My Buzzfeed Dot Com Education

There it was, just sitting there, on my web browser, which I had opened a short time earlier. I stared at the title for what seemed like hours, but couldn’t have been more than a few minutes. “Paul Ryan’s Inner City Education,” it said. “Buzzfeed.com,” it said. “McKay Coppins,” it said. “I know I should read this, but I’m really, um, really busy today” I thought. Even as the thought crossed my mind, I knew it was a lie. I wasn’t busy. Wouldn’t be busy all day, most likely. There was nothing to keep me from reading the article. The cold, rainy April weather mocked me through the window, taunting me with a too-clever “oh, there’s nothing for you out here, not today, sorry.” I considered re-grouting my bathroom tile, but then it hit me:

I’m not even sure what “grout” is.

Is it the the thing that happens in a battle when one side is really winning? No, that’s a “rout.”

What about that condition people get sometimes, with all the painful arthritis? Wrong again; that’s “gout.”

Say, what’s “the grip” then? Wait, you spell it “grippe”? What the hell? And it’s just the flu? That’s it? Anyway, I Googled all of these things, which finally, something to do besides reading this Paul Ryan fluff piece.

Unfortunately I ran out of things to Google, and so I came back to the article. I read the headline again, the byline. I thought of all the ex-convicts and reformed drug dealers, recovering addicts and at-risk youth, who probably could have written something much more interesting than what I was about to read. I considered injuring myself badly enough to require a trip to the ER, but I knew that, no matter how long I was at the hospital, this article would be there, waiting for me. The downside of literacy, I guess; stuff never really goes away once it’s been written down. Thanks, Obama whoever invented writing.

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“And then they told me that they all secretly wished they could vote for me too”

Rick Santorum decided to take his talents to Hollywood to prepare for another losing presidential campaign make movies that religious conservatives could enjoy, but he’s missing his true calling as a creator of high-quality science fiction:

Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to promote his new book “Blue Collar Conservatives,” Santorum was asked whether he thought he’d win if his family was game to launch another presidential bid. He lost the Republican nomination last time around to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R).

“Look, I thought I could have won last time,” he said. “I’m convinced. You know I asked one of the Obama minions who were running the campaign ‘Hey, why didn’t you guys help me? I was up there battling Romney and all these folks at MSNBC were saying wouldn’t this be great if Santorum were the nominee, why didn’t you help me? Why didn’t you go out and bang me a little a bit, hit me you know, as being too conservative?'”

“And the consensus was, ‘We didn’t want you, because of this,'” Santorum added, holding up his book.

I’m sure that was the consensus. It just makes too much Sense not to be true.

A political juggernaut so powerful that he doesn't need to "win" elections to know he probably would have won them

A political juggernaut so powerful that he doesn’t need to “win” elections to know he probably would have won them

Dysfuctional Eastern European nation ISO decent government for LTR, MBA

My new piece at Lobe Log looks at the dismal state of affairs in Kiev, where effective, stable governance is needed probably more than any other place on Earth but where, based on recent history and on the stable of characters currently circling around the capital, there’s almost no chance it will get any in the near future. There are a couple of things that, as far as I’m concerned, are as close to “fact” as you can get in world affairs. First, if Russia decides to invade uuuuuhhhhh, let’s say “stabilize,” eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian military can’t stop them. They can make it a little more uncomfortable for the Russians, maybe, but they can’t go toe-to-toe with the Russian army and win. Hell, if Putin decides to roll over the whole country and on into Transnistria, there’s really nothing Ukraine could do to stop him. Second, if Russia does openly enter Ukraine, NATO isn’t coming to the rescue. So while Kiev has some levers it can use to discourage Russia, the only thing that really ends this crisis is a national government that can assuage the fears of Russians in the eastern part of the country and do something to turn the battered Ukrainian economy around.

Unfortunately, Ukrainian politics seems to be forever stuck in a this-or-that see-saw between two equally ineffective alternatives. Those alternatives used to be, broadly speaking, “European,” personified by former President Viktor Yushchenko, involving closer ties to Europe and the kind of neoliberal shock doctrine economics that gets a hearty “attaboy” from the Serious People at the IMF but leaves your own people suffering needlessly, and “Russian,” personified by former President Viktor Yanukovych, involving close ties to Moscow, membership in Putin’s Eurasian economic union, crony capitalism, and political repression. Now that Yanukovych is out and Putin’s aggression has made the “Russian” alternative toxic in national Ukrainian politics, the two alternatives are the same neoliberalism…and the rising tide of hard-right nationalism/light fascism that helped fuel the Euromaidan movement. The nationalists are obviously trouble from a national reconciliation standpoint, and while they’ve been given a few posts in the interim cabinet, it’s clear that the neoliberals are in the driver’s seat:

While it’s too soon to speculate what [Petro Poroshenko, the front runner in next month’s planned presidential election]’s economic policy would be, his past as a close Yushchenko ally hints at his neoliberal sympathies. The current interim government is dominated by figures from Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna Party, including Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a favorite of Victoria Nuland, the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, who has ties to prominent neoconservatives. Nuland favors the kind of shock capitalism that is practiced by the IMF and that guided the economic policy of the Kuchma and Yushchenko administrations. Yatsenyuk has referred to the cabinet he heads as a “kamikaze” government because of the “extremely unpopular” financial policies it plans to implement, and has promised to follow IMF-dictated austerity measures. Considering the impact of these policies on Greece, it’s remarkable that Yatsenyuk has embraced them so whole-heartedly and unquestioningly.

Please click over there and read it if you’re interested. The embarrassing fates of both Yushchenko and Yanukovych, whose rivalry has defined Ukrainian politics for the last decade or more and who both wound up unceremoniously dumped from office, is particularly outrageous.

Why John Oliver’s new show matters even if it’s not funny (which it is!)

Old people have been marveling at/lamenting the idea that “young people get their news from Jon Stewart (and Stephen Colbert)” for so long that people who were young back when that idea first became A Thing are now old. CBS helpfully provides us with this full decade old news article wherein lots of Youngs told the Pew Research Center that “The Daily Show” was “a place where they regularly learned presidential campaign news.” Considering that accounts for fully 2/3 of the 15 years Stewart has been on TDS, it’s clear that this phenomenon has been around, or at least has been observed, for quite a while.

The thing is, as the Project for Excellence in Journalism argued a mere five years ago, it’s probably not a fair characterization. Too much of the TDS/Colbert humor riffs off of what they assume people already know, if not about the particular story in question, then about the personalities involved (if people were learning who, say, Michele Bachmann was just by watching Comedy Central, then they wouldn’t be nearly as attuned to those shows’ jokes about her as they clearly are). A lot of the stereotype, I think, has been formed from some lazy analogies, like this piece that says, “oh, hey, lots of young people watch Colbert and Stewart, ergo they must get their news from those guys QED!”

That’s not to say that Stewart and Colbert don’t inform while they’re entertaining, just that they’re probably not the sole, or even primary, news source for, well, anybody. And if they are, it’s always seemed to me that such a thing would say a lot more about the state of our carnival freak show media than it does about some perceived failing on the part of The Young American, but that’s just me.

Enter John Oliver’s new show, “Last Week Tonight,” airing Sundays on HBO. His first episode (available on YouTube) was last night, and it was a little uneven (though, sheesh). If they’re going to do a once-a-week show then it probably needs to be less like “The Daily Show” than it was last night, but for a first outing it was fine from an entertainment perspective. Where it actually exceeded my expectations, and this is why I kind of hope they get away from the TDS format, was in the deeper pieces they did. Most of the attention seems to be focused on his interview with former NSA chief Keith Alexander, which let Oliver play to his abilities as an interviewer and somebody who can cut through when he’s being bullshitted:

The segment on bogus food labeling was also good (and led to my favorite line of the show, “Frosted Mini-Wheats are Arguably Preferable to Hunger”), but what really floored me was that Oliver spent almost 9 minutes of a 30 minute show talking about India, in which I think it’s fair to say that he really was serving as a legitimate news source for a segment of his audience:

Now, I don’t have facts to back this up

"Go on..."

“Go on…”

but it wouldn’t surprise me if the 8:43 Oliver spent covering India’s elections, our media’s complete disinterest in those elections, and the ways in which our ridiculous cable news environment is unfortunately degrading India’s news media, is more time than any domestic American cable news network apart from Al Jazeera America (and maybe CNN International if you consider that “domestic”) has devoted to India this year. Cable news in this country just doesn’t do international news unless America is directly involved or there’s some kind of major disaster to cover. It’s a sad state of affairs that leads to things like Americans not being able to find Ukraine on a map even though they’re pretty sure we should be doing war there for some reason. If John Oliver and HBO are prepared to give international news some serious attention, both in terms of covering important stories and ridiculing our real media for their failure to cover them, then I’ll keep watching even if he never tells another joke.

Pennsylvania is not really “a Democratic stronghold”

A few days ago, Talking Points Memo posted a story about Allyson Schwartz, one of the Democrats running to unseat incumbent Pennsylvania governor, and the man who slow-rolled the Jerry Sandusky investigation so it wouldn’t cost him in the 2010 governor’s race, Classy Freddie Blassie Tom Corbett.

I can't believe I got these two confused. Obviously Corbett is the...guy...um...in the shiny jacket?

I can’t believe I got these two confused. Obviously Corbett is the…guy…um…in the shiny jacket?

Whoever wins the Democratic primary has a good shot at unseating Blassie Corbett (damnit!) in November, on account of how three years into his term most Pennsylvanians have realized that electing this clown in the first place was a terrible mistake. Continue reading

The real racists, etc.

I haven’t done a very good job of keeping up with this Cliven Bundy story, mostly because it broke while I was deliberately avoiding the news on vacation, but I must say that I’m simply shocked to find out that a right-winger who denies the authority of the federal government is also racist. After all, it’s not as though the rejection of federal authority has ever been used in defense of racism before. This is almost like trying to eat a bowl of peanut butter and finding out that someone has carelessly stuck a chocolate bar in there.

“Hey, you got chocolate nullification in my peanut butter racism!” “Well YOU got peanut butter racism all over my chocolate nullification!”

I don’t have any deep thoughts here, except to wonder what, exactly, is the difference between Bundy wondering whether or not black folks were better off as slaves, and John Roberts and Antonin Scalia lecturing Sonia Sotomayor about what racism really means. Seems really all of a piece as far as I can tell.

Potential agreement on Arak clears one obstacle to an Iran nuclear deal, up at Lobe Log

There seems to have been a breakthrough in the Iran talks, at least according to Iranian media (which, grain of salt and all), around the issue of the heavy-water IR-40 reactor at Arak, which was one of the disputes at the heart of the talks. The upshot is that Iran is willing to run the reactor on enriched uranium rather than natural uranium, and to run it at lower temperatures than its planned 40 megawatts, and the P5+1 have agreed to these terms. This compromise, if accurate, mirrors a proposal recently put forward in the journal Arms Control Today by a group of Princeton scientists, and it will substantially reduce the amount of plutonium produced by the reactor (alleviating much of the P5+1’s concern about Arak) while leaving the reactor at least as useful for the production of medical isotopes (its stated purpose, according to the Iranians). I’ve got a new piece up at Lobe Log that goes into that and also tries to explain what heavy-water reactors are and why, in general, they are a proliferation concern, even though there’s no evidence that IR-40, specifically, was one.

Reactors that are intended to be used for research (for example, to produce medical isotopes) rather than for power generation, often need to use uranium enriched to 20% U-235 or more, which in addition to being costly to produce is also itself a proliferation concern. PHWRs, again because D20 is such an efficient moderator, are an alternative in such applications. Iran insists that IR-40 is intended only to replace its aging Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes for cancer patients, but the P5+1 has expressed concern about its potential use in developing a weapon. The Joint Plan of Action that was signed in Geneva in November 2014 stipulated that Iran would take no steps toward bringing Arak online for its duration.

For all the P5+1’s supposed concern about Arak, it must be noted that, as Gareth Porter has pointed out, Iran has made no move to build the kind of reprocessing facility that would be needed to convert IR-40’s plutonium waste into weapons fuel. While it could build such a facility in the future, that would take considerable time and would not be easily concealed from IAEA inspectors, so Arak is not an imminent threat from a proliferation standpoint.

The most interesting aspect of this story to me has nothing to do with the nuclear talks but is about the city of Arak itself. Continue reading