Sunday, May 1. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Steve Benen: So Much for Mr. Serious:
Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN), sometime GOP presidential candidate, in
the news now for signing a bill to "defund" Planned Parenthood in
the state of Indiana: basically, to deny PP any Medicaid payments
for any services (not just abortion, which is already banned but
only 3% of PP's services). Like many such "issues" this seems to
have started as a crackpot think tank idea and morphed into a test
of political wills, completely blind to the actual issues. It used
to be that conservatives were big on personal responsibility, and
few personal decisions weighed more than whether and when to bear
children. Planned Parenthood not only embodied that sense, it gave
women the tools to make responsible decisions. Whatever it is that
Republicans believe in -- and I could run this same riff on the
right to privacy from an oveweening government, or I could do the
same thing on welfare costs and/or crime -- has been lost in their
crass efforts to seek political gain by hyping up abortion issues.
We got a glimpse of how far conservatives had sunk at the 2008 GOP
convention, where Sarah Palin was celebrated for her unwed teenage
daughter's pregnancy -- a real role model for America.
Kevin Drum: Rich Man, Poor Man:
Chart here plots out perception of income decile vs. actual ranking.
It's not surprising that those with under-average incomes think they
fare better than they do, not that those with over-average incomes
think they are more average. More surprising that those on both ends
think they're so close to the middle. One thing this reminds me of
is that if you have any experience in working for non-union companies
you'll recall how secretive management is about who gets paid what.
They may explain something about limiting petty jealousies, and there
is something to that, but they really depend on widespread ignorance.
On the other hand, labor unions usually seek more transparency. When
everyone knows what everyone else makes, our instincts tend to make
that distribution more fair, and more just.
Paul Krugman: Bernanke at Bat:
I have to say, even I thought that we wouldn't make the same mistakes we made
in 1931; I thought we'd make different mistakes. But somehow conventional
wisdom has gelled into the view that the course of wisdom is to forget
everything we've learned over the past 80 years.
Andrew Leonard: Boeing Flies Into South Carolina Labor Turbulence:
Looks like Boeing's bragging over how they're screwing their workers by
moving jobs to non-union states is liable to cause them some discomfort.
Boeing's obsession with squeezing out labor costs and with demolishing
labor morale has never made any practical sense. Boeing grew to become
the world's largest airframe manufacturer when they had most of their
workforce in pro-labor Washington state, plus a significant slice in
Wichita (in anti-labor Kansas, but a fully unionized plant, until the
last two decades treated the same). As Boeing has moved more and more
jobs around, trading for political favors, their quality and morale
have plumeted, and their ability to coordinate complex projects like
the 787 Dreamliner has gone to pot. Leonard didn't mention this, but
the recent Southwest Airlines disaster where fuselage panels on 737s
have ripped off in flight has been tracked down to quality problems
with their Wichita plant, where Boeing first tried to break the union
then spun the plant off in a private equity deal. Boeing's only real
competition is Airbus, which pays more for labor than Boeing does,
and in any case the weakening of the dollar has given Boeing far
more pricing advantage than they could ever squeeze out of their
workers. They do this stuff because they're stuck in an ideological
cellar where their brains have rotted so bad they'd rather shoot
themselves in the foot than give their workers a break.
Andrew Leonard: How Swipe Fee Politics Have Crippled Washington:
Intro to a long piece by Zach Carter and Ryan Grim:
Swiped: Banks, Merchants and Why Washington Doesn't Work for You.
This is an epic battle between two business interest groups, so unlike
most disputes between a business interest and the public this is one
that could go either way. Still, it provides a good example of how a
Congress dedicated to the pursuit of lobbyist money turns out to be
good for nothing else. That's a lot of what's wrong with US politics
For what it's worth, I favor the retailers here: swipe fees are
way too high, almost pure profit for the banks, and the legality of
their contracts that require retailers to charge the same for cash
or credit (which, by the way, keeps the retailers from marking up
the swipe fees even more) suggests to me that the fees should be
regulated close to their transaction costs. Still, if the retailers
win I don't expect to get a dime back out of the deal: we'd just
be shifting pure profit from the banks to the retailers (which is,
of course, why they're all fighting this issue so hard. Here's a
Credit and debit swipe fees cost Sheetz $5 million a month, second
only to labor costs among the company's top executives, he says.
"I am a die-hard capitalist pig," Sheetz tells HuffPost. "That's
why Visa and MasterCard piss me off. . . . .
They treat us like shit. The arrogance is unbelievable."
Actually, the arrogance is universal, but you get the idea.
Matthew Yglesias: The People Behind the Interest Group:
Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK) takes a populist job-saving stand in favor of
oil and gas subsidies, proving that even Democrats are useful (to
the CEOs) for something:
This is something that I think a lot of intra-left discourse tends to
miss about why policy reform is so difficult. Any time you want to
disrupt a coalition of entrenched incumbent rent-seekers, be they in
the oil industry or the health care industry or the financial services
industry or what have you, you're going up against a strong team. And
it's not strong simply because the CEOs have access (though they do)
or because the firms can give money (though they can) it's strong
because big companies have employees. And those employees have spouses
and kids and siblings and they pay taxes that support local government
and shop at nearby stores. And this entire trail of dependents fears
change, and deems itself entitled to whatever economic privileges the
industry in question currently receives.
That doesn't make change impossible, but it does make it hard, and
it all but ensures that on any major issue you like there'll be hometown
legislators standing in your way.
I wrote the following fragment at least six months ago, and
have been carrying it forward expecting to turn it into something
postable. Well, I'm giving up on that. Book thinking has actually
moved on to yet another idea, which I should write up before long.
Meanwhile, this is dead weight, but not without interest.
For several years now I've been toying with the idea of writing
one big book on everything, something I've kicked around since the
late 1990s -- back then tentatively titled Life After Capitalism --
but as the Bush wreckage piled up I came to see the fat middle part
of the book as a critique of the conservative (or neo-fascist) right.
This was to be preceded by a schematic introductory section where I
would lay out how real world problems have developed and how to think
about them -- my working title there comes from Andrew Leonard's blog,
"How the World Works." The end piece of the book would in turn start
to plot out novel approaches to dealing with real problems -- that
would be "The Way Things Ought to Be," a title previously wasted by
Rush Limbaugh. Both the first and last parts could well turn into
big book projects of their own, so my emphasis there has always been
to make them schematic and suggestive for now, then pursue them later.
However, it now occurs to me that maybe the middle section should be
spun off and self-contained.
One title that occurs to me is The Death March of the Conservative
Dream. Maybe we can even work a little Hobbes into it, which might
be more striking up front rather than in the subtitle: Nasty, Brutish,
and Short: The Death March of the Conservative Dream. I've always
conceived this as one section on theory -- how conservatives spin such
seductive arguments -- and one on practice -- how much social (and for
that matter economic) damage they do when they're given the chance.
Hobbes, of course, was merely, contentedly describing his contemporary
world, taking it as eternally given (as conservatives are wont to do),
their assurances that it is unchangeable nervously laced with threats
of violence if anyone dare tries. If we've learned little else since
then, we should at least have realized that "nasty, brutish, and short"
were historical contingencies that have been overcome by various means,
none conservative. In fact, it's unlikely that most conservatives could
imagine such a world, even though their principles took shape in such
conditions, and even though their policies aim at restoring just such
Probably best to split these book ideas up, although doing so is
bound to lead to problems focusing and ordering. I've always wanted
to start the book off with some autobiographical background, but I
recently separated that out into its own project space where I can
beat to death a subject of little interest to anyone else. I can't
make any claims that my own history is of any general interest, but
it's what I know best, and it touches on everything else. (It is,
for instance, a space where I can write about book ideas without
getting bogged down in having to write the actual books.)
Another book idea that caught my fancy lately is The Last War,
where the main point is that war has lost so much of its past attraction
that it is becoming more and more obsolescent. This may mean that the
US War on Terrorism is literally the last war, although this also plays
on the tendency to refight last wars, and indeed to seek justification
for new wars in old wars. The latter occurs largely because it is well
nigh impossible to find current or future benefits in waging war. Many
nations have simply given up on war as a sensible interest, including
such formerly martial nations as Germany and Japan. The US signalled a
change in renaming its War Department the Department of Defense. Even
though the US has fought many wars, none in defense against real threats,
many quite nakedly aggressive, the Orwellian double-speak persists
[ . . . ]
My latest idea is to structure something around the motto Share
the Wealth. This was last popularized by Huey Long in 1935, who
organized hundreds of Share Our Wealth clubs on the way toward running
for president in 1936. Long himself is probably excess baggage here --
I read T. Harry Williams' sympathetic biography when it came out in
1969, and I never read Robert Penn Warren's scathing novel based on
Long, All the King's Men or saw the subsequent movies, so I
may be more pleased with Long than I should be. (In The Big Rich:
The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes, Bryan
Burrough explains that some Texas ultraconservatives like John Henry
Kirby backed Long as a way to get rid of Roosevelt.) Also, I'm not as
focused on income redistribution or the establishment of what the
right likes to call entitlements as Long's program proposed -- not
that those aren't ideas to take seriously and write about. I'm more
into cooperative efforts to create as well as to share wealth. But
one thing I do like about the Share the Wealth movement was that it
was organized, so it provides a basis for community involvement and
action. Also seems like the right counterpoint to the Tea Party --
ultimately a mob of individuals whining to be left to survive by
their own wits.