Quick Takes: The Plot Thickens

* Just yesterday I wrote about how Republican Congressional leaders – like Speaker Paul Ryan – have been ejected from the right wing media’s epistemic bubble. The plot thickens.

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s re-election to his leadership post in January is fast turning into a potential showdown between establishment Republicans and conservatives looking to weaken the speaker and win changes to House rules.

Conservatives don’t have enough votes to oust Ryan (R-Wis.). But they say their coup movement shows his hold on the speakership is far more tenuous than he realizes. Denying Ryan re-election on the first ballot would undermine his political future and cast him as a conservative pariah, they say, and may give conservatives leverage to enact rules changes that would help them push their agenda for years.

“If he loses the speaker election, he’s not going to be president,” one conservative member told The Huffington Post on Monday.

Conservatives hold no illusion of preventing Ryan from remaining speaker (or, you know, becoming president), according to the eight Republicans HuffPost interviewed on Monday. That there is coup chatter at all, however, suggests Ryan’s relationship with conservatives is already fraying, less than a year into his speakership.

* Apparently Kellyanne Conway thinks that Donald Trump deserves “credit” for actually talking to Black people.

“This entire conversation had to be had. Republican presidential nominees usually aren’t bold enough to go into communities of color and take the case right to them, and compete for all ears and compete for all votes. They’ve been afraid to do that. So, Mr. Trump deserves credit for at least taking the case directly to the people.”

Greg Sargent nailed what it is she’s actually saying.

…it’s notable that Conway explicitly states that a chief aim here is for Trump to get “credit” for taking his case to African American audiences. Conway very likely wants college educated whites to give Trump credit for this (not to mention leading media opinion-makers).

* Aaron Blake identifies yet another demographic group that Trump is losing…badly.

Yes, the man who once feuded with the pope (how soon we forget that actually happened) is cratering among Catholics.

Back in 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney lost the Catholic vote by just 2 points, 50 percent to 48 percent. And the GOP has actually won the Catholic vote as recently as 2004 and in 5 of the last 10 11 presidential elections.

But Trump trails among Catholics by a huge margin. A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute released this week shows him down 23 points, 55-32.

Ed Kilgore adds this:

It shows him losing white Catholics (lately a marginally pro-Republican group) by a 41-44 margin, while losing Latino Catholics (typically a more liberal group when compared to Protestants, who tend to belong to fundamentalist or Pentecostal faith communities) by a catastrophic 13-76 margin. Unless you buy the poorly documented idea that Trump does just fine among Latinos, it should not be surprising that the faith tradition to which a majority of Latino-Americans belong would push the overall preferences of their religious colleagues in a pretty decisive direction away from the mogul. Beyond that, yes, it seems that a relative weakness among white Catholics — whatever its genesis — is keeping Trump from winning the kind of super majorities among palefaces he is relying on to offset his stark unpopularity with people of color.

* Once again, Kareem Abdul Jabbar gets it right.

Patriotism isn’t just getting teary-eyed on the Fourth of July or choked up at war memorials. It’s supporting what the Fourth of July celebrates and what those war memorials commemorate: the U.S. Constitution’s insistence that all people should have the same rights and opportunities and that it is the obligation of the government to make that happen. When the government fails in those obligations, it is the responsibility of patriots to speak up and remind them of their duty.

One of the ironies of the way some people express their patriotism is to brag about our freedoms, especially freedom of speech, but then brand as unpatriotic those who exercise this freedom to express dissatisfaction with the government’s record in upholding the Constitution. Colin Kaepernick explained why he will not stand during the national anthem: “There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust [that] people aren’t being held accountable for. And that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for — freedom, liberty, justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”

* Another day in August…another round of commutations from President Obama.

Earlier this month, President Obama granted commutation to 214 federal inmates, the most commutations granted in a single day by any President in this nation’s history. With today’s additional 111 grants, the President has commuted the sentences of 325 people in the month of August alone, which is the greatest number of commutations ever granted by a president in a single month. The 325 commutations the President has granted in just one month is more than any president granted in a single year for nearly a century.

Today’s 111 commutation grants underscore the President’s commitment to using his clemency authority to provide a second chance to deserving individuals. To date, President Obama has granted 673 commutations: more commutations than the previous ten presidents combined. More than one-third of the President’s commutation recipients, or 232 individuals, were serving life sentences.

* Finally, this one goes out to the Washington Monthly staff. Word is that someone named Barack Obama is out there stumping for a new job (I hear he’s available in late January). Can we get someone on this…pronto?

P.S. I can personally vouch for the guy.

WIRED has had some amazing guest editors over the years. J.J. Abrams on magic, mysteries, and puzzles; Bill Gates on solving the world’s biggest problems; Christopher Nolan on space, time, and multiple dimensions; and, most recently, Serena Williams on equality in the digital age. This November we will add President Barack Obama to our guest editor ranks—the first time WIRED (or any other magazine) has been guest-edited by a sitting president.

The theme of the issue: Frontiers. Like WIRED, our 44th president is a relentless optimist. For this completely bespoke issue, he wants to focus on the future—on the next hurdles that humanity will need to overcome to move forward. These will include personal frontiers, from precision medicine to human performance; local frontiers, including using data in urban planning and making sure renewable energy works for everyone; national frontiers, from civil rights to medical data; international frontiers, like climate change and cybersecurity; and final frontiers, including space travel and Artificial Intelligence.

Now really…how cool is THAT?

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The Clinton Foundation and the Merchants of Doubt

Do you remember that time when Jim Inhofe brought a snowball onto the Senate floor in February as “proof” that climate change is a hoax? He was being what we might call a “merchant of doubt.” Never mind that the scientific community has been studying the rise in global temperatures for quite a while. One snowfall in Washington raises doubts about what they’ve found.

The truth is that when scientists study things like global temperatures, they don’t assume that they need to look at the temperature of every single location on the planet every single day. Instead, they do a statistical analysis based on the number of locations/dates that prove to be significant as a way to measure the phenomenon. This is common practice in the scientific community and applies to everything from the study of climate change to political polling.

It is interesting to use this same method to study what we’ve learned lately about the Clinton Foundation. Any scientific inquiry must start with a hypothesis to test or questions to answer. In his interview on Democracy Now, Paul Glastris identified what the two questions are in this inquiry.

  1. Did Clinton Foundation donors get special access to the Secretary of State because of their donations?
  2. If they got special access, did they get anything in return for their donation?

To answer those questions from the perspective of scientific inquiry, we don’t need access to every single piece of data that it is possible to collect about the 4 years Hillary Clinton spent as Secretary of State. What we need is a statistically significant portion of that data. Tallying what that number would be is impossible because we don’t know the actual number of data points that exist (i.e., the denominator). But we can be fairly certain that when it comes to meetings/phone calls and emails, we have now gotten access to considerably more than a statistically significant number of them via the 171 emails released by Judicial Watch (in addition to what has already been released) and the 84 foundation donors studied by the Associated Press.

As has been pointed out here and elsewhere, based on a review of all of that data, what we have seen is that in every single instance, Sec. of State Clinton and her staff have consistently made the right choice. And yet, even the New York Times editorial board still insist on writing this:

Does the new batch of previously undisclosed State Department emails prove that big-money donors to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation got special favors from Mrs. Clinton while she was secretary of state?

Not so far, but that the question arises yet again points to a need for major changes at the foundation now, before the November election.

Can I suggest that, much as the “question” about Benghazi continues in the fevered minds of some (after even multiple Republican Congressional inquiries have produced nothing), “the question that arises yet again” is as dispositive as Inhofe’s snowball in February. We are, at this point, dealing with nothing more than merchants of doubt.

Some will suggest that the issue here is the “appearance of corruption.” But once data has been presented to disprove that appearance, it is time to stop making that accusation and move on. As Matt Yglesias points out so well today, the reason this continues is more aptly described as the “assumption of corruption” when it comes to Hillary Clinton.

The perception that Clinton is corrupt is one of her most profound handicaps as a politician. And what’s particularly crippling about it is that evidence of her corruption is so widespread exactly because everyone knows she’s corrupt.

Because people “know” that she is corrupt, every decision she makes and every relationship she has is cast in the most negative possible light.

What we’ve seen with the Clinton Foundation (as well as every other so-called “scandal” about her) fits that description of an ongoing negative feedback loop that persists outside of the actual data that is collected to disprove the allegations. That is what happens when we let the merchants of doubt continue to chip away at what we know via scientific inquiry. We can all point and laugh at Inhofe doing that with a snowball. It’s what we’ve come to expect from the science-deniers on the right. We should expect more from liberals and the major media outlets.

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Children Can See Adult Decisions Killing New Orleans Youth

New Orleans is not a healthy place for young people.

In many regions of the country, learning the sex of a child adds to the build-up of joy on becoming a parent. However, Timolynn Sams Sumter, community activist and native New Orleanian, expressed a much different reality when she recounted the moment twenty years ago when she learned her first-born would be a boy.

NOCCA student filmmakers Helen Cressy and Phillip Youman will their interpretation of youth data at the Data Center’s Youth Index Video Series on Sept. 1, 7 p.m. at NOCCA. Photo courtesy Isaac Webb

“When I found out I was pregnant and I found out I was having a boy, I cried. I literally cried,” said Sams Sumter on the panel, ”Black Parenting in a Time of Black Lives Matter.”

Sams Sumter, like other New Orleans parents, already knew what data confirms: That the odds are stacked against black boys. But the data show that society is failing black boys and girls.

In 2014, 18 to 24 year olds represented about 29 percent of New Orleans homicide victims, even though they accounted for 10 percent of the population. In addition, 43 percent of the city’s children under 18 live in poverty. That means their parents are experiencing the conditions they want their children to avoid. These data were compiled by the Data Center for the New Orleans Youth Index, which provides a “statistical snapshot of the well-being of New Orleans children/youth.”

The index was designed to inform strategies to improve youth and child outcomes. But beyond the numbers requires much more than baseline data; improvement requires insight. For facts I turn to researchers; for illumination I turn to the people behind the statistics.

In consultation for the Data Center and in collaboration with the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, I helped produce “The Youth Index Video Series,” a collection of short films (approximately two to three minutes) responding to the aforementioned paper-based Youth Index. NOCCA students who worked on the film are: Charis Johnson, Helen Cressy, Philip Youmans, Jeremiah Russell, and Tevia Schroeder. Two NOCCA alumni Anthony Richards and William Nichols, worked along side their instructor, Isaac Webb as a response to the data in the report.

Based on one of the videos, it’s clear that young people are tired of adult’s framing youth homicide as a matter of “misguidance.” Nineteen-year-old Filmmaker Anthony “TonyRich” Richard Jr.’s video makes plain the issue of violence should go beyond individual blaming.

NOCCA shows this and six other videos on youth related data screen on Thursday, Sept. 1, at 7 p.m. in its Freda Lupin Memorial Hall in New Orleans.

“We are thrilled that seven brilliant NOCCA students have chosen to bring our data alive, by illustrating what it means to them through voice, music, and visuals,” said Allison Plyler, executive director and chief demographer of The Data Center. “These videos take our work democratizing data to a whole new level.”

The video series is also built to serve as a model of what education reform can look like moving forward. Education is most sustainable when it builds capacity of local talent. This project proves that schools can give students concrete skills to empower themselves and others while in school. We didn’t have to hire talent from outside the city or the demographic. Students have perspectives and skills adults can build upon.

Not only did we increase the capacity of their filmmaking skills; the students involved are now part of the information dissemination factory mostly reserved for people with advanced degrees. Most importantly, students are finding their place in the public square. The use of mass and social media makes room in the policy arena crowded by adults.

Reversing outcomes stemming from adult policies requires elucidation from youth. We already know what adults think by looking that their policies, and we hear adult opinions incessantly. It’s long past time we gave the policy microphone to youth.

Here’s a novel policy recommendation: give students voice. Children can see and feel how adult decisions kill New Orleans youth. Young people’s familiarity with the impacts of policy implementation offers a profound perspective.

Too many young people in New Orleans are policed, live in poverty, experience violence-induced trauma and are denied an opportunity to attend college for New Orleans to be considered a healthy place for young people. We shouldn’t consider deleterious outcomes incidental or happenstance. Adult policies foster negative outcomes for the most vulnerable residents.

Being born in New Orleans isn’t a death sentence. Youth can give themselves a fighting chance.

Now 18 years old, Sams Sumter’s son Evan is currently a freshman at Southern University in Baton Rouge. Along with persistent advocacy on behalf of her son, Sams Sumter constantly reminded Evan “for reasons they have no control over” her son had to adapt. But Evan would reply, “Why do I always have to adapt? Why can’t others adapt to me?”  So Sams Sumter, who also has a 2 year-old ,adjusted her child rearing practices.

“So in my house everyone, even the 2 year-old, has a voice,” said Sams Sumter.

Sams Sumter and her son are right. Parents have little choice but to encourage children raise their voices and policy solutions to adult problems.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

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Markos, Clinton and the Establishment Media

I agree with Markos that the national political press corp is increasingly lacking in relevancy to the outcome of presidential elections. I agree that they’re whining about Hillary Clinton’s press availability by ignoring that she’s talked to the press, on average, more than once a day every day for the entire year. It’s just that she’s doing a lot more talking to local press and non-establishment media outlets like Refinery29.com and black radio. I also agree that when the national press does get an opportunity to ask Clinton questions, they too often ask about stuff that the Republicans have primed them to ask that has little relevancy to the folks in old steel towns in Western Pennsylvania or the people living in the crumbling infrastructure of cities like Detroit. There’s too much “gotcha” journalism and too much focus on fundraising, endorsements, polls, and other horse race metrics.

Having said all that, I don’t agree with Markos’s basic approach to the national media, which isn’t to educate or shame them, or even to show them by example how to do the job right. Instead it’s “They. Don’t. Matter. Freeze them out.”

Maybe it’s a personal bias since I’ve been in the blogging and media criticism game for eleven years now, but I think the national media is miles better than they were in the old days leading up to the invasion of Iraq. And I think bloggers deserve most of the credit because we offered competition and our barbs and commentary actually stung and led complacent people to work harder to get things right. We’ve used various techniques, from critical analysis, to moral shaming, to outright mockery and satire, to going out and asking the questions and conducting the interviews ourselves.

My point is that everyone benefited because there were more media, more accountability, less lazy stenographic reporting, and the government could no longer lead us so easily around in any direction they felt they needed us to go.

Of course, economically? That’s a different story. Blogging is still a labor of love rather than a career (with rare exceptions) and digitization has killed or is threatening to kill off all manner of creative endeavor, including the traditional print reporter.

On the whole though, things have gotten better because of outside media criticism. Yet, the need for good print journalists never went away and probably will never go away. What we need is a better press, not for them to be ignored or frozen out.

As advice for Clinton, it’s dubious but defensible. But, in the larger picture, it shouldn’t be a war of bloggers on mainstream corporate journalists. It should be more of a synergistic dance, a kind of mutual feedback loop, where the the sum becomes greater than the parts.

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Larry Miller: Some of Trump’s Most Memorable Lines

Larry Miller is an editor at Rethinking Schools. He taught in the Milwaukee Public Schools for 17 years. He was elected to the Milwaukee school board in 2009.

Governor Scott Walker is doing his best to eliminate public education in Milwaukee by expanding vouchers and charters, even though the public schools are more successful than either of the privatized alternatives.

In this entertaining post, Miller cites some of Donald Trump’s most outrageous statements. He notes that Alberta Darling, who is Governor Walker’s ally in seeking to destroy public education, is support the “racist buffoon” candidate for the Presidency.

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Troy LaRaviere to Mayor Rahm Emanuel: I Quit as Principal of Chicago’s #1 Neighborhood Elementary School

Troy LaRaviere took the job as principal of Blaine Elementary School, which was already a respected and successful school, and promised to make it the #1 rated neighborhood school in the city within six years. He did it. He also courted trouble by publicly criticizing Mayor Rahm Emanuel for his harmful education policy that favored charters over public schools. And he courted more trouble by endorsing Bernie Sanders and becoming a Sanders delegate at the Democratic National Convention. But his greatest transgressions were his repeated critiques of the high-level mismanagement of the school system under mayoral control.

In this post, he announces his resignation, explains the methods he used at Blaine to achieve success, and once again blasts Rahm.

Troy, I know you have a great future ahead of you. I hope another big district is wise enough to hire you.

If Rahm Emanuel were wise, he would ask you to become Superintendent of Schools and help every elementary school in the city.

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Why the “Washington Playbook” Won’t Work in Syria

In his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, President Obama talked about his resistance to the “Washington Playbook.”

“Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power,” he said. “That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”

The recent letter from State Department officials calling for U.S. military action in Syria against the Assad regime probably has its roots in that playbook. It is also behind the column by Anne Applebaum titled, “The disastrous nonintervention in Syria.” What is interesting to note is that Applebaum admits that military intervention might be a disaster.

Maybe a U.S.-British-French intervention would have ended in disaster. If so, we would today be mourning the consequences. But sometimes it’s important to mourn the consequences of nonintervention too.

First of all, notice the binary. The choice she presents is either military intervention or nonintervention. From what I’ve seen, that is quintessential Washington Playbook. But Applebaum is right when she goes on to document the “physical, human and political damage on an unprecedented scale; ongoing security threats; the renewed stirrings of fascism” that have resulted from the Syrian civil war.

That is why Max Fisher’s article in the New York Times titled, “Syria’s Paradox: Why the War Only Ever Seems to Get Worse” is so important for all of us to read and understand.

Most civil wars end when one side loses. Either it is defeated militarily, or it exhausts its weapons or loses popular support and has to give up. About a quarter of civil wars end in a peace deal, often because both sides are exhausted.

That might have happened in Syria: The core combatants — the government and the insurgents who began fighting it in 2011 — are quite weak and, on their own, cannot sustain the fight for long.

But they are not on their own. Each side is backed by foreign powers — including the United States, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and now Turkey — whose interventions have suspended the usual laws of nature. Forces that would normally slow the conflict’s inertia are absent, allowing it to continue far longer than it otherwise would.

Government and rebel forces are supplied from abroad, which means their arms never run out. They also both draw political support from foreign governments who do not feel the war’s costs firsthand, rather than from locals who might otherwise push for peace to end their pain. These material and human costs are easy for the far richer foreign powers to bear.

This war began as part of the so-called “Arab Spring” when citizens rose up in protest against the dictatorial oppression of the Assad regime and he responded with violence against them. But it soon became a proxy war for various factions. Primarily that comes from Iranian Shiite backing of Assad and Saudi backing of the Sunni rebel groups. Russian involvement is mostly about holding onto the one regime in the Middle East in which they have influence. Turkey is concerned about the Kurdish forces who are fighting in Syria and also present a challenge to them at home. Finally, the U.S. has engaged in order to stop ISIS. As Fisher documents in further detail, it is precisely this kind of outside involvement in an otherwise civil war that makes peace almost impossible to obtain. When one group gains an advantage, the opposing side simply ramps up their engagement and the fighting intensifies.

That is why President Obama described Russia’s use of their own ground troops in Syria as a sign of weakness.

Keep in mind that for the last five years, the Russians have provided arms, provided financing, as have the Iranians, as has Hezbollah…And the fact that they had to do this [send in their own ground troops] is not an indication of strength, it’s an indication that their strategy did not work.

In a way, this is similar to how so many conflicts were perpetuated by the outside involvement of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War. Neither side is willing to back out unilaterally. And so the war goes on with the human costs paid by those who are caught in the cross-hairs.

What Fisher doesn’t provide are any answers about how to end this conflict. That’s because they’re not easy to come by. But based on the data he presents, there is one thing we can know with some certainty: further military intervention by the U.S. will only make things worse and could lead to an escalating conflict with Russia/Iran. The only possible solution is the one that SoS John Kerry has been working at tirelessly on behalf of the Obama administration. Here’s the latest on that:

The United States and Russia are “close” to reaching an agreement to end the war in Syria, with both nations saying they will try and finalise a deal in the coming days.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said late on Friday that talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Swiss city of Geneva had “achieved clarity on the path forward”, but together they offered few details on how they planned to renew a February cessation of hostilities and improve humanitarian assistance.

“We don’t want to have a deal for the sake of the deal,” Kerry said. “We want to have something done that is effective and that works for the people of Syria, that makes the region more stable and secure, and that brings us to the table here in Geneva to find a political solution.”

For the folks like Applebaum who buy into the Washington Playbook, this is the Syrian civil war intervention that matters and the only one that has a chance to end the carnage that is so disturbing to watch.

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