Sunday, June 10. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week
Tim Dickinson: Right-Wing Billionaires Behind Mitt Romney:
Profiles of: William Koch, Harold Simmons, Bob Perry, Jim Davis,
Richard Marriott and Bill Marriott Jr., Edward Conard, Frank
VanderSloot, Steven Lund, Julian Robertson Jr., John Paulson,
Paul Singer, Robert Mercer, Kenneth Griffin, L. Francis Rooney III,
The undisputed master of Super PAC money is Mitt Romney. In the primary
season alone, Romney's rich friends invested $52 million in his Super
PAC, Restore Our Future -- a number that's expected to more than double
in the coming months. This unprecedented infusion of money from America's
monied elites underscores the radical transformation of the Republican
Party, which has made defending the interests of 0.0001 percent the basis
of its entire platform. "Money buys power," the Nobel Prize-winning
economist Paul Krugman observed recently, "and the increasing wealth
of a tiny minority has effectively bought the allegiance of one of our
two major political parties." In short, the political polarization and
gridlock in Washington are a direct result of the GOP's capitulation
to Big Money.
That capitulation is evident in Romney's campaign. Most of the
megadonors backing his candidacy are elderly billionaires: Their
median age is 66, and their median wealth is $1 billion. Each is
looking for a payoff that will benefit his business interests, and
they will all profit from Romney's pledge to eliminate inheritance
taxes, extend the Bush tax cuts for the superwealthy -- and then
slash the top tax rate by another 20 percent. Romney has firmly
joined the ranks of the economic nutcases who spout the lie of
trickle-down economics. "Support from billionaires has always been
the main thing keeping those charlatans and cranks in business,"
Krugman noted. "And now the same people effectively own a whole
Steve Coll's Private Empire has various numbers on how
much and to whom ExxonMobil's PAC and managers have contributed.
Looking at those numbers, my reaction was, "how quaint." The oil
giant has never had problems getting access and getting people to
do their bidding, and in the past that's come awfully cheap. In
some ways the campaign finance limits worked for them: they could
make token contributions, and their size would do all the rest.
Now, the bidding to buy politicians is turning into an arms race,
where the price of recognition -- and true insider status -- is
going up and up.
Ed Kilgore: The Big Dog Whistle:
It's worth remembering in this connection that much as conservatives
want to blame Obama and "socialism" for economic problems, they haven't
displayed very convincing empathy for the actual sufferers. You may
recall that in 2008, when complaining about unemployment wasn't a
weapon that could be used against Democrats, Mike Huckabee became
persona non grata among many on the Right for daring suggest the economy
wasn't absolutely ideal. Even after Obama took office, many conservatives
had trouble suppressing their grim satisfaction that the housing and
financial collapse had punished all those irresponsible homebuyers, and
many spoke of the recession as being one of those healthy "corrections"
that would wring excessive borrowing out of the system. Even now, when
Republicans aren't justifying austerity measures as necessary to economic
growth, they're lauding them as a moral tonic for the poor. It's obvious
they'd support exactly the same policies no matter what was happening to
the economy; after all, they always have.
Fortunately for Romney, a lot of non-economic itches can be scratched
by incessantly claiming that Big Government caused the recession or is
impeding the recovery. Maybe you support "entitlement reform" because you
are furious at the looters who are living at the expense of the hard-earned
tax dollars of the virtuously well-off. Mitt won't often "go there," but
he's for "entitlement reform" on ostensibly economic grounds, so you're
on his team. Maybe you hate "ObamaCare" because you think it's encouraging
the Second Holocaust of legalized abortion, or enabling young women to
have sex, or robbing seniors of the Medicare benefits they earned to
give health care coverage to shiftless minorities. Mitt won't talk about
that, but he's promised to kill ObamaCare as fast as he can, so that's
enough. Maybe you are upset about environmentalism because you view it as
a front for neo-pagan assaults on the God-given dominion over the earth
you are supposed to enjoy. Mitt wouldn't put it that way. But he will
argue for scrapping environmental regulations tout court to free
up the Great American Job-Creating Machine and bring down gas prices.
And maybe you hate public education because you view "government schools"
as satanic indoctrination centers for secularism, and colleges as places
where elitist professors mock traditional values and let young women
have sex. Mitt won't come right out and talk about any of that,
either, but he frowns on federal education programs because we just
can't afford them. [ . . . ]
But in a certain sense, the entire Romney campaign is one big dog
whistle aimed at appealing to persuadable voters on the single issue
of the economy, while letting the restive "base" hear all sorts of
other things involving cultural resentments and the desire to return
to the good old days before the New Deal and the 60s began to ruin
the Founders' design and defy the Creator's moral code.
Ed Kilgore: The New Mouth of the South: Herman Cain to replace
Neal Boortz on the latter's long-running radio show:
You'd probably have to be from the Atlanta area to understand the long
reign of snarky error Boortz has conducted for 42 years on the local,
regional and national air waves. He was doing political talk when Rush
Limbaugh was still a music DJ and sportscaster, the very prototype of
someone who read Ayn Rand as a teenager and never recovered. For decades,
I tried to convince my father that listening to Boortz -- who invariably
enraged him -- was bad for his health.
Mike Konczal: A Visual Guide to the Confliting Theories About How to
Fix the Economy: one quick comment (I'll probably return to this
sometime), is that all three "demand-based solutions" are featured
in Paul Krugman's End This Depression Now!, although Krugman
favors fiscal policy because it's more direct and less encumbered
(as monetary policy is by that pesky zero lower bound); he also all
debunks all three "supply-based explanations" -- to put it mildly
(they are all pretty ridiculous). Also note that the latter aren't
called "solutions": they don't actually propose fixing anything,
not that they would work anyway.
Demand vs. Supply focus is roughly the same as left vs. right.
Demand is about whether consumers have enough money (and confidence,
which is to say money) to buy things. The most straightforward way
to get more demand is to give people more money. Supply is about
whether business have enough capacity, or lacking that access to
capital to create more capacity. It should be pretty obvious that
lack of capacity isn't the current problem, and isn't likely to
be a problem for a long, long time. But the right likes supply-side
support because it lavishes attention on the rich, and the right
hates demand-side stimulus it helps the poor (i.e., the unemployed
and everyone working for less than a living wage).
Paul Krugman: Wisconsin:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with a passionate
intensity. Obviously I'm not happy with the result; not just out of political
sympathies, but because all the recent political trends have been rewarding
the side that caused the very crisis from which it is now benefiting, not
to mention politicians who have been wrong about everything since the crisis
I'm even more unhappy with how it happened, with national Democrats
basically sitting on their hands while conservatives poured resources
into the race.
Paul Krugman: The Urge to Punish:
What does make sense, maybe, is a two-part explanation. First, the ECB
is unwilling to admit that its past policy, especially its past rate
hikes, were a mistake. Second -- and this goes deeper -- I suspect that
we're seeing the old Schumpeter "work of depressions" mentality, the
notion that all the suffering going on somehow serves a necessary
purpose and that it would be wrong to mitigate that suffering even
This doctrine has an undeniable emotional appeal to people who are
themselves comfortable. It's also completely crazy given everything
we've learned about economics these past 80 years. But these are times
of madness, dressed in good suits.
Andrew Leonard: GOP to Modernity: Stop:
The most recent evidence that the current incarnation of the
Republican Party just can't handle the truth arrived this month
when House Republicans voted to get rid of the American Community
Survey. The ACS is an annual information-gathering effort that's
part of the U.S. Census. Every year, a randomized sample of 3
million Americans is surveyed for data on "demographic, housing,
social and economic characteristics." In one form or another,
the U.S. government has been carrying out similar surveys since
1850 -- the current version is the fourth major iteration.
Most sensible people consider the ACS to be extremely useful,
the kind of thing that government is really well equipped to carry
out. That is not, or at least did not used to be, a partisan
statement. [ . . . ]
Even the Wall Street Journal is appalled -- although the lead
sentence of its editorial criticizing the funding cuts required
some remarkable calisthenics before reaching the point of disapproval.
With the contempt of the Washington establishment raining down on
House Republicans for voting on principle, every now and then the
GOP does something that feeds the otherwise false narrative of
Marvelous! In one sentence, the Journal's editorial writer manages
to deny, not once, but twice, the self-evident fact that the current
crop of House Republicans occupies the nethermost regions of right-wing
extremism, while at the same time admitting that, yeah, well, in
this one case they are indeed bonkers.
[ . . . ]
The sponsor of the House measure, the freshman Florida Republican
Daniel Webster, claims that ACS questions are too "intrusive" and
"the very picture of what's wrong in D.C." He seems to be projecting.
The very picture of what's wrong with D.C. is exquisitely captured
by daily demonstration that one of our leading political parties is
dedicated to the proposition that the less we know about what is
going on in our economy or on our planet, the better. If science
tells us that one of the consequences of human activity is an
overheated planet, then the answer is to defund climate research.
If data gathered by the ACS gives us a better understanding of
where poverty may be growing as a result of economic policies put
into place over the past few decades, best to just to close our
eyes and ignore it.
Bill McKibben: How You Subsidize the Energy Giants to Wreck the Planet:
From Tom Engelhardt's introduction (since I've been talking about this
sort of thing):
Just in case you're running for national office, here are a few basic
stats to orient you when you hit Washington (thanks to the invaluable
Open Secrets website of the Center for Responsive Politics). In 2011,
the oil and gas industries ponied up more than $148 million to lobby
Congress and federal agencies of various sorts. The top four lobbying
firms in the business were ConocoPhillips ($20.5 million), Royal Dutch
Shell ($14.7 million), Exxon Mobil ($12.7 million), and Chevron ($9.5
And note that those figures don't include campaign contributions,
although I can't imagine why corporate money flowing to candidates or
their PACs isn't considered "lobbying." When it comes to such donations,
the industry has given a total of $238.7 million to candidates and
parties since 1990, 75% of it to Republicans. In 2011-2012, Exxon
($992,573) and -- I'm sure this won't shock you -- Koch Industries
($872,912) led the oil and gas list.
This certainly understates what the Kochs do in their role as
self-appointed concerned private citizens: through their various
front groups, they reportedly spent over a million dollars just
in Wisconsin's recall election.
MJ Rosenberg: Israel's Worst Enemy:
Minister of Defense Ehud Barak is now calling for unilateral withdrawal
from those parts of the West Bank he doesn't feel like occupying forever
and is making clear that he opposes negotiating with Iran in favor of
unilateral Israeli action.
By now it should be clear to the entire world: the Netanyahu-Barak
government has no interest in what the United Nations rules, what
international law says, what its only ally (and the source of billions
of dollars of aid each year) wants. The Netanyahu-Barak government
behaves like outlaws in the most literal sense of the word.
It will keep the land it wants and bomb whoever it wants and to hell
with everyone else.
As David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister liked to say,
"It doesn't matter what the goyim think. What matters is what the Jews
do." It was a dangerous worldview in Ben Gurion's day and it is
infinitely more dangerous now.
The Israeli government's contempt for international opinion, for
its only ally and for half of its own population is a recipe for
suicide. Even the United States, the world's only superpower, does
not live by the law of the jungle (well, not all the time). But for
a country of six or seven million surrounded by tens of millions of
people who are infuriatedby its behavior to begin with, it's insane.
Barak tried his "unilateral withdrawal" scheme once before, in
2000, from Lebanon. It was a recipe for another war, which happened
in 2006, to everyone's chagrin (although Hezbollah tried their best
to put on a happy face). Sharon, who may have been the architect
behind Barak, tried it again in Gaza, where the results (so far)
have been two more wars, plus near-continual skirmishes.
Also, you have to wonder why when Israel withdraws from an area,
they remain opposed to allow people in that area to get on with their
lives. Israel has no settlements in Gaza. Israel is never going to
annex Gaza and give its residents Israeli citizenship. So why not
allow the UN to organize an independent Palestinian state in Gaza?
The usual excuse is that Gaza is one part of a bigger problem that
should be negotiated definitively, but there are other parts Israel
is nowhere near facing, especially Jerusalem. So why not do Gaza
first, and let that start to normalize? At least that would allow
Gazans to travel and trade with the rest of the world, to start to
build a real economy. It would give them something to do besides
blaming Israel for their inability to do anything. And why not do
the same for the parts of the West Bank Barak is willing to write
off? We should be skeptical that Israel would only let go of tiny
isolated parcels that would not be viable economically, but why
not take what you can get and try to make that work? Start working
like this and even if the conflict is never be properly resolved,
it may just fade into insignificance.
Thomas Schaller: Can Liberals Cure Stupidity? Read the piece for
examples of such stupidity, but you can probably think of all those
and more yourself.
Even if misinformation does not uniformly advantage the right, ignorance
has a clear ideological tilt. As the American Prospect's Paul Waldman has
argued, conservatives not only have a vested interest in creating or at
least perpetuating falsehoods about government, but they doubly benefit
from the fact that many Americans who at some point in their lives relied
upon government programs believe they never did.
Given that the public believes they are less dependent on a government
that is actually less wasteful than they believe it to be, and that what
the public doesn't know may or may not hurt them, this much is clear:
Their ignorance surely makes political life much harder for liberals.
Although liberals have lately taken to flattering themselves as
being "reality-based," as appreciating science and reason, they have
their own blind spots. They also don't communicate well, often on
purpose: Obama in particular seems fascinated with the Thaler-Sunstein
"nudge" theories, like the one where you lower people's taxes but
don't tell them about it, so they'll think they're doing better and
spend more money. They don't seem capable of taking credit when they
make things work normally, but also they don't get screaming mad
when they don't. You get the sense that Obama would like to get
reelected, because he rather likes the job, but if he loses he has
no sense that it will mean the end of the republic, even though
everything the Republicans have proposed, not to mention their
actual track records under Reagan and the Bushes, promise just
Maybe the answer has less to do with figuring out how to make
Americans smarter, and more to do with dramatically demonstrating
who are the enemies of the people are, who their friends are, and
how tenaciously the latter intend to fight off the former. Those
who do want to understand the wonkish details, of course, should
be welcomed. But you don't have to understand macroeconomics to
get that the current depression was caused by greedy bankers and
their bought political allies, and that at least part of a proper
response to what they did is to take back the money they stole
and help restore the people they screwed. How hard does this
have to be?
Further study: some interesting links I'll just note for future
Larry Bartels: More on the Politics of the Super-Rich.
Ellen Cantarow: The New Eco-Devastation in Rural America: or, How Rural
America Got Fracked.
Barbara Ehrenreich: Looting the Lives of the Poor.
Tom Engelhardt: The Smog of War: or, The Afghan Syndrome, or, A
Titleholder for Pure, Long-Term Futility.
Tom Engelhardt: The Road to Amnesia: or, How to Forget on Memorial Day.
Tom Engelhardt: Assassin-in-Chief.
Glenn Greenwald: Federal Court Enjoins NDAA.
Christopher Hayes: Why Elites Fail.
Chris Hellman/Mattea Kramer: How Much Does Washington Spend on "Defense"?
$931 billion, but defense against what?
Andrew Leonard: Romney Trashes His Dad: you know, the former HUD
Andrew Leonard: Obama's GI Bill Fight.
Andrew Leonard: Tuition Is Too Damn High.
Andrew Leonard: How Bain Capital Made Us Fat: investing in fast
food chains, much to chew on here, even if you're likely to spit it
out in the end.
Jill Lepore: The Lost Amendment, and
Battleground America: on guns.
Bill McKibben: Climate-Change Deniers Have Done Their Job Well.
Paul Pillar: What's Good for Exxon Is Not So Good for America.
Jacqueline Rose: A Rumbling of Things Unknown: on Marilyn Monroe.
David Sirota: America's True Tax Rate.
Matt Taibbi: How Wall Street Killed Financial Reform.
Jeffrey Toobin: Money Unlimited: How Chief Justice John Roberts
orchestrated the Citizens United decision. Also see
One thing you will note in the above is that I've started looking at
Salon again. That had been impossible since their redesign, which meant
nearly instant death for my browser. I've started running a Firefox
throat and keeps it from running, until I say so. Salon, in particular,
is much more civil without any at all. Other websites are unusable
of whitelisting some of them -- only real problem so far has been with
Facebook, which got out of hand once I let it run. (So I'm both less
likely to post there, and less likely to see other posts.) Haven't
tried MSN yet -- been tempted to comment on occasion, but can't and
have thus far let that go.