Unstable Equilibrium

There is nothing more destructive than a ruling class that simultaneously has too much power and is genuinely convinced it’s being persecuted. That is the situation we have now. And history has shown that’s a very unstable equilibrium indeed.

— Chris Hayes, All In 1-30-2014

This week’s featured posts: “Occupying the State of the Union” and “Subtext in the State of the Union (and its responses)

This week everybody was talking about the State of the Union

I think this is the first time I’ve ever done two articles on the same news event in the same week. But I had two very points to make: “Occupying the State of the Union” is about how the Occupy message is changing political common sense, just like Occupy’s theorists said it would. “Subtext …” is a combination of debunking nonsense and observing what the different parties spin choices says about where they think they are.

and still Bridgegate

The most complete reporting on this story comes from MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki, on his weekend program Up. The major developments this week are:

  • Today is the deadline for complying with the legislature’s subpoenas. Expect new developments soon.
  • A lawyer for David Wildstein (the Christie appointee at the Port Authority who replied “Got it” to the “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email) claims in a letter that Christie knew about the lane closures while they were still happening. “Mr. Wildstein contest contests the accuracy of various statements that the Governor made about him, and can prove the inaccuracy of some.” Christie and his defenders denied this and hit back hard.
  • Rather than produce the documents the legislature has subpoenaed, Bill Stepien (Christie’s re-election campaign manager), is challenging the subpoena on Fifth Amendment (self-incrimination) grounds.
  • Another Christie staffer resigned Friday.
  • Bookending the Hoboken mayor’s claim that her city was short-changed on federal Sandy-reconstruction money for political reasons, $6 million turns out to have gone to a senior-citizen center in a town largely unaffected by Sandy, whose Democratic mayor endorsed Christie.

On Saturday’s program, Kornacki described how the Christie administration has maneuvered to circumvent transparency laws for the Sandy money. He discussed the case with various Jersey insiders, who agreed on this interesting point: You hire one kind of lawyer to fix political problems, and another kind to keep you out of jail. Christie’s people are picking the second kind.

and the Wendy Davis dog whistle

An article in the Dallas Morning News poked a few holes in the Wendy Davis campaign biography, which gender scholar Peggy Drexler sums up like this for CNN:

Turns out the Texas senator and gubernatorial hopeful had some help paying for her Harvard Law School education (though she never said she didn’t). Turns out, too, that Davis’ two children spent most of their time back in Texas while Davis got that education (though she never said they hadn’t). She claimed she was 19 when she divorced, but the truth appears to be that she was separated at 19 and divorced at 21 (busted!).

For some reason, this has evoked massive hostility from right-wing pundits, and really nasty comments from readers of the online news articles. Erick Erickson’s tweets (“So Abortion Barbie had a Sugar Daddy Ken”) were so obnoxious that Fox News’ Greta Sustern called him out on her blog (and was herself savaged in the comments).

You know what this reminds me of? The flap over Elizabeth Warren’s claim of Native American ancestry (which she can’t document, but never campaigned on). At the low point in the controversy, Brown staffers were making war whoops and doing tomahawk chops to mock her.

So: Fairly minor dispute over biographic details becomes major campaign issue for a female candidate, evoking (at least from some quarters) real hostility. It’s hard for me to imagine anything of similar size being a significant problem for a male candidate.

I’m starting to think there’s a Lying Bitch stereotype that opponents of female candidates can dog-whistle up with just about any claim of deception. Not sure how this will play out in Texas, but in Massachusetts the men went too far and caused a backlash. If you raise too much of a ruckus, the whole point of dog-whistling gets lost.

but I’d like to call your attention to Lesterland

The $2 e-book and the TED talk. Lawrence Lessig describes how the U.S. is run by a group of people (“the relevant funders”) with about as many members as there are people named “Lester”.

and you also might be interested in …

Dylan Farrow’s account of being molested by Woody Allen, published in protest of the lifetime achievement award Allen received at the recent Golden Globes, is a powerful piece of writing. It raises a number of issues: the difficulty of proving a case when your star witness is a child; the easy relationship the law has with wealthy, famous people; the difference between the law’s presumption of innocence and the moral judgments we make as individuals; and finally the extent to which great art can stand apart from the flawed (or perhaps even villainous) people who make it.

Last week I talked about multi-millionaire Tom Perkins and his remarkable comparison between Occupy-style criticism of the 1% and Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany. Perkins got roundly denounced, and eventually realized that bringing up the Nazis was over the top. But he still hasn’t grasped the full absurdity of considering America’s mega-rich as a persecuted class. (If I could ask Perkins one question, it would be: “What kind of worship do you think you deserve?”)

Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal (which started this controversy by publishing Perkins’ letter) weighed in on Perkins’ side: He should have left the Jews out of it, but the persecution of “the successful one percent” is real. (The idea that Americans might reject a society where only one percent can be “successful” seems lost on them.) (Along the way, they repeated the long-discredited claim that “President Obama’s IRS targeted conservative political groups”.)

Two liberal views are worth bringing into this discussion: First, Josh Marshall’s:

we miss the point if we see this in isolation or just the rant of one out-of-touch douchebag. It is pervasive. The disconnect between perception and reality, among such a powerful segment of the population, is in itself dangerous.

and Chris Hayes’ (in a segment that starts around the 28-minute mark of Thursday’s All In):

I wrote an entire book about the psychology and the psycho-pathologies of the American elite, and if there’s one thing I’ve taken away, it is that there is nothing more destructive than a ruling class that simultaneously has too much power and is genuinely convinced it’s being persecuted. That is the situation we have now. And history has shown that’s a very unstable equilibrium indeed.

Speaking of the persecuted 1%: As Sean Hannity talks about leaving liberal New York, Jon Stewart gets the cast of Jersey Boys to beg him to stay.

Climate denial doesn’t just happen in this country. Here’s an account from New Zealand that reveals all the same underhanded tactics.

and let’s close with Pete Seeger

As we say good-bye to Pete Seeger, this is how he might say good-bye to us: “Well may the world go, when I am far away.”

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