Thursday, June 21, 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

gordon 06.20.12 at 12:25 am

“Meritocracy” is a very useful idea for those at the top. It implies that you are at the top because you are better than all the rest (cue Tina Turner). Revolution is therefore not only nasty and violent but also misguided, because the result could only be substituting people with less talent for those currently in charge. When the disasters into which our current meritocrats have led us are pointed out, they cheerfully reply that things would – indeed, must – have been worse if other people had been in their place because, you know, they’re meritocrats so there is nobody better… There is a wonderful circularity about it.

Bruce Wilder

06.19.12 at 8:54 pm

Data Tutashkhia@63 makes a critically important point: money rewards are allowed to dominate all else in the great tournament of elite competition, with the predictable result that much of the elite is peopled by sociopaths.

The accumulation of money, as a result of this misguided method of scorekeeping, creates its own institutional pathologies.

mattski: “Meritocracy is an ideal more so than a reality. And what’s not to like about the ideal?”

James Michener used to tell a story about an Army unit in the South Pacific where the officer-in-charge, beleiving strongly in meritocracy, worked hard to support promotion and recognition for all the soldiers under his command, whom he identified as capable and meritorious. He worked hard at it, was judicious and objective and scrupulously fair. Eventually, he was removed from command and demoted, for his efforts.

His own soldiers respected his judgments and his relentlessness, but, over time, those, who were passed over, became completely demoralized and the unit’s morale and efficiency sank and, finally broke.

Every system of promotion and recognition, which I have seen work well in practice, balances the recognition of specific, high individual achievement with recognition of loyalty, longevity, team effort and that most dubious of virtues, persistence. A system of social and cultural values, which recognizes the capability is far less scarce than opportunity, and loyalty, idealism and integrity is far more valuable, socially, than the extremes of individual achievement, is healthier than what we have going on.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

From a thread at crooked timber on Chris Hayes "Twilight of the Elites:"

Greg 06.18.12 at 7:19 pm

On the failure of institutions…

I remember a few years back, in the good old Bush II era when progressives were progressives, it all clicked when I read an editorial in the Wall Street Journal following the death of David Halberstam. James Bowman, the author was, and he agued that investigative, “truth-seeking” journalism is a bad thing, because there is no truth, and it is therefore the job of the journalist to stop fussing about with accuracy and fact-checking, and instead to pick a side and help that side win.

Bear in mind this is a journalist writing about journalism in the Wall Street Journal.

That’s when it clicked that the US had – at the time – an administration that didn’t believe in government, a judicial branch that didn’t believe in the rule of law, a legeslative branch that didn’t believe in legislation and a press corps that didn’t believe in journalism.

Since then we’ve run into risk managers who don’t believe in risk, bank regulators who don’t believe in regulation, central bankers who don’t believe in central banks…

I’ll be very happy to read Hayes to get a view on meritocracy’s role in all of this.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

For fathers day:

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Friday, June 15, 2012

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Bruce Wilder 06.08.12 at 9:39 pm

    It might seem a bit tangential to the drone strike issue, but the way charges under the law of war are laid against some of those captured and labeled as Al Qaeda operatives, back before we just blew them up from afar, seem to me to be indicative and revealing of the debasement of reasoning entailed.

    The Wikipedia article on Omar Khadr reports that he was charged with murder, for his participation in a firefight against U.S. forces.
    It is quite the twisted logic, which says “its a war” but the “lawful targets” do not have the right to fight back.

    Of course, now we have technology that seems for the moment at least to take away the target’s practical ability to fight back, as well as relieving our forces from any risk of the awkward questions that might arise, when they capture, say, a teenage boy. Now, we just murder the teenage boy, and deny that he was the target; he was collateral damage, but not collateral damage, because he was killed and Obama defines all males of military age, who are killed, as “militants”, ex post, all without the embarrassment of judicial proceedings of any kind.

    It is kind of marvelous, in its way.

Bruce Wilder 06.08.12 at 8:25 pm

    In the OP, Chris Bertram has identified two legs of what should be a three-legged stool, of legal justification and legitimacy: 1.) responsible discrimination between civilians and non-civilians, in conformity with the traditional law of war, as codified in treaties; 2.) the U.N. charter and respect for the sovereignty of other states. The third leg of the stool would be what James @60 identifies: conformity with a state’s own constitutional process, in the case of the U.S., the U.S. Constitution, and related statutory law and governing process.

    Leg number 1 has always been a weak reed. The concept of some respect for civilian lives and innocence is a lovely idea, but honored more in the breach than in the details of historic practice of war.

    Leg number 2 is a bit stronger, but, as other commenters have noted, is pretty much a dead letter, when any Great Power is acting in circumstances in which it is not effectively opposed another Great Power. When we hang George W. Bush for the invasion of Iraq, a clear and unambiguous war crime of the highest order, then the law of war and the U.N. charter will mean something.

    The last leg of the stool, though, points directly at the exposed foundation stone, that reveals what all the legs are resting on: the false claim that there is, or can be, a “war on terror”, or a war against any diffuse non-state actor.

    Intellectually, this is a problem of false categorization. If you accept as an axiom that there is a “war on terror” or even a “war on Al Qaeda”, and not simply a problem of violent criminal conspiracy, then you’ve passed through the looking glass into an impossible wonderland of contradictions and distorted notions of expedience.

    Discrimination between civilians and non-civilians? Here on planet earth, they are all civilians, even the deliberately intended targets. That someone, somewhere intends violence doesn’t make them soldiers in any belligerent’s army.

    U.N. charter and state sovereignty? If the U.S. is at war, with a state—and that’s the only kind of non-metaphoric war that can exist—then the laws of war apply. Otherwise—and this is otherwise—not.

    And, finally, U.S. constitutional process: the U.S. President is a caesar in a genuine emergency, but more than a decade later, the crazy is old, real old.

    It shouldn’t be just the legal niceties that trouble us. Constitutional process to constrain decision-making is what forces us to deliberate and to make rational, calculated collective choices, respect the feedback of results and consequences, and trouble ourselves with conflicting claims and proportionality, when employing the awesome power of the fully organized state. That Iran or Cuba could use symmetric justifications in tit-for-tat misses the real problem, because the justifications are just rationalizations for what Power does when it can. The real problem is the breakdown of constraints on Power, which are necessary to ensure that Power acts at least somewhat rationally and in response to deliberation. When Power is unconstrained, “good intentions” seem enough, and people in power, or acting at the behest of Power, forget to even reason about practical means and ends and consequences, embodied in moral principles or pragmatic precepts.

    The whole idea of a law of war, of a U.N. governing international relations, or a constitution for a republic, rest on long experience with the consequences of unconstrained, and expedient power, which discards reason as inexpedient.

    We’re inviting anarchy and the dislocation of all international relations, in the wake of declining U.S. power, chucking all the soft power claims, even as the hard power behind them erodes like a sand castle facing an incoming tide.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012


you still have hope.  i do not. 

i had a chance to talk, live in person, to my Senator the other day. I learned that a Senator can fail to answer your question even when pressed, talk nonsense in front of an audience, and have no one.... not even me... able to bring the words into even approximate allignment with reality. 

What Bush II taught the powers who always used to worry at least a little about the people is that they don't have to worry.  The people will swallow any lie as long as they keep repeating it, no matter how dumb.  no matter how contradicted by actual events.. 

and, sad to say, even among my friends i notice an extreme wilingness to believe anything that supports your (their) own short term money interests, as long as it sounds like it agrees with the emotional commitments they have made as a result of reading their favorite fiction. 

things may change, but they won't change because anyone is thinking about them.
Yesterday, 12:17:33 PM
– Reply

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Reasons for optimism, from Crooked Timber:

straightwood 06.05.12 at 3:55 pm

    There is a silent and undocumented resistance movement in every large institution. It is made up of people who secretly act on behalf of mankind, in cunning disregard of their orders, and often at the expense of their material interests. That is why unmaintained bridges are still standing and why good teachers still exist in the poorest school districts. That is why state and corporate crimes are revealed by those who risk harsh punishment. Nothing can fully extinguish the human desire to do right.

Monday, June 04, 2012

From a comment thread on Balloon Juice about why Mitt Romney wants to run for president;

31 mclaren Says:


    I’m often asked by people I know why I don’t run for something someday, since I’m very openly passionate about electoral politics, and my response is usually something like, “Because then I’d have to leave the house and talk to people I hate.”

Oh, suzanne, suzanne, suzanne… That’s only the start of it.

To become president, you have to do things like destroy your best friends…and then smile at them and shake their hands, and put your arm around their shoulders, and tell them how you much you love them and what great people they are, just before the prosecutors issue the phony indictments on trumped-up charges.

To become president, you have to do things like interrupt the girl giving you head in the Oval Office to take a call from one of your biggest political contributors—then sweet-talk the girl who was giving you head and tell her she’s the most important person in your life, just before you dump her, and then lie to your wife telling her “I have never had sex with that woman.”

To become president, you have to sift through photos of 17-year-old girls who are alleged to be terrorists and discuss whether to order them murdered along with their entire families, or just the 17-year-old girls themselves. Because collaterial damage might be politically awkward.

To become president, you have to be able to leave your best friends to die on the battlefield and then denounce them as traitors and un-American subhuman scum, not even worthy of being buried.

To become president, you have to be able to shake the hand of a senator who likes to rape and beat nearly to death his underage female pages, and then agree to intervene with an FBI investigation that’s on the brink of indicting him for serial rape, because that senator is the key to getting some legislation passed that will help millions of starving American children.

To become president, you have to be able to publicly praise a pope who has covered us tens of thousands of cases of child rape because the praising that power-hungry pederast is the way to get a key bloc of American voters to swing your way.

To become president, you have to be able to promise hope and change and believe it when you say it, and say it passionately and from the bottom of your heart, and then allow your beliefs to drift away and mutate into the exact opposite while compartalizing all awareness of your betrayal and rationalizing it to yourself as “the lesser of two evils” and “doing a little evil in order to do a lot of good.”

To become president, you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror after advisors tell you that the canadian citizen you ordered kidnapped and flown by CIA learjet to be tortured for two years in Syria was actually innocent. And then you have to be able to agree to do it again…and again…and again, because if you don’t, key pro-military deep south constituencies won’t vote for you in your re-election.

Personally, I’d rather jam white-hot knitting needles into my eyes while scraping off my genitals with a rusty cheese grater than do those kinds of things. But that’s just me.

June 4th, 2012 at 12:33 am

Saturday, June 02, 2012


No one is going to save you fools, again

by David Atkins

Here we go again.

We now know that the Obama Administration traded away the public option in order to gain support from the hospital industry for the Affordable Care Act. And we know that it traded away, among other things, the importation of cheaper drugs to PhRMA in order to secure their support for the bill.

Some of these details were known long ago, of course. Good policy was scuttled in order to secure industry support. The question is why it was done, and whether it could have been done any other way.

In 2009 I wrote my most recommended diary ever on DailyKos called No One Is Going to Save You Fools. To reprise what I said then:

    Barack Obama has indeed sold you out. He and many of his Democratic colleagues have sold you out on healthcare, and they've sold you out on financial reform. You were looking for a savior, and you've been had--not an altogether atypical result for those looking for a strong leader to "save" them.

    He hasn't done this because he's a bad guy. In fact, he's a great guy. I think he's doing pretty much the best job he can. He's sold you out because he's not afraid of you. And really, if I may be so bold, he shouldn't be afraid of you. You don't know who really runs the show, and you're far too fickle and manipulable to count on.

    The first thing you need to understand about healthcare reform is what Jane Hamsher identified long ago: nothing--absolutely nothing--is going to trump the White House's deal with PhRMA and the insurance industry. The question you need to ask yourselves is: why? If you're intellectually mature enough to get past "personal betrayal" as your best answer, you'll be on the right track.

    While you ponder that one, you might want to also consider why nothing has been done--nor will anything serious actually be done--about financial industry reform. Standing up to the financial industry in the current political environment should be a no-brainer. So what in the heck is going on here? If you can think past shadowy conspiracy theories and possible personal enrichment for the Obama family, you'll be doing the kind of thinking that will help actually solve the problem.

I noted that money to purchase persuasion is extremely powerful. Sophisticated marketing research and framing techniques mean that hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars spent on advertising can be completely devastating to political careers. It's much harder to "welcome their hatred" when that kind of money is being thrown around that effectively.

To continue:

    So here's what you have to understand. If the health insurance and financial industries really felt scared by any particular politician or political party, or their lobbying efforts were inadequate, they could throw them out of power in a heartbeat. With a wave of their hand and a few billion dollars or so in our direction, the pharma companies and Goldman Sachs could absolutely destroy the Democratic Party in 2010 and beyond. The only reason they don't do so is that it's cheaper and easier to buy a few key Democrats off instead, and intimidate the rest. Plus, they don't have to run the risk of a right-wing populist backlash, either.

    That's why Barack Obama can't renege on his deal with PhRMA: PhRMA almost singlehandedly destroyed Hillarycare in 1993, and spent the money to tip the balance of the elections in 1994. They can easily do it again. So could Goldman Sachs and the rest of the financial vampires. Rahm Emmanuel knows this, too: the deals are in place in return for their holding their fire.

    And each and every one of you is being taken for fools. You work for an election or two to put chosen leaders in place, and expect those leaders to work their "leadership" magic to ram reforms down the throats of the corporate sector, failing to understand just how fully the corporate sector holds the cards. It's not the campaign contributions: it's the persuasion money...

    If you want to win, you will ORGANIZE. You will organize in the same way the Right has done for the last 40 years, and you will spend money on persuasion, where it really matters. You will, in short, make the politicians as afraid of you as they are of them. The Right has built vast networks of think tanks, newspapers, periodicals, cable news channels, and political advocacy organizations to spread their finely tuned, well-honed messages. Their politicians may fail them, and their actual policies may be deeply unpopular, but their message machine nearly always works its magic to get them what they want, even when Democrats are in power.

    That's partly because the American political Right never quits and never gives up. They know that organization is the key to their success, and they don't trust politicians to do their work for them. Democrats, on the other hand, get disappointed and quit when our politicians don't pan out the way we wanted. That's why we lose.

    As the healthcare debacle went on month after month, I didn't ask myself why the Democratic politicians weren't pushing single-payer or Medicare for all. I wanted to know where the Left-leaning organizations were. Where were the think tanks, the message machine, the newspapers, the whole infrastructure? Where were the national, well-tested ad campaigns pushing Medicare for All? Where were the free screenings of Sicko at major movie theaters across the nation, complete with sponsored food & drink for those who attended and signed up to take action? Where were the mid-cycle ads done by Madison Avenue professionals targeting specific Senators and making them deeply uncomfortable? Where, in effect, was the message campaign?

    It didn't exist. What we had were labor unions and the AARP delivering generic hopeful messages without an ounce of the power or creativity that one might find in a random Budweiser ad.

    If you want to win, ORGANIZE. Develop parallel organizations willing to persuade with the power and intensity of a corporation.

It was the case back then. It remains the case now.

The Affordable Care Act barely squeaked through with a minimum number of votes as it was. Had either PhRMA or the hospital industry come out against the bill to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in ads against those who considered voting for it, it would never have had a prayer of passing. The blessing of PhRMA and the hospitals was a necessary condition for the passage of any bill, which is part of why single-payer was never on the table in the first place.

Replacing Barack Obama with a "stronger progressive" won't solve this problem, because the problem lies with the system, not with the person in the Oval Office.

The power to defeat PhRMA and the hospitals won't come from the top down. It will come in two ways: 1) from the bottom up via progressives rolling them over state by state; and more importantly 2) through campaign finance reform that prevents them from threatening the careers of every politician in Washington if they don't get their way.

But the days of an FDR jamming legislation down the throats of corrupt industries with 70 likeminded Senators isn't coming back, particularly if we're interested in holding onto the civil rights movement. FDR may not have compromised with the corporations, but he certainly compromised with the racist Dixiecrats. That is no longer negotiable, morally or logistically. And the corporations aren't going to stand down, either: they've been on the march ever since the Powell Memo, and they're not going to stop now.

What we do about that is up to us. It's not entirely clear what the strategies for success will be, but the strategies for failure are obvious: waiting for a progressive savior who will never come because the structures of politics no longer allow it, and assuming that decentralized and disorganized angry people power will magically bring about change.

It's going to be a long, hard slog. And it's going to take organizing on a variety of fronts, chief among them campaign finance reform, that don't seem to immediately impact the problem. But if one wants to cure a disease, it's important to treat the underlying problems, not just the symptoms. But no one is going to save us from this morass but ourselves.

thereisnospoon 6/01/2012 07:30:00 AM Comments (67)

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