint session of Congress? All he’d done was the commander-in-chief equivalent of chewing with his mouth closed.

…And when I picture him at that Time magazine dinner, with a portion bigger than anybody else’s, I don’t see him on a throne. I see him in a highchair, keeping his audience guessing about just how much ice cream he’ll fling against the wall.

Frank is talking about the reporter dinner where Cheeto-head got served something better than anyone else including two scoops of ice cream instead of the one everyone else got on their dessert.  But the point is there is nothing strategic in his wild outbursts.  They are not to unbalance his opponent for strategic advantage.  They are just wild outbursts.  That ought to really work well when we have a real crisis not caused by Cheeto-head himself.

But wait!  Conservatives are also joining the wake up call.  Here is Ross Douthat, conservative columnist for the NYT:

The reaction to the sacking of James Comey is the latest illustration. Far too many observers, left and right, persist in being surprised at Trump when nothing about his conduct is surprising, persist in looking for rationality where none is to be found, and persist in believing that some institutional force — party elders or convention delegates, the deep state or an impeachment process — is likely to push him off the stage.

…Childish behavior can still lead to abuses of power, of which the Comey firing will not be the last. But liberals need to accept that the strongest case for removing Trump from office is likely to remain a 25th Amendment case: not high crimes and misdemeanors, not collusion with the Russians, but a basic mental unfitness for the office that manifests itself in made-for-TV crises and self-inflicted wounds.

Here is Charles Sykes, conservative talk show host, on what has become of the Republican Party to be able to support the unsupportable:

Rather than defend President Trump’s specific actions, his conservative champions change the subject to (1) the biased “fake news” media, (2) over-the-top liberals, (3) hypocrites on the left, (4) anyone else victimizing Mr. Trump or his supporters and (5) whataboutism, as in “What about Obama?” “What about Clinton?”

For the anti-anti-Trump pundit, whatever the allegation against Mr. Trump, whatever his blunders or foibles, the other side is always worse.

But the real heart of anti-anti-Trumpism is the delight in the frustration and anger of his opponents. Mr. Trump’s base is unlikely to hold him either to promises or tangible achievements, because conservative politics is now less about ideas or accomplishments than it is about making the right enemies cry out in anguish.

…As the right doubles down on anti-anti-Trumpism, it will find itself goaded into defending and rationalizing ever more outrageous conduct just as long as it annoys CNN and the left.

In many ways anti-anti-Trumpism mirrors Donald Trump himself, because at its core there are no fixed values, no respect for constitutional government or ideas of personal character, only a free-floating nihilism cloaked in insult, mockery and bombast.

By George, I think they’ve got it!  And on that note I will leave you with a link to Laurence H. Tribe’s call for Cheeto-head’s impeachment. Laurence Tribe is a Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School, so he ought to know something about the subject. Here is his conclusion:

It will require serious commitment to constitutional principle, and courageous willingness to put devotion to the national interest above self-interest and party loyalty, for a Congress of the president’s own party to initiate an impeachment inquiry. It would be a terrible shame if only the mounting prospect of being voted out of office in November 2018 would sufficiently concentrate the minds of representatives and senators today.

But whether it is devotion to principle or hunger for political survival that puts the prospect of impeachment and removal on the table, the crucial thing is that the prospect now be taken seriously, that the machinery of removal be reactivated, and that the need to use it become the focus of political discourse going into 2018.

I can’t help but think that if you buy Charlie Sykes’ description of the new Republican Party where there are no principles just anti left anything, then Ross Douthat may have our only way forward, the 25th Amendment.  The guy is bat shit crazy.

The Real Fight Finale

A continuation of the discussion in The Real Fight, and The Real Fight Part 2

The current political situation is in chaos.  Democrats were shattered in the last election and Republicans have a leader that is certainly not a Republican, but a populist with Republican leanings.  There is all kinds of nationalism and autocracy in play on the Republican side besides the economic arguments.  But the Nationalism and autocracy that is part of Steve Bannon’s philosophy are really a harking back to times that no longer exist.  Democrats see a more integrated and diverse society whereas Republicans see chaos if the old order is not restored.  But Trump won on the economic argument as reliable Democrtic working class voters bought into Donald Trump’s lies about restoring jobs and renegotiating trade agreements.  Democrats are navel gazing right now trying to figure out what went wrong.  Sadly a lot of this discussion is about listening and engaging more with the white middle America and sounds an awful lot like pandering.  “Well after all Hillary did win the popular vote.”  Frank Bruni put it this way this morning:

Have Democrats learned and implemented all the right lessons from Trump’s victory and from the party’s brutal fade during Barack Obama’s presidency? As the race for the D.N.C. chairmanship lurches toward its conclusion later this month and as Democratic lawmakers sweat the smartest strategy against Trump, I wonder. I worry…They routinely remind me and reassure themselves that Clinton won the popular vote and that if you subtract James Comey, Julian Assange and Vladimir Putin, she might have triumphed as well in the Electoral College, where Trump prevailed by just 77,000 votes…This is no moment for mere tinkering, and the party can’t afford the internal divisions on display in the D.N.C. race. After Joe Biden endorsed Perez last week, Bernie Sanders, who supports Ellison, shot back, “Do we stay with a failed status quo approach or do we go forward with a fundamental restructuring?”

Timothy Egan put it this way on one Saturday:

The way out is not that difficult. Yes, they should engage in hand-to-hand combat in the capital. And certainly, Democrats must turn to the courts when the rule of law is broken. But they have to be for something, as well — a master policy narrative, promoting things that help average Americans. The old Broadway adage was how it will play in Peoria. For Democrats, they should think of Joe Biden’s Scranton, Pa., every time they take to a podium.

My point is that we have to take on all Republicans, not just because they are supporting Cheeto-Head, but more importantly because they have their economics wrong, and with that, just about everything else.  Their brand of the Fifth Freedom (freedom of the market place) is tainting everything and as we get the economics wrong, the world is ripe for Trumps and blaming which leads to all the racism, nativism, xenophobia, and division in this country.  Democrats need to take on the Republican ideas about the economy and change the narrative around the Fifth Freedom. Just being against Cheeto-Head won’t change anything (see Hillary’s campaign). Thankfully James Kwak came along to do that for us.  So I am going to give you a short couple of paragraphs course on where James took us in his book, Economism:  Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality.  I really recommend you read it.

His basic premise is that the lessons we learned in Econ 101 about supply and demand (In a competitive economy, prices automatically direct effort and investment where they can do the most good— a feat that no government agency can match) are models and concepts in a perfect system that do not apply when markets aren’t perfect and the players aren’t rational.  Or said another way, welcome to the real world.  It is just a logical construct that needs to be adapted to real world complexities.

Here in his own words is that premise:

This invocation of basic economics lessons to explain all social phenomena is economism.  It rests on the premise that people, companies, and markets behave according to the abstract, two-dimensional illustrations of an Economics 101 textbook, even though the assumptions behind those diagrams [supply and demand curves] virtually never hold true in the real world…And while superficial economic arguments can serve multiple purposes, in today’s world they most often justify the existing social order— and the inequality that it generates— while explaining the futility of any attempt to change it.

…the conclusion that we must accept [according to economism] is that the world is as it is, because our attempts to make it better are doomed to fail…[we need] only to accept the principles of Economics 101. This makes economism a supremely convenient tool for the 0.1 percent, the perfect comeback to the Occupy Wall Street protesters. You understand why well-meaning do-gooders want to make taxes more progressive, subsidize health care, provide free higher education, and regulate Wall Street. But they simply don’t understand economics.

…My goal is not to show that one side is right and the other is wrong, but to demonstrate that an unwavering adherence to simplistic models has had a pernicious impact on debates and policies that affect hundreds of millions of people. Most of the time, that impact has the effect of increasing inequality or legitimizing the inequality generated by our economic system.

It is a self-serving philosophy for the conservatives and you hear them argue it every day. Professor Kwak then presents Econ 101 basic concepts and then annihilates them in the real world. Real economists, not shills for the status quo, believe in markets in general, but “they are continuously identifying instances of market failure and then designing government policy responses that can make these markets work better (Mark Thoma).”  See the tension here?  Conservatives and many Democrats who bought into this stuff, want government out of the market place (the Fifth Freedom) and they use Econ 101 arguments (Economism) to show that the government will only screw it up.  The reality is just opposite, but it is complex and most of us don’t do complex.

A great  example of he application of Economism is to the arguments around raising the minimum wage.  In the perfect world of Econ 101, markets find the right price to employ the most people.  Using supply and demand curves you can argue that raising the minimum wage (government interference) simply results in some getting higher wages, but fewer employed.  On the other hand the real result in the real world is a mixed bag depending on many other factors.

Take a store like Starbucks. Most of its clients are affluent and are more than willing to pay the few cents added to their cup of coffee for passing that wage hike onto the customers.  And in instances where it does cause a decrease in employment, it raises many more out of poverty.  So unlike conservatives who believe it is an open and shut argument, it is really a complex issue. Note President Cheeto-Head (Lord Commander Marmalade from Trae Crowder) has told us he is against minimum wages all together.  That is where Economism will get you.  The market will find the right wages to emply the most people. Slaves worked out so well for the South.

Healthcare is my favorite, as Paul Ryan was out spouting all the Economism arguments that the free market would provide health insurance tailored to the individual needs of the market place at the most reasonable price.  Choice and competition became the magic words that would end all our health care woes. Just get the government out of it. There is only one problems with all this.  Reality tells us that health care does not behave like any other market.  We do not incur medical expenses regularly, and we don’t have the medical knowledge to decide the best course for our own care.

The Economics 101 model in which financial incentives turn people into discerning consumers turns out not to work in the real world.”  And here is the thing, before Obamacare we had a system that did not work.  Were we paying attention?  I could make arguments that the business model for Health Insurance companies make them the customer to be served, not the person needing health care, but you get the drift.  In a perfect world it might work, but in our world, every other country has seen the light and moved to single payer systems while we still make Economism arguments.  These systems are not perfect but they provide universal care at a cheaper cost and with better outcomes than our system.

Anyway you get the point here.  Economism arguments make perfect sense and appeal to all of us, but then when applied to reality where the complexities of the markets are not examined, in many cases they give us just the opposite answer to what will actually work.  Professor Kwak takes us through Supply Side economics, free markets in the banking industry, and free trade to show how the arguments of Economism fail, yet we continue to buy into them for simple answers.  Again I have a favorite and that is free trade.

Economism will tell you that international trade simply is a win-win. There is a thing called the theory of comparative advantage which I am not going to go into here, but it basically shows that in the aggregate, trade is always good.  But we just had an election where trade agreements became the bogey man.  Conventional Republicans are free traders (as are many establishment Democrats) and Trump and Bernie were very popular being against it.  So what gives?  Well two things.  First, as always reality is more complex than theory.  If you look at NAFTA, in the aggregate we gained, cheaper products and more trade increasing net GDP.  But the local effects were horrendous, with a loss of jobs in the portion of our population with blue-collar workers, and the least likely to find new work.  In a word, it increased economic inequality.

When a rich country like the United States increases trade with a poor country, some industries will lose jobs because of competition from cheaper foreign labor. This can mean concentrated layoffs in specific sectors, as has happened to American manufacturing. Although those job losses may be balanced by gains in other parts of the economy, longtime assembly-line workers at automotive parts manufacturers in the Midwest cannot easily get hired by New Jersey pharmaceutical companies or Silicon Valley software firms…Within a rich country, in short, the primary winners are people who are already well-off, and therefore one result of increased trade with poor countries is greater inequality within the U.S. workforce.

Then there is the China effect:

“The reality of adjustment to the China trade shock has been far different. Offsetting employment gains either in export-oriented tradables or in non-tradables have, for the most part, failed to materialize.”…the fact that the U.S. economy has adjusted to Chinese competition so slowly and imperfectly calls into question the simple case for free trade.

In other words we get and buy into the Economism arguments and then reality tells us it is a much more mixed and complex picture.  The Establishment, both Democrats and Republicans were supporting trade agreements on Economism arguments when the people rebelled.  And that is the lesson I am trying to get across here.  The problem is not the man, Donald Trump, although he is a true threat to democracy.  The problem is that we as Progressive and Democrats have not challenged Economism as it has been applied to almost every political argument we see by conservatives and are winning those arguments.  Instead, every time Democrats have a big loss they start pandering to kinder gentler Economism.  It is time to take these ideas head on and fight them on the ideological battle field the conservatives have set up and are winning.  It is only when we finally expose these falsehoods and complexities can we progress.

Thank you James Kwak for taking us on an ideological journey to show how we have been duped.


Frank Bruni Identifies the Democratic Establishment Issue

In Frank Bruni’s op-ed this morning about the debate he said this:

The surreal twists of the Republican race and its domination by two politicians whom most party traditionalists find odious have obscured the trouble that the Democratic Party is in, by which I mean the strained, increasingly fragile alliance of the idealistic progressives whom Sanders has emboldened and the pragmatic technocrats* who, with the help of both Clintons, have defined Democratic politics for the last few decades.

The hostility that so many of Sanders’s supporters feel toward Clinton is a rejection of that kind of politics, and that hostility is where the fiercest energy in the party resides right now. It was audible on Thursday night, in the boos from the audience that sometimes rained down on Clinton.

…But beyond and outside of the 2016 presidential election, Democrats have plenty of soul-searching and fence mending to do. The party must examine the firmness of its hold on young voters: If they alone were deciding the Democratic nominee, it would be Sanders in a walk.

The party needs to figure out its relationship with corporate America, long friendly to Clinton and now demonized by Sanders. It needs to assess its appetite for foreign interventions, a subject on which Sanders and Clinton differ sharply, as they demonstrated afresh on Thursday night.

There are profound policy differences between the candidates, and there’s a chasm between those Democrats who think that paradigm-exploding change is necessary (and possible) and those who roll their eyes at that, deeming it naïve and delusional.

That is really what this election is about and while the media and most establishment Democrats are oblivious to it, they are facing a real divide.  As Frank pointed out, young people have already chosen.  They see a Democratic President for the last 8 years and the loss of the House and the Senate, with growing economic inequality as a failure of establishment Democrats and so do I.  Not to recognize that the underlying issue that Bernie keeps hammering on, money in politics and its progenitor, economic inequality, has been aided and abetted by the establishment Democrats is to blind yourself to reality.

The obvious conclusion is that politics as usual, even savvy politics, can not address this.  So when Frank says the party needs to figure out its relationship with corporate America, most of us think the only way that relationship will change is a full divorce where all policy gets judge not by increasing profits for corporations, but how it produces more economic equality at both ends of the spectrum. That upsets the world of both establishment politicians, but also corporate news media where they haven’t a clue how to cover this real debate. It is not in their interest to do so.

Hillary may well prevail in the primary as establishment politics is what the majority knows and feels comfortable with.  Change, real change, starts with just a few seeing how the conventional wisdom is no longer functional.  But establishment Democrats may find that if they don’t attack the real problem and little is changed four years from now, the Donald Trumps of the world have a real chance at actually becoming president.  And in the process they have alienated tomorrow’s voters.

*Note how Frank’s use of words prejudices this argument: “alliance of the idealistic progressives whom Sanders has emboldened and the pragmatic technocrats”.  Idealistic progressives seem like dreamers who haven’t a clue, like tree huggers, while pragmatic technocrats sounds like scientists and engineers who can get things done using real science.  But what if the pragmatic technocrats are using bad data, and those idealistic progressives actually have a fix on the only way forward?  Even here the argument is subtly weighted against change and Bernie in the language we use.

David Brooks Friday

Oh how I am starting to enjoy David Brooks Friday.  David writes some column that appears rational on the exterior if you are totally in denial about the Party that Republicans have created or how you have aided and abetted that creation.  Today was “thank god a good Republican has finally arisen to point out the shadiness of Donald Trump”.  Now that they can see the con, things will get back to normal.  And it is hysterical in its hypocrisy.  As one commenter pointed out:

Major Republican liar and ultimate loser Romney crashed and burned because of his absurd statement that 47 percent of Americans were moochers and takers. He ran on a platform that excluded women, gays, the middle class, secularists and everyone who wasn’t as white as the driven snow. His economic and social policies were just as hateful, deceitful and exclusionary as Trump’s, but they were delivered in a soothing tone and phrased with plausible deniability.

But he is the voice of reason in the darkness.  And here is the real denial.  David can not seem to come to grips with what this base that supports Trump is about.  He thinks they have been conned.  No David, they are an angry mob who is getting exactly what they want and Republicans have stoked for years, racism, radicalism, nativism, and violence.  They are angry because they believed all the conservative nonsense and then you guys never delivered.  Conservatism did not deliver.  Now they are acting out and you want them to return to being lap dogs to vote for you and your enriching the wealthy ways and they are going to reject you like teenage children who must walk their own path.

Of course Donald is a fraud and they don’t care.  You have created mindless followers who have been fed drivel by your think tanks and talk radio that quite frankly is not much different than what the Donald is feeding them now.  They have no idea what critical thinking is or what to believe anymore.  You have been successful at manipulating the press to get your message of lies out and now the Donald comes along and he has best you at it.  What are you going to do with a base that you trained with dog whistles and then you get a guy with the dog whistle of dog whistles.  You are looking at what you really are under all the kinder gentler conservatism bullshit.

Here for David and conservatives in general is the crux of the issue.  What has conservatism delivered except for the wealthy and those already in power?  I keep hearing that you have to reinvigorate conservatism with fresh ideas, but there aren’t any.  Giving CPR to a dead dog will not bring it back to life.  As the commenter above noted, Mitt just used a much more subtle and gentle dog whistle, but a dog whistle all the same.  And he really only represented the wealthy.  Now Donald comes along and says what you guys have only disguised and the base sees him as the real deal.  And he is if the foundation of your party is based on hate, racism, nativism, and basically excluding whoever you happen to scapegoat today.

So David, you can expose his cons all you want, you have missed the point and that point is that conservatism itself is a con.  While you convince everyone that making a few rich will make everyone rich, it is a scam and it has worked so well for the few.  Now the base has caught on to the scam and want a better scammer to represent them.  Yes David, stew in you juices.  Oh and David, you and your fellow Republicans will still vote for him right?  Power corrupts absolutely.

UPDATE:  Frank Bruni said the following which about captures it for David if he would wake up:

But here’s the problem: Trump’s voters aren’t with him because he’s the purest conservative. Trump is their protest vote, and part of what they’re protesting is preoccupations of the Republican Party that haven’t improved or been immediately relevant to their lives. They’re protesting foreign wars, free trade and the coddling of corporations, and some of Trump’s apostasies are precisely what draw them to him.

Republican leaders’ failure to take down Trump isn’t simply a function of hesitancy — it’s not just about waiting too long. It’s about their own lack of credibility and authority with the part of the electorate that’s defying them.

And what Frank did not say is that this is the part that they tolerated to get elected.  It is what they pandered to and winked, winked.  It is all on them.

Who Said It Best This Morning – Greed and Disconnectedness

One of the things that continuously troubles me is how the perceptions of many of our politicians are so far from the reality of our lives.  Remember when the country went on the debt is killing us when the real problem was jobs and demand?  How do beliefs like food stamps are just hammock for the takers survive against the reality that the minimum wage worker needs food stamps to survive?  How does the belief that being poor is a reflection of character stand the test of reality?  And the list goes on and on.  Well Frank Burni in his op-ed this morning in the NYT may have answered that question when discussing the candidates for President:

They talk about their connection to “everyday Americans” (Hillary Clinton) and to laborers who “sweat through their clothes” (Huckabee) even as they reach for, and insist on, a much higher style. That’s partly why their words can ring so pat, so hollow. It’s one explanation for voters’ cynicism.

While we in the news media have long wrung our hands about the ways in which campaign financing warps the political process, what about the ways in which politicians’ frenzied competition for donations warps their views of the world? They now spend so much time among the country’s plutocrats, sowing friendship wherever the funds are, that their bearings and their yardsticks surely change, as must their sense of their station.

The bolding is mine.  When you spend your time surrounded by plutocrats and those that “have”, just currying their favor must warp your sense of reality into what their sense of reality is.  Remember when the banking system was on the verge of collapse and who were the ones advising us how to fix it?  Who were the ones who had access.  The money boys from the financial sector that got us into that mess.

How did President Obama swing from stimulus and jobs to debt and austerity?  The money boys.  It serves their needs but it is not the world most of us live in.  I have labeled this ‘the bubble’ which is created around them by their echo chamber of financial and ideological backers.  Conservatives have this ideological bubble around them that believes in flow-down and takers.  Everything else they believe flows from that. It is continuously reinforced by the money men who don’t want ripples in the status quo.  Coal state Democrats believe nonsense about clean coal because the money says they do.

Yesterday I wrote a blog about the conservative clown lineup for the presidency and how it is really driven by greed.  Its about getting that face time to earn those speaking fees feeding to the monied interest what they want to hear.  So the next time you say something really stupid like I just wish they would all work together, know they are.  They are working with their monied interests to maintain their bubble so nothing ever changes.

This Ought to Scare You

We are all appalled at how ISIS can condone barbaric killings of non-believers of their sect of Islam and how they can, in the name of their religion and their god, destroy antiquity.  I have argued here that this is the natural result of faith-based thinking, religion in the extreme.  We have tamed religion, it was call the Enlightenment, so we could establish liberal democracies where religion did not play a devisive and corrosive role.  But it is funny how religion and faith-based reasoning creeps back in.

Now I have argued  (See We Have a Problem Hustonthat a mix of conservative thinking and religion is driving a faith-base way of seeing the world back into our political life.  It is not a coincedence that many Republicans are Evangelical Christians.  While it may be politically incorrect to point it out, many of the most crazy of the Crazies get their ideas from their religion (Senator Inhofe and Climate Change).  That, and the transfer of faith-based thinking into ideology (supply side economics) and you start to understand why we are losing our grip on rational dialogue and believing in science.

But then along comes Frank Bruni to further point out how religion drives the political game these days in the visit of Bibi Netanyahu to our shores and the the Republicans manic embracing of him:

Some evangelical Christians’ interest in Israel reflects an interpretation of the Bible’s prophetic passages that’s known as premillennial dispensationalism. It maintains that the End of Days can play out as God intends only if Jews govern Israel and have reconstructed a temple on the Temple Mount, where there’s now a mosque.

But just a subset of evangelicals subscribe to that. Others are motivated by their belief, rooted in scripture, that God always intended Israel for Jews and that honoring that and keeping Israel safe is a way of honoring God. God’s blessing of America, they feel, cannot be divorced from America’s backing of Israel.

So don’t tell me ISIS is some throwback to the 7th century.  Their brand of anti-intellectualism, intolerance, and dogma reside right here in America.  It is rooted in religious beliefs and faith-based thinking that over powers our rational mind in our attempt to establish order out of chaos and to simplify our lives.  We had better wake up to it because that is the real threat to liberal democracy as we know it.

Oh My Head Hurts – Frank Bruni and Education Reform

It’s those stinking bad teachers and unions, or so the new (old) reformers are telling us.  It’s sad when you see a usually insightful writer like Frank Bruni falling for this garbage.  Oh, sure you can find the anecdotal bad teaching and a schools system’s inability to remove them.  It is the easiest thing to do to prove your approach.  But it is dead wrong.  You can figure this out fairly simply by looking at states that have no union impact and see how much better or worse they are doing.  So what could be happening there?

This is like the no-brainer solution for the feeble and yet we can’t quite get there.  Look where systems really work well and you see the following:

  1. Well paid and respected teachers
  2. Teaching as a profession and only the best need apply
  3. Teachers have a strong (read unions) voice in how schools are run
  4. Funding that provides equal funding across all school districts regardless of the tax base for each district

Or said another way see Finland, Denmark, China, Singapore, schools systems that way out perform ours.  But of course those systems have nothing to teach us because we are number 1.  And blaming the teaches negates 1 through 4 above and further exacerbates the problem.  Yes there are other issues (See Dean Baker take on Frank), but we would rather attack teachers and further demoralize the profession.  It works great because then we can justify not paying them.  On and on …


Teachers, Tenure, and BS

I am married to one so cut me some slack here. This is about Frank Bruni’s op-ed today basically buying the BS that tenure and getting rid of it is the way to the hallowed land. It is something to grab on to if you like easy answers to very complex problems.

Sure we need to get rid of bad teachers, but teachers don’t have a job for life, there is a system for due process to remove them other than just casting them out of a speeding car. And sure the system could be streamlined, but get rid of all the bad teachers and you won’t fix the problem .

But just when I was about ready to launch with a hot comment to Frank and his amateurism in the education world (almost as bad as Jonathan Chait on the wonderfulness of Charter Schools) I noted that there were more than 900 comments on his foolishness. Here is one at random:

Yet another column from someone who has never spent time in front of a class. And this person he quotes, Mike Johnston, spent a big two years in Teach for America, a program that has always struck me as a stepping stone to something else–in Johnston’s case, behind the desk in the principal’s office.

Instead of asking someone who got out of the classroom and into administration as fast as his feet would carry him, why don’t you talk to some real teachers, the ones who stick with it year after year in spite of people like you banging on them?

Tenure is simply a system that ensures due process. In my view, everyone–not just teachers–should enjoy due process. Envy of teachers merely because it is harder to fire them is no reason to deprive them of this protection. Tenure is often the only thing that stands between a teacher and a vindictive administrator. Or between a teacher and a parent who demands that the teacher be fired because he compared the historical treatment of left-handed people with the historical treatment of gays. True story, by the way. And what was this parent’s reasoning? She was left-handed–and definitely NOT gay! Without the due process protection provided by tenure, this teacher would have been out on his ear.

You conclude, “We need to pay good teachers much more. We need to wrap the great ones in the highest esteem. But we also need to separate the good and the great from the bad.”

Why don’t you put your reforms in that order?

America is alive and awake out there, at least the ones who read the New York Times. I can take a night off.

Sunday Morning

It’s Sunday morning and I don’t have much to say that has not already been said. I refuse to watch the Sunday morning talk shows because I could write their scripts blindfolded. In other words, nothing new from Washington except the same old drivel, focusing on what does not ail us (Benghazi) and not focusing on what does (creating jobs).

I think the malaise in the country was best captured this morning by Frank Bruni (America the Shrunken). We languish and we do nothing. It has been a favorite topic of mine. I mean think about it. Do we build or do anything anymore? We have tons of stuff we could fix, but we do nothing.

I think that is what Republicans with all their bluster on foreign affairs and get tough, and take decisive action bring us on the domestic front, be passive and be afraid. Maybe they would fix things if it wouldn’t help Obama, but I am not so sure. They seem to be mired in some kind of fantasy land where the market place will sweep in and solve everything. Or maybe they are just waiting until they get in power so they can give sweetheart deals to their cronies.

At any rate, it is a day when you hear nothing about bold plans, where the conspiracy nuts rule supreme, and the future for our children looks bleak. I have a plan, but nobody really cares. So if the world is not listening, my plan B is to get out in the vineyard and continue suckering the grapes. Somebody has to makes sure that at least we have quality wine grapes to drown our sorrows.

Connecting the Dots

I would write about politics, but what is there to say? I think I pretty much described the situation in So How Are Republicans Driving Us Off a Cliff Again?. Basically nothing is going to happen. Democrats do not have everything right, but they are willing to address problems with proposed solutions. Republicans hold on to the status quo with promises of lower taxes and less regulation and let you try to figure out how that is going to address global warming, our frayed infrastructure, social injustice, or our economy. And the economic inequality just soars.

There was the foray by Jeb Bush into politics with a show of empathy for undocumented aliens. There are many interpretations of this, but I read it quite simply. He cannot get elected without the Hispanic vote. So he is testing the base to see if he can get by the primaries being rational. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he craves the White House so much that he wants to be a tool for the Tea Party and knows if he is, he can’t win the general election. The Republicans have created a monster that they can no longer control.

Ezra Klein has his new website up and running ( and he wrote about one of my favorite topics, how our politics colors they way we see the facts, or more appropriately how we selectively choose our facts (Knowing What We Know Part II). The problem with the article, and maybe because he is starting a new enterprise and he wants to attract a broad cross-section of readers, is that he describes the phenomenon as symmetrical, both conservatives and liberals suffer the same blinders equally. But as Paul Krugman points out:

But can anyone point to a liberal equivalent of conservative denial of climate change, or the “unskewing” mania late in the 2012 campaign, or the frantic efforts to deny that Obamacare is in fact covering a lot of previously uninsured Americans? … Or look at how liberals reacted to the woes of We heard a lot of talk about how it was Obama’s Katrina, or his Iraq. But was there anything like Bush’s “heckuva job” moment — which was matched by widespread insistence on the right that he was actually doing a great job? Was there anything like the years-long denial that anything was going wrong with the Iraq occupation? On the contrary, liberals were quick to acknowledge that the rollout was a disaster, and in fact sort of freaked out — which, as Noam Scheiber says, is what they usually do in the face of setbacks. And what’s more, as Scheiber says, that’s a good thing: faced with setbacks, liberals rush to fix things, rather than denying the problem. Hence the stunning Obamacare comeback.

Paul goes on to pose the critical question, why is it asymmetrical? “People want to believe what suits their preconceptions, so why the big difference between left and right on the extent to which this desire trumps facts?” I think I have answered that question and he attempts to, but if we are to move forward more people need to quit blaming both sides (partisan arguments) and see where the real problem is.

Finally, Frank Bruni brings us a real gem in insight into what may be the reason that the younger generation is much more disconnected and sort of rudderless in a time when we should be fighting for a new direction. He describes his experience as a university teacher making allusions to past events, music, or common cultural phenomena and gets blank stares.  She who must not be mention here has related the experience in her teaching career to me many times.  Frank, I think, hones in on maybe the root cause:

But the pronounced narrowness of the cultural terrain that they and I share — the precise limits of the overlap — suggests something additional at work. In a wired world with hundreds of television channels, countless byways in cyberspace and all sorts of technological advances that permit each of us to customize his or her diet of entertainment and information, are common points of reference dwindling? Has the personal niche supplanted the public square?

I am sure you have experienced the same thing in social media where one of your younger friends posts in a language of truncated code and you have no clue what they are trying to communicate.  They are living in a niche culture you are not familiar with.  But to complete my connecting the dots, think about the blog I wrote yesterday mentioning Zachary Fine’s op-ed about why millennials are disconnected, and undecided having been raised in an environment where acceptance of more diverse lifestyles and ideals has led to a false belief in equivalence.  I opined that maybe they lack critical thinking skills to analyze these various ideas to determine which are superior.  But Frank offers an even more compelling argument that maybe we are losing our common culture to make these value judgements that are critical to our future. And maybe that is why we are seeing crazy conservatives.  They sense that their foundations with the new generation is a foundation built on sand that is shifting rapidly.

Yeah all this stuff connects in amazing ways if we are paying attention.