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[ 36 ] November 6, 2015 |


Some people don’t like to be wrong. I love to be wrong. That’s because I’m pretty pessimistic about modern politics and even more so about the future. I don’t want to be right about any of that. So when I am wrong, it’s usually a good thing.

This certainly holds for Obama rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline. This surprises me less than it would have 2 years ago, but it surprises me nonetheless. Now, critics of the anti-Keystone protesters say that in the grand scheme of things it’s not that big of a deal. And that may well be true. Obama suggested the same thing in his remarks about it today. But it doesn’t matter much. You never know what is going to be a touchstone for protest. As I’ve said before, “you never know” is pretty much my theory of change. For the climate movement, it was Keystone. Certainly the U.S. was not going to benefit nearly enough from this economically to buck this protest movement in any reasonable way, especially a Democratic president. I’m glad Obama saw this and decided to kill it. This may well not mean that the filthy oil from one of the planet’s worst environmental countries (really for as progressive as Canada can be on many issues, it is utterly abysmal on environmental issues as anyone who follows logging, mining, and fossil fuels knows) won’t get to market. But at least the U.S. won’t be culpable.

What does this say about Obama’s legacy on the environment? I am pretty cautious of judging legacies during a presidency (except for George W. Bush, who was so obviously disastrous) but I think this more or less gets at it:

He’s often ignored the more difficult issue: the supply. He’s even enabled it. Obama approved Shell’s plans to explore for more oil off Alaska’s coast in the Arctic this summer, proposed opening the Atlantic to offshore drilling, and leased public lands for coal mining. Keystone is a small part of the supply equation.

As Obama weighed his decision on Keystone, TransCanada and the rest of the industry have pursued alternatives, including expanding shipments by rail and tanker, filing an application for other large pipelines like Energy East in Canada, and even considering reapplying for a Keystone permit in the next administration.

Meanwhile, the environmental movement has shifted attention to other supply issues. Beyond blocking other proposed pipeline projects from Enbridge and TransCanada, they have targeted Arctic drilling, congressional efforts to lift the U.S. oil export ban, and the administration’s efforts to lease public lands for coal mining.

From a scientific standpoint, Keystone is no more important than any of these other issues. But it was always more important for its symbolism.

Refusing Keystone because of its climate impact makes it more believable that we’ve reached a turning point on tolerating unlimited extraction and development of fossil fuels.

By taking a stand against Keystone, Obama has bolstered his weakest spot on climate change. Environmentalists are hoping that this new outlook doesn’t begin and end with the Keystone decision.

Obama has overall been a decent environmental president, with not too much attention paid to public lands and wildlife issues that have made a lot of environmentalists frustrated with the president and more attention paid to climate change with Keystone hanging over his head. This helps with the latter side of that coin. It’s a good thing. I’m glad I’m wrong about it. And I hope the climate community and unite around a new target or goal to keep up the pressure that Bill McKibben’s did so much to generate.

…..Shakezula’s comment here reminded me of a point I should I have made originally. There’s a strong element on the so-called “respectable left,” one that even often appears around here, that protest is worthless, that’s protesters are basically a bunch of hippies performing a role, and that real change occurs through “serious” policy channels and that protesters should instead be doing “real” work like registering voters and working for, presumably, Democratic candidates. What happened with Keystone should be Exhibit A in why that whole formulation is deeply misguided. The reality is that there are many ways to influence a system. The left needs to work both within and outside the political establishment. Protest can absolutely work. Without McKibben and the movement, the Keystone pipeline would already have been approved. Obama is responding directly to a protest movement on this issue. Those who disdain protest need to remember this going forward.


Out of Sight Events

[ 4 ] November 6, 2015 |


A few more Out of Sight events if you are in the various areas.

First, I will be speaking at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York on Tuesday evening at 7. I don’t actually think there will be a book signing here, but if you want to come out and say hi and listen to me talk about the global race to the bottom and corporate concealment and the like, you should do so.

Second, there is a roundtable devoted partly to my book at the Social Science History Association meeting in Baltimore on Thursday at 5:30. There is a registration fee for the conference but my guess is you can just sneak in and no one will care. Can’t guarantee that of course. But you can try!

Finally, on Wednesday, November 18, I will speaking in Providence at AS220. The technical time this begins is 5:30 but I will actually be speaking at 6. There will be books for sale here. This is hosted by the excellent Rhode Island progressive politics site RI Future.

High hopes for an event soon in Portland, Maine. If you are interested in having me speak and we can work out travel arrangements, I’m up for it.

Foreign Entanglements: The Wellington Option

[ 0 ] November 6, 2015 |

On the latest Foreign Entanglements, Natalie speaks with Anna Powles about East Asia security and the perspective from New Zealand:

“It doesn’t matter. Nothing is going to happen to him anyways.”

[ 64 ] November 6, 2015 |


Greg Hardy’s domestic assault is as horrifying a story as you would fear. 

One really important part of the story is that it’s extremely unclear why prosecutors dropped the case on appeal, since Holder would not have had to testify:

With Holder gone, prosecutors had the choice of dismissing the charges or trying to introduce Holder’s statements as part of the trial. Murray’s office reviewed the interview that Holder gave to police and compared it to a transcript of the bench trial. (District court criminal trials aren’t recorded by a court reporter in North Carolina, Murray wrote, but Hardy’s defense team had hired one and eventually agreed to let prosecutors see it.)

“In comparing the prior statement with Ms. Holder’s District Court testimony, the State concluded that, in her absence, it did not have sufficient legal basis upon which to introduce the initial statement she provided to law enforcement,” Murray wrote.

What does that mean? My repeated attempts to reach Murray for comment got nowhere—he never returned a phone call or email I sent. The assistant district attorney who handled the case, Jamie Adams, has since left the office; I wasn’t able to reach her. At the time, the News & Observer reported that, “Several legal experts around town speculated that prosecutors spotted inconsistencies that prevented them from building their case around Holder’s former accounts.”

There are minor inconsistencies in Holder’s versions of events—in court, for instance, she added a part about Hardy ripping a necklace off of her and throwing it in the toilet, then slamming the toilet lid on her arm repeatedly when she tried to get the necklace, and left out the part where he takes out a cell phone—but the overall order of events stays pretty much the same. None of the inconsistencies in her tellings are nearly as significant as the discrepancies in the various versions of events that Hardy has given.

At any rate, the case was dropped, Hardy was declared legally innocent, and he went back to the NFL a bigger star than ever. (Both the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys declined to comment.) In the end, Holder was right. Her own prophecy came true, despite her own attempts to prove it wrong.

The question of whether he should be playing the NFL is an interesting one, but the much more important question is why he’s not in prison.

Inspirational story becoming somewhat less so

[ 257 ] November 6, 2015 |


Updated below

Gifted imagination.

Ben Carson’s campaign on Friday admitted, in a response to an inquiry from POLITICO, that a central point in his inspirational personal story was fabricated: his application and acceptance into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The academy has occupied a central place in Carson’s tale for years. According to a story told in Carson’s book, “Gifted Hands,” the then-17 year old was introduced in 1969 to Gen. William Westmoreland, who had just ended his command of U.S. forces in Vietnam, and the two dined together. That meeting, according to Carson’s telling, was followed by a “full scholarship” to the military academy.

West Point, however, has no record of Carson applying, much less being extended admission.
“In 1969, those who would have completed the entire process would have received their acceptance letters from the Army Adjutant General,” said Theresa Brinkerhoff, a spokeswoman for the academy. She said West Point has no records that indicate Carson even began the application process. “If he chose to pursue (the application process) then we would have records indicating such,” she said.

When presented with this evidence, Carson’s campaign conceded the story was false.

The stuff about how he was a budding gangsta is probably made up too.

To me this is all oddly reminiscent of Alice Goffman’s hyper-active imagination. In both cases, the narrators had legitimately interesting stories to tell, but the urge to sex up the narrative with a healthy dose of truthiness got the better of them. It will be interesting to see if the same sorts of defenses (“sloppy with details,” “mostly true,” “critics are racist/sexist”) will be deployed for the benefit of the good doctor.

. . . survey says — YES!

I guess this will actually end up helping him, because the POLITICO story was slightly inaccurate (he never claimed to have applied, he just claimed to have been offered a full scholarship without applying, which when you think about it is an even more impressive accomplishment).

Could A Particularly Pointless Vanity Campaign Have Saved Us All?

[ 55 ] November 6, 2015 |


Albert Burneko laments the fact that someone who was never actually running for president is no longer running for president:

Lessig’s résumé, by any reasonable standard, is very impressive. He is among America’s most credible and authoritative voices on political and campaign finance reform, as well as on technology and internet rights, which will be among the most important areas of public policy in the 21st century. He has degrees in economics, management, philosophy, and law; he has clerked in the Supreme Court; and he is one of the top professors at Harvard Law School, from whence graduated the current presidents of both the United States and Taiwan, five of the nine sitting justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, sitting U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and damn near every other political figure whose name you know who has a law degree. He helped write the constitution of the nation of Georgia! He co-founded Creative Commons! He was fictionalized in an episode of The West Wing, for god’s sake! How many of the other candidates have been portrayed by Emmy- and Independent Spirit Award-winning thespian Christopher Lloyd, I ask you? None of them.

And yet, none of this—nor a campaign as formally and legitimately declared as any other, nor fundraising and polling numbers not meaningfully smaller than Jim Webb’s or Martin O’Malley’s—could even get Lessig on the stage for the Oct. 13 Democratic debate.


Imagine you are an alien from a distant, highly advanced, space-faring civilization. You have been sent to observe the species in charge of planet Earth, to determine what relationship, if any, your species should have with theirs. From your invisible spaceship high in the atmosphere, you download to your quantum meta-cortex (at bitchin’ data-transfer speeds) all the information you can get about the contest currently underway to choose a leader for what has been Earth’s most powerful nation for the past 60 years or so. This nation is in decline; on that there is near universal agreement. It faces major challenges, among them what might eventually be existential threats to human civilization. This is serious business, and from it you will learn a great deal about these curious sweaty hominids.

And, hmm, well, jeez. Whatever can this mean? They found room in their persuasive arguing contests for Lincoln Chafee; for Donald Trump; the supposedly progressive party carved out space for Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy to rail against racial inclusiveness in anti-discrimination policies; the supposedly pro-business one made room for a business executive whose boldest and most defensible claim to leadership mettle is that the corporation from which she fired 30,000 workers had not altogether ceased to exist when it got around to firing her for incompetence. But, for the renowned expert on law and representative government, the one with practical experience in and actual informed positions on the major public concerns of the day? Shit, I guess they ran outta lecterns.

Here’s the thing: politician is a job of its own, and Larry Lessig really isn’t remotely qualified to do it. Not every smart person who has written books and has expertise on certain political issues is capable of being a good political leader. Policy expertise is no guarantee that you’ll have good ideas about how to bring desirable policy changes about, and Lessig has now shown this multiple times, after attracting money that could be used for something that’s actually useful.

Lessig wasn’t running for president — he was running to bring issues to the table. So we have to consider what, exactly, of value he was trying to bring to the table. Did he stake out a position rejected by most mainstream Democrats? Nope. His views campaign finance and electoral reform are not meaningfully different from those of Clinton, Sanders, or O’Malley. He wasn’t trying to push the Democratic center of gravity to the left like Sanders is trying to do on economic issues.

So any added value he was bringing to the table had to involve ideas for achieving campaign finance and electoral reform while Republicans have a hammerlock on the House of Representatives and control the median vote on the Supreme Court, or for attracting more support to the cause. And on both fronts, for all of his credentials and policy expertise his ideas were just transparently stupid. (There’s a reason Burneko spends a lot of time discussing Lessig’s cv and no time discussing the details of his actual campaign.) A presidential candidate cannot transform an election into a “referendum” by refusing to discuss other issues. The word “mandate” does not suddenly make all structural limitations on political change disappear. You cannot attract support to an important cause by ignoring most of the issues your constituents want to talk about. Pledging to take your ball and go home once Congress addresses your single issue is not actually a source of leverage, and also makes you look like the dilettante you in fact are. Needing Drew Westen — the leftier Mark Penn — to tell you that this is even worse. The fundamentally condescending nature of Lessig’s campaign — we need a real expert to show these professional politicians how to get Republicans to pass legislation contrary to their ideological and practical interests! — just makes the fundamental unseriousness of his No Labels pablum and silly ideas about how to make omnibus electoral reform happen look all the worse.

On the narrow issue of the debates, I have a certain sympathy for the view that if Lincoln Chaffee can be permitted onstage, Lessig should have been. On the other hand, it’s worth noting that the support threshold for participating in the Democratic debates is so low that, er, Lincoln Chafee could clear them. He didn’t clear the threshold in large measure because he didn’t enter the race in a timely manner, but he should have know the rules in advance. And it’s also awkward for the DNC to make a special exemption when a candidate announces in advance that he’s not willing to discuss most of the topics the other candidates will address. But, ultimately, I wish he had been invited to the debates so nobody would tempted to argue that his failure to gain any traction was part of some sort of DNC conspiracy to silence him.

I conclude by once again citing the great Garry Wills:

It is too easy to conclude, prematurely, that the only “way to save oneself is to bury oneself.” Seneca would judge that a politician who refuses to answer questions has barely been engaged in the first place. Those who decide they are too good for politics may be right, but they are often the least qualified judges, either of their own virtue or the system’s viciousness.


[ 40 ] November 6, 2015 |

I wish I had posted this entry sooner because it ties in so well with Erik’s earlier entry on OKC, but better late than never.

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting the Oklahoma Museum of Art with my father. We were both really impressed with the whole experience (it’s an attractive museum with a knowledgeable, helpful, friendly staff), but let’s be honest: the jewel in OMA’s crown is the third floor Chihuly exhibit, which is nothing less than breathtaking. You walk through dark halls and rooms…and the only thing illuminating the spaces is Chihuly’s exquisitely-lit art. Each installation is more grand than the next. It really is a sight to behold.

OMA boasts the second largest collection of Chihuly art and is in possession of his largest piece.


Read more…


[ 29 ] November 6, 2015 |



SEK: I can’t move the sun.


SEK: Did you not hear what I just said?


SEK: I’m sorry.


SEK: FINE. I’ll come in there and see what I can do.


SEK: OK, what’s the problem? That’s plenty big.


SEK: “Enough”?


SEK: It’s twice as big as you.


SEK: Why do five of you need to fit in it?


SEK: Don’t you — you know I — God damn it.


Roses are red, violets are blue. I listened to Ben Carson’s rap ad

[ 94 ] November 6, 2015 |

And now you must too.

Two thoughts about the ad, which is set to be visited upon released in several urban markets today:

  1. We can put to rest any debate about whether GOP outreach to African-Americans can ever be anything but dreadfully insulting and insultingly dreadful. Really, no one should have asked the question after the “GOP – The Party of Lincoln” ad. But now people caught asking the question will have to listen to Ben Carson’s rap ad, through headphones. Several times.
  2. When presented with a link to something labeled “Ben Carson’s rap ad,” don’t click on the link. It will make you depressed and angry. But you’ve figured that out by now.


Moving Wealth Upward

[ 27 ] November 6, 2015 |

That’s Marco Rubio’s tax plan.

The death rattle of “Death Panels”

[ 62 ] November 5, 2015 |

November 18th will mark the 11 year anniversary of the day I ended my grandmother’s life.

I did it with an ink pen. To sign documents to give to hospital permission to remove her from life support, to give permission to harvest her organs.

My family was fortunate. We all agreed that it was wrong to keep her on life support. No one thought a prayer circle of unusual size would undo the damage of the stroke. Imagine the exact opposite of the freak show that was going on in Florida at the time. That was my grandmother’s death. So we were lucky. And it encouraged several people to create advance care directives.

Five years later, “Death Panels” entered the national conversation and hung around like … well … like Sarah Palin. CMS (Medicare to youse) tried to include advance care planning in a new annual wellness visit benefit and the usual rejects didn’t like that.

At the start of the year, CMS declined to cover the new advance care planning visit to appease the people who were still yelling about Death Panels. At that point I thought “O.K., this time for sure we’ve started the final battles in a war that will end with medical care in the U.S. reduced to laying on of hands, colloidal silver enemas and stoning.”

In July, when the agency proposed covering the visits in 2016, I assumed the shouts of a handful of irrational attention-mongers would (again) be given more weight than the hundreds of individuals and organizations that support advance care planning.

Occasionally I am wrong, and this time I don’t mind. The final rule came out last week. As of Jan. 1 doctors and other health care providers will be able to talk to their Medicare patients about what they (the patients, not the doctor or The Government) want to do if they can no longer make decisions about their health care. From the final rule:

Some commenters were concerned that patients might change their decisions once care was actually needed and be unable to override previous advance directives; or that the government would be making healthcare decisions instead of patients, physicians, and families.

CMS’ response:

We note that while some public commenters were opposed to Medicare paying for ACP services, the vast majority of comments indicate that most patients desire access to ACP services as they prepare for important medical decisions.


The Class War: The Wealthy Are the Reagan-Era Military. We Are Grenada.

[ 55 ] November 5, 2015 |


There is a class war going on in the New Gilded Age. If “war” is the term we want to use for “massacre of the defenseless.”

Time for everyone to update your Class War Calendars with the latest income inequality figures. The Economic Policy Institute this week released the most recent figures on wages, and here is what we learned:

The “annual earnings of the top 1.0 percent of wages earners grew 4.9 percent in 2014, and the top 0.1 percent’s earnings grew 8.9 percent.”

In the past year, wages of the entire bottom 99 percent of earners grew less than 2 percent.

The “earnings of workers between the 99th and 99.9th percentiles have reached their highest level of all time,” and the earnings of the top 0.1 percent were only higher in 2007, just before the global economy crashed.

Since 1979, when the Reagan era ushered in our current age of American inequality, average annual earnings of the bottom 90 percent have increased by 16.7 percent; average annual earnings of the top 1 percent have increased by 149.4 percent; and average annual earnings of the top 0.1 percent have increased by 324.4 percent. It is not just that the rich have more money than the rest of us; their income is also growing much faster than the income of most people.

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