OK, I am now sick of hearing about “privilege.”

The first time I heard the word privilege used in place of an -ist word, I thought it was a great refinement. Instead of “racist” you can have “white privilege.” Instead of being “weightist” you can “thin privilege,” instead of being a “male chauvinist” you have “male privilege.” It works for just about everything, and as such it’s been overused.

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Gov. McDonnell indicted on federal corruption charges

The Roanoke Times-Dispatch reports that former governor McDonnell and his wife have finally been indicted:

The indictment, spelled out in an extensive document filed by the United States Attorney for the Eastern District, paints a detailed portrait of how the governor and his wife accepted more than $135,000 in direct payments as gifts and loans from then-Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams Sr., in addition to golf outings and other things of value, in exchange for the first couple’s assistance in promoting his struggling Henrico-based company’s dietary supplement, Anatabloc.

A lot of this came to light during the latest gubernatorial election, and there was a lot of speculation that McDonnell would resign or be removed from office before the election. It’s probably a good thing that neither of those came to pass; a handful of months of a Cuccinelli administration followed by McAuliffe would have made for some serious chaos in the state capitol.

In any case, I am adding McDonnell’s administration to my list of examples why we should not elect anti-government types; they have too many opportunities to orchestrate the corruption and incompetence they warn about.


Josh Barro, writing for Business Insider, says the Republican anti-poverty agenda doesn’t exist:

Some want to pick up Jack Kemp’s “baton” of talking about social mobility and free enterprise. Social conservatives want to talk about the importance of families to alleviating poverty. Rand Paul wants to add more “anti-government broadsides” to the message.

I suggested on Twitter that the GOP’s difficulties came from actually being pro-poverty, which struck some people as being kinda mean. But exploitation of poverty is not unusual, especially not in the part of the country I come from. The coal fields did, after all, inspire this song:

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It’s time to bring back rhetoric

That’s what English professor Joe Kirby says. One of the great disappointments of my education is that my English degree taught me how to read academically, but it did a rather poor job of teaching me how to write or persuade.

But the discipline rhetoric, as Kirby notes, has more or less fallen out of favor. I suspect we have the scientific method to thank for that. We’ve replaced rhetoric with rational and logical argument, only to find out no one is persuaded by facts.

I think loss of rhetoric is a significant contributing factor in our current polarized political climate. We’ve lost the ability to persuade except through fear, uncertainty, and doubt. And we so expect rational argument to be persuasive that, when it isn’t, we think other people are being deliberately obtuse and we start calling them names.

New Years Resolution: Learn more about rhetoric.

Photo Source: An agora in Izmir, Turkey by F Mira, Creative Commons.

Image Credits: F Mira

The one about ducks

It’s my Christmas vacation, so lets take a break from code to talk about Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson’s problems. A&E, anticipating public reaction to Robertson’s anti-gay comments, suspended him. Which, I think, caused a lot of liberals to nod. But more surprisingly, it caused a lot of conservatives to start howling about freedom of speech.

Here, for example, is Bobby Jindal:

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Small Business Saturday

Today is “Small Business Saturday,” which is when all moral people do their shopping — as opposed to the greedy grasping capitalists who spent all their money at large chains on Black Friday.

I kid.

Here’s a poster:

Let’s talk a little about this poster. First of all, notice the small “American Express” logo in the bottom right corner. “Small Business Saturday,” part of the “Shop Small” campaign, is run by American Express and sponsored by Foursquare, Twitter, and the USPS. None of these are small, local businesses, and — of course — credit card fees collected by American Express do not stay in the community.

The figure cited is from the most recent American Booksellers Association / Civic Economics Impact Study. I can’t find this study published online, but last year’s was a survey of 106 retailers and 28 restaurants. So it had a small sample size and the data was self-reported, two things that are red flags in my book. Unless this year’s survey was much larger, I don’t think you can really draw any general conclusions from it.

Regardless of the quality of the survey, there’s nothing to tell us how good “over fifty percent” is. Do small businesses over-perform big box stores by a little or a lot? You might be inclined to think it’s “a lot,” but many small businesses buy a lot of their goods from outside community borders, rent from landlords who might not even live in the same state, and send credit card fees out to the megabanks.

Money from large retailers stay in the community, too. They have to employ a lot of people who live in the region, pay local utilities, and pay for local advertising, goods, and services as well. I don’t know how much of Target’s, Best Buy’s, or McDonald’s money stays in the community, but I bet it’s quite a lot.

Ending the Filibuster

Well, I thought it was big news, anyway. The filibuster isn’t completely gone yet, but Reid and the Senate Democrats certainly got its coats and gloves on. Once they shove it out the door, there will be no easy way for the minority party in the Senate to put a chokehold on the President’s agenda – for good or ill.

It takes a fifty-one votes to pass most legislation and nominations. But it takes sixty votes to end debate on those things. This means some Senators have to vote to end debate knowing they will lose the actual vote. This used to happen quite a bit, with enough Senators of both parties willing to cut deals just to move things along, but those Senators – from both parties – have been gradually voted out of office and replaced by people with more hard-line attitudes. So the Senate has been paralyzed by rules intended for a more collegial institution, not one marked by pitched partisanship.

Some people have interpreted this as our elected officials being more dedicated to their party than doing their goddamn job, but it seems to me like Senators are doing a better job than ever before: we used to complain about political wheeling and dealing interfering with “representing the people,” so we’ve voted the wheelers-and-dealers out, and partisans in.

What rushing the filibuster to the door does is make it easier for the majority party to stay true to their principals while getting the legislature’s work done. This is great if you happen to be the majority party and it really sucks if you’re in the minority. But this is how we, as voters, have asked our representatives to behave by becoming so intensely ideological ourselves.

See also:

  • Everything you need to know about Thursday’s filibuster change, Wonkblog
  • Three charts explain why Democrats went nuclear on the filibuster, Mother Jones
  • Average ideology of the House and Senate, Brookings Institution

Long-term Unemployment

Annie Lowery of the New York Times describes what long-term unemployment looks like for Jennifer Barrington-Ward, who has a college degree and thirty years of continuous work experience.

After she lost her job, Ms. Barrington-Ward lived off her 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. Two years ago, she had to give up the house she shared with friends outside Boston. She cannot get Medicaid because she does not have a fixed address. She has no car to get around. She does freelance “intuitive” readings, similar to psychic readings, and web production work. A jobless friend committed suicide.

Barrington-Ward is homeless despite deep cuts in economic assistance, which are supposed to be so painful for poor people the experience kicks them in the ass and gives them the motivation they need to become rich. And yet, long-term unemployment has risen 213 percent – which does not count those people who have been moved onto shadow welfare programs.

Perhaps there’s not as much to the indolence theory of poverty as we’ve been led to believe.