anthony dobranski online


Fighting nonsense and spin, climate-change edition

You are driving, and almost out of gas, but you have two passengers who both need a ride. One fell at a construction site and has a steel bar through her chest. The other needs to quit smoking or she will develop emphysema in thirty years. With your limited resources, is it better to go the emergency room, or the late-night drugstore which sells nicotine patches?

Of course you go to the emergency room. But of course, this is a false choice.

In this spirit, I want to take on the nonsense about climate-change spouted last Friday by a reactionary writer named Bret Stephens, on the political affairs talk show Real Time with Bill Maher. Maher mentioned a study by scientist James Lawrence Powell showing that in almost eleven thousand scientific studies of climate change, only two studies denied it was caused by human activity. Stephens answered Maher’s challenge thus: Continue reading


Two Riffs on Edward Snowden

1) The Great Success of “Operation Snowden”

Three months ago, the Washington Post’s alpha-wonk Ezra Klein noted the double-think in Washington, that we could obviously create a vast enterprise to monitor all human information (using closed-source tools), but obviously the effort to provide healthcare to all was inevitably doomed by the same contracting procedures.

Of course, those in endless opposition to Obamacare are less likely to fuss over the NSA’s work (pace Rand Paul, and assuming they even see the true costs of the latter), and when Klein wrote, people hadn’t yet counted on the NSA hollowing out encryption standards from the inside. Nonetheless:

…. it’s hard to believe that [the] technological incompetence [of] HealthCare.gov and [the] technological omniscience of PRISM can both exist, exactly as currently understood, in the same institution.

Perhaps Klein was in too much of a rush to get to the obvious answer (certainly the bracketed text I had to add points to this – in case they fix it, here’s a screen shot).

But you can see it, can’t you? Say it with me: The operative known as “Edward Snowden” is the NSA’s greatest operation Continue reading


I met the President for fifteen seconds

So, obviously, it’s a photo-op at a fundraiser.

Two hundred people line up in a U, along the walls of a largish beige hotel conference room. Our bags and purses taken away. No bar. Still there’s a buzz. A third of the room is hidden by navy blue sheets on movable barriers, like privacy curtains from old hospital wards. Behind them, the President of the United States. The President. How often does one meet the President? And he’s waiting to meet us!
Continue reading


Political naiveté and general uselessness

A little while ago I posted a thought that perhaps the Republicans might see their way to backing some form of congressional voting for DC, with an eye toward upping the party’s standing among the moderate and meritocratic citizens of our nation’s capital.

My, I am naive.

I have been reading Geoffrey Kabaservice’s excellent and elegantly-written history Rule and Ruin (full disclosure: Geoff’s a friend and a groomsman), which explains the how and the why of what the media has christened the rightward tilt of the GOP in the past fifty years. As Kabaservice makes fascinatingly clear, it was not a tilt but a putsch, a dedicated effort by devotees one school of right-wing thought to gain complete control of the Republican party. To call these people — and by these people I mean the activists, not general-purpose registered-Republican voters — conservative is to redefine the term for there is nothing conservative about them. They are nearly anarchist, with a frontier mentality that views with suspicion anything that is not a fence and denies any sense of a shared commons.

Anyway. I see now the only way the Republicans want DC in their fold is as vassal.

Rule and Ruin is one of two texts lately that have given me some new food for thought. The other, lighter but also more pointed, was a New York Times magazine column (sorry, “riff” — really, the Gray Lady’s  getting a little too hip) by Steve Almond, on how liberals are so busy indulging in right-wing political commentary, in order to enjoy their dudgeon, that they are failing to counter it by meaningful and useful acts.

I suppose I have been party to this — not to the point of listening to Fox News, but by watching satire shows and the circumlocutions of politicians on Sunday talk shows. (Really I listen to the rebroadcasts on CSPAN Radio — easier to do while gardening or ironing, and with no commercials — and much less now than I used to.)

It’s making me wonder if there is any value per se in being a well-informed citizen if I don’t do much about it. Certainly in uppity DC, as in most other places in the country, my value as a voter is meaningless thanks to the electoral college.

I need to find my inner Norquist on this one.


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Hey Republicans – show DC some love!

My hometown of Washington DC has a poor tradition of executive governance — or a tradition of poor executive governance — for many historical reasons, from patronage to developer money to strong social divides.

It also hurts us to be so monolithically of the Democratic Party. Last Tuesday was the primary election, which is effectively the outcome of the general election once the Democratic slate is chosen. Of that slate, more than half the council ran unopposed, and the one candidate suspected of gross campaign finance fraud won after his challengers split the rest of the vote.

I’m not going to go so far as to blame Republicans for this state of affairs but I think they are missing an opportunity. For all that they inveigh against Washington-the-symbol, Washington-the-city is a natural environment for Republicans. Some of us are wealthy and many of us are well-educated. We are reflexively meritocratic and more religious than most people expect. Want a Jewish trial lawyer who feels government has grown too intrusive? Want an articulate protest against gay marriage from a black Baptist who marched with Dr King? I’d be surprised if Republicans didn’t.

But local Republicans will never get traction here if national Republicans refuse to face the “statehood” issue. According to the Constitution, the District of Columbia is not a state, and thus has no vote on the floor of Congress. (By agreement our delegate can vote on House committees; we have no role in the Senate.) Making us a state would give us one representative for our population and two senators for our statehood, an outcome Republicans wisely don’t want.

I honestly think that most Washingtonians don’t want that either. Sure, our population equals Wyoming’s, but DC can barely keep its municipal house in order. That our local grandees would step onto a national stage and usefully discuss statecraft, presidential appointments and interstate commerce is not likely, and we know it. Instead of ignoring the issue Republicans should bluntly state why it’s a pipe dream and a non-starter. The columns would attack but columns are just paper. At least half of the city would agree.

If Republicans could find a way to make our delegate a full representative voting on the House floor, all but the most caffeinated of our activists would declare victory on the spot. All the win would go to the Republicans.

Years of courtship and prickly chaperons to follow, of course, but good governance and some respect would mean a lot to Washingtonians. In less than twenty years, I guarantee, that vote in the House won’t be the Democratic lock it is today.