Monthly Archives: January 2013

David Cameron For Governor of California

Despite the fact that the UK’s independence from the euro hasn’t prevented its own stupid austerity measures from inducing a triple-dip recession and the irony of his desire for less unity with Europe while opposing a Scottish exit, I think David Cameron is right.

The EU has overexpanded more than the NHL. Giving German bankers de facto control over other European countries’ economies sounds like a recipe for World War II in reverse, and the Nazi-like rise of the Golden Dawn party in Greece bears that analogy out.

The EU was probably always intended by some, if not most, to be some kind of quasi-federation, but at first it was an economic union (and in some connections still is). This is not entirely dissimilar to the United States, whose original governing document, the Articles of Confederation was, more or less, the world’s first free trade area. It took the bloodiest war in American history to settle the question.

What drove me to blogging over 10 years ago wasn’t the desire to start at least brining something other than roses to gun fights (if not nukes)—even though I agree—and it wasn’t solely the bad taste that Bush v. Gore left me with. No, I saw a different picture that needed changing.

Realizing that the Obama administration is probably the best we’ll do in a generation, it’s time to admit that trying to drag the whole country forward isn’t going to work. It’s time to see the New Deal through the 60s as the anomaly that it was and that for most of the time, the federal government hasn’t helped. This is not to suggest that the Tea Party agenda has any merit. It doesn’t.

But I do suggest that liberals not spend the rest of their lives trying to get Medicare for All in all 50 states. Start with your state. This is something that the ACA actually makes fairly easy to do, or easier.

We need the federal government to keep us out of stupid wars, to preserve the gains that have been achieved and to not erode them any further. If they want to go Galt in Mississippi, then fuck them. Send us our money back and enjoy.

Civil Rights, I think, was different, because it was part of sewing up the original wounds of our Founding. It had to be universal.

So maybe California needs to think about doing what Cameron just did, if for no other reason than to try and get us a better deal.

Almost on cue…

Why should the Dems nuke the filibuster? Because the purpose of winning elections is to enact an agenda, not to win more elections. If you enact a good agenda, you should win more elections naturally.

The Republicans at least understand the first part. So, what are they doing and what have they done?

• Stacked the courts with partisan hacks like Judge Santelle on the DC Circuit who just happen to limit executive power when the executive is a Democrat.

• Create an ideology of hackery so that said hackery can be dismissed as an alternative “ideology”

• Ram through reforms to the electoral college so that they can more easily win the White House

• Gerrymander Congressional districts so that they retain a comfortable majority even when losing in the vote toal

• Filibuster Democratic appointments not just to the courts (not that they would “balance out” hacks like Santelle, but would probably just be judges) but to important government agencies, making their functioning very difficult

• Otherwise use every ounce of leverage from every veto point whether or not it really exists in the Constitution (and even create new ones)

Should the Democrats act like this? That’s a tough question. The fact is that they don’t. They want to govern. It’s good that they do. But so often, they end up coming into government to strike difficult “compromises” with the very people who created the disasters they are fixing, only to have the resulting fix either die by a thousand paper cuts, through a poison pill, or, as in the case of the Bush tax cuts, to simply be reversed.

The truth is, no one knows what will happen if the electoral college is eliminated or worked around. I sincerely doubt that it will improve the situation with respect to money in politics. The most expensive TV markets are those with the most people, so those will obviously be the biggest targets. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, and Texas will get as tired of the political ads as Ohio and Virginia have of late.

But it’s preferable to having state legislatures simply designate their electors (make no mistake this is what they are doing).

These are difficult questions. I don’t know the answer. I don’t know if Democrats really should start matching these tactics. What I do know is that they must stop them.

 

The Filibuster For The Record

The weakling spineless imps that inhabit the Senate once again failed to kill the filibuster. They just pissed away a chance to significantly remake the judiciary (a point completely lost on the “but the House will block everything anyway” crowd). And it was done on the theory that this would protect their own right to block stuff in the future.

So, this post is here to say and to create a record saying: you were wrong, it was foreseeable that you were wrong, it will hurt people because you were wrong, and when you are proved wrong it won’t be bad luck. We can show our work.

First, the filibuster is wrong no matter who has the majority. Here’s a post from this site in 2005 condemning it when the Republicans controlled everything. There are numerous reasons that it is unconstitutional including one I was the first to come up with on the Internets.

Second, the Democrats blocked essentially nothing when Bush was President. Samuel Alito is on the Supreme Court, someone who is far less intellectual are far more hackish than Bork was. They never did anything to curb the Iraq war. So, on that level, who cares?

Third, the Republicans will kill the filibuster when it suits them. They threatened to in 2005—probably one of the only good ideas they had in the entire age of Bush. There is a very strong chance that they will do so in exactly 2 years, because the 2014 senate map doesn’t look so hot for Dems and just got worse with Harkin announcing his retirement.

The filibuster and activist courts give legislators the excuse to pass or propose hideous legislation and lets the electorate vote for personality, knowing (wrongly) that nothing too crazy will occur. It’s time for politicians to own their agendas and the consequences of that agenda. The Rs get this. They made the Dems own healthcare reform.

 

Lind's Wrongway Map For Liberalism

In a “what’s next for liberalism” piece, Michael Lind wants the abolition of the death penalty and a criminal justice system reform next. After that, he says, we should take a look at voting rights.

Is this the cliodynamics of liberal reform in this country? We enact bread and butter reforms like Social Security, Medicare, and Obamacare and then we turn the corner to pie in the sky pony plans? After Vietnam, all liberalism had was a series of identity political bromides. While I actually agree with most of those goals, the political prioritization of things like this is only going to trigger further and deeper setbacks. We cannot afford another Reagan.

The first three things we must consider are labor, labor, and labor. Only when the middle class is secure and dynamic are anyone else’s rights secure in our democracy. Lind writes about the “populist” and “nativist” tendencies that sometimes foil liberals. Does he think this people are simply evil—or does he think they have some political instinct?

Almost in passing Lind calls for paid parental leave. This, of course, should be among the top priorities because it is a real benefit to working Americans where organized labor inly represents about 9% of all workers. If unions can’t get it done, then what should be the labor party should get it done for us through the political system.

The simple reason that the criminal justice system will not be reformed is because crime continues to decline. Absent a conscience shocking event like the beating of Rodney King, there will not be much appetite for this idea right now. Leading with it will set everything else back, whereas, on the contrary, leading with labor, labor, and labor, will only ease Americans’ other anxieties and, hopefully, thereby expand their openness. There’s no guarantee, but at least it’s a plan with historical precedent actually favoring it (instead of disfavoring it).

As for abolishing the death penalty, this is something I have always been powerfully agnostic about. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s that I don’t buy the substantive argument that no death penalty pacifies us even while I know that the process is deeply flawed on literally dozens of levels. I certainly support a moratorium.

But that’s me. Politically unless the Catholic Church wants to chew gum and walk at the same time and put some firepower behind this instead of abobos and teh gay, I don’t see much hope of this not resulting in a limousine liberal backlash as well.

Paid family leave. More tax credits for the working class. Living wages for heads of households. Student loan reform/amnesty. Public works.

Blue first. Then white and green.

 

Guns and Kansas

In his seminal What’s The Matter With Kansas, Thomas Frank made the argument that the once fiery heart of progressivism and the Granger movement has allied itself with the Republican party (which in the language of the totebagger means “voting against their self-interest”) because of the neoliberal economy. As candidate Obama put it, they “cling” to guns and God.

What one can take from this is that (1) not everyone defines self-interest the same way, (2) a large portion of people will react to adversity in a way different than you think is in their “interest,” and (3) the neoliberal economy is really the issue.

In a world where you’re becoming more poor, the outside world seems more dangerous, and the politicians don’t even pretend to care about you, religion and guns don’t seem like such a crazy thing to turn to. In fact, this is what people do world-wide, from the Kansas prairie, to the Judean hills, to the Pakistani and Egyptian megapolises. (I remain surprised to this day that this has not occurred in Latin America. Perhaps it’s precisely because radical groups do, on occasion, achieve power there that this is the case.)

Guns give some people the feeling that there is a line that cannot be crossed, even when every other line is crossed. And to a certain extent, this is true.

It may not matter if there are any more school shootings, but the problem with the current strategy on guns (at least the persuasive strategy, if not the legislative-legal one) is that it does not suffer this distinction. In that sense, it is the inverse of anti-abortion fanatics who scoff at major reductions in the number of abortions and only want to see it totally criminalized, even though this will unquestionably not eliminate it.

Ignoring some things that are true (even if tautologically so) coming from the pro-gun side will ultimately take a lot of the wind out of the sails of the less organized, less long-term passionate anti side. For example, you can shoot bad guys. Police at schools is something parents would love, even if civil libertarians won’t.

What level-headed policy-makers should seek to do first is look at the problem epidemiologically and try to find a way to reduce the absolute number of guns without necessarily banning anything. The first school shooting that involves the kind of gun that Lee Harvey Oswald used will show just how minor an assault weapons ban would be in relation to this particular problem. (The assault weapons ban is a vestige of crackdowns on “inner city” problems such as gangs, drug trafficking, and so forth.)

The most effective extant way to do this at present is a buy-back program. This would reduce the number of guns “in the wild” and may reduce a number of accidents (a huge problem) but will not take guns away from those who associate them the most with power or who are the nuttiest. In fact, it will just strengthen their resolve in a What’s The Matter With Kansas type of way.

I don’t know what comes next. Someone smart will have to come up with it.

But until we confront the root of the gun culture—and simply saying it’s some kind of pathological fixation on violence is a sort of tribalism that really misses the core of the issue—which is the powerlessness that is a side-effect of the neoliberal economy, it will persist. Now, it could be that this is a side-effect we want to live with because alternatives are worse, but until this question is really asked, it can’t be answered.

 

Bailout the USPS?

This is as close as I will get to being a deficit scold.

I won’t cry if the postal service is drastically restructured. First, let’s get rid of junk mail. How much carbon does this crap generate? Between cutting down trees and fuel to transport this crap, it’s gotta sting.

Second, getting bills by mail should be a privilege, not a right. If you don’t want e-mail bills, pay for it. 5 days a week, $1 for a first class letter, no junk mail.

Generally, I don’t favor harming a workforce that does a job just as well because technology has replaced them, but the days of writing letters to communicate is long since over. Even the christmas cards we get with the pictures on them seem like an antique formality. Post is really only used to send goods.

"The Repetitive Drone of Elite Sentiment"

This quote is from Jon Chait via Krugman.

I would call it the Repetitive Drone of Elite Condescension. Krugman was talking about deficit scolds. Yesterday, I was talking about education reformers. And don’t forget the personal finance snake-oil folks.

All of it is part of rationalizing a world of extreme inequality and doing it primarily through allegations of bad decision making, as if most of the elite ever once faced some of the decisions that the working poor face. When was the last time someone who reported for a national news agency had to worry about whether taking their kid to the doctor would mean they didn’t have enough for food at the end of the month on the one hand, but she might be really sick and get worse if I don’t. Do they know what that decision feels like? What’s the “personally responsible” choice?

When was the last time anyone in Congress had to decide whether they should take a construction job in the next town even if the cost of gas would make it a less-than-minimum wage proposition?

Of course, what they’re thinking when they are presented with these hypotheticals is, well, stupid poors, you wouldn’t be in that situation if you had gone to college and worked hard for a good job like me! As if resolve was all it took to make it through life on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis.

School reform is based on the premise that it’s the schools that are failing. If the schools were “reformed” everyone would go to college and get a great job. That the end result of everyone feeling they need to go to college is a student debt crisis and graduate students waiting tables is lost on these people.

Entitlement reform is based on the premise that people want to be poor and giving them less benefits will make them be less poor magically. That the end result of this is people put in more of these impossible “personal responsibility” choices and thereby only furthering the cycle of poverty is lost on these people.

Personal finance self-help gurus are part of the same trope. If you just make better choices you won’t be poor. Yeah, right. Going out to dinner is for smart rich people. Defaulting on credit is immoral even though the banks charge significant premiums in order to hedge against it (and get bailed out if they don’t charge enough). Please.

Many of these arguments would go much further if there was abundant work for people that provided for a living wage. That there isn’t is the result of the relentless campaign to destroy the working class. Break unions. Keep minimum wages low. Look the other way at all kinds of wage fraud. Send those jobs to places with near-slave labor and no environmental regulations to worry about so that the rest of us can buy 99c underwear at Wal-Mart! (Lower wages and lower prices? Hmmm… that’s deflation! A perfect way to destroy a debtor class.)

All the VSPs blanche at the idea, but our country will not get back to it’s former greatness until we start imposing fair trade tariffs and undergo a period of significant inflation, with an emphasis on wage increases.

This is very easy to do in theory. Print money and send it to people. But in practice because it doesn’t discriminate between people who make upper-middle-class white people choices have personal responsibility, it won’t happen.

 

In Defense of Defense Spending

I am not a fan of pointless contrarianism. So, this isn’t a post meant for vomiting up a bunch of sentences that begin with “actually…” around your liberal friends so that you can try and  prove your private school education really was worth it. But, see, I am also not a fan of pointless tropes. They are two of a kind and I dislike both.

And for a long time, you’ve seen bumper stickers like wondering when the air force will have to hold a bake sale for a bomber and a school will get all the books it wants. The whole idea is that the economics and politics of these are mutually exclusive. That’s cute, but naive.

It would seem that building a huge military just begs for its use. But that’s not really true. Military strategists from Plato to Napoleon to Clausewitz to today have believed “si vis pacem, para bellum.” In other words, a larger military probably makes war less likely.

A large military isn’t the cause of pointless wars. The most pointless wars in the world are now going on between guerrilla groups with light arms all over Africa and Asia. There are virtually no shooting wars today involving combatants with heavy armor and air forces.

It wasn’t a bunch of idle equipment sitting around that got us into Vietnam, either. We had to draft up hundreds of thousands of men and by the end of the war had an almost entirely different arsenal. Iraq as well was less about the “military industrial complex” than it was about the worldwide oil-based political economy. The sustained and inflation-adjusted increase in oil prices since then has benefited oil companies more than military contractors. Private contractors who provide services to the military for their own profit benefitted as well, but to me that actually argues for more spending on the military. Soldiers should be doing those jobs.

Why? Well, for all of the crying on the left about military recruiting in poor areas, few jobs in the military actually involve actually being shot at. On the other hand, they all involve training, learning how to work with people, and offer decent pay and benefits (including healthcare) which the post-industrial post-union economy is not offering to those same people. Thanks, liberal white totebaggers!! I feel so much safer in my crime ridden ghetto than I do in an air force base in Florida learning how to work on aircraft, on a secure base, with good schools for my kids, and healthcare.

The military provides the jobs that the New Economy does not. More people should be in it, not less. As for defense contractors, they provide exactly the kind of knowledge jobs that we should be striving to create. For every time you read about how many things we use in our daily lives were invented by the Apollo project so therefore NASA is a good investment. I agree. But a lot of things invented for military use also make it into our daily lives as well. So, that’s not an argument. Also, a lot of these engineers that hone their skills there go on to do things that don’t involve war. Also, they spend money they earn and put it into the economy like everyone else. If you’re tired of knowledge worker jobs getting offshored, please consider that defense is one thing we are less likely to offshore for security reasons.

So, everyone wins, right? More spending on putting soldiers in the military provides a potential legup into the middle class for many and a securing footing in it is provided by those who can work for the better engineering firms.

But couldn’t we spend all that dough on education? Sure. That would be great, but that’s not what happens. The government doesn’t say, “we’re going to spend $1T this year, now let’s cut it up.” There are separate appropriations bills (11 to be exact). Some things get more than others. When it’s time to cut, it’s unlikely that reducing defense by $1B means $1B more for education. What it likely means is $1B less spent into the economy, which is bad when unemployment is this high.

There is a simple litmus test for being a liberal: does what you’re doing benefit the lives of the most people? Most people need good paying jobs. So, a shorter version is: is this good for workers? Sometimes, you have to get into balancing tests: does shutting the polluting factory outweigh the well being of its workers? If it means they are all in serious danger, then yes. But for some grand vision like “world peace” (which we are not, unfortunately, even on the verge of) just to feed good jobs to the idea? That’s not good for the middle class. It’s good for totebaggers feeling better, but it’s not better for the family down the street with the American car.

If you’re in a depressed economy with otherwise responsible leaders, there is no spending you want to cut. Not right now. And even in better times, it’s hard to conceive of any magic pony plan that will convert all of our defense budget into the schools. This mentality is part of the whole disease of contemporary liberalism. We ask “why are they getting more?” instead of “why are we getting less?” The latter is more apt when there is so much plenty to go around. Fund both. Neither the air force nor the schools should need a bake sale. That one has the political power to make that so isn’t caused by the other.

The entire reason the Democratic Party was feckless and lame for most of our lives was that they did not following this formula, abandoned labor and decided that identity politics, pacifism, and other single issues like “environmentalism”  (with no specific reference to which policies) all of which are easily traduced into NIMBY self-parodies when they lose reference to the 99% and become applause lines for dogooderism at Wall Street fundraisers. Thanks, McGovern commission. Thanks, DLC.

And it will go straight back there even given this alleged insurmountable demographic wave if it does that again. Women, Latinos, and Blacks want good jobs too.

Drudge and the 27% compare Hitler and Stalin to Obama

Alleging that Hitler “took away the guns” (just from Jews—everyone else got more guns—and since we all know that the 27%ers in this country only want guns for the right kind of people, i.e. not you know who, it’s roughly the same thing) and so did Stalin, Drudge et al. on the nut fringe are comparing Biden’s threat to enact executive orders (under, you know, existing fucking laws) with the two dictators.

But did Drudge compare Obama to Queen Elizabeth II, the head of state of the UK and Australia when they both drastically restricted gun ownership in the late 90s and thereby drastically reduced gun crime?

Wingers love to talk about Israel. But it is extremely difficult to get a gun there compared to the US. What about socialist hell hole Japan? Guns are pretty close to banned there.