Monthly Archives: June 2016

Tim Kaine Will be Clinton’s VP

Making predictions helps one become better at making predictions if you meet four conditions: 1) Go public; 2) Delineate why you are predicting what you are predicting; 3) Understand why your prediction was right or wrong. 4) Reflect and repeat.

The last big prediction I made was regarding the presidential election. I thought that Secretary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee – that was easy and I was simply going with the grain. I thought Florida Senator Marco Rubio would be the Republican nominee – I was going with the grain here, too. I was 1/2. (I never wrote anything about “Brexit” but I definitely thought that Remain would win, so I would have been wrong here.)

I’m trying again.

I am 75% certain that Secretary of State, and presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton (HRC), will chose Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, from Virginia, as her vice president (VP) for a couple of simple reasons.

First, Tim Kaine is boring and right about now this is exactly what HRC is looking for. Kaine even admitted that he was boring in on one of the Sunday punditfests last week. “I am boring,” said the former Governor of Virginia. Translation: I am politically not a liability. My past is nearly without blemish and I won’t scare away any center-right people who might cross the aisle to vote for me since Trump is a disaster. Interesting strategy here; I’m not sure it is a smart one but it definitely is strategic at least. Boring doesn’t appeal to me but safe does, in some ways.

Second, and finally, this is all about demographics or identity politics. White working-class males are who the Democratic party has been reaching out to win for the past 25 years with little success. Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, according to election results and polls galore, will certainly vote for Hillary Clinton.

I know it’s only anecdotal but my brother who is a lifelong Midwestern Republican admitted that he won’t vote for a Republican ever again as he feels they have abandoned working people. As a union member, you can see why he now has come to this conclusion. He also dislikes Clinton. If Clinton’s VP pick is someone who looks like my brother (WASPY with no emphasis on the P), my brother will be more likely to hold his nose and vote for the Democratic ticket. A Clinton/Kaine pick is a safe pick. Is this the year for safe bets? Not exactly but I continue.

If Clinton chooses Elizabeth Warren – forget about it. Two female Northeastern elites on one ticket is too much for folks like my brother. I’m not saying this is morally right I’m saying it’s literally true. Thomas Perez? There is no need here to pick Perez, again due to demographics. Does all of this come down to cold political calculus? Yeah, I think so. (Go read or watch Game Change.) Corey Booker? Way too risky and this pick would certainly not gain any border-line votes like my brother.

“Insiders” (whatever that means) are now saying that Clinton has winnowed her list to 3 possible VPs (Kaine, Perez, Warren). I am fairly confident Kaine will be the choice.

So, I have went public  and I explained why.

Time will tell if I was correct or if I was wrong.

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To Educate, or Not to Educate? (1/2)

How we should orient education resources and tools in the 21st century. Recently the Boston Review hosted a debate the posed the very question: What is Education for?

Harvard Graduate School professor Danielle Allen, in the lead essay, argues the education should focus on participatory readiness – so a explicit political (lowercase p) mean to create an end where students are properly trained to be civic agents. Allen in a well-argued piece asserts that the current paradigm is vocational training – we equip students to learn skills and in particular technical skills based on hard science; these skills are enough to help ameliorate all sorts of injustices and inequalities in our society and world.

Allen, at her most pointed and simple reminds us that: “We surely need the STEM fields to navigate this new landscape. But if the STEM fields gave us the mass in “mass democracy,” the humanities and social sciences gave us the democracy.” I think is without-a-doubt true. And a brilliant succinct way of tying this dichotomy up with a nice artistic bow. Of course we need STEM but we also need the liberal arts to help us become well-rounded citizens.

Deborah Meier, Senior Scholar at NYU’s Steinhardt School, responds to the initial outing writing that she “sympathizes” with the first argument. She goes a bit further saying that our schools and their obsession with “test scores” has made the lack of civic agency even worse. “Our current educational paradigm barely recognizes, in the most fundamental sense, what being a person is about.”

Debra Satz, Professor of Ethics in Society and Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University, agrees with Allen on principles but just doesn’t think education can do what Allen is asking it to do. “Egalitarian redistributive justice” is not the “first reason that comes to mind” on why we should teach liberal arts. Satz also argues that vocational training updated for the 21st century would, in fact, do what Allen wants which is more resources to schools. “Vocational education arguably requires not only computer science and coding, but also the ability to write, analyze, and communicate; knowledge of foreign cultures and languages; and a greater emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving rather than rote memorization,” asserts Satz. Fair point here, I think.

Jeffrey Aaron Synder, Assistant Professor of Educational Studies at Carleton College, argues that “it’s the economy, stupid.” Preparing students to enter the labor market has always been what the education system is about and with 15% of the country in poverty, this should remain preeminent, according to the professor.

Robert Reich, former labor secretary under Bill Clinton, argues in the same vein that Satz did: what Allen calls for is simply “too much for civic education to bear.” Reich says we should start with bringing civic classes back. This is something I’ve been arguing for for awhile now. We don’t need people majoring in politics in droves; we need people to understand civics and this should be incorporated throughout our entire educational journey regardless of the paradigm debate. Also, citing legendary political scientist Robert Putnam, civic organizations outside schools are important. We should probably stop bowling alone, basically, and reengage with our neighbors.

Carlos Fraenkel, author of Teaching Plato in Palestine, pushes for the Brazilian model: In 2008, “the Brazilian parliament affirmed that philosophy is necessary for democratic citizenship. Now, by law, every student studies philosophy in that country’s high schools.” Not a certain philosophical school, argues Fraenkel, but philosophy of practice; “semantic and logical tools that allow us to argue well and dialectical virtues that allow us to focus on truth-finding rather than on winning an argument.” This is also an idea that I really agree with.

Lelac Almagor, a Charter school English teacher, argues that class matters and that low-income students deserve an elite education. There is no stark dichotomy of STEM vs liberal arts. We need it all. So Almagor is in the same ballpark as Satz here.

Lucas Stanczyk, political scientist, argues that we should listen to what C.E.O’s are saying is the problem: creativity. How do we foster creativity? Liberal arts and not STEM. What is education for, according to Stanczyk: “It is to help people escape a life of vapid consumerism by giving them capacities to appreciate richer pursuits and to produce their own complex meanings.” His arguments are way to all over the place to be cohesive enough to analyze. Although his C.E.O. point is his best.

I’ll be back soon with a 1000 word response to all of this myself; I think about this often and there is much here to chew on.

(Two responses I am leaving without comment (except for this one) because their essays, IMO, were only tangentially related to the original essay and I found them (mostly) irrelevant. Read them here: (1), (2).)

You Say You Want a Revolution?

Journal review: Nam Kyu Kim, “Revolutionary Leaders and Mass Killing,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 1-29 (2016): accessed June 22, 2016.  [Sage link]

When people remark to me that “we need a revolution,” depending on my mood and on our relationship, I usually remark sardonically something to the affect of “so you want blood, violence, and potentially a decades long civil war?”

They usually then stare at me agape like I said something not true.

This, I argue, is the truth: Revolutions strongly correlate with mass violence.

A Study on Revolutionary Leaders And Mass Violence

A recent article published in the critically-respected Journal of Conflict Resolution examines claims that revolutionary leaders are more violent than counterrevolutionary leaders and the results are stark. This study particular grabbed me for it’s uniqueness, scope, and breadth. Kim states that “this article is an attempt to fill th[e] gap by providing rare cross-national evidence showing the importance of individual leaders in explaining mass violence.“Not many articles have directly done this before, it seems (I write “it seems” because I am just now beginning my graduate studies and am in no way an expert on this, but Kim does mention the uniqueness of his study.)

Nam Kyu Kim, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln examined almost 80 different revolutionary leaders from and 748 country-years (sum of all of the years that any dictator was in power) regarding perpetuating mass violence. National data sets from over 162 countries from 1955 to 2004 were utilized. The basic question studied was: are revolutionary leaders distinctly commit more acts mass violence than nonrevolutionary leaders. This study even factored in those who took power through extra-judicial means (coup d’état, rebellions).

Leaders who took power through coups or rebellions but who didn’t have an exclusionary revolutionary ideology didn’t commit acts of violence at the level that revolutionary leaders did. Revolutions are unique and distinct situations. One could also argue that this adds evidence to the Great Man theory column of debate regarding just how important individuals are in the grand scheme of history.  People – specific leaders (and their ideologies) – matter tremendously.

The results paint a pretty stark picture: yes, revolutions are violent and revolutionary leaders commit more acts of wanton destruction than other leader-types regardless of the situation on the ground:

“These results indicate that the violent behaviors of revolutionary leaders are not entirely attributable to the political turmoil surrounding revolutions but are also a factor of the leaders’ personal attributes.”

This is precisely why authoritarian ideology terrifies me. Narrow exclusionary notions of who belongs to the “us” group makes it easier to dehumanize the “other” and the results are often ugly (see 1994 Rwanda genocide).

Revolutions Call For and Create…

Kim does focus on individual leaders but he also briefly breaks down and muses on the fact that the very properties of revolutions produces situations that are more prone to violence because they categorically create opposition movements. “The radical transformation of society produces large dissatisfied groups whom leaders may view as a serious threat to their goals,” writes Kim. Justifications run amok and groups outside the “universe of obligation” (Fein, 1993, according to Kim) are scapegoated as opponents of the movement. For fear of a counterrevolution, any forms of stopping such a movement is justified in ideological terms. It’s easy to see how subjects can easily turn into objects. In fact, recent understandings of the brain show that this switch can, unfortunately, happen quite swiftly.

Kim’s Main Findings

  • There are substantial differences in the behavioral tendencies of political leaders to initiate mass violence; revolutionary leaders are more likely to commit genocide or politicide than nonrevolutionary leaders.”

    Kim even tested differences within revolutionary leaders; those “with an exclusionary ideology are more likely than revolutionary leaders with no exclusive ideologies to commit mass atrocities.”

  • The risk of genocide or politicide is high in the immediate postrevolutionary period when regime change occurs; even after their hold on power stabilizes, revolutionary leaders are still more likely to commit genocide or politicide.”

    Meaning that the potential and propensity for mass violence doesn’t decrease the longer the leader is in power, which speaks a lot about the individual’s ideas rather then any external happenings. In fact, evidence shows that “risk of mass killing outbreak rises after 6 years in office.” The “importance of ideology and religion” is stressed here.

It’s important to note the caveats here which highlight just how tentative such studies are. It doesn’t make for good headlines or quite digestible InfoFood but we would all be better off if we ended each conversation with “…but more study is definitely needed, of course.” Kim: “My findings cannot provide a definite conclusion about the relative significance of the ideological ambitions of the revolutionary leaders versus their past experience of violence or attitudes toward risk and violence.” Maybe it’s just the fact that these leaders have experienced victory or certain discrete goals in the past and that is why they were more likely to use violence. The author also states that he only found weak evidence (though statistically significant) in support of the hypothesis that revolutionary leaders are more likely to commit mass atrocities than others. Also, revolutionary leaders are less likely to engage in mass attacks when “faced with interstate conflicts.”

Regardless of how this study will stand up in the subsequent years, this is an important first step in systematically analyzing the potential escalation factors regarding mass violence.

Gary Johnson Just Doesn’t Get It

*In the wake of The Wall Street Journal‘s unsigned opinion/endorsement of Libertarian candidate fraud Gary Johnson, I guess I should finally complete this blog post that has been burdening me.*

“I don’t get it,” remarked Gary Johnson multiple times on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, streamed live on May 17. That was one of the only truthful remarks he made the entire 150 minutes.

Being well-tuned to the delusions, distortions, and lies of libertarians (all who say “no no…I’m the other kind of libertarian, everyone else is wrong. Here, let me explain…”) let me say this: Johnson is no different. These guys (and it is mostly guys) are far-right reactionaries who are so out of touch; so overconfident that it’s hard to believe they are taken serious by adults.

Libertarians are far right ideologues masquerading as somehow more liberal than D’s and R’s and fiscally more conservative than R’s. Both of these are abjectly wrong. Their ideology is fascistic by practice replete with privatized courts, privatized militias and self-regulation by oligarchs. Anarchism for illiterate righties.

I’ll start with compliments. I applaud the candidate for going on a popular and controversial podcast (over 25 million downloads a month) with a broad audience and guest list. It is not easy to talk for 2 + hours about politics without making mistakes.

The first hour mostly consisted of his views regarding prisons and the War on Drugs. He was strongest here regarding legalization and the truly terrible effects of the 50 year long assault on personal autonomy. Don’t drop the confetti yet. He supports private prisons; he even touted his policy of privatizing prisons during his two terms as Governor of New Mexico as successful.

In 1994, gubernatorial candidate Johnson vowed to privatize prisons as part of his platform. According to The Sentencing Project, “by the time he left office in 2003, 44.2% of the state’s prisoners were in privately run prisons.” Yay promise kept! Lives and results be damned! Results? The shrinking of the public workforce concomitant with the shrinking of wages for those that remained. The first state prison riots since the 1980s in New Mexico occurred under his reign. 290 prisoners engaged in a riot in a privately-run prison during his first term which prompted calls for the closure of private arrangements. Johnson did not mention this. He also didn’t mention that multiple human rights groups have severe criticisms regarding his tenure and transfer of prisons to other dubious ones in Virginia, for example.

I knew this was going to be a long listen after his misleading and incomplete telling of his privatization project.

What follows is a slight breakdown of some – and I stress some –  of his most egregious claims he made throughout the entire interview. For sake of (my own) sanity, I am not breaking down every misstatement otherwise this blog would be double the length.

~
CLAIM: The govt. should not provide phone cells to those on “welfare.” The government spends “multi billions of dollars a year” on cell phones. “Wouldn’t people be connected otherwise?”

Response: In reverse order: No dummy, they wouldn’t; job hunting almost requires having a cell phone. Snopes.com has a detailed breakdown of who pays for the phones and just which presidents began and strengthened these programs.

(Hint: There are multiple programs – none directly subsidized by taxpayers. And, not the Obama administration but your buddy ol pal Ronald Reagan; then Clinton then Bush 43).

Regarding “if you can work you should” comment: That’s exactly what President Clinton’s welfare reform did to welfare. Now there are strict lifetime limits (5 years) and job requirements. Our current welfare system does incentivize job searching and, in fact, has “increased employment rates,” according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

CLAIM: I privatized all prisons as Governor.

Truth: True enough. (Come on, we’re working with ideologues here.) Did this reduce prisoners in his prison? No, by the time Johnson left office there was 55% more prisoners in private cells – this amounted to an increase of 13% population-wise. Are privatized prisons more economically efficient (efficiency here strictly means “less costly”)? According to that same report by The Sentencing Project, the author Cody Mason referenced a meta-analysis by researchers from the University of Utah that concluded that “..cost savings from privatization are not guaranteed,” and continuing in that direction is “questionable.” Factoring in safety and what this foretells for democracy and what kind of laws and policies this direction incentivizes, only an ideologue who wants to shrink government based on ideology would forget to include such externalities. Johnson is unsavory here.

After the first hour is when he really went off the deep end; he waded into the international and national security realms and my blood started to boil. I rarely get mad so this felt good because it inspired me to write (Being happy can be a real bummer regarding….goals and desires. Ha.). Nothing brings out the polemic in me like libertarians.

CLAIM: The NSA is….wait…what is the NSA?

Johnson, two term Governor of New Mexico, admitted that he just learned last week that the NSA was created by an executive order (EO) during the Truman administration. If you just learned this last week you probably shouldn’t be commander in chief. I am not saying this facetiously – he is disqualified simply based on this remark, in my humble opinion.

(*For what its worth, I would be disqualified, too, as I learned of that fact only two years ago when I begun reading as much as I could about the NSA. I have controversial opinions about the Commander in Chief position – I almost think that the president should not have jurisdiction regarding the military but I also don’t think Congress should either. But do I want the military to run itself without civilian oversight? No. Welp*)

Johnson made many claims regarding surveillance and intelligence that clearly showed his lack of insight and understanding. At one point, he expressed confusion regarding Obama needing a bullet-proof limousine? For real?

CLAIM: Iran is the number one sponsor of terrorism in the world.
Truth: Maybe. However, that first place spot is a contentious badge since Saudi Arabia and Pakistan exist. These 3 countries are in a battle with, Russia, for being the most norm and rule breaking countries in the world. (Israel, you too, pretty much, get to do whatever you want but shhhhh.) He didn’t mention Saudi Arabia once during this section.

CLAIM: Maybe Iran sponsored the Paris attackers.
Truth: A remarkable claim that would go against everything we know about the Paris attacks since they claimed to be acting in the name of ISIS, a sunni wahabbi jihad group completely ideologically opposed and counter to Iran. Iran, in fact, supports one of their enemies which is the Assad regime. Iran sponsors and supports Shia terrorist and rebel groups such as Hezbollah. Iran does support Sunni groups that undermine the U.S. or Arab nations, too; however, ISIS is not group that they have ever supported. When pressed for examples, Johnson gave the Brussels example which is embarrassing and also disqualifying. It shows he knows nothing about the Middle East, the Sunni/Shia divide. This was a Trumpian answer; worthless.

CLAIM: North Korea has “zero exports to China.”
Truth: What? This is an impossible claim. NK exports military intel and weapons systems to Egypt, Iran, Maynmar, and Syria. They are a massive player in illicit trafficking whether it’s weapons, ore, clothing, etc. North Korea totally has exports. In fact, they exported $3.1 billion worth of goods, legally, in 2014 (which is the last consistent numbers we have easily available). China is North Korean’s biggest market making up approximately 90% of North Korea’s export trade.

Johnson – you’re a doofus.

In an excellent take down published four years ago  regarding the Libertarian Party candidates 2012 run by Mark Ames on NSFWCORP.com, the author remarks that “once you get past the PR branded version of Gary Johnson and just see him for the conventional hard-right Republican he really is, you’re no longer so surprised to learn that the people running Johnson’s presidential campaign were themselves big-name GOP political operatives — the darkest and the dirtiest operatives in the GOP cellar.”

This is what I always find to be true regarding libertarians. They tend to be the most ideological of the right; the most theoretical; the most ignorant of evidence and economics; etc, etc, etc. A campaign funded by Charles Koch – the oil billionaire who denies climate change – would of course yield such fruitless results.

Shall I continue? OK.

CLAIM: “China has this…what do they have?…this island they built 40 miles off their coast of whatever it is. What’s the big deal?” – Johnson on Joe Rogan Experience at 147:52 mark. [Keep playing until the end to hear more and more nonsense.]

Gary Johnson was incoherently referring to the Spratly Islands, a chain of a dozen or so islands, and the Paracels (a group of coral atolls which Vietnam, Taiwan and China have claims) that China has recently started to develop on and militarize. There are dozens of other rocky and coral-based areas that China is trying to claim as completely their own. What’s the big deal? Just ask South Korea, the Philippines, and Japan. Just ask all of us who believe in the global commons and the right to navigate the oceans. What is transpiring in the East and South China seas is a massive deal.

Gary Johnson just doesn’t get it. Clearly. I’m not saying it’s a good thing that he isn’t included in the mainstream debates – I think he should be included; along with the Green Party candidate as well. Probably. What I am arguing is that’s it’s a fantastic thing that Johnson won’t become president.