The Agony of Debate: CNBC, Candidates All Manage to Offend

Who won? Who lost? Nobody won and America lost. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Tonight’s Republican debate was terrible. After listening to several sneering exchanges about how government is always the problem and always screws things up and Obama welcomes violence against the nation’s police and BOO! socialism, I couldn’t get this refrain out of my head: Nasty people saying nasty things and being nasty to each other to the cheers of other nasty people. And before anyone says I should leave the audience out of it, these are the same kind of people who booed a gay soldier for asking a question during a 2011 Republican debate. That’s who these people are, and anyone who supports Republican candidates needs to own it.

The debate was bad for several reasons. First, as Josh Marshall explains, CNBC lives in its own weird universe and the moderators asked several suitably weird questions. One even managed to make me feel bad for Trump by asking if he’s running a “comic book version” of a campaign. Trump’s campaign definitely straddled the joke-or-not line in its infancy, but for better or worse (worse, obviously), his campaign is no joke now.

Marshall also notes that Ben Carson, now leading in Iowa, does not focus or dominate a debate the way a frontrunning Donald Trump can focus and dominate.

But mostly the debate was bad for the ten reasons on the stage: Kasich, Huckabee, Bush, Rubio, Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Cruz, Christie, and Paul. Whether it was the liar Fiorina telling lies again, Carson lying about his involvement with a shady nutritional supplements firm, Huckabee trafficking in ugly (debunked, of course) Clinton conspiracies, or Christie free associating his way to an ugly smear of President Obama, the refrain just kept coming back to me: Nasty people saying nasty things and being nasty to each other to the cheers of other nasty people.

If anything of consequence came out of this debate, I think Charlie Pierce may be right that Jeb Bush’s campaign is now dead. Bush’s campaign will shuffle along, indefinitely and zombie-like, but when your candidate is whining on the campaign trail and can’t manage to land a punch against the insufferably dumb and stupid Marco Rubio, it may be time to follow Scott Walker’s lead and find a different way, other than running for president, to make the world a worse place.

My final takeaway is that Bush and the CNBC moderators managed to lay out partial blueprints for how to attack Rubio, so it will be interesting to see who picks them up and comes after Rubio soonest and hardest.

Polls next week ought to account fully for any effects from the debate. I don’t think any of the ten candidates (not sure about the four jokers at the kiddie table debate) will feel compelled to drop out as a result of this one. If I had to bet, I’d say Rand Paul will drop out next because he’s had trouble galvanizing his father’s base of support and people are worried he’s taking his 2016 Senate re-election bid for granted. But never underestimate these people’s vanity.

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Boehner Saves the Day, Sort Of

A Freedom Caucus member reacts to the news. By steenslag (P1010533) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
We won’t have John Boehner to kick around much longer and it looks like he’ll succeed in doing the country a favor by kicking his party’s own Freedom Caucus in the teeth before he steps down as Speaker. I still hesitate to give much credit in a situation that involves Republican party leaders saving the country from their own party.

Boehner has negotiated a budget and debt ceiling deal with the White House that presumably will require Democratic votes to pass the House. Freedom Caucus types are already kicking and screaming, but Boehner doesn’t need them. They can’t chop his head off a second time. As long as the deal doesn’t deeply cut programs important to Democrats, they’ll probably be more than happy to vote for it and take one of the Freedom Caucus’ favorite hostages, the US debt ceiling, away. The deal is reported to extend the country’s borrowing authority through the 2016 elections, which means the Freedom Caucus would never again be able to take it hostage in a vain attempt to extract ridiculous concessions, such as total repeal of Obamacare, from President Obama. They’ll have to wait for President Clinton or Sanders.

I’d just like to note, though, that reporters really need to stop taking claims by Republicans that they care about the budget deficit seriously. Reading this Washington Post article about the deal, you’d think Republicans were the fiscally responsible party. It quotes conservatives unhappy about the deal because it claims savings in the future in order to offset spending increases now. These “budget hawks” would prefer to see concurrent cuts to offset any increases.

Paul Krugman recently reminded us that all of the Republican candidates for president have huge, deficit exploding tax cut plans. Sure, the candidates claim that they can cut away the difference, but they never seem willing to explain where they will cut. That’s because they’d have to drastically cut defense, Social Security, and Medicare to offset their tax cuts, and Republicans are smart enough to know that they can’t get elected promising to cut these things. They save that for private meetings with their donors.

Advice to reporters: ask lawmakers and candidates for president what they are willing to cut in order to offset their tax plans and rein in the budget deficit. If they hem and haw or make stuff up, report that, and stop calling them “fiscally responsible” or “deficit hawks.” If they explain in detail what needs to be cut, report that and make sure the ramifications are clear. This isn’t that hard and the country’s future is at stake. Do your jobs.

On Recipe Comments and A Simple, No Yeast Bread

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Finished product.

If you’ve looked at many recipes online, you’re probably familiar with what I’m about to describe. I’ll read a recipe, then glance down at the comments to make sure there’s no “this recipe sucks” consensus. Often, there are some really funny comments, though unless they are master trolls I don’t think making me LOL was what the commenters intended. Almost every other comment seems to be of the “this was a good starter recipe, but…” variety. I’m sure some people are just genuinely sharing their preferred version, but whatever their intentions they often come off as “this was a good starter recipe, but you’re an idiot and this is how to make it better.” The best is when the commenter describes the changes he or she made that essentially turn the recipe into a different thing altogether. I swear I’ve seen stuff like “This is a good starter recipe for chicken enchiladas, but instead of chicken I used pork and instead of a tomato-based sauce I used a honey glaze. 2 out of 5 stars.”

(By the way, any musing about recipe comments MUST include a link to this epic comment thread about a rainbow cake. If you’ve never read this, read it. You won’t be disappointed!)

Because I’m a cranky old man apparently, I’ve stopped going to a bakery here in Dali that has okay bread and instead my wife and I have been making our own for the last few months. The problem with Sweet Vanilla, the bakery in question, is that every time you walk in there it’s a different bread shop. One day they’ve got decent rye bread, wheat bread, and white bread; the next day all they’ve got is a couple of stale baguettes. And recently, when I’ve bought loaves and asked staff members to slice them, they come back with a paper sack full of four brick-sized “slices” of bread. The third time I received these bricks I uttered “This place is dead to me” under my breath and I haven’t been back since then.

Too cheap to go to another local bakery, the relatively expensive Bakery 88, I’ve been using this recipe for Exquisite Yeastless Focaccia once or twice a week. Exquisite is a tad ambitious, but it’s very good!

Following is my first ever “This was a good recipe but…” I already hate myself.

Really though, the way I make it is very similar to the linked recipe above. We just thought it was a little salty, which might not even be the recipe’s fault. It’s very possible that in a mindless moment I mistakenly used two teaspoons instead of the one called for in the recipe. I don’t know!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (your preference), divided in half
  • 1 cup (not hot) water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • seasonings to sprinkle on the dough before you throw it in the oven: black pepper, oregano, garlic powder, cayenne pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius (425 degrees Fahrenheit). Grease a pan (I use butter, but olive oil or whatever should work).
  2. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, and half of the parmesan cheese in a bowl.
  3. Gradually add the water to the mixture and use a fork to help it form a dough.
  4. Shape the dough into a ball. It should be sticky, but not too sticky! Coat the dough ball in the olive oil.
  5. Spread and press the dough out on the pan into a half-inch thick rectangular/circular shape.
  6. Sprinkle on your preferred seasonings (mine listed above).
  7. Bake for 20 minutes on the middle rack. Take it out, sprinkle on the rest of the cheese, then bake for 5 more minutes.

Great to spread cream cheese or pesto on, or to just eat as is along with a meal. I used this bread and Steve’s Artisanal Reduced Carbon Footprint Pesto to make a sandwich I brought to work last night. Check it out below.

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Spread and pressed onto the pan.
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Finished product.
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Sliced in half it makes a really nice sandwich bread. Last night’s dinner was a pepperoni, pesto, and tomato sandwich

Weekend Links

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Stopped for a bottle of water on my way to work this morning. That’s my bike in the foreground and Dali University at the foot of the mountains. The light is really striking between sunrise a little after 7 am and the time this photo was taken, about 7:45 am. This photo doesn’t really do it justice.

Teaching today and tomorrow, so I might not get around to another full post this week. Some links:

  • First, some self-promotion. Here’s a link to something I wrote this week. It’s my longest essay and I think my best one so far. I tried to explain the leadership crisis in the House and why it’s kind of a big deal, both historically and for the country’s current well-being.
  • Hillary Clinton testified yesterday and it was basically an unpaid advertisement for her presidential candidacy. Seriously, when is the GOP going to realize that angry old white men yelling at a woman who’s much smarter and more dignified than they are is not a good look?
  • Not sure how the author managed to write this piece with his lips so firmly attached to Paul Ryan’s ass, but it’s good to check in sometimes and see what narratives the Right constructs about its heroes.
  • Let’s check in on the state of the presidential primaries. Things are still looking bad for the Republican establishment. Click this link and marvel at the awfulness of Jeb Bush’s trend line. Somehow, JEB! is actually worse than his brother. If you don’t feel like looking at the polls, here’s a quick summary: non-establishment types (in order of support: Trump, Carson, Cruz, and Huckabee) combine for 60.4%. The leading establishment candidate is Rubio, sitting in third place overall with 9.2%, but that’s dwarfed by Trump’s 27.2% and Carson’s 21.4%. Bush’s 7.2% is good enough for fifth place overall.
  • No real reason to check in on the Democratic side, with Biden deciding not to run and Webb and Chafee dropping out. Most polls have included Biden even though he has never officially been in the race, and he has been polling around 15% or better recently. So that totally skews things. And polls coming out next week ought to take in the full impact of the Democrats’ debate. I’ll be very curious to see if Clinton pulls ahead in any significant way in the early states of Iowa (where she’s been leading most of the time) and New Hampshire (where she’s actually been running behind since the beginning of September). I expect Clinton to see bumps in her numbers across the board. Much of the mainstream media believed its own breathless reporting on Clinton’s pseudo-scandals, and they’ve been making up for it with “comeback” narratives in the wake of the debate.
  • Looking forward to the second part of this conversation between President Obama and author Marilynne Robinson.
  • Drew Magary on the perennial uselessness of rooting for the Washington Racial Slurs.
  • What did I do with the remainder of Steve’s Artisanal Reduced Carbon Footprint Pesto? See the photo below.

Have a great weekend!

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Pepperoni and Pesto Biscuits. Really, really good! Click the link for the biscuit recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/7040/jps-big-daddy-biscuits/

Not All Charters! A Solution to a Problem that Itself is a Problem that Doesn’t Solve the Original Problem

This is the sister school to my hometown high school. I went to Parsippany Hills High School. PHHS rules! Go Vikings! Oh, and these were public schools (in the ‘burbs, admittedly) and a lot of us went through the system and somehow graduated able to do math, read and write, and know a little about science. By Keylife12 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In theory, charter schools could work and “disrupt” the system and goad public schools into doing better and everyone wins. In practice, they take resources away from fully public schools and waste that money, then management runs away and the whole movement is basically a con job.

We know what works in education. Alright so the US is not Finland but it’s fairly intuitive that healthy kids who aren’t going hungry and receive psychological counseling if needed and go to schools with enough teachers that can meet their individual learning needs will probably turn out okay and employable. Of course it helps if the teachers are motivated, which probably means compensating them well and not demonizing them (*see below for a tangential rant). After all, most have had to invest in BA or BS degrees followed by master’s in education degrees. Not cheap prerequisites to entering the profession!

The US is indeed a special snowflake but not in a good way when it comes to education policy. Our insistence on localized funding for schools results in wide funding disparities district to district and state to state. We’ve nurtured a widespread charter school movement that in general is so unaccountable to the taxpayers that fund it that the supreme court in the state of Washington recently declared charter schools unconstitutional. Finland barely has any privately run schools at all. And make no mistake, most charters are privately run schools innocently masquerading as nothing more than different versions of public schools.

We have many problems in the US that preclude a Finnish-style solution, many argue. The problems are indeed daunting and it’s difficult to know where to start when some of the problems are essentially outside of any given school’s control. Kids going hungry or not seeing doctors when sick, kids traumatized by home situations or lacking resources and support from home: these are all situations that make learning difficult if not impossible and happen before a kid even sets a foot in school.

Also, if you read or listen to the news you wouldn’t be crazy to think there’s an epidemic of horrible teachers in the US. The charter school movement is fond of blaming bad and unaccountable (tenure!) teachers. Please. Find me a teacher who spent between five and seven years and tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars training for the profession by getting two degrees and makes $55,000 a year mid-career who says he or she doesn’t care about the kids or is in it for the money and I’ll give you a year’s free subscription to this blog.

Sure, bad teachers exist, just like bad bus drivers, bad bankers and bad everyone elses exist. Judging a teacher’s performance is notoriously difficult and different systems developed so far have found as few as 1.5% of teachers in a district unsatisfactory to as many as 18% in another district “ineffective.” Eighteen percent is a little higher than anyone would like to see, admittedly, but that number is from a pilot program looking at 20 New York City schools, one of the most challenging districts in the country.

(Here, I want to make it clear that I am not questioning the motives or integrity of teachers or even many administrators working for charter schools. The whole point of this piece, which I’m afraid I haven’t made very clear yet, is that charter schools as established in most of the country have nothing new to offer and instead take resources away from avenues that we already know can get results.)

What’s clear from what we know about how kids learn and what Finland has shown is that we don’t need charter schools in order to re-invent the wheel. We know what the wheel looks like and we have the design plans; we can make it. It’s hard, giving all American kids equal opportunities to receive good educations in schools with enough resources and competent and motivated teachers, but it’s not impossible. It’s a matter of priorities.


*Tangential rant: When did Americans collectively decide that working ought to be a miserable experience we endure in order to not starve or sleep on the street and maybe get to own a flat screen TV? And why is there so much outrage aimed at people in a profession that often requires 9 to 10 or even more hour days for 180 days during which they have to lead large groups of children or prepubescents or teenagers all day? Do we really think the people we entrust to handle so much of our children’s formative years deserve such mediocre pay or ridicule for demanding pensions so they can live decently in retirement? What is wrong with us?

More Food; Canada

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Don’t have a food processor? Smash your pesto ingredients together using the end of a rolling pin. Takes about 10 minutes.
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Finished product.
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Spaghetti with pesto, chopped tomatoes and grated parmesan cheese.

I’ve been babbling for years about making pesto. For some reason tonight was the night. Here’s Steve’s Artisanal Reduced Carbon Footprint Spinach Pesto:

  • two cups finely chopped spinach
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped almonds
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped (though I’d heed my wife’s advice and use half that amount next time!)
  • X amount grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil

Directions: Dump the spinach, almonds, and garlic in a bowl. Grate X amount of parmesan cheese into the bowl (for me, X = shit ton because parmesan cheese smells like the feet of God). Mix it all together. Start smashing it with your rolling pin as you drizzle in the olive oil. Smash for 10 minutes or until your arm gets tired. Then go buy a food processor already, you cheapskate!

It turned out well, though a little strong on the garlic. I like that, actually, but don’t trust me. If I have a superpower it’s probably being able to eat something heavy on garlic without really being able to tell that it’s heavy on garlic.


Can Democrats learn anything from Justin Trudeau’s impressive victory in Canada? I think so. Of course our cultures and systems of government are different (very different in the latter case) but it never hurts to see what works elsewhere and wonder if it could work here. Like, explaining your proposed policies and their probable beneficial outcomes for most of the public in simple-to-understand ways could work in the States too, maybe.

Morning Coffee in China Links

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Taken from my back porch, around 8:30 am.

Working for an English training school in China means teaching on Saturday and Sunday, so my weekend is actually Wednesday and Thursday. It’s a gorgeous day here, as you can see, but I’ve come down with a cold. Better take it easy and catch up on my internets.

  • Like Josh Marshall, I really like Vice President Joe Biden. I also agree that his running for the presidency would only make sense if Hillary Clinton’s campaign somehow implodes, most likely due to scandal, and now it’s looking less and less likely that will happen.
  • Paul Ryan may walk the plank yet. It looks like he’s got enough support now (math explained here in a previous post) to become Speaker with only Republican votes. But the Freedom Caucus won’t go quietly, and I really don’t see how Ryan becomes anything other than Boehner 2.0 as Speaker. If the Freedom Caucus continues to demand government shutdowns and default on US debt in order to achieve its goals, then we’re right back where we started: the Speaker needs Democratic votes to pass clean budgets and clean authorization to pay US debts, will look weak for it, and conservatives will call him a RINO (Republican-in-name-only, i.e. no better than a Democrat) and kill his career… And now I see some conservative groups are already calling Ryan a RINO.
  • A writer I don’t like, David Brooks, is caught yet again peddling his “Oh, where have all the reasonable conservatives gone” bullshit. Corey Robin lets this tired lament hang from its own rope. But if you really want to understand what Robin is getting at, read his lengthy post, or better yet, his book. Conservatism, going all the way back to one of its revered founders, Edmund Burke, has always been about resistance to democratic government and its potential to change the status quo.
  • When will these tragedies ever end? I look forward to the NRA explaining that this 4-year-old would still be alive today if only she had been packing as well.
  • The fight against our country’s sick fascination with firearms and the consequences of said fascination is going to be long and uphill, but Erik Loomis finds some interesting strategies that could make a difference. One interesting idea already introduced in the House is to make all gun owners carry insurance. If done well, this could make the kind of guns most likely to result in harm or death prohibitively expensive for the average gun nut. The prospect of confiscating guns newly made illegal by such a law, however, is fraught with danger.
  • Erik Loomis again, this time about the idea of relative poverty. Here he is previously on the backlash – weirdly enough in some otherwise progressive spheres – against reporting that reveals, shockingly, that poor Americans are poor.
  • Ok, it’s my “Sunday” so I’m going to make some comfort food for brunch. Here are some good recipes I’ve used many times before for biscuits and bacon gravy.

Later.