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The New York Times is a sad, sad thing: Kevin Drum: Hey David: It Wasn’t “We” Wh...

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The New York Times is a sad, sad thing: Kevin Drum: Hey David: It Wasn’t “We” Who Screwed the Working Class: "I get so tired sometimes. Here is David Brooks today...

...Working-class voters tried to send a message in 2016, and they are still trying to send it. The crucial question is whether America’s leaders will listen and respond.... We in the educated class have screwed up labor markets in ways that devalued work and made it harder for people in the working class to find a satisfying job. Part of the problem is misplaced priorities. For the last several decades, American economic policy has been pinioned on one goal: expanding G.D.P.... But what good is that growth if it means that a thick slice of America is discarded for efficiency reasons?

No. It was not “working-class voters” who sent a message in 2016. It was white working-class voters. It was not the “educated class” that screwed up the labor market for the non-rich. It was the Reagan/Gingrich/GOP establishment. It was not “we” who decided that GDP was the only thing that mattered and low incomes at the bottom didn’t. It was right-wing Republicans.

So, so tired. I get so very tired of conservatives or centrists or bobos—or whatever it is that David Brooks calls himself these days—refusing to acknowledge this stuff. Progressives have been fighting all along for the working class; for equitable labor markets; for higher wages; for labor unions; for taxing the rich; for job training; for workplace regulations; for universal medical care; for equal treatment regardless of race or sex; and a million other things. Have we accomplished much? Not nearly as much as we should. Brooks is sure right about that.

But it’s not because of some amorphous “we.” It’s because Republicans have spent the past four decades fighting all these things hammer and tongs and then telling working class whites to vote for them because Democrats won’t let them tell ethnic jokes anymore...

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8 days ago
Vallejo, California
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The Real Lesson of My Debate With Steve Bannon

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Tickets sold out within 15 minutes after Toronto’s Munk Debates announced I would debate Steve Bannon on their platform. The negative reaction arrived slower, but it was just as emphatic. A few days before the debate, a member of Parliament for Canada’s left-wing New Democratic Party called for its cancelation. The rest of the party—the third largest in Parliament—later signaled agreement with the no-platform demand.

The Munk debates hold a special place in Canadian public life. For more than a decade, they have brought the learned, the preeminent, and the notorious to Toronto’s 2,800-seat symphony hall to test controversial ideas before a highly informed audience. Never before, though, had they ignited the fierce controversy that exploded around the scheduled debate between Bannon and me.

Over the next hours, I took calls from television and radio bookers: Would I come on their air to defend the debate?

I declined, again and again. I’d written an answer, and I wanted to deliver it once—at the debate itself. Some did not want to hear that answer or any other. They decided to shut down the debate by force and threat. They tried to block the entrance to the debate venue, then harassed attendees as they sought to enter. One police officer was punched in the face. Fear that protesters would slip into the event obliged the organizers to search every bag and wand every entrant—delaying the start time by 45 minutes. Even with that delay, many ticket-holders were unable to take their seats. One protester nevertheless managed noisily to disrupt Bannon’s opening statement, before being drowned out by audience applause and removed by police.

Forceful interruption of public events is almost always wrong. If I see you reading a book I dislike, I have no right to grab it from you. In a free society, there can be no equivalent of the Saudi religious police, monitoring public behavior and discourse and interrupting things of which they disapprove.

Yet the illegitimacy of violent interruptions of debate in general does not of itself justify any particular debate in specific. In 1860, Oxford University invited the biologist Thomas Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce to debate Darwin’s theory of evolution versus God’s design of the universe. No secular university would or should do such a thing today.

So, no, I personally would not accept an invitation to debate “Resolved, husbands should be allowed to beat their wives,” or “Resolved, the white race is the best race,” I would strenuously object if any organization in which I had a role proposed to mount such a debate. If your group undertook to do it, I’d of course pay the taxes for your police protection, but I would not be happy it, and I would not think you were contributing anything except mischief to our public life.

Obviously, I did not think I was doing anything like that in debating Steve Bannon. Bannon is not a marginal figure. He is a central personality in the history of our times, who helped to elect a president of the United States and is now advising competitive political parties across Europe. If you think his—and their—influence is pernicious, well, that influence does not become any less pernicious if you refuse to argue why it is wrong.

The debate in Toronto focused on a prediction: whether the future belonged to populist politics (the polite term for the politics of Donald Trump and the many Little Trumps in power or competing for power across our Earth) or to liberal politics, in the broadest sense of the word liberal. As I told the audience, I’ve spent my life as a conservative, but what I’ve sought to conserve is not the Spanish Inquisition or the powers of kings and barons. I’ve sought to conserve the free societies that began to be built in the 18th century and that have gradually developed and strengthened—with many imperfections and hypocrisies and backsliding—in the 250 years since. When I was young, the most important challenges to those free societies seemed to come from Communists and Marxists. When I was not so young, the most important of those challenges seemed to come from Islamists. Today, they seem to come from—again, speaking politely—populists. The vector of the challenge changes, but the thing to be cherished and protected remains the same.

Why share a platform, then, with Bannon, one of the most adept and successful of the challengers to all I hold dear?

I told the audience in Toronto that I hoped to speak to three groups of people:

I hoped to speak, first, to the small numbers of the genuinely undecided, to those who might imagine that populismoffers them something. This is not true. The new populist politics is a scam and a lie that exploits anger and fear to gain power. It has no care for the people it supposedly champions and no respect for them. It will deliver nothing—not only because its leaders are almost invariably crooks (although they are), but because they have no plans and no plans to make plans.

I hoped to speak, next, to the many people who see populismfor what it is—and who resist it. Since the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009 and the Euro currency crisis that began in 2010, the so-called populists have won election after election in this country and in Europe. Even when the anti-populists have won, as they won in France in 2017, they have won by dwindling margins. Countries that formerly seemed secure against populism, like Germany, have been trending in ominous directions. But hope is not lost. On Tuesday, the American electorate has the opportunity to set the limit: This far have you gone, you will go no further. The tide turns here.What’s most urgently needed now is courage and confidence, and I hoped from the platform to do a little part to inspire even just a little more of each.

I hoped to speak, finally, to those who see populismfor what it is—and support it. I hoped to look in the face of their most self-conscious and articulate champion, Steve Bannon, and tell them: You will lose. You will discover what so many thugs, and bullies, and plunderers, and people who elevate themselves by subordinating and humiliating others have discovered before you: Liberal democracy is tougher than it looks.The cruel always believe the kind are weak. But human decency and goodness can also move human affairs. They will be felt. And today’s “populists" will follow their predecessors into what President George W. Bush so aptly called, “history’s graveyard of discarded lies.”

Yes, the populists spoke to authentic concerns: about the after-shock of the Great Recession and the Euro crisis, about the dislocations of mass immigration, about failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about the frustrations of the middle class, about the selfishness and irresponsibility of financial and political elites across the developed world. Demagogues succeed by talking about things that people authentically care about, not things they don’t.

Bannon and I had met once before, a decade ago. He interviewed me for one of his films back in 2009. We shared then a perception that something had gone terribly wrong with both the American system and conservative politics. To me, that perception called for a constructive program of reform and renewal. It equally seemed to me that Bannon had seen an opportunity to be seized to bring dangerous people and ideas to a power they could never use for good.

As a debater, Bannon proved engaging and entertaining. When one of his lines gained lonely applause from a single audience member, Bannon quipped, “Thanks, Mom.” That lit up the room.

But the longer Bannon spoke, the more clear it became how empty the populist program is. It could observe and exploit the failures of the past 15 years. Trump in 2016 promised that he would provide better health insurance to all Americans at lower cost both to individuals and to the government. That promise has been dishonored. When asked to explain why, Bannon could only point to Paul Ryan and say, "His fault." Ditto for Trump's failure to keep his promise to cut taxes for middle-income people by raising them on the financial industry. Ditto for the broken promises to build infrastructure and save lives from opioid addiction. Ditto for the fact that illegal immigration and trade deficits are rising under Trump, despite his emphatic promises to lower both.

The populists identified real concerns—but their answers amount to a fraud and a scam. The failures of a basically good system do not justify overthrowing it and replacing it with something evil.

So I argued, and as I argued, I believed I carried the room with me. But the room had a trick up its sleeve.

Like many public debate series, the Munk Debate measures results by tallying support and opposition for the motion at the beginning of the evening and then again at the end. The winner is the side that most moves the room. I once took part in a debate at the IQ Squared series in London. At the start of the evening, 80 percent thought my side was wrong. At the end, 60 percent thought my side was wrong. My side won the evening even though, of course, the room still decisively rejected our point of view.

At the November 2 debate, the Munk Series introduced for the first time electronic voting in place of paper ballots. The new devices offered the promise of a faster and more certain tally.

At the start of the evening, the 2,800-capacity hall voted against the resolution—that is, for the liberal rather than the populist side—by a margin of 72 percent to 28 percent. The numbers flashed on large screens above the stage.

Taking advantage of the rapid-fire capability of the new technology, the moderators then asked a follow-up question: Are you open to changing your mind? The audience said it was, 57 to 43 percent. The numbers again flashed on the screen.

Ninety minutes later, after the final exchanges, the room voted again. And the result was stunning: Bannon had triumphed, crushing my side of the argument, 57-43.

The hall gasped. As an attendee told me later, people looked at their neighbors with surprise and fear. Bannon grinned in triumph. We shook hands, I congratulated him on his upset victory: “Just like 2016,” I said. Inwardly, though, I felt dismay. The room had not applauded or laughed any more approvingly at the end of Bannon’s presentation than at the start. He had not carried his hearers. Through some horrible fault of my own, I must have lost them.

But that loss, although my fault, was not my problem alone. I had by my apparent failure confirmed every criticism of the debate critics. I had helped to provide a platform in an inhospitable city and country to Bannonism—and instead of offering hope, I had contributed to despair. I had lent my name and my energy to powerfully disseminating and legitimating exactly what I had hoped to expose and refute. I had undertaken a great responsibility and had somehow bungled it.

Worse, I could not even diagnose how I had bungled it. Speak from platforms often enough, and you develop—or believe you develop—a sense of a room as acute as your sense of sight or smell. Through the evening, I had felt the room was with me, and in growing numbers, too. Yet obviously, I had gotten that wrong. I had not only failed, I had been blind to my own failure.

You’ve probably already guessed what happened, but in the tumult and upset it took the event organizers somewhat longer to recognize the truth. They had reposted the second vote as if it were the third.

As for the actual third vote, it’s not clear whether it had been counted at all. The organizers announced that the final tally was again 72-28, exactly the same as the first. No change: A draw!

Or was it? Because of the delay caused by the protests, many people who had been admitted before the exterior doors were closed took their seats only after the first vote had already happened. It’s theoretically possible that the larger audience at the end of the debate voted in exactly the same proportion as the smaller audience at the beginning. But the precise replication of the first tally is not confidence-inspiring.

Of course, as so often happens in our age of fake news, the false report traveled faster—and will travel further—than the correction. I have remained in Toronto on other business for a few days after the debate, and continue to encounter people who watched some or all of it, and had heard the first wrong result, not the later amended one. And of course, many people who have heard both the false report and the correction will choose to believe the false report, because for one motive or another, it suits them better to believe the false report.

Scrolling through the online and social-media discussion of the debate, I’ve had to accept that the false report will never be entirely overtaken. Even if through no fault of my own, I’ve still been party to spreading discouragement rather than—as I believed—sparking faith and hope.

The story ends, then, in a great irony. Integral to the liberal project, again in the broad sense of the word liberal, is confidence in the power of reason. Words and arguments can overbear ignorance and prejudice. Over the long term, words and arguments can even overcome oppression and violence. That’s why liberals in the broad sense are so uniquely horrified by official lying: How can reason prevail unless words connect to reality? How can we argue against people who will spread fictions, if serviceable to them, without a qualm?

Illiberals and anti-liberals, on the other hand, appreciate the dark energy of human irrationality—not merely as a fact of our nature to be negotiated, but as a potent political resource. People do not think; they feel. They do not believe what is true; they regard as true that which they wish to believe. A lie that affirms us will gain more credence than a truth that challenges us. That’s the foundational insight on which Trump built his business career. It’s the insight on which Trump’s supporters built first their campaign for president and now their presidency itself.

It’s the foundation that I had hoped to expose in Toronto. By a cunning plot twist, I did expose it—but in a way that may have strengthened that foundation rather than attacked it.

The formal portion of the debate between Bannon and me was brought to an end by a stroke of the clock. But the strange result ensured that the actual debate continues. Can we reason our way out of the political nightmare into which unreason has led us? That question remains open still.

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12 days ago
Vallejo, California
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When You Couldn’t Call A Lie A Lie

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Krugman has a walk down memory lane:

During my first year as an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times, I wasn’t allowed to use the word “lie.”

That first year coincided with the 2000 election, and George W. Bush was, in fact, being systematically dishonest about his economic proposals — saying false things about who would benefit from his tax cut and the implications of Social Security privatization. But the notion that a major party’s presidential candidate would go beyond spin to outright lies still seemed outrageous, and saying it was considered beyond the pale.

Obviously that prohibition no longer holds on this opinion page, and major media organizations have become increasingly willing to point out raw falsehoods. But they’ve been chasing a moving target, because the lies just keep getting bigger and more pervasive. In fact, at this point the G.O.P.’s campaign message consists of nothing but lies; it’s hard to think of a single true thing Republicans are running on.

What’s remarkable is that Krugman was given his gig to write about international economics; that he turned into someone willing to tell the truth about Bush et al. was a complete fluke. Meanwhile, Frank Bruni spend the 2000 campaign fawning over Bush, and of course there was Judy Miller to fawn all over the Iraq War.

Anyway, he remains good on why Republicans are comprehensively dishonest:

What are Republicans lying about? As I said, almost everything. But there are two big themes. They lie about their agenda, pretending that their policies would help the middle and working classes when they would, in fact, do the opposite. And they lie about the problems America faces, hyping an imaginary threat from scary dark-skinned people and, increasingly, attributing that threat to Jewish conspirators.

Both classes of lie are rooted in the real G.O.P. agenda.

What Republicans truly stand for, and have for decades, is cutting taxes on the rich and slashing social programs. Sure enough, last year they succeeded in ramming through a huge tax cut aimed mainly at corporations and the wealthy, and came within one vote of passing a health “reform” that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would have caused 32 million Americans to lose health coverage.

The G.O.P.’s problem is that this agenda is deeply unpopular. Large majorities of Americans oppose cuts in major social programs, while most voters want to raise, not reduce, taxes on corporations and high-income individuals.

But instead of changing their agenda to meet voters’ concerns, Republicans have resorted to a strategy of deception and distraction. On one side, they have gone full black-is-white, up-is-down on policy substance. Most spectacularly, they are posing as defenders of protection for people with pre-existing conditions — protection that their failed health bill would have stripped away, and which they are now trying to take away through the courts. And they’re claiming that Democrats are the ones threatening Medicare.

On the other side, they’re resorting to their old standby: race-based fear.

But who would you rather have a beer with?


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15 days ago
Vallejo, California
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How to cool Brussels sprouts, restaurant style

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Poorly roasted Brussels sprouts are awful, nearly as bad as boiled ones. In this video, you'll learn how to cook them the right way -- "charred, dark, and with maximum crunch."

Image: YouTube

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15 days ago
Vallejo, California
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For the Record: A Little Joke

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Via somebody's Pinterest.

Gunga Dinesh leapt to the defense of Emperor Trump for calling himself a nationalist:
It's a question, I guess, of "nationalist" as opposed to what? Ho was a nationalist for Vietnam as opposed to imperialist water-carrier for the French or the Americans, or the Chinese for that matter (who had fought to control Vietnam for a thousand years, from the Han dynasty through the Song, before they finally conceded defeat). Gunga Dinesh is an imperialist water-carrier for the British, that's why I like to call him that, when he talks about the Raj or East Africa. Dinesh isn't a nationalist with respect to India, though he may be a nationalist with respect to his adopted USA.

Ho, and Castro, also sometimes called themselves "nationalists" in opposition to "communists", when they were explaining their positions to a certain type of friendly Westerner at certain points in their careers. "No, no, he's just a nationalist. Go away, Mr. Quiet American." In this, I'm sorry to say, they were lying, though not without some justification.

Another way of putting it is in historical terms: nationalist in opposition to what previous condition? The classic nationalisms of the 19th century, Germany and Italy gathering themselves out of the statelets into which they had been divided ever since the collapse of the Roman Empire, Greece and Serbia pulling themselves out of the Ottoman state, are maybe something more than simple anti-colonialism, while the ethnic nationalists in France during the Dreyfus affair, or in England in the League of British Fascists, or in the Afrikaner communities of South Africa, were something less. The former are responses to lively and noble, if not necessary very logical, sentiment; the latter to fear, of Jews and intellectuals, workers, indigenous peoples.

Lincoln was what is now called a "civic nationalist", which isn't in opposition to anything that isn't a nationalist, but rather to "ethnic nationalist" or "blood-and-soil nationalist" like the anti-Dreyfusards and the Voortrekkers; that is, he believed his nation, the Union, was created by its contract, in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and not by its borders, or the history of its population—conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition, while the ideologues of the Confederacy were blood-and-soil nationalists with the respect to the individual states, their boundaries, and their white people. Another term for "blood-and-soil nationalist" is "nationalist", and in that sense Trump's term is the opposite of Lincoln's, in the same way as Nationalsozialist is the opposite of socialist: schematically,
civic nationalist is to nationalist as national socialist is to socialist, or.
Lincoln is to Calhoun (or Trump) as Hitler is to Atlee
I hope that's clarifying.

D'Souza came back later in response to Ambassador McFaul:

That kind of set me off in all directions.

With some assistance from a friend:

That's right: Nationalism murdered Ghandhi. In his heart, D'Souza is OK with that. He hates South Asia with every fiber.

As for Trump, what he said in Houston:

We Can't Have That
by Donald J. Trump
Radical Democrats want to turn back
the clock to the world of the corrupt,
power-hungry globalists. You know
what a globalist is, right? A globalist is
a person who wants the globe to do well,
frankly, not caring about our country so much.
And you know what? We can't have that.
You know, they have a word, it sort of
became old-fashioned. It's called a "nationalist",
and I say really, we’re not supposed to use
that word, but you know what I am? A nationalist.
It's in opposition to "globalist", or, as I like to call it, (((globalist))), to distinguish it from the other kind of globalism which was a huge thing in ancient times three or four years ago, referring to the power of transnational corporations to dictate to national governments and something we all wanted (and still want, if Trump ever goes away and allows us to think about important things again) to combat. People like Stephen Bannon appropriated it from the left because he wanted to attach the smell of illegitimacy to the thing he was the enemy of, international cooperation, "a person who wants the globe to do well."

A Trumpian nationalist is someone who's happy if the globe is doing badly, as long as he's doing better than others: who'd rather live in a hovel with a homeless man sleeping out on the sidewalk than share a palace with him. Most recently Trump decided to wreck the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987, or liberated Putin from it, depending on how you look at it; Peskov says it's "very dangerous" but Putin can't stop smiling, and invited Trump on a date in Paris for Veterans' Day, which Trump will be skipping (in a grudge, I believe, because the military refused to give him his own parade) in favor of celebrating the centenary of the end of the Great War. I asked Twitter to tell me why "we're not supposed to use the word" or why Trump said that, but I didn't get a coherent answer:

I guess there's a point in there somewhere, that he knows it will get the libs all upset and calling him a Nazi, and he likes that. A "little joke". I'm sure getting hungry for that last laugh.
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23 days ago
Vallejo, California
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Restocking wolves on Isle Royale raises questions about which species get rescued

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The National Park Service plans to move 25 to 30 wolves to Isle Royale in the next three to five years.
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27 days ago
Vallejo, California
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