Weekend Links

Actual tortillas made by the author’s actual wife.

We invited one of the students in my adult class and her husband over for dinner tonight. This student, who goes by the English name Dana, is really impressive in her dedication to learning English. She teaches full time at a local high school. This year, Dana is the lead teacher for a class of high school seniors who are preparing for university. Since during this academic year the students focus relentlessly on the gaokao, China’s high-stakes university entrance exam, Dana often has to report to school on Saturdays and Sundays in order to help and coach her students as they prepare for the grueling exam. Faced with six and seven day work weeks, she still somehow makes the time to come to my class that meets from 7 to 9 pm on Mondays and Fridays. She always does her homework, and manages to study and practice her English nearly every day. Students like Dana really make teaching rewarding.

We ended up making a southwestern style pulled chicken in our slow cooker, served with flour tortillas, tortilla chips made from some of those tortillas, salsa, and a side salad. Our guests seemed to like the meal, though they probably wouldn’t have told me the chicken was a little overcooked even if they thought it (it was).

Anyway, this is a good excuse to link to the tortilla recipe we use. My wife made them this time, and they turned out very well as usual. This recipe is adapted from some other person’s recipe, which is a topic I wrote about here recently.

Some links for the weekend:

  • Charlie Pierce on Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. For an asinine take, go read the Washington Post editorial board’s piece. This opinion manages to hit all of the both-sides-do-it sweet spots while somehow managing to miss the real story: people of different political persuasions working together to kill a dumb, short-sighted project. The Post is too caught up in its Democrats-are-just-as-much-to-blame-as-are-Republicans narrative to see that the fight over this pipeline was not only about climate change, but also about midwestern farmers who didn’t want their lands seized under eminent domain or their water supply poisoned. Five minutes searching online and I’m better informed than the Washington Post editorial board.
  • I wrote about Ben Carson this week. Josh Marshall walks us through the latest developments in the Ben Carson-is-a-lying-liar saga with a series of posts here, here, and here. Marshall also links to a (subscription required) hit piece in the Wall Street Journal. The appearance of this article means that Carson’s rise to the top of the polls is inviting backlash from his opponents and the Republican establishment. It will be interesting to see if his poll numbers suffer. So far, similar oppo research pieces have not seemed to hurt Carson’s chief competitor for frontrunner status, Donald Trump.
  • My wife pointed me to her friend Daniel Denvir’s piece in Salon about Hillary Clinton’s past support for welfare reform. I guess this piece has generated a bit of backlash. Denvir argues that Clinton’s camp is accusing Bernie Sanders’ camp of sexism in order to deflect criticism of her own (bad) record. He raises good points about Clinton’s record and where she stands now, but he doesn’t do himself any favors by dismissing accusations of sexism out of hand, or by labelling Clinton’s past policy preferences “sexist” and “racist.” I honestly don’t know what to say here, since it’s true that Clinton’s past record is problematic, and it’s also true that Clinton is often the victim of sexist remarks. Both Clinton and Sanders, or Martin O’Malley for that matter, are infinitely preferable to any Republican on almost every issue. I’d prefer to see their campaigns and their surrogates refrain from mudslinging. But politics ain’t beanbag.

Enjoy the weekend!


Morning Coffee in China Links


First blue sky and sun we’ve seen in three days here in Dali. We got our first taste of the cold season here these last few days, and it tasted bitter! While Dali’s winter climate is quite mild, it’s kind of a tough season because there are no central heating systems. We use (terribly inefficient) space heaters and electric blankets and layer up the clothing, but still, for three to four months of a year here you rarely feel warm. It’s usually clear in the winter, so going outside for sun breaks is key to health and well-being. Often, it’s much warmer outside in the sun than inside a building.

Some links from my morning internetting:

  • Talking Points Memo finds a poll with Ben Carson reaching 50% support as first or second choice among Republican primary voters.
  • TPM’s founder Josh Marshall wonders where the outrage is from media platforms and personalities that would be killing Democrats if they decided to boycott Fox News. Republicans are now boycotting NBC because of last week’s CNBC debate, which was awful, but not for the reasons Republicans think.
  • Via his post at Lawyers, Guns and Moneyhere’s Robert Farley’s piece on China’s new submarine capabilities.
  • LGM’s Erik Loomis writes about the mixed blessings of the return of some manufacturing jobs to the US. China is losing its competitive edge in some manufacturing sectors, in part because much of the US has decided through its policies to treat its workers like China treats its workers: bad hours, low wages, and few benefits.
  • Some (kind of) good news for once. Charlie Pierce’s old friend – the Keystone XL pipeline he refers to as “the continent spanning death funnel” – is going to hibernate and hopes to wake up to a Republican president in a year’s time.


A Good Place to Start

By Paul Cezanne [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Apples are just like oranges. Spread some peanut butter on an apple wedge, spread some peanut butter on an orange slice, same difference. Am I right?

Of course not.

As explained in this blog’s first post ever, the major theme here will likely be the myths and misunderstandings that bedevil contemporary American politics. It is my good fortune then that David Roberts at Vox has just written a clearer, more interesting and detailed piece than I could ever write about one of the more persistent, and malignant, myths out there (via). This would be the idea that both major American political parties are filled with equal numbers of uncompromising extremists and are equally to blame for Washington gridlock, so obviously splitting the difference between the two sides will result in good solid middle-of-the-road policies and we can all have a pony.

Using as a hook some unsophisticated views of politics held by otherwise sophisticated people in the tech world, Roberts dismantles the notion that both-sides-do-it is a valid way to understand our politics. Roberts finds Tim Urban at Wait But Why using both-sides-do-it-politics-is-stupid-bro to explain the failure to enact a revenue-neutral carbon tax, a “logical” policy for reining in emissions and dealing with climate change. I happen to mostly agree with Urban on the policy! However, he could not be more wrong about the reasons such a common-sense policy has not been enacted yet.

In 2009, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES). It was then “defeated” in the Senate, but here defeated means that it never came up for a vote because a minority of Republican senators wouldn’t allow it. Democrats held a majority in the Senate at the time, but the Republican minority was in the process of perfecting its unprecedented, total obstruction strategy. Simply put, Senate Republicans began serially abusing the filibuster to require 60 votes to move all legislation, a tactic previously used mostly in special circumstances. Soon after Obama’s inauguration, Republicans were filibustering routine legislation and executive branch appointments. In hindsight, whatever you think about the policy merits, it is practically a miracle that the Affordable Care Act ever passed.

So why didn’t the new House of Representatives in 2011 re-introduce climate legislation? You win a year’s free subscription to this blog if you guessed “Republicans made huge gains in the 2010 midterm elections and took control of the House of Representatives.” From 2011 on, climate legislation has been dead-on-arrival, and even deader-on-arrival since Republicans took over the Senate after the 2014 midterm elections.

There is a more nuanced narrative of how ACES failed in the Senate, in which Obama and other Democrats are not blameless. At bottom, though, the both-sides-do-it myth obscures the harsh reality that most Democrats wanted ACES to pass and most Republicans opposed ACES and opposed the idea that climate change is even real. ACES and a bunch of other bills would be law if not for Republican opposition and obstruction. The climate policy that Urban prefers definitively does not land in the middle of the two parties’ climate policy views. His policy preference lands squarely on the dirty hippie side of the aisle.

I happen to like most of the bills Democrats tried to pass starting in 2009. Maybe you do too, or maybe you don’t. The important thing is to understand that the two parties have very different agendas. The both-sides-do-it-there-must-be-a-great-policy-that-splits-the-difference myth is a myth. Throwing up our hands and blaming extremists on both sides in Washington for gridlock misses the point. The Democratic Party has a platform that it believes in and would like to make law. The Republican Party has a different platform.

This is a topic for a different post, but the parties have sorted themselves ideologically and there is little room for crossing the aisle and compromising anymore. It means the parties now stand for very different things, and the most right-leaning national Democrat is now to the left of the most left-leaning national Republican. The average voter probably doesn’t agree entirely with either party. But the average voter tends to have a set of beliefs that are somewhat consistent with one party or the other. This really is not that hard, and the first step is to shed the both-sides-do-it trope. A voter may agree with most of the Republican Party’s agenda. But she shouldn’t kid herself about where the parties stand and the likelihood of compromise. There is no middle ground between (R) all abortions should be criminalized and (D) abortions should be equally accessible to all women all over the country, or between (R) build a giant Game of Thrones-style wall and deport all people living in the country illegally and (D) create a path to citizenship for these people. This applies to most policy problems at the national level.

It would be great if the two parties could compromise in good faith and move the country forward. They are just too far apart on most issues in their current incarnations. Voters need to stop complaining about how neither party is willing to act on a particular issue when one of the parties clearly is. With those both-sides-do-it blinders off, voters can determine a strategy for easing gridlock in Washington. Hint: figure out which party you agree with most, and work to give that party unified control of Washington. Easy answer, difficult task!

UPDATE: I now see Paul Krugman has also written about Roberts’ piece. Krugman uses it to try to explain why tech types and others fall for both-sides-do-it. Check it out.