All these effing geniuses: Ezra Klein, expert-driven journalism, and the phony Washington consensus

All these effing geniuses: Ezra Klein, expert-driven journalism, and the phony Washington consensus
Ezra Klein and his data brigade think political science will save us. But expert opinion is why we’re in this mess
By THOMAS FRANK
Sep 14 2014
<http://www.salon.com/2014/09/14/all_these_effing_geniuses_ezra_klein_expert_driven_journalism_and_the_phony_washington_consensus/>

In a recent article on Vox, Ezra Klein declared that his generation of Washington journalists had discovered political science, and it is like the hottest thing on wheels. In the old days, he writes, journalists “dealt with political science episodically and condescendingly.” But now, Klein declares, “Washington is listening to political scientists, in large part because it’s stopped trusting itself.” Klein finds that political scientists give better answers to his questions than politicians themselves, because politicians are evasive but scientists are scientists, you know, they deal in “structural explanations” for political events. So the “young political journalists” who are roaring around town in their white lab coats frightening the local bourgeoisie “know a lot more about political science and how to use it” than their elders did.

Hence Klein’s title: “How Political Science Conquered Washington.”

Nearly every aspect of this argument annoyed me. To suggest, for starters, that people in Washington are—or were, until recently—ignorant or contemptuous of academic expertise is like saying the people of Tulsa have not yet heard about this amazing stuff called oil. Not only does Washington routinely fill theNo. 1 spot on those “most educated cities” articles, but the town positively seethes with academic experts. Indeed, it is the only city I know of that actually boasts a sizable population of fake experts, handing out free-market wisdom to passers-by from their subsidized seats at Cato and Heritage.

The characteristic failing of D.C. isn’t that it ignores these herds of experts, it’s that it attends to them with a gaping credulity that they do not deserve. Worse: In our loving, doting attentiveness to the people we conceive to be knowledgeable authorities, we have imported into our politics all the traditional maladies of professionalism.

The powerful in Powertown love to take refuge in bewildering professional jargon. They routinely ignore or suppress challenging ideas, just as academics often ignore ideas that come from outside their professional in-group. Worst of all, Washingtonians seem to know nothing about the lives of people who aren’t part of the professional-managerial class.

How well-known is this problem? It is extremely well known. One of the greatest books of them all on American political dysfunction, David Halberstam’s “The Best and the Brightest” (1972), is the story of how a handful of poli-sci geniuses got us into the Vietnam War. How political science conquered Hanoi, you might say, except that it didn’t exactly work out like that.

You can see this dysfunction for yourself in the headlines of recent years. Ever wonder why the foreign policy authorities never seem to change, keep coming back, despite racking up shattering failures like the Iraq War? It’s because of the way Washington worships expertise, and the way these authorities have perched themselves atop a professional structure that basically does not acknowledge criticism from the outside.

Ever wonder why the economic experts never seem to change, keep coming back, despite racking up such shattering failures as the housing bubble and the financial crisis and the bank bailouts? Ever wonder why a guy like Larry Summers gets to be chief economist at the World Bank, then gets to deregulate Wall Street, then gets to bail Wall Street out, then almost gets to become chairman of the Fed, and then gets to make sage pronouncements on the subject of—yes— inequality? It’s for the same bad reasons: Because D.C. worships expertise and because Summers, along with a handful of other geniuses, are leading figures in a professional discipline dominated by what a well-informed observer once called a “politburo for correct economic thinking.”

Some people are ignored in this town even though they are often right while others are invited back to the Oval Office again and again even though they are repeatedly wrong—and the reason is the pseudo-professional structure of the consensus. No one has described how it works better than Larry Summers himself. “I could be an insider or I could be an outsider,” Elizabeth Warrensays Summers told her, back in the bailout days.

“Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People — powerful people — listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don’t criticize other insiders.”

[snip]

The war on ISIS already has a winner: The defense industry

[Note:  This item comes from friend Ed DeWath.  DLH]

The war on ISIS already has a winner: The defense industry
By Tory Newmyer
Sep 13 2014
<http://fortune.com/2014/09/13/defense-industry-winner-against-isis/>

It’s far too soon to tell how the American escalation in the sprawling, complex mess unfolding in Iraq and Syria will play out. But this much is clear: As our military machine hums into a higher gear, it will produce some winners in the defense industry.

New fights mean new stuff, after all. And following the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan—and the belt-tightening at the Pentagon imposed by steep budget cuts—military suppliers are lining up to meet a suddenly restored need for their wares. Presenting his vision for expanding the confrontation with the terrorist group ISIS in a speech to the nation on Wednesday night, President Obama outlined a program of intensified airstrikes designed to keep American troops away from the danger on the ground. So defense analysts are pointing to a pair of sure-bet paydays from the new campaign: for those making and maintaining the aircraft, manned and unmanned, that will swarm the skies over the region, and for those producing the missiles and munitions that will arm them.

“The drone builders are going to have a field day,” says Dov Zakheim, who served as Pentagon Comptroller during the George W. Bush administration. That could mean a tidy profit for privately held General Atomics, maker of the Predator drone, the granddaddy in the category and still widely in use, as well as the second-generation Reaper, designed to carry 3,000 pounds worth of bombs. And to help survey vast expanses of desert, the military will rely on the Global Hawk, made by Northrop Grumman  NOC 0.18%  to hover at altitudes as high as 50,000 feet for up to four days at a time. Those vehicles will likely be making use of the Gorgon Stare. This sensor, developed by privately held Sierra Nevada, is capable of scoping a 4-kilometer diameter by filming with nine cameras.

Indeed, the widening conflict could even reverse the trend of tapering investments in the technology, says Mark Gunzinger, a retired Air Force colonel and former deputy assistant secretary of defense now at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “One of the things that can help a new capability break through is an operational stressor, like a major air campaign,” he says.

Smaller players in the space will also get in on the action: Zakheim called out AeroVironment  AVAV -1.63% , which manufactures unmanned aerial vehicles small enough to be launched by hand—including the Nano Hummingbird, made to look like its namesake and similarly diminutive, weighing less than a couple of double A batteries. And Jason Gursky, an analyst who covers the industry for Citigroup, identified DigitalGlobe  DGI -1.52% , a satellite company whose biggest business is selling non-classified digital imagery to federal agencies. The military will use that range of surveillance capability to pinpoint targets as it broadens its mission.

It is the munitions makers, however, who stand to reap the biggest windfall, especially in the short term. Topping that list is Lockheed Martin  LMT 0.13% , producer of the Hellfire missile, a precision weapon that can be launched from multiple platforms, including Predator drones. Raytheon  RTN -0.16% , which makes the Tomahawk, a long-range missile launched from the sea, and General Dynamics  GD -0.17% , which also has a munitions business, are also well-positioned, analysts say.

[snip]

The Islamic State threat is overstated

The Islamic State threat is overstated
By Ramzy Mardini
Sep 12 2014
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-islamic-state-threat-is-overstated/2014/09/12/acbbebb2-33ad-11e4-8f02-03c644b2d7d0_story.html>

The United States has a tradition of misinterpreting the Middle East. President George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 with misplaced certainty, misconstrued assumptions and poor foresight. After the Arab revolts began in 2011, Washington misdiagnosed the problems and opportunities, and overestimated its influence to steer outcomes in its favor. Now, as the United States prepares to escalate military action against the Islamic State, misinterpretation is leading to another tragic foreign policy mistake.

In his prime-time address Wednesday, President Obama said that U.S. airstrikes targeting militants in Iraq over the past month “have protected American personnel and facilities, killed [Islamic State] fighters, destroyed weapons, and given space for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim key territory. These strikes have also helped save the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children.”

A more accurate assessment would be that U.S. military intervention has tremendous propaganda value for the Islamic State, helping it to rally other jihadists to its cause, possibly even Salafists who have so far rejected its legitimacy. Moreover, to the extent that the group poses any threat to the United States, that threat is magnified by a visible U.S. military role. Obama’s restraint in the use of military power in recent years has helped keep the Islamic State’s focus regional — on its efforts to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East rather than on launching attacks against the United States. It’s only with the U.S. military’s return to Iraq and the prospect of U.S. intervention in Syria that the group’s focus has begun to shift.

The barbaric beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff were intended as retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. Instead, Washington has interpreted those events, along with the fall of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, to Islamic State militants in June, and the siege of Yazidisin northern Iraq last month, as evidence that the group poses a threat of terrifying proportions to U.S. interests.

It has become the consensus view in Washington that the militants are poised to bulldoze through America’s Middle East allies, destabilize global oil supplies and attack the U.S. homeland. The Islamic State represents “a clear and present danger” to the United States, wrote Gen. John Allen, a former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, one that affects “the region and potentially the world as we know it.” Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the group as having “an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision.” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel characterized it as “an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else.” According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 90 percent of Americans view the Islamic State as a serious threat to vital U.S. interests.

But Americans are misreading the recent Islamic State successes, which speak less to the group’s invincibility and inevitability than they do to external factors beyond its control. Despite its territorial gains and mastery of propaganda, the Islamic State’s fundamentals are weak, and it does not have a sustainable endgame. In short, we’re giving it too much credit.

Consider the fall of Mosul, which catapulted the impression that the group is a formidable force able to engage on multiple fronts simultaneously and overpower a U.S.-trained army that dwarfs its size. In reality, it was able to gain such vast territory because it faced an impotent opponent and had the help of the broader Sunni insurgency. The Iraqi army, lacking professionalism and insufficiently motivated to fight and die for Sunni-dominated Mosul, self-destructed and deserted. The militants can be credited with fearlessness and offensive mobility, but they can hardly be said to have defeated the Iraqi army in combat. At the time, Islamic State militants represented less than 10 percent of the overall Sunni insurgency. Many other Sunni groups helped to hold territory and fight off Iraq’s Shiite government and Iranian-backed militia forces.

The Islamic State’s capture of Sinjar in the northern province of Nineveh further added to perceptions of its dominance and helped precipitate Washington’s decision to carry out airstrikes in Iraq. But that episode was also misinterpreted. Kurdish forces were not only taken by surprise, but since they had only recently filled the vacuum in Sinjar left by Iraq’s fleeing army, they were stretched too thin and poorly equipped to sustain a battle outside their home territory. Lacking ammunition and other supplies, they conceded the territorial outpost and retreated within their borders in Iraqi Kurdistan.

[snip]

Ferguson tragedy becoming a farce

[Note:  This item comes from friend Ed DeWath.  DLH]

Ferguson tragedy becoming a farce
By Dana Milbank
Sep 12 2014
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dana-milbank-ferguson-tragedy-becoming-a-farce/2014/09/12/e52226ca-3a82-11e4-9c9f-ebb47272e40e_story.html>

What happened in Ferguson, Mo., last month was a tragedy. What’s on course to happen there next month will be a farce.

October is when a grand jury is expected to decide whether to indict the white police officer, Darren Wilson, who killed an unarmed black teenager by firing at least six bullets into him. It’s a good bet the grand jurors won’t charge him, because all signs indicate that the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, doesn’t want them to.

The latest evidence that the fix is in came this week from The Post’s Kimberly Kindy and Carol Leonnig, who discovered that McCulloch’s office has declined so far to recommend any charges to the grand jury. Instead, McCulloch’s prosecutors handling the case are takingthe highly unusual course of dumping all evidence on the jurors and leaving them to make sense of it.

McCulloch’s office claims that this is a way to give more authority to the grand jurors, but it looks more like a way to avoid charging Wilson at all — and to use the grand jury as cover for the outrage that will ensue. It is often said that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich if a prosecutor asks it to. But the opposite is also true. A grand jury is less likely to deliver an indictment — even a much deserved one — if a prosecutor doesn’t ask for it.

One might give McCulloch the benefit of the doubt, if not for his background. His father was a police officer killed in a shootout with a black suspect, and several of his family members are, or were, police officers. His 23-year record on the job reveals scant interest in prosecuting such cases. During his tenure, there have been at least a dozen fatal shootings by police in his jurisdiction (the roughly 90 municipalities in the county other than St. Louis itself), and probably many more than that, but McCulloch’s office has not prosecuted a single police shooting in all those years. At least four times he presented evidence to a grand jury but — wouldn’t you know it? — didn’t get an indictment.

One of the four: A 2000 case in which a grand jury declined to indict two police officers who had shot two unarmed black men 21 times while they sat in their car behind a Jack in the Box fast-food restaurant. It was a botched drug arrest, and one of the two men killed hadn’t even been a suspect. McCulloch at the time said he agreed with the grand jury’s decision, dismissing complaints of the handling of the case by saying the dead men “were bums.” He refused to release surveillance tapes of the shooting. When those tapes were later released as part of a federal probe, it was discovered that, contrary to what police alleged, the car had not moved before the police began shooting.

McCulloch apparently hasn’t learned from that. His spokesman, asked by The Post’s Wesley Lowery about those remarks, said the slain men “should have been described as ‘convicted felons’ rather than ‘bums.’ ”

Lowery gained national attention last month when he was unjustly detained by Ferguson’s out-of-control police while covering the demonstrations. He has since asked McCulloch’s office for a list of cases in which prosecutors pursued charges against a law enforcement official. McCulloch’s office ultimately came up with only one case over 23 years that The Post could verify of the prosecution of a white officer for using inappropriate force against a black victim, and it wasn’t a shooting.

[snip]

Dewayne-Net Administrative Note

Dewayne-Net Community:

I’ve been on the road for the past week and a half and as a result have gotten way behind posting items to the list.  I’ll be back at homebase this weekend and expect to start catching up on the queue of items that I have to be posted.  Readers who have sent items to me, please be patient as I work thru that queue.
Also, expect to see some older items being posted as a result of this backlog that may no longer be as topical as they could have been.

Happy Fall to everyone, wherever you are…

The Death of Adulthood in American Culture

[Note:  This item comes from reader Monty Solomon.  DLH]

From: Monty Solomon <monty@roscom.com>
Subject: The Death of Adulthood in American Culture
Date: September 11, 2014 at 20:12:03 EDT

The Death of Adulthood in American Culture

By A. O. SCOTT
SEPT. 11, 2014

Sometime this spring, during the first half of the final season of 
“Mad Men,” the popular pastime of watching the show – recapping 
episodes, tripping over spoilers, trading notes on the flawless 
production design, quibbling about historical details and debating 
big themes – segued into a parlor game of reading signs of its hero’s 
almost universally anticipated demise. Maybe the 5 o’clock shadow of 
mortality was on Don Draper (fig. 1) from the start. Maybe the 
plummeting graphics of the opening titles implied a literal as well 
as a moral fall. Maybe the notable deaths in previous seasons 
(fictional characters like Miss Blankenship, Lane Pryce and Bert 
Cooper, as well as figures like Marilyn Monroe and Medgar Evers) were 
premonitions of Don’s own departure. In any case, fans and critics 
settled in for a vigil. It was not a matter of whether, but of how 
and when.

TV characters are among the allegorical figures of our age, giving 
individual human shape to our collective anxieties and aspirations. 
The meanings of “Mad Men” are not very mysterious: The title of the 
final half season, which airs next spring, will be “The End of an 
Era.” The most obvious thing about the series’s meticulous, 
revisionist, present-minded depiction of the past, and for many 
viewers the most pleasurable, is that it shows an old order 
collapsing under the weight of internal contradiction and external 
pressure. From the start, “Mad Men” has, in addition to cataloging 
bygone vices and fashion choices, traced the erosion, the gradual 
slide toward obsolescence, of a power structure built on and in 
service of the prerogatives of white men. The unthinking way Don, 
Pete, Roger and the rest of them enjoy their position, and the ease 
with which they abuse it, inspires what has become a familiar kind of 
ambivalence among cable viewers. Weren’t those guys awful, back then? 
But weren’t they also kind of cool? We are invited to have our 
outrage and eat our nostalgia too, to applaud the show’s 
right-thinking critique of what we love it for glamorizing.

<http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/14/magazine/the-death-of-adulthood-in-american-culture.html>

Second Curve Speaker Series announcement

[Note:  This item comes from friend Mike Liebhold.  DLH]

From: Mike Liebhold <mliebhold@iftf.org>
Subject: Second Curve Speaker Series announcement:
Date: September 4, 2014 at 9:57:00 EDT
To: Dewayne Hendricks <dewayne@warpspeed.com>

Dear Dewayne

Please share as you see fit.

The Institute for the Future announces the Second Curve Internet Speaker Series:
<http://www.iftf.org/our-work/global-landscape/ten-year-forecast/reinventthenet/>

The Internet we know today is only one possible interpretation of the original vision of an open, peer-to-peer network. Think of it as a first-generation Internet, built on a fragile global network of vulnerable codes subject to abuse and event collapse. This Internet is failing from too close an encounter with a triple shock: a massive economy built on mining terabytes of personal data, ubiquitous criminal penetration of financial and identity networks (both on our devices and in the cloud), and pervasive state intruders at all levels and at every encrypted hardware and software node. Today we also see efforts to address the Internet’s vulnerabilities. But these are just the first steps toward a resilient Second Curve Internet. We must learn to build a more reliable private and secure Internet for communications, creation, and commerce. 

In this speaker series, we’ll explore the critical elements necessary to reinvent the Internet, gathering leading minds together with IFTF’s deep experience thinking about technology and the ways of communicating, coordinating, and organizing in the changing world around us. – See more at: 

Please Join us for our inaugural event featuring Cory Doctorow!
<http://www.iftf.org/our-work/global-landscape/ten-year-forecast/reinventthenet/second-curve-internet-series-redesigns-for-a-broken-internet/>

We’re honored to feature the visionary Cory Doctorow (@doctorow) as our first speaker in the series. Cory is a science fiction author, activist, journalist, and blogger. 

“The Internet’s broken and that’s bad news, because everything we do today involves the Internet and everything we’ll do tomorrow will require it. But governments and corporations see the net, variously, as a perfect surveillance tool, a perfect pornography distribution tool, or a perfect video on demand tool—not as the nervous system of the 21st century. Time’s running out. Architecture is politics. The changes we’re making to the net today will prefigure the future our children and their children will thrive in—or suffer under.”

—Cory Doctorow

- See more at: <http://www.iftf.org/our-work/global-landscape/ten-year-forecast/reinventthenet/second-curve-internet-series-redesigns-for-a-broken-internet/#sthash.j0A11pM2.dpuf>

Michael Liebhold
Senior Researcher, Distinguished Fellow
Institute for the Future
@mikeliebhold  @iftf