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Game of Thrones Podcast: Season 6, Episode 1, “The Red Woman”

[ 60 ] April 29, 2016 |


After nine months off the air, we’re back, folks! In this episode, SEK and I discuss Alliser Thorne and Trump, the first signs of weakness in House Bolton and the very beginnings of Sansa’s rise to power, why the Dorne plotline makes precisely zero sense, where things might be going in King’s Landing, and the dodgy gender and racial politics of the Dothraki, and the difference between implied nudity done for shock with Dany and actual nudity done for plot and character with Melisandre:


Who Is the Lesser Of Salon’s #BernieorBusters? The Answer Is Unclear

[ 226 ] April 29, 2016 |
Dumb and Dumber (Screengrab)

Dumb and Dumber

With the outcome of the Democratic primaries no longer in doubt, Salon is turning its #BernieorBust amps up to 11. Sure, we get HA! Goodman’s latest plea for the FBI to indict Hillary Clinton which they will as he will explain in his friend’s Kickstarter for a fan tribute to Game Of Thrones starring a Bernie loolalike. But forget that, we have new Walker Bragman material!

That said, now that the race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, with the former secretary of state essentially guaranteed the nomination, many liberals and progressives are preparing, once again, to vote for the lesser of two evils. The choice may not be as clear as some Democrats believe — especially if Democrats can take back the Senate and assure themselves of a check on a GOP House.

Right of the top, we have dispositive evidence of someone who knows less than nothing about American politics. The chances that Democrats could retake the Senate in an election with structural conditions favorable enough to Republicans for Donald Trump to win the White House are somewhat less than the chances that the Atlanta Braves will win the World Series this year. Any meaningful discussion has to assume a unified Republican Congress.

Once you’ve let that sink in, try this: There is a liberal case to be made for Donald Trump.

Do tell.

Like Sanders, Trump is neither beholden to special interests, nor coordinating with a Super PAC. This alone sets him apart from the other candidates in the race — especially Hillary Clinton. If he wins the presidency, it will send shock waves through our political system, much like what would happen if Bernie were elected, but with a twist.

Um, OK. And that exciting twist will be that “he will sign pretty much every horrible piece of legislation that a Republican Congress puts on his desk.”

Trump’s brand of populism has been enabled by the roughly 40-year decline of our middle class that both parties have facilitated through the abandonment of Franklin D. Roosevelt in favor of Ronald Reagan. Trump may not offer policy specifics, but he does not need them because the political establishment on both sides of the aisle, have failed the American people so badly, and the people have caught on.

“We must do something about economic inequality. Massive upper-class tax cuts, repealing the Affordable Care Act, and deregulating business are something. Ergo, Trump ’16!”

If he were to be elected, it would force our leaders to have a real conversation about these problems that they simply won’t have if the people elect an establishment candidate like Hillary Clinton.

Hahahahaha, yes, whatever the atrocious material consequences of a Trump administration would be, we would have a Real Conversation. At this point, my working assumption is that “Walker Bragman” is a pen name for Jim VandeHei, which he ordinarily uses for one of his characters when writing Gossip Girl fan fiction.

In all likelihood, Trump will not accomplish anything. He has made serious enemies in both parties and the media, whom he feels have slighted him, and I cannot see him working with those people. Trump holds grudges. He has filed more frivolous lawsuits than anyone in the public eye — or maybe we just hear about them more. Either way, politics do require compromise to one degree or another, and without it, nothing gets done. As such, when Trump finds himself up against institutional and bureaucratic resistance, it is unlikely he will deliver. For example, his wall — paid for by Mexico — is never going to happen. Ban all Muslims from entering the U.S.? Not a chance.

I agree that his “ban all Muslims” policies will not be enacted (although there’s plenty of room for discriminatory law enforcement that doesn’t reach that level.) His massive tax cut policies? Now those will be enacted. The executive branch federal judiciary packed with neoconfederate cranks? You betcha.

The Senate with its filibuster and cloture rules is enough of a check on that, even if Democrats do not have a majority.

Yes, and the Republican Party would never, ever adjust the cloture rules, Scout’s Honor. Also, tax cut bills can bypass the filibuster, as perhaps Young Master Bragman was unaware happened under the Bush administration twice.

Moreover, rightly or wrongly, he represents America’s crypto-fascist element. The best way to discredit both of these groups is to let them fail on their own.

Just like eight years of George W. Bush killed the Republican Party forever.

The last consecutive two-term presidents from the same political party were James Madison and James Monroe. In other words, Democrats face long historical odds if Hillary Clinton wins in 2016, of winning again in four years.

This argument is just as dumb as it’s ever been. The misleading historical factoid is irrelevant, and the idea that it’s possible for Donald Trump to win in 2016 but impossible for him to win as an incumbent is silly, and the same of course goes for Hillary Clinton.

Trump now would enable the Democratic Party to regroup, and reform under a more economically populist banner in order to tap into the American zeitgeist. Perhaps 2020 could see President Elizabeth Warren.

If history has taught Young Master Bragman anything, it’s that 1)it’s unpossible for incumbent presidents to win re-election and 2)the Democratic Party always responds to defeats by moving to the left. I’m not sure what history this is, but it’s not of the United States of America.

Trump will not transform America’s oligarchy into a fascist dictatorship, nor is he the second coming of Hitler.

As long as neither candidate is literally Hitler, the outcome of elections doesn’t matter. OK.

I would not be the least bit surprised to see Trump run to Clinton’s left on economic policy in a general election

I believe that you wouldn’t be! But it won’t happen, and more to the point the economic agenda that would be enacted by a Republican Congress under Trump would make Hillary Clinton look like a radical leftist.

Trump’s foreign policy talk has alienated our allies like the United Kingdon, and that isn’t something to take lightly. However, it has also earned praise from Vladimir Putin.

Shorter Walker Bragman: “Trump may not be Hitler, but he might be Putin. I’m OK with that.” I think Ed Schultz has tonight’s lead guest lined up now!

Finally, let’s talk about the Supreme Court.

Yes, let’s.

We have no way of predicting who Trump would appoint,

Well, we actually can make a pretty good guess.

While she has said that her litmus test for nominees will be commitment to overturning Citizens United v. FEC, there is little reason to trust her given how much she benefits from the current campaign finance system that is a product of that ruling and others.

I mean, wow, even by Bragman’s standards this is amazing. First of all, the fact that Clinton benefits from the current fundraising system is irrelevant to this question — Bill Clinton and Barack Obama raised plenty of money and their nominees have consistently dissented from bad campaign finance rulings. And even if we were to grant the fantastical assumption that Hillary Clinton secretly wants Citizens United upheld and can somehow identify plausible Democratic nominees who will agree with her, there are of course countless other remaining issues on which Democratic and Republican nominees predictably differ. Are you a woman who might want to obtain an abortion in somewhere other than a blue state urban area? Young Master Bragman has bigger fish to fry! But don’t worry, Donald Trump will ensure that at least we have a National Conversation about the issue!

President Barack Obama’s recent Supreme Court nominee, Eric Garland,

Oh dear. I would forgive this, however, if it wasn’t a fair representation of Young Master Bragman’s grasp of how the judicial system functions:

which gave us Super PACs, and upheld Citizens United.

An appellate court ruling failed to overturn a higher court’s campaign finance ruling, and somehow created Super PACs. This is central to Bragman’s point that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Democratic and Republican judicial nominees. Fascinating.

But, hey, it could be worse — he could be Camille Paglia.

Privatizing Hope, Individualizing Politics

[ 30 ] April 29, 2016 |


Ronald Aronson has an interesting, if rather lengthy, essay about the privatization of hope, adapted from his forthcoming book. I don’t agree with all of it. He falls into the frequent trap of bipartisanism when discussing the mid-20th century without taking into account the party alignments of that time in order to say “bipartisan solutions were once possible and now aren’t and isn’t that bad,” which is a question with an actual answer that is usually ignored. And I think the New Left gets too much blame for individualizing activism, as those activists were already a creation of postwar consumerism who turned that consumer lifestyle toward activism. There are other things to nitpick about the history as well–the late 20th century didn’t invent advertising and his example of baseball and consumerism falters in the significant, if less bright and loud, advertising of prewar baseball.

But the overall essay is really interesting in thinking about how strong a role the atomized, empowered individual plays in our culture and in our politics. A couple of excerpts:

The most stunning instance of this shift is the eruption of the Tea Party in early 2009. By what political alchemy did the only movement generated during the first three years of the Great Recession demand more of the same policies that caused the crisis? The financial collapse of September 2008 refuted thirty years of deregulaton and dismantling of the welfare state but provoked little action at the other end of the political spectrum, which was busy electing the new president and celebrating his victory but not pushing him on policy or giving him needed support. Still, wouldn’t the next activist wave—after thirty-five years of top-down class struggle and increasing inequality—be a movement of the unemployed and foreclosed demanding collective action for jobs, relief, and punishment of the business executives and regulators behind the financial collapse?

Instead, the most successful activists to emerge from the recession called for even less regulation, even lower taxes, and an even flimsier safety net. Were these self-styled patriots wearing three-cornered hats out of touch with reality? Not their reality: the Tea Party is a sour, middle- and upper-middle-class wave of resentment, comprising mostly college-educated white males over forty-five years old, one-fifth of whom earn more than $100,000 per year. We must take stock of the ironies of history that brought us to this point, where the first mass mobilization with teeth since the New Left turned out to be the “libertarian mob.”

Attending to this history reveals an unmistakable irony. That mob is in important ways fueled by the spread of freedom and equality since the 1960s, often reckoned a progressive undertaking. Since the social revolutions of that era, the individual and his or her rights and responsibilities have come to count for far more than collective tasks such as combating global warming and eliminating poverty. With social revolution has come economic: the expansion of consumer society, the proliferation of personal electronic devices, the growth of free-market ideology, the defeat of alternatives to unregulated capitalism. All foster a scenario of detachment, in which each of us is free to ignore our sense of belonging to a larger society. Citizenship is being reduced to participation in regular elections that rarely offer genuine alternatives to the prevailing system, to moments of cheering for our side and honoring “our heroes.” Even such collective action as exists is increasingly pitched in terms of the self-interest of millions of mes.

The privatization of hope, then, is not simply a matter of focusing energy and attention on oneself and one’s family. It is the withdrawal of personal expectation from the wider world, the rejection of even a possible democratic solidarity on behalf of a collective life encompassing and fit for all.

And the conclusion:

Today what must command our attention is not the radical falsity of the privatization of hope, which denies everyone’s deep social being, but its debilitating consequences. We are collectively losing the ability to cope with the most urgent problems. People who experience themselves as random, isolated individuals will never find the wherewithal to understand or agree upon, let alone master, the reality of climate change. The increasingly dangerous effect of two centuries of uncoordinated actions and dangers blurred by self-interest can be brought under control only if we accept that there is an us that has transformed nature and our relationship to it. To protect our common home from disaster, humans must form a responsive global collective. We must recover and enlarge social hope in the name of survival. But how to do this if a critical mass is in denial about the problem and lacks the ability to form a consensus and act together?

Our need, according to French social theorist Francis Jeanson, is for “citoyennisation”—the transformation of isolated and impotent individuals into active, militant citizens who experience their fate collectively and are willing to act on it democratically. Those trying to make this happen will have to negotiate not only the privatization of hope, but also the widespread acceptance of the maelstrom of progress and the pervasive cynicism of today’s advanced societies. Those who are already invested in political struggle will have to work their way beyond the boundaries inherent in identity politics and the thousands of other good causes clamoring for attention.

But no matter how privatized or narrowly focused we become, our latent capacity for generosity and need for connection remain only a tragedy or a disaster away from activation. In A Paradise Built in Hell (2009), Rebecca Solnit describes those utopian moments of hope, few and far between, when catastrophes lead to the breakdown of normal order and thereby demand that people collectively take control of their lives. Her examples reach from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to Hurricane Katrina. Let us hope other collective challenges—from the Syrian refugee crisis to global climate change—do not have to reach disastrous proportions before we overcome our passivity and isolation and recover our capacity to act together.

This focus on the individual versus the collective is I think pretty central to how a lot of the left thinks about politics. As I have said many times in the past here, politics should not be about you. Really, you don’t matter, or you shouldn’t think you do. It’s not about what you want. It’s about the people around you, your family, your friends, your coworkers, society at large. Self-centeredness is a terrible way to approach politics. Yet it is too common in an era where people, and here I’m talking specifically about the left, show off their politics like their new tattoo. “If Candidate X doesn’t support my positions of GMOs, vaccinations, and foreign policy, then there is no way I will vote for that person.” As much as I respect Bernie Sanders, this sort of formulation is pretty common among a lot of his supporters, as applied to the Great Satan of Hillary Clinton. This is the core of the third party vanity campaigns of Ralph Nader that still are attractive to large numbers of people. It’s this idea of the collective over the individual, an idea with deep roots in the labor movement, that leads me so strongly to reject an electoral politics of purity so that “I can teach the Democrats a lesson.”

Rather, the greatest good for the greatest number is a much more productive, if significantly less satisfying, way to approach politics. Yet that requires compromise and a lack of personal fulfillment. At the core of this whole problem is that we consider ourselves empowered consumers who need to be personally appealed to in order for us to grant our vote, and thus we often make personal demands of politicians who of course cannot follow through on them. Sometimes this gets channeled into a mass movement that leads to inevitable disappointment (Barack Obama), sometimes this gets channeled toward a single candidate who doesn’t quite make it (Bernie Sanders), and quite often it leads to people either not voting or voting for protest candidates (Nader, Jill Stein, staying at home talking about the need for socialism or the evils of vaccinations on Facebook).

Ultimately, we need to break this extreme version of individualism that postwar culture has created to work toward collective solutions to our societal problems, ranging from unequal schools that are exacerbated by people moving to the suburbs for their kids to climate change to a fair and equal economy. That’s a big challenge and probably not one where we will make any progress.

Should Black Lives Matter Compromise? No.

[ 130 ] April 29, 2016 |


Meant to say this a few days ago, but I will now: Barack Obama is flat out wrong about Black Lives Matter.

At a youth town hall in London Saturday, President Obama said that activists, specifically Black Lives Matter activists, need to be willing to compromise and that sometimes, the tone of the activism can turn people off to their message.

While answering questions from students and young people, Obama praised the Black Lives Matter movement for bringing to light the issues of police brutality and racial discrimination, but he says, their tone can mean that sometimes the message gets lost.

“You can’t just keep on yelling at them and you can’t refuse to meet because that might compromise the purity of your position,” Obama said. “The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table, get you in the room and then start trying to figure out how is this problem going to be solved. You then have a responsibility to prepare an agenda that is achievable —that can institutionalize the changes you seek and to engage the other side.”

Obama brought up compromise often in his speech, imploring youth activists and political hopefuls to learn how to compromise and to not see opponents or those on the other side of the aisle as enemies.

“If you spend time with people who just agree with you on any particular issue, you become even more extreme in your convictions because you’re never contradicted and everyone just mutually reinforces their perspective,” he said. “That’s why I think it is so important for all the young people here to seek out people who don’t agree with you.


I get why Barack Obama is saying this. It’s the world he lives in. And that’s fine. At some point, compromise happens on any piece of legislation. That’s how one kind of politics works. But that politics doesn’t happen unless people are out on the streets demanding it, refusing to compromise, and causing problems for politicians until they do something about it. The recent minimum wage increases are directly connected to the Fight for $15, for instance. That sort of direct action moves the party left and takes incredibly lame insiders like Terry McAuliffe and forces them to do the right thing, increasing people’s rights. We need an electoral politics and we need a protest politics and they don’t have to be completely intertwined. Without direct action on the street demanding complete capitulation to a given agenda, the partial victories won’t happen. Obama wouldn’t even be talking about these issues in London if activists weren’t yelling in Ferguson and Baltimore and Cleveland.

You know how you get Black Lives Matter to tone down its message? Allow black lives to matter. These activists might inconvenient the president. Good. Do something about it. He should advocate for the legislation you want and then accept the inevitable compromise that at least moves the ball forward. Even then, the activists should not. This is how change takes place. Those uncomfortable with protest politics need to understand this. Including the president.

Thankfully, the 90s Are Over

[ 33 ] April 29, 2016 |


The lesson of Terry McAullife’s susprisingly progressive record as governor of Virginia is that the executive branch is generally where party change ends, not where it begins:

What’s interesting about this is that before assuming office, McAuliffe seemed like the ultimate political hack. The Clinton crony and prodigious fundraiser seemed worth voting for only because the Republicans were running the odious former state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli against him. As New York’s Jon Chait put it at the time, “McAuliffe is the Democrat Democrats have been dying to vote against, except they can’t, because he’s running against a falling-off-the-right-edge-of-the-map Republican.” And yet, he’s been a good Democratic governor—not a hero by any means, but you won’t find enfranchising former felons in the DLC risk-aversion playbook either.

Skeptics might say that the order was just a cynical attempt to expand the potential Democratic electorate in a swing state. But this would be unfair. Many important progressive achievements, up to and including the Emancipation Proclamation, were also politically expedient. If expanding the electorate helps your party, there’s nothing wrong with that! More to the point, there are many potentially politically expedient initiatives—such as expanding Social Security and substantially increasing the minimum wage—that elite Democrats have nonetheless failed to embrace. Showing that these ideas have a real constituency is one reason Sanders’s run has been so valuable.

The real lesson of McAuliffe is that leaders don’t govern in a vacuum. Political context matters. If McAuliffe had been elected governor in the 1990s he likely would have been much more timorous and inclined to compromise with Republicans. But it ain’t the ‘90s anymore, and McAuliffe has gotten the message.

We have seen this play out in more historically consequential administrations. When Kennedy selected Lyndon Johnson as his running mate, progressive groups nearly revolted, given his frequently conservative record as a legislator and legislative leader. Had LBJ become president in 1952, it is enormously unlikely that he would be remembered as a progressive giant on domestic policy. But assuming office in the context of 1963, he went on to preside over the widest-ranging and least compromised collection of progressive legislation to be passed by Congress since Reconstruction.

The Corporation as Pop Culture Villain

[ 228 ] April 29, 2016 |


This is an interesting discussion of how the corporation has become a popular culture villain. But I think it’s a remarkably apolitical way that doesn’t really transfer over to distrust of corporations today. The article focuses primarily on science fiction, going back to Soylent Green, which I just watched for the first time last week and which fascinated me because I wondered if it was the first major film to focus on climate change. It is, in its own way, a really interesting look at environmental problems at a time when this was just coming to be a central part of American culture.

In any case, what strikes me is that as late as today, popular culture’s consistent creation of the villainous corporation seems to not affect people’s actual vision of corporations at all. That is certainly true in recent cultural portrayals of corporations in the present. When I saw The Big Short, I wanted to go burn some banks. But that film, as well-received and relatively widely-seen as it was, seemingly had no effect on most of the people who actually watched it, even though they personally may have been completely screwed by the housing bubble. I don’t remember much of anything when it came out about what an indictment of capitalism it was. There was perhaps a bit more of this with The Wolf of Wall Street, perhaps because any Scorsese film gets more cultural recognition and perhaps because he portrayed his characters in such a way that would make viewers either want to be them or loathe them with great passion. But even that film has hardly proven some cultural anti-capitalist touchstone.

So I guess the corporation is this bad guy in sci-fi culture, but I sure wish it has some connection to real life.

The Wages of the Olympics, 1988 Edition

[ 30 ] April 29, 2016 |


I spent 1996-97 in South Korea teaching English in the public schools. It was a mind-blowing experience in any number of ways. But one thing was clear when I was there, which is that the poor were treated like garbage. There were still old-style slums when I was there. They were disappearing fast in the rapidly modernizing nation, but there were still sort of low-slung somewhat makeshift buildings where people were essentially growing rice in their back fields were right next to 12 story high-rises. I went from school to school, from the best in the province to very poor schools. And the poor basically were treated like garbage. So I wasn’t surprised to find out that the awful and American-supported Park Chung-Hee ordered the streets cleaned of the undesirable.

But Information Wants to be Freeeeeeeeeeeee!

[ 185 ] April 29, 2016 |

Stating what really should be obvious:

After Prince’s untimely death last week, folks trying to share his songs on Twitter and Facebook via YouTube clips — the modern mode of mourning in our digital age — were stumped. Ditto those who turned to Spotify or Rhapsody or Apple’s streaming service for solo bingeing.

Needless to say, this caused much frustration with those who feel entitled to free, instant access to every scrap of #content ever created.

“There’s a good chance you want to hear and see more Prince today,” wrote Peter Kafka at re/code. “That’s harder than it should be. Or, at least, harder than you’re accustomed to when pop icons die.”


Now, this is a bit of sophistic silliness. There are actually plenty of ways one could binge on Prince’s music, that one could feel Prince deep within them. One could purchase a subscription to Tidal. For just $10, one would gain instant access to virtually everything Prince ever recorded for a whole month. That’s an amazingly good deal. If streaming’s not your thing, you could check out Amazon, which offers 21 Prince albums (and two Prince singles) for instant download at prices between 99 cents and $23.99. I myself downloaded Prince’s finest work, Batman.* If you’re an Apple guy or gal, iTunes has you covered with a similar selection.

What Kafka means is that there’s no way to “feel it right now” for free. There’s no way to access the life’s work of a great artist for free. As comic book artist Erik Larsen — who famously ditched Marvel to work for artist-owned Image — put it on Twitter: “Prince didn’t make it easy for you to steal his music. Here’s how to binge listen to it: 1. Buy a bunch of Prince’s music. 2. Listen to it.”


[ 107 ] April 28, 2016 |


I thought after the Trent Richardson debacle it would be a loooong time before a running back was selected in the top 5 again. I was wrong, but was pleased to see who made the blunder.

We’ve obviously been through this before, but given that 1)the marginal quality of a team’s running game is not terribly important to winning in the contemporary NFL, 2)adequate running backs are fairly easily obtained by a competent organization, and 3)the performance of RBs tends to vary widely from year-to-year, it’s crazy to invest top-first-round opportunity cost and money in anything but a once-in-a-generation talent at the position. And nobody knows how to identify top-flight NFL running backs ex ante. Elliott will probably be better than Richardson — who isn’t? — but it’s a really dumb pick.

Conversely — and it feels weird to say this — the new management in Cleveland seems to know what it’s doing. They’re at the beginning of a long road, but hiring a good coach and accumulating lots of draft picks is a good place to start.

Food History Reading List

[ 26 ] April 28, 2016 |


Backlist has published an excellent food history reading list for those of you interested in those sorts of things. I did a labor history reading list for them a few months ago. These are good lists and excellent primers for smart readers like you who want to read more history and support the efforts of poor historians through your generous readership.

Soil Conservation: A Southern History

[ 44 ] April 28, 2016 |


When we think of soil conservation (a topic I know is near and dear to all LGM readers!) we think of the Dust Bowl as the central event. And in many ways that’s true, but it has deeper roots, which is fantastic erosion created in the Southern cotton regions. Above is Providence Canyon, Georgia. This is one of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders. It is also completely created by erosion from cotton growing. The historian Paul Sutter expands upon this and previews his new book on Providence Canyon by looking at Soil Conservation Service head Hugh Bennett.

Only a couple of years later, in 1913, Bennett traveled to Stewart County, Georgia, just south of Columbus, where a soil survey team was struggling to map a landscape wracked by the most extreme gullying he had ever seen. Again, Bennett and his colleagues mapped tens of thousands of acres of “Rough gullied land.” Some of the county’s gullies were more than 150 feet deep and hundreds of feet wide. The published “Soil Survey of Stewart County” highlighted a gully that locals called “Providence Cave,” a place that would later come to be known as Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon.”

Witnessing such erosion convinced Bennett that something needed to be done to save the region’s, and the nation’s, soils. But several factors limited the effectiveness of his proselytizing for a federal soil conservation bureau. Federal conservation programs on public lands had developed during the Progressive Era, but instituting a program to regulate resource use on private lands had proven more difficult. The interruption of the First World War and the more conservative political climate of the postwar years also thwarted his ambitions. Bennett had to contend with another problem, too: the head of the U.S. Bureau of Soils, Milton Whitney, refused to take soil conservation seriously. Instead, Whitney repeatedly insisted that “the soil is the one indestructible, immutable asset that the Nation possesses.” Everything Bennett had seen in his travels around the South had convinced him otherwise. “I didn’t know so much costly misinformation,” Bennett lamented, “could be put into a single brief sentence.”

Whitney’s death in 1927 brought on a flurry of soil conservation activity, including a formative government report, Soil Erosion: A National Menace, co-authored by Bennett in 1928. Bennett also began, as he put it, to “howl about the evils of soil erosion.” His campaign built strength over the next five years, especially after 1932 because of the Roosevelt administration’s willingness to wed federal work relief and soil conservation. Bennett continued to use the massive soil erosion he had witnessed in the American South as rationale for a soil conservation agency, citing the cases of Fairfield and Stewart County repeatedly.

The cause of soil conservation, then, was ascendant well before the first dust storms rolled off the Great Plains and into the nation’s consciousness. The devastated soils of the American South had a particularly formative influence. The Dust Bowl certainly played a major part in the final passage of the Soil Conservation Act of 1935, but it was a latecomer to the stage – the latest disaster in a long history of destructive human-induced soil erosion.

Objection. Nonresponsive.

[ 93 ] April 28, 2016 |


This is my favorite of Jim VandeHei’s responses to Dylan Matthews, which Rob linked below:

DM: The Innovation Party sounds like a typical Beltway centrist project: pro-entitlement cuts, hawkish, socially liberal, etc. Is VandeHei familiar with research from political scientists David Broockman and Doug Ahler showing that most self-identified moderate voters aren’t actually that kind of centrist at all? People who want lots of government programs but also are skeptical of abortion and immigration are a more typical kind of moderate. Why would those people ever vote for the Innovation Party?

JV: I would be careful about reading too much into studies of voter habits right now. Did you anticipate Republican voters would elect an anti-trade, pro-status-quo-on-entitlements Democrat as their nominee? Did you predict a 74-year-old man would clobber Hillary Clinton among young women? There is extreme volatility in politics and I believe most eligible voters are willing to consider something unique or different.

This is…amazing. It’s almost aggressively self-refuting.

Matthews is making a familiar but important point. Elite journalists pining for a third party candidate almost always call for one who is, like them, fiscally conservative (especially with respect to popular entitlement programs) but socially liberal. So one obvious problem with VandeHei’s latest iteration is that it’s the antithesis of “innovative,” a label we can safely say can never be applied to something once Tom Friedman has written his first dozen identical columns advocating it. An even more important problem, as Matthews observes, is that these views 1)have very little popular constituency and 2)are already massively overrepresented among Beltway elites.

VandeHei’s asserts that we should ignore the fact that both Democratic and Republican voters support federal entitlement programs. To support this, his first move is…to point out that Donald Trump is winning the nomination while being the only Republican candidate who supports preserving entitlement programs! He then proceeds to observe that Bernie Sanders is popular among young women. How this shows that voters are clamoring for the INNOVATION of Pain Caucus brand neoliberalism and plenty of it, led not by a New York billionaire but a Silicon Valley billionaire, is…not obvious.

This is an inadvertently perfect illustration of how impervious to reason VandeHei’s deeply embedded fealty to centrist Beltway received wisdom is. Somebody points out that pretty much everybody hates his ideas. His response is to cite politicians who have effectively mobilized voters who hate his ideas as evidence that people want things to be DISRUPTED based on his own massively unpopular ideas. It’s really quite amazing. If his first column was beyond parody, his defense of it is doing to parody what Homer did to the Krusty Burglar:

Jim VandeHei, everbody!

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