How to tell if you are a hopeless partisan

Do you complain about the vacations of presidents of the opposite party?  Than you are a hopeless partisan.  How frustrating to see a front page NYT story on this total non-issue.  Apparently, even some Democrats, though, did not like President Obama playing golf after giving a speech about James Foley.   Of course, that partisan cover lets journalists pretend this is a real issue (it’s not) and not just partisan sniping.

After playing a substantial role in enabling this current “controversy” with a tweet, Ezra doubles down and makes an extended argument that presidents should take real vacations where they put all their presidential responsibilities aside..  Sorry, that’s just not going to happen and it’s just not realistic.  The idea that Obama is supposed to just go be sad in private somewhere because of Foley is absurd.  Surely, as president he is privy to absolutely horrible information every day that would completely paralyze a person if they took it to heart.  The man is on his vacation– let him give a speech and then go play golf.  It’s called compartmentalizing and it’s healthy.  Ezra insists it was “insensitive.”  I disagree.  What he does with his official time as president and what he says in a speech is what matters.  What he does after that whether it’s watching a movie, reading sad poetry, crying in his room, or hitting the links is his business.  Maybe it is bad politics to play golf because people will write stupid stories like the above, but the problem is that people complain about the presidents’ working vacations.  Not that they take them.


Women’s political ambition (or lack thereof)

I must say I hated the title of this Wonkblog post “Everything you think you know about women and politics is wrong.”  Really?  Time to revise my entire Gender & Politics syllabus, I suppose.  Alright, most readers don’t teach that class, but still, way too click-baity.

That said, a nice report on some interesting findings on women and political ambition.   What many people do not realize (which is not the same as being wrong) is that, across the board, women have substantially less ambition for political office than men.  And that, far more than anything else, accounts for the lack of women in political office.  The latest research from Jennifer Lawless (the ultimate guru of women and political office) shows that this is not at all about differences related to parenthood.  The gap between child-less women and men is pretty much the same as the gap between women and men with children.  Here’s the key chart:

So, what’s behind the lack of ambition.  Short version… men are overconfident, women are underconfident.  I suspect this difference extends well beyond politics.  Here’s the longer version from Lawless:

STP: How do you explain the disparity in terms of ambition and confidence about running for office. Is it that men think they are all that, and women don’t?

Lawless: Men overestimate and women underestimate. Men look around and see that lots of people come in all different shapes and sizes. But, for women, to the extent that you don’t fit the mold of say, Hillary Rodham Clinton or Sarah Palin, there is greater opportunity for self doubt. Although there is no female bias on Election Day — voters are just as willing to vote for women as men — but that is not the perception, so the women and men thought there was a perceived bias. Women think that they have to be twice as good to get twice as far. The women who are saying that they aren’t qualified are making assumptions based on wrong information, but information that happens to be the conventional wisdom. So getting out the message that people will vote for women is important.

I’m actually quite surprised that there’s basically no impact of family structure or responsibilities.  Personally, the idea of undertaking a grueling political campaign while also trying to do my part in caring for my children seems insane to me.  I’m too lazy to do it when the kids are grown, but it certainly seems more plausible.  Apparently, I’m unusual in thinking that way.  A good friend  is currently running for NC State Senate and her two children are under 5.  At a recent lunch she joked, but seriously, about hardly seeing her kids at all during the week (she’s also holding down a job).  More power to her for making the personal sacrifice because she really wants better for this state, but I am honestly surprised that raising children does not have more impact on political ambition.



White privilege in action

So, I was about to put this into quick hits, but it’s really too good and too important to be possibly missed (under what is shaping up to be a slew of quick hits this weekend).

Matt Zoller Seitz relates the tale of what happens when you beat up a drunk Hispanic guy on the street, but you happen to be a middle class white guy.  Not really surprising, but quite disturbing nonetheless.  You really need to read all of it for the full impact, but here’s a good snippet:

We cursed at each other for a while, puffing up our chests and barking threats, and then he poked me in the chest with his index finger.  I knew the second he did it that he didn’t actually mean to touch me, that he was probably just jabbing at me for emphasis and misjudged the distance between us, because it wasn’t a hard impact and the contact seemed to surprise him, too. But I hit him in the face anyway. He stumbled backward, turned around in an attempt to regain his balance, tripped and fell face down on the sidewalk. I jumped on his back and put my forearm around his neck and locked it, to keep him from getting up again. It was a chokehold.

I don’t know how long I was down there, but it was long enough for the owner of the deli to call the cops. A squad car pulled up sometime later. Two patrolmen got out and pulled me off the guy and tossed me on the sidewalk. Then one of them ran over and put his knee on my back, but did not cuff me—a detail that didn’t register until the cop got off me and allowed me to stand again, and I looked over and saw that the other guy was face down on the pavement, cuffed.

Both cops were white.

The cop on me asked for my driver’s license, looked at it, looked at me, and said, “Tell me what happened.” I told the cop what happened, exactly as I described it above, including the personal details about why I’d been agitated and drunk, which under the circumstances probably weren’t germane.

When I finished he said, “Would you like to press charges?” …

“It doesn’t matter if he meant to touch you, he hit you first,” he said. He was talking to me warmly and patiently, as you might explain things to a child. Wisdom was being imparted.

“You were in fear of your life,” he added.

By now the adrenaline fog seemed to be lifting. I was seeing things in a more clinical way. The violence I had inflicted on this man was disproportionate to the “assault,” and the tone of this exchange with the cop felt conspiratorial.

And then it dawned on me, Mr. Slow-on-the-Uptake, what was really happening: this officer was helping me Get My Story Straight.

Understanding, at long last.

I also need to mention that while this conversation was taking place, not ten feet away the other guy was face down on the pavement, handcuffed—even though when the squad car arrived, anybody who’d looked at our situation purely in terms of physical action, without the explanations I proffered afterward, would have concluded that I was the menace.

So tired of hearing Fox News and friends and all sorts of privileged white males claim that society is past racism and that, if anything, it is the poor misbegotten white male who is suffering “reverse racism.”   For the most part, white male privilege is simply pretty invisible if you are white male.  You have to pay attention unless it is made blatantly obvious– such as you assaulting a Hispanic male.  And is also absurd to chalk concern with the issue up to “white guilt.”  It’s about the fact that this is a significant problem in our society and everybody should damn well want to do something about it.  Shame on those who benefit and simply pretend it doesn’t exist.


On GMO food

This year’s incoming freshman reading at NCSU (of which I always volunteer to be a discussion leader) was on Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food.   Right in my sweet spot.  (For the record, not the best book, but an interesting set of ideas.  And short.) Personally, I am a big fan of organic food due to its emphasis on sustainability and minimizing environmental harm.  I eat mostly conventional, but I will choose organic (especially fruits and vegetables) when there’s good options.   That said, I’m also, as you know, quite comfortable with GMO food.  Yes, Monsanto, blah, blah, blah, but that is a problem with how we regulate corporations as public policy, not a problem with GMO food, per se.  In many cases GMO means increased crop yield without any greater environmental harm.  And, in the best cases, GMO means creating food like Golden Rice or flood-resistant rice which can literally mean the difference between life and starvation in the poorest countries.  Also, if you eat any processed food at all, you’re already eating GMO, so get over it.

To me, the most interesting part of the controversy is that there is basically zero evidence that GMO food is deleterious to health (as compared to similar non-GMO food), but so many people remain convinced GMO food has to be bad for you.  My favorite moment in our freshman discussion this week was when a young woman said, “I know there’s no evidence that GMO food is harmful, but I believe…”  So hard for me to not just say, “no, stop.  Stop right there.”  You don’t get to say science says one thing and then just blithely assert something else.  Anyway, a major point of the book is that GMO is de facto considered non organic and that the two approaches are seen as polar opposites.  But, in many cases GMO foods can be designed to reduce pesticide usage– one of the main goals of organic farming.  And other features of GMO foods can also lead to more sustainable farming.

My favorite tidbit from the book was how a naturally-occurring soil bacteria has been genetically-engineered into corn to prevent corn worms eating up the ears.   End result… less need to use pesticide and no nasty worms when shucking your corn.  I realized that worms were always a feature of corn when I was kid, but that I never see them any more (and we do love fresh corn).  As Jessie Pinkman would say, Yeah Science!

And, as long as I’m at it.  Nice post of GMO charts in Vox this week.  If you are eating any corn or soy or wearing cotton, chances are good it’s GMO:


Now, there are certainly many problematic issues with GMO.  But I”m not so sure they are all that independent of the problematic issues of big Agribusiness, which is a whole different kettle of corn worms.  These issues are real and we should take them seriously and try and address them.  But don’t throw the GMO baby out with the bathwater.  Especially when there truly is so much potential benefit in under-developed countries.

The media and Ferguson and what it tells us

First, it is just extraordinarly stupid that the police in Ferguson have repeatedly gone after members of the media.  If they think that is somehow going to work in their favor, they are just morons.  Maybe in Russia; not in America.  More importantly, though, this tells us a lot about the mindset of police forces in Ferguson.  And it’s not good.  Vox’s Max Fisher:

That police in Ferguson are targeting journalists so openly and aggressively is an appalling affront to basic media freedoms, but it is far scarier for what it suggests about how the police treat everyone else — and should tell us much about why Ferguson’s residents are so fed up. When police in Ferguson are willing to rough up and arbitrarily arrest a Washington Post reporter just for being in a McDonald’s, you have to wonder how those police treat the local citizens, who don’t have the shield of a press pass…

The police crackdown on journalists in Ferguson has become so severe that President Obama, in public comments, had to remind police that media freedom is protected in the United States.

“Here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their job and report to the American people what they see on the ground,” he said. This would be banal statement if uttered about China or Russia; that the American president had to say it about his own country is a staggering sign of how badly the situation has turned.

Meanwhile, conservatives are complaining that the media have “taken the side” of the protesters.  Hey, wouldn’t you if you were getting gassed and arrested to?  But it’s far more than that.  Great post from Slate’s Josh Vorhees:

But missing from such handwringing about the reporters’ ostensible loss of objectivity is the fact that the media had left the sidelines long before Lowery and Reilly were handcuffed. The very reason that national reporters—including Slate’s Jamelle Bouie—packed their bags for Ferguson was to get answers. Answers to why a member of the Ferguson Police Department opened fire on an unarmed black teen in broad daylight. Answers to why city officials originally refused to identify the cop involved in the shooting or even say how many bullets he had fired. Answers to why police were responding to what originally were largely peaceful protests with military-grade riot gear.

In short, the media descended on Ferguson looking for the same thing that had led protesters to take to the streets: the truth. That’s the real reason the media is siding with the protestors: What the people in the streets of Ferguson want is the same thing the journalists were sent there to find.  

Meanwhile, love this post from Yglesias on the lack of police accountability in all this:

Reasonable people can disagree about when, exactly, it’s appropriate for cops to fire tear gas into crowds. But there’s really no room for disagreement about when it’s reasonable for officers of the law to take off their badges and start policing anonymously.

There’s only one reason to do this: to evade accountability for your actions…

And what’s particularly shocking about this form of evasion is how shallow it is. I can’t identify the officers in that photograph. But the faces are clearly visible. The brass at the Ferguson Police Department, Saint Louis County Police Department, and Missouri Highway Patrol should be able to easily identify the two officers who are out improperly arresting photographers. By the same token, video taken at the Lowery and Reilly arrests should allow for the same to be done in that case.

Policing without a nametag can help you avoid accountability from the press or from citizens, but it can’t possibly help you avoid accountability from the bosses.

For that you have to count on an atmosphere of utter impunity. It’s a bet many cops operating in Ferguson are making, and it seems to be a winning bet…

But on another level, it would almost be nicer to hear that nobody in charge thinks there’s been any misconduct. After all, a lack of police misconduct would be an excellent reason for a lack of any disciplinary action. What we have is something much scarier. Impunity. The sense that misconduct will occur and even be acknowledged without punishment. Of course there are some limits to impunity. Shoot an unarmed teenager in broad daylight in front of witnesses, and there’ll be an investigation. But rough up a reporter in a McDonalds for no reason? Tear-gas an 8 year-old? Parade in front of the cameras with no badges on? No problem.

Again, it would be nice if people across the political spectrum could admit these are genuine problems.  (They are!) If  only the right-wing support of the police wasn’t so damn reflexive (hooray for libertarians, though, I am particularly loving Mike Munger’s FB feed).   These are real problems that simply should not be existing in a healthy democracy, or at minimum should be seriously addressed rather than largely ignored.  American can and absolutely should do better.


Because I am Ferguson obsessed

and yet too busy to blog as much as I’d like this week due to the start of the semester, here’s another.  It’s a Robert Reich status update that is basically a blog post that I wrote in my head but never got around to writing here:

Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, is at least the fifth unarmed black man to be killed by a white police officer in the past month (along with Eric Garner of Staten Island, John Crawford of Ohio, Ezell Ford of Los Angeles, and Dante Parker of Victoville California). Most of the residents of Ferguson are black; almost all its police officers are white. Yet a new Pew poll shows Americans sharply divided over whether the shooting of Michael Brown raises an important issue of race. While 62% of white Democrats think it does, 61% or Republicans think it doesn’t, and that the issue of race has got too much attention in the shooting. On what planet are those who don’t believe race is at issue here living?

Seriously.  I would really like some follow-up questions with those who think the race angle is being overplayed here.

Tea Party and Ferguson

So, that last post about the NRA reminded me of something a friend and reader shared on FB earlier today.  What’s true about the NRA is far more true about the Tea Party.  From William Wilson:

I have an honest question. Where are all the constitution quoting, anti -government, tea partiers in Ferguson? I’m pretty sure there are a lot of rights being infringed upon. Yet, I havent’ heard a peep from Ron Paul, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Ted Nugent, or ANYONE! Isn’t the tea party’s whole purpose about keeping the government from doing EXACTLY what they are doing? Here is their chance to make a REAL stand, and prove that their cause is just and true, not racially or politically based. Their silence is deafening.

I’ve been told by my Tea Party friends (and yes I do have some) that the tea party isn’t about party or race. But about stopping the government from infringing upon the rights of US citizens. I’m looking forward to hearing them tell me why they aren’t represented in Ferguson. It’s been a week.

And let me be PERFECTLY CLEAR. I don’t think the Tea, Republican or Democrat party are racist institutions. But I do believe all three have racists in them; of the black and white persuasion.

It’s a real shame there has been actual violence, looting, etc., from among some of the protesters in Ferguson.  It makes it far too easy for those on the right to put this into their schema of dangerous, scary Black people that police can rightfully take any and all measures to protect them from.  Police certainly can and should use force when there is violence and looting.  Alas, that muddies the fact that, on the whole, the police have still been amazing excessive and amazingly unaccountable.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 514 other followers

%d bloggers like this: