How TV Has Changed Us: Barr Didn’t Need to Make an Argument, Just a Video Clip

What we saw from Barr yesterday was a deeply cynical exploitation of how television has changed us. Barr wasn’t trying to make an argument — he knew he didn’t have to. Instead, he was just trying to make a video clip. 

I doubt if he was worried about anyone exposing the hollowness of his repeated assertions of “No collusion,” echoing those of his client. He had to know discovery was waiting within minutes of anyone reading the document he was about to release. But he could count on most of us not reading.

Instead, we consume video clips, which don’t even open a case before closing it. They sidestep thought altogether and function like incantations: “This is true because it becomes true when we say it.”

So the point of Barr’s appearance was only in the appearance itself, how he looked and sounded: the blandly reassuring mask of the bureaucrat, the measured rhythm and downward cadences, the podium, the suit, and the suits behind him.

The only flaw: one of those other suits, Rosenstein. We couldn’t know what was going through his mind, but we couldn’t escape how he looked: like someone staring into a mirror and discovering nothing there.

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i24’s “Clear Cut” with Michelle Makori: Bernie, Immigration

I was on the April 16, 2019 show to discuss Bernie topping a recent poll after appearing on Fox News, and how to accommodate the surge in ayslum seekers.

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i24’s “Clear Cut” with Michelle Makori: The Barr Letter, Healthcare

On the March 27. 2019 show I spoke about Attorney General Barr’s summary of the Mueller report, and President Trump’s efforts to end Obamacare.

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i24’s “Stateside” with David Shuster: Joe Biden

I was on “Stateside” on the Israeli global news network i24 on March 20, 2019 to talk about the “inappropriate touching” allegations against Joe Biden.

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What Makes a Life-Changing Teacher

Kamala Harris is doing a nice thing on Twitter, asking people to share stories of teachers who changed their lives. Here’s one of several I can think of right away: Kenneth Clegg, the chemistry teacher at Warwick Academy in Bermuda. He made us all love to be in his class because he so clearly loved all of us.

My dad, David Critchley, who knew what he was talking about, would have said Mr. Clegg was an example of what really matters in good teachers — more even than how well they know their subject (although Mr. Clegg knew his very, very well). Quoting Charles Truax, Dad said three simple things make the difference: empathy, warmth, and genuineness.

The trouble is, those are hard to turn into checklist items in a teacher training curriculum. You don’t so much learn them as you’re given them, usually in childhood, by your parents or other mentors — or, if you’re not so lucky, through the hard work of clearing away all the junk that gets built up in their place.

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Democratic Socialist or Social Democrat? There’s a Difference — and It Matters a Lot.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Words matter. And if Democrats aren’t careful, they’ll use them to lose the 2020 election.

Led by popular figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, some on the left are calling themselves Democratic Socialists.

Are they really? I hope not. I hope what they really are is Social Democrats, and what we have here is just a confusion in terms. But either way, it hands Trump and his re-election campaign one of the best weapons he could hope for, and one of the only effective ones he’ll have.

Here’s the difference between “Social Democrat” and “Democratic Socialist,” and why it matters.

A Social Democrat is basically what we’ve traditionally thought of as a progressive: someone at the left edge of the mainstream of American politics, and closer to the center in many other Western democracies — familiar, friendly, and prosperous places like Canada and Britain. They favor more regulation and higher taxes than do many Americans, but like most Americans, Social Democrats believe in free markets. Meanwhile, nearly all Americans support some degree of socialism along with their free market, in the form of services like Medicare, Social Security, public roads, or a taxpayer-funded military.

So what’s a Democratic Socialist? I suspect many of those who think they are one assume it’s about the same thing. But no. Democratic Socialists are, as the name states, actual, full-on socialists.

They believe in centralized control of the economy, as Marquette University sociologist Michael McCarthy explains (approvingly) in the Jacobin: “Democratic socialism, on the other hand, should involve public ownership over the vast majority of the productive assets of society,”

Given the rampant inequality generated by the last few decades of deregulated capitalism, apparently this sounds like a pretty cool idea to a lot of people now. The trouble is, it turns out to be really bad policy.

Whole-hog, centralized-control socialism is an experiment that has been run, and it’s an experiment that has failed. Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of the formerly socialist countries who’ve abandoned it — like, say, Russia and China — or the Nordic countries, which went part of the way there and chose to stop.

The reason has little to do with whether or not we think wealth should be shared more fairly. It has everything to do with complexity.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx

The idea that a modern, complex economy could be run under centralized control is an artifact of the 19th Century. It was born out of the rise of science and the Industrial Revolution. Karl Marx based his economic analysis in large part on the new mechanical technologies he saw transforming the world around him, for good — for capitalists — and for bad — for workers, like those he saw suffering in the nightmarish slums and factories of England.

Marx, also drawing on Hegel and other sources, thought he had discovered the science of history, and therefore that history could be predicted. What he couldn’t see was that the linear processes of machinery — this switch trips that lever, which releases that blast of steam — don’t begin to encompass the nearly infinite complexity of the interactions of millions of humans.

And since Lenin established the first one, in the Soviet Union, centrally planned economies have failed to control complexity, five-year plan after five-year plan. It turns out reality refuses to play ideological ball, unless it’s forced to.

And that leads me to the second big problem with full socialism: if we really want the government taking over most of the economy, we’re going to have to accept a lot of coercion — and we’ll need to cut back the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

None of that is likely to be popular with most Americans.

And that’s why Republicans, and Trump in particular, are so delighted when they hear Democrats calling themselves socialists, instead of leaving that to GOP attack ads.

We can only hope it doesn’t become any more fashionable.

As the historian and socialist-turned-Social Democrat Tony Judt said towards the end of his life, in “Thinking the 20th Century,” the biggest story of that era was “how so many smart people could have told themselves such stories with all the terrible consequences that ensued.”

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What the Feinstein-Kids Video Teaches About Effective—And Ineffective—Advocacy

About the kids and Dianne Feinstein. I understand why some people feel outraged by what they think they’re seeing in the video, but I’d like to ask them to step back for a moment and try something that may feel unnatural: exercise some empathy for a politician.
Feinstein could have expressed it better, but if the group, especially the adults who organized it, had been able to listen to what she was saying, they might have learned some things about being effective in advocating for change.
Like not starting off by attacking an ally, in public. The full video, which provides much more context than the widely circulated two-minute edit, is here:


Senator Dianne Feinstein with a delegation of schoolchildren. Video by Sunrise Movement Bay Area via Storyful and the Sacramento Bee


Feinstein has a 100% 2017 rating from the League of Conservation Voters, and a 90% lifetime rating. She probably doesn’t need to be lectured about the danger of inaction on climate change. And, as a powerful ally, she just might be able to help move solutions forward.
Also: if an elected official who’s already on your side isn’t giving you everything you want right away, it may not be because that hasn’t occurred to them, or because they don’t want to do it. It may be because they can’t. They have to try to make things work in a democracy, where one person or group doesn’t have all the power.
Instead, people who disagree with you have power too — sometimes more than you, like when you’re in the minority in the Senate. So you’re forced to try to find paths forward other than the obvious one of just telling people what to do.
And that’s the hard part, which people in Feinstein’s position have to wrestle with every day: not what to do, but how to get it done.
So she could have been more polite, but her visitors could have been a little less focused on making demands, and a little more focused on making progress.
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The “Innocent Mistake” Defense for Racism

Slavery was repugnant to many Americans long before America was a country — the Germantown Quakers denounced it in 1688. It was outlawed in the British Empire in 1833. We fought a Civil War over it from 1861-65. Still, injustice and violence against black people continued, and that has been an issue every minimally educated person has known about ever since, through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the rise of the KKK, the 1909 founding of the NAACP, “Strange Fruit” (1939), the civil rights movement, landmark legislation, assassinations, the Southern Strategy, birtherism, voter suppression, and Charlottesville.

When the movie “Birth of a Nation” was released, it sparked widespread protests over its celebration of the KKK and demeaning depictions of black people. That was in 1915. More than a hundred years ago.

Harry Truman was born in 1884 and raised as a racist in a pro-Confederate family in rural Missouri. But he, like many white Americans of his time, was able to learn, to feel compassion, and to change. In 1947 he said, “If this freedom is to be more than a dream, each man must be guaranteed equality of opportunity. The only limit to an American’s achievement should be his ability, his industry and his character.” And the next year he desegregated the military.

That was more than 70 years ago — and even then, it was a common belief that what progress had been made had taken far too long.

Also in 1947, Frank Sinatra, who had been raised in a working class family and never finished high school, said this: “We’ve got a hell of a way to go in this racial situation. As long as most white men think of a Negro as a Negro first and a man second, we’re in trouble. I don’t know why we can’t grow up.”

Every American alive today has the benefit of centuries of thinking on civil rights, and centuries of examples of people who managed to choose respect and kindness over bigotry and cruelty. All the information about this that anyone could ever need has long been available easily and for free.

So maybe, by 2019, the “innocent mistake” defense is done?

Beyond a certain point, ignorance becomes a choice, and “innocence” is just a cloak.

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How We Won—And Then Lost—The Cold War

It’s been hitting me hard lately how so much of the agony we’re living through now originates in our bungling response, or lack of response, to the fall of the Soviet Union.

When the USSR collapsed in on itself under the weight of its own illogic and corruption, we could have recalled the lesson of the stunningly successful Marshall Plan, then only four decades in the past: Do not let a defeated enemy sink into despair and humiliation. In your own self-interest, help the foe succeed, and become a friend.

But no, as the Russian empire fell, America and the West stood back, trusting that freedom and free markets would be enough.. But instead, oligarchs and gangsters used their new liberty to set about looting their own country.

And the horrors of communism were replaced with the horrors of thugocracy.

So? Maybe we didn’t care so much, since there was money to be made by us as well.

But the corruption spread. And it breached the borders of the West as Soviet aggression never could.

Ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin and his gang didn’t need to invade Britain with an army. They did it by buying up luxury real estate with their looted billions, or by parking their money in British banks, or by negotiating joint ventures with British corporations.

And it turned out they they could do the same to the United States — except that even better, in an incredible stroke of luck, they apparently were able to make a partner of America’s future president. When no reputable American bank would lend to him, they bailed him out of his bankruptcies and, by the evidence, hired him as a money launderer, converting their cash into condos.

We humiliated Germany after World War I and got World War II. But we learned, and got it right with Germany and Japan after World War II. They became two of our strongest allies.

And then, after the Cold War, we made the same, old, terrible mistake again.

And here we are.

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Erasing the difference between America and a thugocracy like Russia may be this presidency’s most tragic effect.

Millions of Americans are being held hostage by a leader who can’t get what he wants through the legitimate legislative process. Count 800,000 federal employees, with let’s say the average two children per family — that’s 2.4 million Americans. And then there are all those who depend on federal services — in some cases, with their lives at stake.


And while he’s taking hostages, he’s also running a protection racket: he does damage and then negotiates a price to make him stop. Like creating a humanitarian crisis at the border, or throwing Dreamers’ lives into turmoil, and then offering to stop in exchange for his extortionate demands.

And then there’s the long list of his other mob-boss behaviors: intimidating witnesses, obstructing investigations, self-dealing, concealing financial information, constantly and flagrantly lying, attacking law enforcement, and years of business dealings with gangsters — Russian and American. How much more obvious could it be? Innocent people don’t behave this way.

America has never been perfect, as other countries have always been ready to point out. But other countries have also trusted that America was much, much better than Russia, or any of the other alternatives as the world’s leading nation — and that, not money or weapons, was why America could have so much power, for so long.

But now, they can’t be so sure. As the president himself said when challenged to — just once — criticize Vladimir Putin: “You think our country is so innocent?”

Not any more.

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