Tuesday, August 18, 2015

10 Honest Answers to 10 Less-Than-Honest Questions

Bernie Sanders demonstrating his unelectability
Last week, someone named Cara Harris published an article that is depressing in its predictability. Like Barney Frank before her, she would really, really appreciate it if we would all accept the inevitability of a Hillary Clinton candidacy.

Her essay, titled “Ten honest questions I’d like every Bernie Sanders supporter to answer,” consists—as might be expected from a Hillary fan—of ten considerably-less-than-honest-and-actually-rather-smug questions directed at those audacious enough to think that someone with actual ideas and a reputation for integrity might be preferable to someone who meets neither of those criteria. (See, Cara, Curmie can be a condescending asshole, too, but tries to confine such manifestations to a specific individual who richly deserves it.)

Allow me, then, to answer those questions.
1. If Elizabeth Warren were in the race, most of you would be supporting her instead. If neither Warren nor Bernie were in the race, most of you would be supporting Martin O’Malley despite knowing nothing about him. How are we supposed to take your endorsement of Bernie seriously when you appear to be simply backing him because he’s not Hillary?
First off, how fucking dare you tell me whom I’d support in a hypothetical situation? Had Elizabeth Warren run, then the chances are that Bernie would not have done so. If both were in the race, however, I’d still be supporting Bernie. Secondly, yes, I’d vote for virtually any Democrat (and probably a Republican or two) over Hillary. But I’d suggest that the problem isn’t with the “seriousness” of my support for Senator Sanders, but with your candidate.
2. Do you honestly believe that Bernie would do well with foreign policy? Do you think he’d really be able to get congressmen of either party to vote for any of his initiatives once they see that he’s not willing to compromise even a little? Are you envisioning a scenario in which President Bernie would be able to get anything accomplished at all? Even his most prominent supporters like Noam Chomsky have acknowledged he would get nothing done in office. Are you so enamored with the very idea of a protest candidate winning, you wouldn’t care that he’d be ineffective?
Yes, I do. And I see no evidence that Senator Sanders is unwilling to compromise. He does have core beliefs on policy issues, whereas Senator Clinton’s only readily apparent core belief is her narcissism, but that’s a different matter. And sorry, Noam Chomsky isn’t a “most prominent supporter,” just someone who sees Sanders as a “thorn in the side of the Clinton machine, which is not a bad thing.” Chomsky is more of a pessimist than Sanders; they agree on the substance, but Chomsky thinks it’s already too late. Let’s find out, rather than conceding defeat to the oligarchs. And yes, I’d rather have a President Sanders who might not make things better than a President Clinton who would almost certainly make things worse.
3. Are you unable to understand national polls, or do you just like to ignore them because they reveal that your guy is losing by thirty-eight points within his own party?
So I shouldn’t support the candidate of my choice because he’s currently behind? Oh, and by the way, it’s currently more like 32 points, down from pretty close to twice that in June. In the words of the great modern philosopher Satchel Paige, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” Right now, that “something” has #FeeltheBern on its t-shirt.
4. Are you under the impression that the people showing up to Bernie’s rallies each get more than one vote? Is that how you think he closes the gap? Or have you intentionally saturated yourself so thoroughly with people voting for your guy that you’ve honestly forgotten the vast majority of the nation says they favor someone else?
Nope. Have you forgotten that not a single person has actually voted yet? Or that eight years ago right now the “experts” were all predicting with great confidence that the ’08 election would be a showdown between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani? Funny, I don’t remember that election. And while we’re on the subject, have you forgotten that the corporate interests bankrolling Hillary’s campaign don’t get multiple votes, either? Money does matter; votes matter more.
5. Do you understand that Bernie’s refusal to take traditional SuperPAC money means that even if he did get the nomination, he’d be outspent ten to one by his republican opponent? Are you aware that moderates and undecideds make their decisions based primarily on television ads, which are the most expensive part of any campaign? Do you get that nearly every ad would be for the republican? Do you get that he’d almost certainly lose? Would you really rather Bernie get the nomination and lose, than Hillary get the nomination and win? Because that’s how it looks to the rest of us.
Nice try. Care to provide any evidence of that rather scurrilous assertion about moderates and independents? And, should Bernie win the nomination, the campaign funds will be there; they just won’t be dark money. Also, of course, such an eventuality would mean that he’d already proven his ability to win against an establishment (read: corporate) candidate funded largely by SuperPacs. Moreover, every poll (example here) in swing states shows Bernie doing essentially the same as or better than Hillary against the leading GOP contenders.

Hillary has huge negatives, and they’re not going away just by wishing. Bernie is less well known, meaning there’s more of an upside, and a recent poll in swing states has him the only candidate in either party to be in positive territory in terms of positives vs. negatives. Hillary is losing by more than the margin of error to all of the most likely GOP candidates in virtually every contested state; Bernie couldn’t do any worse. Finally, “he can’t win” is a familiar motif in Clinton campaigns: they clung to it as their last hope as Barack Obama took the nomination seven years ago, too. He did OK in the general.
6. Why do you spend more time pushing crazy lies about Hillary than you do talking up Bernie’s ideas? Bernie himself has made it clear that he thinks highly of Hillary, and he scolds any reporters who try to get him to trash her. If you’re primarily supporting him because you think lowly of her, have you considered the extent of the disconnect between you and your candidate? Has it occurred to you that if Bernie heard you talking about Hillary the way you talk about her, he’d angrily tell you off?
What “lies” would those be? That she is beloved of Wall Street (to the tune of millions of dollars of funding)? That she refuses to state actual policies on a host of issues, and that when she does, they’re something Bernie said earlier? That her response to her multitudinous scandals has always been to act guilty while bellowing her innocence? That she ran a far more vicious and indeed racist campaign against Obama than either McCain or Romney did (does anyone but Curmie remember the conflation of “hard-working Americans” with “white Americans”?)? That she is perfectly capable of gross prevarication if it serves her short-term self-interest (and even if it doesn’t)? All those are true. I don’t know if Senator Sanders actually likes her or not; could be he’s just being polite. Nor do I care. And anyone who votes for or against a candidate based on what supporters say or do rather than on what the candidate says and does: this person is an idiot.
7. Do you really think that Bernie’s strong showing in New Hampshire, a tiny state five minutes from where he lives, where he’s been locally popular for decades, is representative of the nation? Do you really think that New Hampshire’s four electoral votes will make a difference in this primary? And again, do you not know how to read national polls, or do you just like ignoring them because those polls reveal that your guy’s candidacy is already finished?
Well, I’ve lived in New Hampshire, and I know that its proximity to Vermont is far more geographical than ideological. No, I don’t think it’s representative of the nation. But I do think that a win in New Hampshire, however much the corporate media tries to spin it as you just did, would legitimize the Sanders campaign and that we’d see a nation-wide bounce for his candidacy. I’m not predicting a win; I’m saying we should see who gets the most votes.

No, I don’t think “New Hampshire’s four electoral votes will make a difference in this primary,” largely because electoral votes have nothing to do with the primaries. Did you go to Sarah Palin High School, or what? Might New Hampshire make a difference in the general? It could. And if you think Sanders’s “candidacy is already finished,” then you’re an utter moron, no matter how condescendingly you strut your ignorance. Are you sure you’re supporting Hillary and not Michele Bachmann, because that comment is just nuts.
8. Do you get that you’re supporting Bernie for essentially the same reason that conservatives are supporting Donald Trump? Do you realize that both men are basing their campaigns entirely on “government sucks, the system sucks, both parties suck, politicians are idiots and a trained rat could do better, and I’m just that trained rat.” Do you not understand the parallels between your desire to stomp your feet at Bernie’s generic indignance [sic.], and conservatives’s [sic.] desire to stomp their feet at Trump’s generic indignance? Does that not embarrass you?
So… someone who has spent a quarter century in politics thinks “government sucks” because some jackass with a laptop says so? Bernie’s “indignance” (the actual word is “indignation,” incidentally) is anything but generic. It is indeed far more specific than any of the equivocating pabulum Hillary has spewed over the past few weeks. And I’m not stomping my feet. I confess to being a little embarrassed, however: that you and I are apparently members of the same political party.
9. Most of you supporting Bernie are also fans of Obama. Seeing how Obama has all but endorsed Hillary, and how Obama sees her as his natural successor, don’t you find it odd that you’re instead rooting against her – even as you still try to take credit for supporting Obama? How does that make you any different from the republicans who try to take credit for Obama’s accomplishments while insisting he should be replaced by republican?
First off, I’m not a “[fan] of Obama.” I was, and I voted for him twice, but I think he’s been a disappointment. His education policy is horrendous, his foreign policy feckless, his ethics questionable at best. His signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, is a step in the right direction, but it’s also a nightmare of impenetrable bureaucracy. And, by the way, do you have the slightest whiff of evidence to support your allegation that he’s supporting Hillary per se, anyway?
10. And the only question that truly matters: when Hillary becomes the democratic party nominee, will you pout and stay home on election day and hand the nation back to the republicans? Or will you show up and vote for Hillary because you know she’s the far better of the two candidates? While none of us understand why you’re supporting a less-qualified protest candidate whose ideas aren’t realistic and who can’t win anyway, we’re really only going to judge you based on what you do on election day. So when it’s Hillary vs Jeb TrumpCruz, what’s it going to be?
If Hillary is the Democratic nominee, the chances are very good that I’ll vote for her, but that’s a function of the clown car that is the GOP field, not of Hillary’s candidacy. There are a couple of second-tier Republican candidates I’d consider, but envisioning another Scalia on SCOTUS will probably swing me back to the Dems. I’m not sitting out, and my third- (and fourth- and fifth-) party days are over.

You say Bernie’s less qualified, that his ideas aren’t realistic, and that he can’t win. That sounds suspiciously like the litany leveled against then-Senator Obama eight years ago. Funny thing, that. Of course Sanders is a far better-qualified candidate than Obama was in ’08 (or than Clinton is now, for that matter); his ideas just sound radical because they aren’t politics-as-usual (you’re free to identify which of his policies isn’t “realistic” and explain your rationale); the chances of the two candidates’ winning the general election, having become the nominee, are virtually identical.

The only real argument adduced here on Secretary Clinton’s behalf is inevitability. Actually allowing the voters to decide is contrary to your plan.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Case of the Paranoid President

To say that Curmie is way behind on his writing is like saying Donald Trump has a high opinion of himself. I keep a log of links to news stories that I might like to turn into blog pieces someday: my current backlog is 92 stories, just on education, from calendar year 2015 (there are almost exactly the same number of stories about topics other than education). Part of the problem is that it’s been a particularly busy summer—work-related trips to London, Kent (Ohio), and Montreal totaled well over a month away from home, plus writing a conference paper that turned out to be more work than initially suspected, preparing for a larger-than-normal production this fall… well, you get the idea. But part of the problem is simply that with so many things to write about, Curmie dithers about what topic to choose, then watches Netflix instead of writing about anything.

Today, therefore, represents an attempt, however feeble, to break out of that rut. With so many potential Curmie contenders to choose from, it’s time to just pick one—not necessarily the most egregious, but the one that interests me most today—and go with it. So today I write about a story from May (it found its way into the popular press in June).

Margaret B. Lee: A Curmie contender, and a strong one.
It seems that Oakton Community College President Margaret B. (Peg) Lee was retiring after three decades of service to the Des Plaines, IL, institution, and the college held a reception in her honor. So far, so good, right? Well, a couple of days after the April 25 “gala,” a former adjunct named Chester Kulis copied Lee on an e-mail sent to adjunct instructors. Titled “MAY DAY—The Antidote to the Peg Lee Gala,” the offending missive consisted of a single sentence: “Have a happy MAY DAY when workers across the world celebrate their struggle for union rights and remember the Haymarket riot in Chicago.” [Curmie’s note: overview of the events of the Haymarket riot here.]

Chester Kulis: Not advocating violence.
Kulis, a long-time member of faculty unions, was miffed that Lee had not re-appointed him (and some 50 other adjuncts) after the school was hit with a $150,000 fine in the wake of a recently-adopted state law which imposes significant financial penalties on any institution which hires officially retired state employees who are paid (by that institution and any others, apparently) a total of more than 40% of their salary in their highest-paid year of employment by the state.  (A revision of the statute, which would exempt retirees receiving less than a $10,000 annual pension, has been proposed, but as far as I can tell not passed into law.)

OCC spokeswoman Janet Spector Bishop was certainly correct in arguing “We’re a public entity. We can’t be spending taxpayer dollars on financial penalties we can avoid.” Her ensuing sentence, however, is no more than equivocation: “It’s not the choice we wanted to make, but we do need to comply with the law.” No one suggested that non-compliance was an option, but there are plenty of ways of ensuring legalities without summarily firing a considerable number of presumably valuable adjunct faculty. Such solutions would require both thought and work, however, and Lee’s administration seemed uninterested in either.

So let us stipulate a few things. 1). The law was well-intentioned but had some unanticipated and negative side effects. 2). The Oakton administration’s solution was pragmatic but lazy and pedagogically silly. 3). Adjunct faculty are probably the most exploited and under-appreciated group of professionals in the country. 4). Kulis is a whiner, and copying the e-mail to Lee was a little boorish.

What it was not, however, was threatening. Nonetheless, he received an indignant case-and-desist letter from one Philip H. Gerner III, one of the college’s attorneys. He wrote: “Your reference to ‘remember the Haymarket riot’ was clearly threatening the president that you could resort to violence against the president and the college campus. Threats of violence are not First Amendment protected free speech.”

Two points: First, Lee doesn’t get off the hook. Yes, it’s the lawyers who look like buffoons, taking an OBVIOUSLY non-threatening comment which was merely copied to Lee as “clearly threatening.” BULLSHIT. But it was Lee’s own paranoid delusions that spurred the response, or the lawyers would never have heard of the e-mail to begin with.

Second, Kulis’s e-mail, read as if grammar matters (and it sure as hell does to Curmie), does not call on the recipients to “remember the Haymarket Riot” à la the Alamo or the Maine, but rather points out that May Day is traditionally associated not merely with a celebration of the labor movement, but also with a commemoration of the Haymarket riots of May 4, 1886. Of course, if you don’t believe in the Oxford comma, you might read those last six words as hortatory rather than a second predicate clause with the same subject: “workers celebrate… and remember.” But, even if that’s how you read it, so what?

It takes a particularly feverish mind to extrapolate a threat out of that phrase. Kulis is absolutely right to declare that “I would put it this way. No one who read this email, with the exception of Peg Lee and her attorneys, thought there was any violent intent.” Curmie would phrase it differently: “no sane person could read violent intent into this e-mail.”

FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), an organization that’s a little too libertarian even for Curmie’s taste but is unquestionably a net positive force, weighed in on May 22:
In declaring Kulis’s email a threat of violence and ordering him to cease and desist from sending similar messages, OCC and its attorney have ignored clear legal precedent, violated Kulis’s rights, and deeply chilled expression on campus. OCC must immediately retract the cease and desist letter and respect the First Amendment rights of faculty members who criticize the college’s administration or its policies….

Kulis’s brief email is entirely protected by the First Amendment, and the charge that it was “clearly threatening” to anyone in the OCC community is without merit and wholly detached from our legal system’s understanding of what constitutes a true threat. OCC must immediately rescind its cease and desist letter and threats of further action against Kulis—its only acceptable option as a public institution bound by the First Amendment….

FIRE asks that OCC immediately reassure Kulis that his First Amendment rights are respected on campus, rescind its cease and desist letter against him, and make clear to OCC faculty that they will not face backlash from OCC’s administration if they criticize the college, its administration, or its practices, as is their fundamental right.
This prompted a different idiot lawyer from Robbins Schwartz, this time Catherine R. Locallo, to respond rather huffily that of course President Lee’s irrational delusions were completely appropriate. The letter even bases a good deal of its rationale on the idea that Lee thought the letter was addressed to her alone, since it was sent to an “undisclosed recipient” list, cc’d to Lee. (Because if I’m sending you a private e-mail, Gentle Reader, I make sure there’s a blank list of undisclosed recipients and you’re only copied on the message intended for you alone.) Wow.

FIRE naturally jumped all over this inanity. Ari Cohn responded,
Colleges and universities are bending over backwards to label benign, constitutionally protected speech as ‘violent’ or ‘threatening.’ While sometimes administrators act out of an overabundance of caution, other times it’s clear they are playing on our basest fears to justify censoring speech with which they simply disagree. In either case, the censorship cannot stand at a public college bound by the First Amendment, nor in any environment that claims to be committed to the marketplace of ideas.
Amen to that.

This one is a slam-dunk. Lee’s administration is loath to spend public money on… you know… frivolous stuff like the best available faculty, but I’m willing to bet that high-priced Chicago law firm ran up some billable hours strutting around proclaiming that an utterly unsupportable claim was actually valid. Moreover, the cease-and-desist letter didn’t arrive until after the anniversary of the Haymarket riot, by which time Kulis’s alleged violence would, logically, have already taken place. Of course, anything approaching rationality is apparently in rather short supply both in the OCC administration building and at the headquarters of Robbins and Schwartz, whose denizens would be walking lawyer jokes, except that they aren’t funny.

The good news is that Lee will no longer be in charge of Oakton Community College. If she was ever fit for the job, she certainly isn’t now. It would be especially sad if Lee had been an outstanding leader for 30 years, only to have her legacy reduced to this sorry incident.  But that’s what happens when your lawyers are interested in their bottom line rather than your reputation (or theirs).

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Barney Frank may be a Democrat, but he’s no democrat

Barney Frank: he should know better than this.
Former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank did a lot of good things in office. He served as a champion for gay rights, as he was the first Congressman to voluntarily come as gay, and the first to marry a same-sex partner while in office. He chaired the House Financial Services Committee, from which position he co-sponsored the Dodd-Frank Act, an important if bureaucracy-laden reform of the financial sector. Known for quick wit and a bluntness his admirers adored and everyone else despised (remember “trying to have a conversation with you would be like arguing with a dining room table” line in a town hall meeting on Obamacare?), Frank was regarded as one of the smartest and most eloquent politicians around.

Even his supporters would have to admit, however, that his cleverness sometimes smelled too much of glibness, pomposity, and privilege, and his ethics were, shall we say, not always beyond reproach. Since deciding not to run for re-election in 2012 and being passed over to fill the remainder of John Kerry’s Senate term when the latter was confirmed as Secretary of State, Frank has become the Democrats’ answer to Sarah Palin: a divisive has-been who can be counted on to say something controversial any time a microphone is within range. And that means that a lot of what he says is utter crap.

Witness, for example, this screed in Politico this week, urging supporters of Bernie Sanders (and, by implication, those of Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chaffee, and Jim Webb) to be good little boys and girls and roll over and play dead so that the anointed Hillary Clinton can cruise to the nomination and be able to save all the millions of dollars donated to her campaign by her cronies on Wall Street and in the oil business for the general election. Needless to say, he doesn’t use precisely those words, but that is his clear intent.

Like his chosen candidate, Frank is more interested in wielding power than in making the right decision, and, again like HRC, he’s at best amoral about the process. Allow me to paraphrase Frank’s argument: “Finding a candidate the members of the Democratic Party want to support is of little concern. After all, what do they know? We should nominate the obvious choice, just like we did in 2008. Oops. Bad example. I mean, we should nominate the electable one, not the one with actual ideas, like we did in 2004, because that worked out really well. Oh. Well. We should nominate Hillary right now without all that messy input from… you know… voters, because… because I said so.”

Because it’s taken me a couple of days to get to this story, there’s already an excellent response out there from Cristóbal Reyes at Young Progressive Voices. Reyes does an admirable job of countering Frank’s anti-democratic impulses, and doesn’t pull any punches:
It is cynical to believe that hand-picking a candidate is preferable to allowing the people to choose, and egomaniacal to suggest that your allies will object to your truth simply because you had the audacity to speak it, even though there is next to no truth in your words. There is nothing tactical or strategic about it. The arguments are based on falsehood and speculation and protected behind the need for one such as myself to disagree, as if doing so will validate your nonsensical submission.
Still, whereas Reyes doesn’t concede the electability argument, he rightfully acknowledges that the media—occupied mostly by Clintonian faux progressives—are falling over themselves to declare Sanders unelectable. I think they’re wrong. This is not to say I’m predicting a Sanders presidency, but I’d say the only announced candidate on the Democratic side who has literally no chance of being elected President is Jim Webb, and even he might be in the running for VP.  That is, completely apart from the Stalinistic stench of Frank’s thesis, it’s also wrong on the facts.

Frank’s key assertion is this: “There is… no chance—perhaps regrettably—for Sanders to win a national election.” If I might channel Stevie Nicks for a moment, that argument is hauntingly familiar. Where HAS Curmie heard that before? Oh, yeah, it was the riff employed by Hillary Clinton herself (and, of course, the wannabe First Husband) to attract superdelegates when it was becoming clear that Barack Obama was the people’s choice (or, rather, the Democratic voters’ choice) for the Democratic nomination: “he cannot win.” Obama, of course, took 365 of the necessary 270 electoral votes that fall. Oops.

Curmie—in a previous blogging iteration—commented more than once on the 2008 election, specifically with respect to the “horserace” elements of the Democratic nomination process. On April 24, a mere three weeks after Clinton was using electability as an issue, I called on her to drop out of the race for two reasons: the nomination process was de facto over because Obama had a virtually insurmountable lead in actual delegates (as opposed to polls taken over six months before the Iowa caucuses), and because “he generally (admittedly, not always) fares better than Clinton in head-to-head match-ups with Senator McCain.”

Two days later, I posted a state-by-state analysis of which of the two candidates—Obama or Clinton—would have a better chance of winning. The result: a literal dead heat. A couple of weeks later still, when any candidate more interested in the country than in herself would have dropped out and endorsed her fellow Democrat, Hillary Clinton was running a borderline racist campaign, conflating “hard-working Americans” and “white Americans,” and sending the aptly named Harold Ickes out to say that Obama couldn’t win. Here’s Newsweek’s Suzanne Smalley:
[Ickes] stressed that if Obama can't win Florida or Ohio—both states in which he has polled less favorably than Clinton—then states like New Mexico and Nevada will take on more importance. And Ickes suggested Obama can’t win in those places either.
Obama, of course, won all four of those states.

By the way, it wasn’t until June, when the proverbial fat lady had not only already sung but also taken several curtain calls, that then-Senator Clinton finally conceded the obvious and withdrew from the race. It’s more than a little ironic—not to say disgusting—that Clinton minions are now calling on everyone to make way for her candidacy before a single vote has been cast, lest it hurt the party’s chances.

More to the point, just as was the case in the 2008 election, it’s not exactly clear that Clinton is indeed the more electable candidate. Saying it’s so doesn’t mean it’s so, and the evidence is certainly a good deal short of overwhelming. A Quinnipiac poll released this week, for example, shows that in three important swing states, Clinton and Sanders fare about equally well against three plausible GOP contenders—Bush, Rubio, and Walker. All three Republicans beat both Democrats in Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia. Clinton does better against Bush and Rubio in CO and VA, Sanders does better in IA; against Walker, Clinton does better in VA, Sanders in CO, and they’re the same in IA. Pretty much a wash in those terms, with a slight edge to Clinton.

But if we look past that bottom-line number, it certainly appears that Sanders has much better odds of improving his standing. In favorability, Sanders is at a -2 in CO, with a huge 39% not knowing enough about him to have an opinion; Clinton is at -21, with a 56% negative rating. In Iowa, Sanders is at +4, Clinton at -23, again with lots of DK/NA (don’t know/no answer) for Sanders and 56% negatives for Clinton. In Virginia, Clinton’s best state of the three, Sanders is at +1, Clinton at -9; the DK/NAs for Sanders are at 43%, and Clinton has 50% negatives. That gives Sanders an overall +1 between the three states to Clinton’s -18: nearly a 20 point advantage for Sanders.

Sanders is already in plus-territory in two of the three states, and needs only break even there with voters who don’t yet know much about him to stay ahead of Clinton in this metric even if every voter currently undecided about Clinton decides they like her. In Virginia, Sanders needs approval from only a slight majority of IDKs to best her there, as well.

The contrast is even starker in the “honest and trustworthy” metric. Clinton’s numbers are scary: -28, -26, and -16; her best state of the three, Virginia, gives her a 55% negative rating. Sanders? +17, +21, +26. Sanders wins this category by 45 points in Colorado, 47 in Iowa, and 42 in Virginia. Wow. Clinton does do a little better than Sanders in “strong leadership qualities,” averaging a +8 to Sanders’s +7. Anyone want to try to tell me that’s a significant difference?

True, a single poll doesn’t tell us much, especially if, as in this case, it’s not only very early but also likely to be an outlier. The Daily Kos’s Steve Singiser spells out some of the problems with giving too much weight to this data. (Interestingly, Singiser discusses only Clinton’s numbers, seeming to take Sanders’s at face value.) On the other hand, Quinnipiac is a well-respected polling operation, and whereas it’s likely they’re off a little, it’s unlikely they’re totally out in left field. In other words, it probably isn’t true that Clinton averages 54% negatives in the three states, but I’d be willing to bet they’re at least well into the 40s. And I’m virtually certain she’s in negative territory in the trustworthiness metric, too, although perhaps not by more than 20 points.

And there’s a new Gallup poll, too, this one nation-wide. It shows that Sanders has grown in both favorables and unfavorables since March (as would be expected). Meanwhile, Clinton’s favorables dropped and unfavorables climbed, leaving her at an overall -3. Sanders, meanwhile, is at +4, albeit with lower numbers than Clinton in both categories simply because she is better known. Clinton does have a substantial lead among Democrats, with an overall +56, compared to Sanders’s +29, but the ratios are almost identical: Clinton gets a favorable rating 4.1 times as often as an unfavorable one from Democrats expressing an opinion; Sanders is at 3.9. Moreover, Clinton’s positives are down since March among both constituencies who even might vote for her: down 5 points among Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents, down 6 points among non-leaning independents.

Indeed, Sanders is the only Democrat in positive numbers in favorability ratio, and there’s only one Republican, Marco Rubio, who can match Sanders in both raw and net favorability scores (Sanders: 24-20, +4; Rubio: 29-23, +6). Putative GOP front-runner Donald Trump, by the way, checks in at 32-56, -24. That’s the worst in either party by 17 points!

There’s no doubt that Hillary Clinton is the candidate to beat on the Democratic side. But she was eight years ago, too, and we know how that turned out. Indeed, it sort of speaks to desperation on the part of a purported front-runner that she and her surrogates are resorting to electability arguments before voting even starts, especially when the last time we heard about a Clinton primary opponent’s “unelectability,” he got a higher percentage of the raw vote than any Democrat since LBJ. So before we simply gift-wrap the nomination and present it to HRC like a donation to her Superpac, let’s see how those numbers look when more people know Sanders.

This is really about whether the voters are going to get a say or whether we just turn over the process to the power elites. Barney Frank should be ashamed of advocating for the latter.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Texas Board of Education, Propaganda, and the Threat to the Future

There have been two big stories in the recent past about the Texas Board of Education. Neither brings good news. Both, in fact, represent an all-out, open carried guns-blazing attack on public education in the state. These particular assaults come from the most frothing-at-the-mouth lunatics of the state’s GOP—the Democrats are terrible on education; the Republicans, by contrast, make them look like Solomon, Confucius, Socrates, Einstein, and Leonardo da Vinci rolled into one. Indeed, it is a rather profound testament to the skill, tenacity, perseverance, and general badassitude of literally thousands of teachers in this state that anyone entering Curmie’s university-level classroom knows literally anything that’s actually true… or the difference between fact and opinion.

Donna Bahorich, the new Chief Propagandist
Chair of the Texas Board of Education
First, Governor Greg Abbott, whose sole raison d’être, as far as Curmie can figure out, is to make us nostalgic for the idiot that is Rick Perry, named Donna Bahorich as the new chairperson of the TBOE. Had it been his desire to find the worst possible person for the job (and, let’s face it, it pretty much was), he could not have done much better.

The Texas Freedom Network (of which—full disclosure—Curmie is a member) is an organization that believes education ought to be a process of developing mental acuities, of refining critical thinking skills, and of distinguishing between actual academic disciplines on the one hand and religio-political mythology on the other. Here’s what their press release has to say about the Bahorich nomination:
If Gov. Abbott wanted to demonstrate that he won’t continue his predecessor’s efforts to politicize and undermine our state’s public schools, this appointment falls far short. The governor has appointed as board chair an ideologue who voted to adopt new textbooks that scholars sharply criticized as distorting American history, who rejected public education for her own family and who supports shifting tax dollars from neighborhood public schools to private and religious schools through vouchers. This appointment almost guarantees that the board will continue to put culture war agendas ahead of educating more than 5 million Texas kids.
Let me call your attention to something in this paragraph you might have missed. Bahorich home-schooled her own kids, then sent them off to private religious high schools. Yes, really. And she seems to think that’s a job qualification!

The outgoing chair, Barbara Cargill, is also an ideologue and a Bible-thumper, but at least she has taught in the public schools. (Of course, the fact that a science teacher would support creationism in public schools might be more disturbing than having a home-schooler do so.)

Even Republicans on the TBOE are raising eyebrows at the audacity of naming someone as singularly ill-suited for the job as Bahorich. Here’s Board member and former vice-chair Thomas Ratliff, for example:
Public school isn’t for everybody, but when 94-percent of our students in Texas attend public schools, I think it ought to be a baseline requirement that the chair of the State Board of Education have at least some experience in that realm, as a parent, teacher, something.
You know, that sort of makes sense to anyone with an IQ above room temperature. Of course, that leaves out a fair number of politicians (and, let’s face, that’s all TBOE members are).

The other headline isn’t really news. Rather, it’s the implementation of new standards in history textbooks that will take place this fall. The actual codification of those standards took place years ago, in an embarrassing display that Curmie wrote about in his very first essay in this blogging persona and then again a couple of months later. The entire process was a clown show from start to finish… you can check out some of the details in those posts from 2010.

Why this story has resurrected is only partially the imminence of the effects of these frankly silly and anti-intellectual standards: the new textbooks will be in classrooms in the fall. But one particularly idiotic suggestion in the TBOE’s laundry list of inanity has a new-found relevance. Here’s a paragraph from what I wrote in May of 2010:
The Board now lists “sectionalism” (whatever the hell that is) as the principal cause of the Civil War. Slavery? Third in line, behind states’ rights. The Venona papers, which prove basically that some of the people whose lives were ruined by HUAC and/or Joseph McCarthy were in fact guilty, are now credited with “confirm[ing]” HUAC “findings.” The conservative faction, generally all about required lists, shifted ground when Sonia Sotomayor was added to a standard on women’s contributions to American history… all of a sudden, that list is merely “suggested.”
You caught it, didn’t you, Gentle Reader? That first bit, about the causes of the Civil War? You see, I bet you thought the Civil War was about slavery, didn’t you? That’s because the Civil War was about slavery. Except in Texas: because although nobody really knows WTF “sectionalism” is, it was that, not the… um… you know… other thing, caused the war.

There’s a word for that line of reasoning, and it rhymes with fullbit.

Given the recent controversies over the Confederate battle flag, the Civil War in general has become a topic of conversation, and with it the insane notion, propagated by a whole lot of people who aren’t historians and precisely none who are, that slavery was only tertiarily related to the Civil War. This is akin to ascribing a cause of death to heart failure, while casually ignoring the bullet in the chest.

Alexander H. Stephens
At least he was honest about what he believed.
But don’t take it from me. Listen instead to the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander H. Stephens, who, presumably, was reasonably well acquainted with the relevant motivations of the participants:
…the new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution….

Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. [Applause.] This, our new Government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
Is it just me, or is that pretty damned clear? There’s a reason Texas students are required to read Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address (which doesn’t mention slavery per se) but not this “Cornerstone speech.” That reason is precisely, unequivocally, and absolutely intentionally to present a distorted view of the past to undergird a 21st century political (and religio-political) agenda.  Call it indoctrination.  Call it propaganda.  But it sure as hell isn’t education.

By the way, Texas’s own secession document is absolutely clear, as well:
[Texas] was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery—the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits—a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.
The document goes on to detail the alleged atrocities committed by the “non-slave-holding states,” amounting essentially to “they don’t want us to have slaves anymore”:
…based upon the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color—a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and the negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.
Nope, slavery sure wasn’t an issue. Not unless you count the 21 references to “slaves,” “slave-holding,” or “slavery” and the nine instances of “race” or “races” in that “Declaration of Causes” (by contrast, “rights” appears four times).

The proponents of the new standards are fools or charlatans or both, and this is troubling in two ways. First, and most obviously, these people have a lot of power, and their indoctrination attempts are far more successful than many people believe. Even in a “liberal” discipline like theatre, I often encounter students who proclaim that the US was founded as a “Christian nation” and evince utter contempt for those who argue that, say, slavery was an issue in the Civil War.

Equally important, however, is the erosion of the “brand” of Conservative. When Curmie was a lad, the two major political parties agreed on the value of education per se, on the need for funding of primary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions alike, and on the quest for truth. Sure, there were disagreements about priorities, and there were different interpretations of events. That’s what makes for a free and informed electorate. But there weren’t separate facts. They’re an invention of a new and vastly inferior breed of pseudo-conservative, a “conservative” who ignores actual facts when mythology better serves the short-term interests of one’s political cronies.

Evolution is the foundational belief in modern biology. Dinosaurs were long gone before any species bearing the slightest resemblance to ours existed. The earth is not the center of the universe. The authors of the Declaration of Independence (Thomas Jefferson), the Preamble to the Constitution (Gouverneur Morris), and the Constitution itself including the Bill of Rights (James Madison) all wrote specifically that the United States is not a Christian nation. And slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War. Facts.

It’s ironic, in a way, that the elephant should be the symbol of the GOP, because the facts are the elephant in the middle of the room, and every national Republican politician is trying very hard indeed to ignore that well-fed pachyderm. They—the ones who aren’t naturally stone stupid, at least—are engaging in a terrifying game of anti-intellectual chicken. They truly believe, to paraphrase Isaac Asimov, that their ignorance is as good as other folks’ knowledge. It is not. There are, of course, plenty of Republicans who aren’t idiots. But they’re not raising their voices even a little bit to insist that our students, the people who will be running the country someday, deserve better. They deserve the truth. And we as a society need to provide it or we will, to coin a phrase, perish from the earth.