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Since we have determined through the years that we shall have two and only two political parties in this country, the irrationality of one of them is such a grave threat to good governance that the other party has an affirmative obligation to the country to make the irrational party pay such a fearsome price for its indulgent eccentricity that it must reform itself or risk permanent irrelevance. Unfortunately, that task falls to the other creaky vehicle, the Democratic party, which has proven spectacularly ill suited to it.

As conservatism was developing its powerful infrastructure, the Democratic party was still sucking its thumb over what happened to George McGovern in 1972. While conservative millionaires were pouring money into the construction of the network of institutions on the right, the Democrats were throwing themselves, through the creation of the Democratic Leadership Council, in the general direction of the same money. Nothing arose on the left, or around the Democratic party, that remotely resembled the formidable arsenal of opinion that developed on the right, and of which the Republicans took full advantage, not realizing at the time that all of that success was hollowing out their party’s essential intellect until all that is left today is raw, overwhelming id.

The Democrats were powerless against this, and they did not seek to be anything else. They became gifted at defense, surrendering bits of what was once fundamental to their party’s identity as a bulwark against losing it all. This created a perennially discontented, but not mutinous, base because, at bottom, that base had nowhere else to go to exert its power. That is not the case with the Republican base, as we have seen. Armed with the power of its extraparty institutions, there is a strong element within the Republican base that does not care if the party loses one, two, or three elections as long as their ideology remains pure. There is nobody so powerful in politics as influential people who don’t care if they lose. The Republicans have these in abundance. The Democrats don’t have them at all.

This is what keeps the Democrats from being able to make the Republicans pay full price for their party’s departure from reality on so many issues. In 2006, the Republicans were handed a defeat in the midterms every bit as resounding as the one suffered by the Democrats four years later. The difference is that there were so many institutions enabling and validating the Republicans’ outré ideas that they didn’t see any need to moderate them as a result of the 2006 debacle. They simply rode out the 2008 presidential election and retooled those ideas for the age of Obama. Suddenly, we started hearing about “czars,” and more talk about socialism than you would have heard at Eugene V. Debs’s bachelor party. What were once moderate Republican ideas were now the thin edge of the collectivist wedge. The transformation was complete. And it was remarkable.

The Democratic party has an obligation to beat the Republican party so badly, over and over again, that rationality once again becomes a quality to be desired. It must be done by persuading the country of this simple fact. It cannot be done by reasoning with the Republicans, because the next two generations of them are too far gone. The state legislators now passing all manner of crazy laws represent the next generation of national Republican leaders. They are proudly unknowing. They are certain, because it is impossible.


This is why I don’t believe SCOTUS will overturn the individual mandate.

Oh dear

ALEC is trying to stop the bleeding. I’m sure they’ll find a workaround, though. The 1% are good that way!

Pressured by watchdog groups, civil rights organizations and a growing national movement for accountable lawmaking, the American Legislative Exchange Council announced Tuesday that it was disbanding the task force that has been responsible for advancing controversial Voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” laws.

ALEC, the shadowy corporate-funded proponent of so-called “model legislation” for passage by pliant state legislatures, announced that it would disband its “Public Safety and Elections” task force. The task force has been the prime vehicle for proposing and advancing what critics describe as voter-suppression and anti-democratic initiatives — not just restrictive Voter ID laws but also plans to limit the ability of citizens to petition for referendums and constitutional changes that favor workers and communities. The task force has also been the source of so-called “Castle Doctrine” and “Stand Your Ground” laws that limit the ability of police and prosecutors to pursue inquiries into shootings of unarmed individuals such as Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

The decision to disband the task force appears to get ALEC out of the business of promoting Voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” laws. But it does not mean that ALEC will stop promoting one-size-fits-all “model legislation” at the state level.

Indeed, the disbanding of the “Public Safety and Elections” task force looks in every sense to be a desperate attempt to slow an exodus of high-profile corporations from the group’s membership roll.


Tasers for transit workers? What a great idea. And by that, I mean not.

Department of Justice is an ironic title

Will Eric Holder hold these people accountable? Because at the very least, none of the people who took part in this coverup should still have jobs. Maybe they’re infected with the same disease I’ve seen in cops through the years: “Hey, if this guy didn’t do this particular crime, this is payback for all the times we didn’t catch him.”

To think that a man died to protect their reputation. Just unthinkable:

Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.

Officials started reviewing the cases in the 1990s after reports that sloppy work by examiners at the FBI lab was producing unreliable forensic evidence in court trials. Instead of releasing those findings, they made them available only to the prosecutors in the affected cases, according to documents and interviews with dozens of officials.

Not the defense attorneys, mind you. The prosecutors, who were then supposed to tell the defense. Right.

In addition, the Justice Department reviewed only a limited number of cases and focused on the work of one scientist at the FBI lab, despite warnings that problems were far more widespread and could affect potentially thousands of cases in federal, state and local courts.

As a result, hundreds of defendants nationwide remain in prison or on parole for crimes that might merit exoneration, a retrial or a retesting of evidence using DNA because FBI hair and fiber experts may have misidentified them as suspects.

In one Texas case, Benjamin Herbert Boyle was executed in 1997, more than a year after the Justice Department began its review. Boyle would not have been eligible for the death penalty without the FBI’s flawed work, according to a prosecutor’s memo.

[…] The Post found that while many prosecutors made swift and full disclosures, many others did so incompletely, years late or not at all. The effort was stymied at times by lack of cooperation from some prosecutors and declining interest and resources as time went on.

Overall, calls to defense lawyers indicate and records documented that prosecutors disclosed the reviews’ results to defendants in fewer than half of the 250-plus questioned cases.

As a reporter, I covered this one ongoing case where the teenager convicted of killing a shop owner during a robbery was finally released after two convicts confessed to the crime. The prosecutor still insisted the kid did the crime – in collaboration with those who confessed. Prosecutors are so famously incapable of admitting they’re wrong that I absolutely would never vote for any of them who run for higher office.


With Barney Frank. Go read it all, he’s his usual illuminating self:

If the Republicans win everything in November, then we’re in for a very bleak period, because they’ll take it as ratification of this anti-government attitude. I think it’s going the other way. I have a bumper sticker for us: “We’re Not Perfect, But They’re Nuts.” And I think the public buys that.

Are there structural reforms that you think need to take place?
To get rid of the filibuster in the Senate.

Is that the only one?
That’s the only one.

You were talking about the Republicans and not being able to work with them. But isn’t your ultimate beef with the voters, since it’s the voters who reward that behavior?
I’m glad you said that, you’re very smart. These days, in developed countries, everybody says you need a private sector to create wealth, you need a public sector to create rules by which wealth is created. Sensible people understand that. The tension between left and right has been where you draw that line, but it’s been a contest between people who see maybe a 20 percent overlap. Let me read this to you. [Picks up copy of Friedrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom.] “In no system that could be rationally defended would the state just do nothing.” ­[Closes book.]

Do you read Hayek a lot?
For these purposes. For the first time in American history, we have people in power now who reject that idea. If they knew it was Hayek, they might think, Well, maybe. But they reject the public sector. That’s why we can’t work together.



But that’s what I mean about the irrationality of voters. Just how—
The voters voted in general, not specifically. The voters were mad at the Democrats in 2010, so they voted for the tea party. They didn’t vote to cut Medicare. They voted to denounce the Democrats.

Do you get frustrated with voters acting with such pique: They throw out the Democrats just because they’re mad?
Politicians make mistakes, journalists make mistakes, and the public is no bargain either. Yeah, I get frustrated.

But some people in the media act like Washington is some autonomous entity that’s operating with no connection to the public. I had a woman stop me the other day, she said, “I’m very angry about Congress. What are you guys doing?” I said, “Who’s your congressman?” “Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “Well, see, I vote for me,” I said. “I’m happy with me. Why are you blaming me for the people you vote for?”


The dog days of April

I don’t even like August weather in August, not in Philadelphia, which is why I’ll be spending the summer in New Zealand, where bees buzz around in cool breezes that blow up from Antarctica with icebergs the size of Rhode Island. More here.

Demolition job on climate science

By Huffington Post. Wow, this one’s a doozy. Oh, and by the way, guys, congrats on your Pulitzer!

What it takes to win Pulitzers, most of the time, is big budgets, smart reporters, and weighty topics of national import. But most of the stories that shape our national debates, and thereby our future, are nothing like this sort of award bait. Most of those stories are more like “NASA Global Warming Stance Blasted By 49 Astronauts, Scientists Who Once Worked At Agency,” a short piece in the Huffington Post last week.

This article recycled a press release announcing that a bunch of former NASA employees, including some astronauts and scientists but no climate experts, had taken issue with the agency over its work on global warming. Findings that “man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated,” the retirees charged. The article — written not by one of HuffPo’s famously uncompensated bloggers, but by its science editor, David Freeman — didn’t offer a single fact in rebuttal of the letter. But at the end, it asked: “What do you think? Is NASA pushing ‘unsettled science’ on global warming?”

It was a ludicrous postscript, one that abdicated the very purpose of science coverage. Journalists who specialize in science are our proxies to help us figure out what’s trustworthy in realms where we lack detailed expertise ourselves and don’t have time to acquire it. Asking for opinions online can be entertaining — but the climate debate isn’t the same thing as, say, weighing in on whether “The Hunger Games” movie did justice to the book.

Recognizing the boneheadedness of its move, and responding tosearing criticism from folks like Grist’s David Roberts, HuffPo soon withdrew its query. It turned out that, in fact, the editors already had their own answer. They disagreed with the letter-signers! They do have a “reality meter” on this subject; it must’ve just been switched off during the preparation of the original post.

We’ve removed the question because HuffPost is not agnostic on the matter. Along with the overwhelming majority of the scientific community (including 98% of working climate scientists), we recognize that climate change is real and agree with the agencies and experts who are concerned about the role of carbon dioxide.

This was the right thing to do, and it placated the critics. “Let’s all move on,” Roberts wrote.

I’m afraid I’m not quite ready to do that — because this little dustup offers precious insight into a much more significant and widespread phenomenon in climate coverage. The NASA letter is a perfect case study in what press critic Jay Rosen has called “verification in reverse.”

Here’s Rosen, with whom I chatted about this issue on Friday (here’s afull transcript):

Verification is taking something that might be true, and trying to nail it down with facts. In reverse verification you take something that’s been nailed down and try to introduce doubt about it. “Was Obama born in the United States?” is the clearest example. The phenomenon of “verification in reverse” poses a special problem for journalists. On the one hand, they are supposed to report what people are saying. They are supposed to bring us the news of controversies, protests, disagreements. “Conflict makes news,” and all that. On the other hand, verification is their business. If they cannot support that, they cannot support themselves or their users. They are socially useless, in fact, if they cannot stand up for verification.

Rosen’s “verification in reverse” helps us understand the game that’s being played by climate-change denialists. They are manufacturing events that seem to play by the rules of reported journalism, yet are essentially fraudulent.

Miss you like the devil

Tracy Nelson:


A thought-provoking essay by Laurie Penny, the firebrand journalist.

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