Thursday, October 25. 2012
Been disconnected for the past week, so I'm catching up. Some links
that caught my eye follow. Probably many more that I'll save for Sunday --
e.g., haven't even looked at Krugman yet.
Mark Kleiman: A GOP Gaffe, and the Hack Gap: I don't think this is
the first time Graham said something like this, but it bears repeating:
"The demographics race we're losing badly," said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham
(S.C.). "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business
for the long term."
It ran in the WaPo. It's a gaffe in Kinsley's sense: the inadvertent
statement of something true. The Republican Party is the party of angry
white guys (and their angry wives): not just angry in general, but angry
at people who aren't white (plus atheists, of course). And they are losing
the demographic race, both because there are more non-whites and because
under-30 whites are, on average, much less racially angry.
I wish I knew the source of a previous Graham outburst where (as best
I recall) he explained that the conservatives have to get their program
passed real soon because the long-term tide is against them. This was to
my mind one of the first honest admissions that the Republican agenda
was not just anti-Democratic but intended to destroy the principle of
democracy in this nation.
Ezra Klein: Mitt Romney's George W. Bush Problem: In the second debate,
Romney was asked how he'd differentiate himself from Bush. He didn't offer
much of an answer, and indeed his "five point plan" is nearly a carbon copy
of the Bush's own plan (also five points). Obama didn't help much by trying
to argue that Romney was worse than Bush -- Klein points out that Bush had
favored Romney's more extreme proposals, just hadn't pushed them as hard.
Romney's right about one thing: These are different times than when Bush
ran for president. But that's why his five-point plan is so depressing.
It's not just that there's nothing in it that Bush wouldn't have endorsed
in 2000. It's that most of it actually would have made more sense in 2000.
Take Romney's tax cuts. When Bush was proposing tax cuts without any
offsets, the budget was in surplus, and tax receipts were at record highs.
The policy made some sense. Romney's tax cuts come at a time of enormous
deficits and record low receipts. It's a different time, but Romney's
policy, save for a vague promise to pay for it later, is the same.
[ . . . ]
So let's go to the scoreboard: Romney offered
precisely . . . nothing that Bush wouldn't have
proposed in 2000. And Romney left out some of his more salient
agreements with Bush. For instance, both the Enron debacle and the
financial crisis happened on Bush's watch. As a result, Congress
passed the Sarbanes-Oxley and, later, Dodd-Frank laws to toughen
financial regulation. But Romney has proposed rolling back both.
[ . . . ]
This year, 2012, is not 2000. We have deficits rather than a balanced
budget. We have historically high unemployment rather than historically
low unemployment. We've seen what the financial system can do when left
unchecked. We've watched tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 fail to spark economic
growth and seen a rising stock market fail to lift middle-class wages.
We do need new thinking. But Romney isn't offering any. His problem isn't
that the public is unfairly judging him by Bush's policies. It's that
they're fairly judging him by Bush's policies.
I've said this many times before, but once more: one of Obama's
biggest mistakes was his failure to drive home just how much damage
Bush's eight years cost. Had he done so, we might have learned a few
things, instead of recapitulating mistakes so recent they aren't
even safely in the past yet.
Andrew Leonard: A Debate to Be Ashamed Of: Didn't watch the big
foreign policy debate, even indirectly -- I did pick up bits of the
second bash blaring in an adjacent room while I tried to piece together
a jigsaw puzzle, but this time I was navigating through east Oklahoma.
Still, I had predicted it would be hideous, with Obama proudly recounting
all the people he's had killed since becoming Free World Führer, and
Romney pathetically swearing his intent to kill even more. And that's
pretty much the actual debate Leonard reviewed:
And so on. I'm not sure if there's ever been a debate in which the two
candidates expressed so much fundamental agreement on major foreign
policy issues. But nothing underscores the dilemma that progressives
face on the lack of a meaningful foreign policy choice more than the
exchange on drones. Romney's endorsement of drone warfare laid out
with perfect clarity why President Obama has been free to pursue
policies -- extrajudicial assassination of American citizens, drone
warfare, detention without trial -- that appear to clearly violate
basic human rights, not to mention the U.S. Constitution.
He can do so because he is never going to be questioned from the
right on such tactics.
Quite the contrary; the main line of attack is to berate Obama
for being too soft. Ponder this: In the same debate in which Romney
applauded the president for using "any and all means necessary to
take out people who pose a threat to us," he also slammed Obama for
his "apology tour" throughout the Arab world. If you're perplexed
at how to reconcile Obama's drone war of terror in Waziristan with
the idea that he's been wandering the globe saying "I'm sorry" to
our enemies, well, join the crowd. It's not easy.
Actually, the lack of substantive debate on foreign policy goes
way back. I did watch the 2000 Bush-Gore debate that the only tiff
there was that Bush disapproved of "nation building" in Haiti. In
his subsequent administration, Bush did manage to end any semblance
of aid fo Haiti, even getting rid of the populist-leaning president
Clinton had restored to power. But Bush also did many more things
that he didn't forecast in the debate. Surely, one thinks, president
Gore would have done some things differently, but he gave no hint
he would in the debate, and damn little in subsequent years even
when he had the advantages of hindsight.
I also remember the 1984 debate where Mondale was much more
militantly anti-communist than Reagan. Early on, there was the 1960
debate where Kennedy blind-sided Nixon with his fanciful charges
of a "missile gap." I don't recall whether Carter and Clinton took
such pains to stress how they were the baddest mutherfuckas in the
campaign, but they ultimately proved to be: Carter's boycott of
the Soviet Olympics and his sponsorship of the Afghan mujahideen
kicked off the sabre rattling era Reagan takes much credit for,
much as Clinton's reflexive bombing campaigns in Afghanistan and
Iraq paved the way for Bush. It's not clear that either had a fully
formed foreign policy conception when they were elected, nor that
they had many options: ever since Truman there's been some sort of
unelected foreign policy establishment in Washington that has bent
politicians to its will, and Obama's just the most recent example.
Robert Wright claims to have discerned a significant difference
from the debate:
Why Romney Is the War Candidate. He makes much of the fact that
Obama is running for a lame duck second term, whereas a win would give
Romney a first term. He argues that first-term presidents are more
likely to pander to their war-loving sponsors -- the keys here are
Sheldon Adelson, Israel, and Iran -- whereas second-term presidents
look toward history. In itself, that doesn't strike me as convincing --
not that Sheldon Adelson isn't someone to be feared. Looking back at
historical comparisons, it's clear that both Bushes regarded getting
into wars as good politics. On the other hand, Woodrow Wilson famously
campaigned for reëlection as the one who "kept us out of war," then
almost as soon as he won his "legacy" term plunged us in. And a big
part of Franklin Roosevelt's reasoning for running for a third term
was his desire to be remembered as a war president. But those were
big wars that had already been started, and they were long ago, back
before the US had a strong militarist and imperialist foreign policy
The one thing that strikes me as relevant about the first/second
term issue is that nowadays all presidents start up strongly hemmed
in by their staff choices (and by the more-or-less permanent power
bases, like the military and the Fed), but sooner or later they rise
to their office and take more direct control. Early on, Clinton was
hamstrung by Greenspan and Powell. Bush was so dominated by his VP
some pundits insisted on calling his regime the Cheney Admininistration.
Obama got scammed by Gates and Petraeus on Afghanistan, and by his own
picks of Geithner and Summers on the economy. I doubt that Romney is
intrinsically any more belligerent than Obama, but he's had to act
like it to snatch the Republican nomination, and he is certain to be
surrounded by a plethora of Israel-loving neocons, at a time when
blind allegiance to Israel is a sure recipe for a disastrous war.
Obama isn't immune to those forces, but he's less likely to be awed
and/or shamed into a war with Iran, if for no other reason than he
knows that the people who want that war have already overpromised
and underperformed in Afghanistan. Add to this Romney's "no apologies"
mantra, which translates to "no diplomacy," which means a foreign
policy out of control, freed from reason or intent, floudering in
a world where sheer military power has become useless, dangerous,
and more than a little psychotic. Romney's commitment to that
posture may be no deeper than his commitment to anything else,
but that offers scant comfort.
Back on the debate, also see Leonard's
No Debate on Climate Change:
Climate change may end up costing the most in the North America, but
it's a problem that can't be solved without the entire world working
together. That makes it a foreign policy issue -- perhaps the
preeminent foreign policy issue any U.S. president will ever face.
But for Obama and Romney, the most important fossil fuel issue in
the last debate was the question of which man supported the coal
industry most fervently. So don't hold your breath waiting for a
spirited discussion of the fate of the planet in the final debate.
I'm a bit less agitated about climate change, at least in part
because I figure the people with the most to lose are -- i.e., the
people who should be most concerned -- are property owners, whose
farms and resorts may lose their appeal, and whose seaside stakes
may wind up under water. Still, they haven't come close to standing
up to the threat, in large part taking their lead from the oil and
coal companies fiddling while the world burns. Four years ago Obama
at least raised the issue, but he got little for his concerns, so
it's not surprising that he's shelved them. It's not, after all,
like he has principles, let alone the courage to defend and
Digging back through Leonard's archive, I see he has a piece on
Citigroup CEO's Millions. Pandit has raked in $261 million since
2007. For a chart on how well Citigroup's stock has performed under
Pandit's leadership, see
Brad DeLong; what the hell, let's link it here:
Andrew Leonard: Romney's Magic Economy Plan: Forget the talk about
five point plans -- which, as Klein points out above, are no different
than the ones Bush and Romney ran on, and even less promising. Romney
doesn't need a plan: he's convinced that as soon as he's elected, the
Job Creators will instantly snap out of their Obama funk and it'll be
boom times for all. However, that raises a few questions, like why should
you believe him, and even if he's right -- meaning that the rich have
deliberately tanked the economy in a political snit fit -- you have to
wonder why we should give in to the extortion?
Here's something you are unlikely to hear during a Mitt Romney stump
speech. Business investment has actually recovered to its pre-recession
levels. During the Obama recovery, corporate spending on business
equipment and software has grown at a faster rate than during any of
the last four economic recoveries. (George Bush's economic recovery,
embarrassingly, registered zero net growth in business equipment and
What those companies haven't been doing is hiring. And there's a
very good reason for that: the economists who point to the problem of
demand are right. At least, they're right if you trust the reports of
actual business executives. For three years, the number one complaint
cited by small businesses about the current economic climate has been
poor sales. Not taxes, not regulation -- sales.
Matthew O'Brien: Mitt Romney's Economic Plan: Win, Then Do Nothing:
Quotes Romney as claiming that if get elected, the markets will be happy,
and "We'll see capital come back and we'll see -- without actually doing
anything -- we'll actually get a boost in the economy." Curious, then,
that the stock markets are already back to pre-recession levels, but
the economy, well, isn't.
Romney's magical thinking is the consequence of Republican obstruction.
From the beginning, Republicans have been quite candid that their number
one goal is making sure Obama is a one-term president. From the stimulus
to Fed appointments to the abortive American Jobs Act, they have tried
to block anything that might help the economy -- while decrying it all
as dangerously outside the mainstream. There's a problem. It's not. The
Obama administration has just followed textbook economics -- spending
more and cutting interest rates amidst a slump -- much as a hypothetical
McCain administration likely would have followed textbook economics.
After denouncing these policies for years, the Republicans can't very
well run on them. So they blame those policies for creating uncertainty,
evidence be damned.
As for doing nothing, that's exactly what we've tried for the past
two years. It hasn't worked. Now, eventually it will "work" -- in other
words, housing will come back at some point, no matter what we do or do
not do. It already might -- with the Fed giving it a kick as well. But
believing that our problem is we have the wrong person doing nothing
I'll add that the political debate over economic policy has always
had less to do with how to restore economic growth than who gets helped
and who gets hurt by whatever short- and long-term policies are to be
implemented. The banks get bailed out because the banks matter to both
parties. The stock market recovers for the same reason. Employment is
more contentious, because the Republicans actually like weaking the
labor market -- cheap labor, reduced benefits, etc. The balance of
political power was different in the New Deal, resulting in a massive
unionization movement. Try that now and you'll hear how that leads to
even more unemployment, but in history it led to broad middle class
economic growth -- something 30 years of conservative politics have
done their best to wreck.
Sunday, October 7. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
William J Broad: Robert F Christy, Atom Bomb Physicist, Dies at 96:
Dr. Christy may be best remembered for a bitter encounter that crystallized
the resentment that many American scientists felt toward Edward Teller,
considered the father of the hydrogen bomb.
During the height of American cold war fears of Communist influences,
Teller, a veteran of the Manhattan Project, had testified against Oppenheimer
before the Atomic Energy Commission, questioning his judgment and recommending
that the government revoke his security clearance.
Shortly after the testimony, in the summer of 1954, scientists attending
a conference at Los Alamos were preparing for a picnic lunch on a terrace.
Teller saw Dr. Christy, an old friend, and hurried over to greet him.
But Dr. Christy, a former protégé and colleague of Oppenheimer's and
known to be a courteous, genial man, threw back an icy glance and walked
"I was so stunned that for a moment I couldn't react," Teller recalled
in Memoirs, a 2001 book. "Then I realized that my life as I had
known it was over."
I'm not really familiar with Christy, although I've read enough
about the Manhattan Project I must have run into him somewhere. Some
other recent obituaries I plan on writing about sooner or later:
Eugene D. Genovese, Eric Hobsbawm, Barry Commoner.
Paul Krugman: Disdain for Workers:
By now everyone knows how Mitt Romney, speaking to donors in Boca Raton,
washed his hands of almost half the country -- the 47 percent who don't
pay income taxes -- declaring, "My job is not to worry about those people.
I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility
and care for their lives." By now, also, many people are aware that the
great bulk of the 47 percent are hardly moochers; most are working families
who pay payroll taxes, and elderly or disabled Americans make up a majority
of the rest.
But here's the question: Should we imagine that Mr. Romney and his party
would think better of the 47 percent on learning that the great majority of
them actually are or were hard workers, who very much have taken personal
responsibility for their lives? And the answer is no.
For the fact is that the modern Republican Party just doesn't have much
respect for people who work for other people, no matter how faithfully and
well they do their jobs. All the party's affection is reserved for "job
creators," a k a employers and investors. Leading figures in the party find
it hard even to pretend to have any regard for ordinary working families --
who, it goes without saying, make up the vast majority of Americans.
Am I exaggerating? Consider the Twitter message sent out by Eric Cantor,
the Republican House majority leader, on Labor Day -- a holiday that
specifically celebrates America's workers. Here's what it said, in its
entirety: "Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard,
built a business and earned their own success." Yes, on a day set aside
to honor workers, all Mr. Cantor could bring himself to do was praise
their bosses. [ . . . ]
The point is that what people are now calling the Boca Moment wasn't
some trivial gaffe. It was a window into the true attitudes of what has
become a party of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy, a
party that considers the rest of us unworthy of even a pretense of respect.
Andrew Leonard: What the Presidential Candidates Aren't Talking About:
Issues they don't have any substantive disagreement on, and issues Obama
would rather not talk about for various reasons -- he doesn't see any
tangible gain from doing so, he doesn't want to expose himself to attacks
(gee, look how well that's worked out), he doesn't care, and/or he doesn't
know any better. Leonard's examples: climate change, Afghanistan, poverty,
drone wars, gun control. I'm not big on politicking over the latter myself,
but I was surprised by how large some of these numbers are:
In 2010, the last year for which data are available, there were 31,672
gun-related deaths in the United States. The last 18 months have witnessed
three high-profile shootings, the Tucson attack on Rep. Gabby Giffords,
D-Ariz., in January 2011; the Aurora, Colo. massacre in July 2012; and
the mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in August. In the wake
of the Aurora shootings, ABC News reported that "the gun murder rate in
the U.S. is almost 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most
populous nations combined."
But there's a pretty simple answer as to why gun control has not been
an issue in the 2012 presidential campaign. Obama' response to the
high-profile shooting incidents that have occurred during his term has
been to take no action. Romney's response would be the same. With no
difference between the two campaigns, there's nothing to cover.
Links for further study:
Mike Konczal: Is Taxing Capital Income Fair? I wound up writing a
long letter about this piece, squirreled away in the notebook, so I
won't repeat all that here. Konczal states the idea, then dismisses it,
so I'm not arguing. Rather, I'm shocked that anyone -- well, actually
we know who those people are -- would be so brazen as to argue on any
grounds that income from capital ownership should be exempt from taxes.
I'll add one more point here: we already favor capital income in two
huge ways. One is that through Keogh and other plans we allow taxes
to be deferred on long-term savings. The other is that workers do not
get to deduct their expenses before labor income is taxed, business
owners and investors do: indeed, much of the advantage of owning a
"small" business is the ability to deduct and depreciate some (or in
many cases much) of your living expenses, only paying taxes on the
profit left over. And now they want to avoid paying taxes on that,
too. Go look up the definition of Chutzpah.
Mattea Kramer: Tough Talk for America: subtitled "A Guide to the
Presidential Debates You Won't Hear"; author of A People's Guide
to the Federal Budget; looks into debt, recession, taxes, Medicare
("or any other kind of health care"), the military, education; finds
we're doing just about everything wrong, which is about right.
Andy Kroll: The Death of the Golden Dream of Higher Education:
The detailed reporting is all about California, but the general idea
applies elsewhere. For whatever reasons, it's becoming prohibitively
expensive to get a college education, and the economy (not to mention
the well being of the populace) suffers for that.
Michael O'Donnell: A Malevolent Forrest Gump: review of Joseph
Crespino's book, Strom Thurmond's America, reminds us "he was
there at all the major choke points of modern conservative history."
Sunday, September 30. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Ryan Cooper: Delisting an Islamo-Marxist Terror Cult and Elite Decline:
Looks like the big lobby effort behind the MEK is succeeding -- it will
be hard to ever forgive Howard Dean, in particular, for this.
But the fact that Giuliani, Dean and company would choose to associate
themselves with this organization in such an obviously corrupt way is
indicative of the general decline of elite quality that is afflicting
this country. Islamist, terrorist, Marxist, and cult are probably the
four most toxic adjectives in American political discourse, and yet we
have literally an Islamo-Marxist cult with a history of terrorism,
including murdering American soldiers, that has bought its way off the
terrorist organization list. And recent history is stuffed with examples
of this sort of enemy-of-my-enemy thinking blowing up in our face!
Does anyone remember how arming the Afghan mujahideen in the 80s
Cooper missed one big thing, which is that the reason MEK has gotten
so much support is Israel: much of the bogus "intelligence" that Israel
has trumpeted on Iran's "nuclear ambitions" has come from their alliance
with the MEK. It's also likely that Israel views the MEK as not just a
good way to sabotage Iran but as a prospect for regime change -- which
is what many Israeli security gurus see as the ultimate solution to
their Iran problem. Another big point is that approval of MEK shows
the world that for the US terrorism has more to do with who you target
than with the act itself. As long as MEK was listed, the US could argue
otherwise (admittedly from shaky grounds -- cf. Cuba, Nicaragua, a lot
of cases, including Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda, all of which have tempted
the US to cross the line). With this embrace of the MEK, that line is
an even more transparent joke.
Paul Krugman: Notes on the Political Economy of Redistribution:
Somewhat wonky, and I'm not sure the model really holds up, partly
because there are more to the question of how government redistributes
income (e.g., patents redistribute up). But beyond the model:
In particular, imagine yourself as a hired gun for the right tail
of the income distribution. What would you do in an effort to stop
the median voter from realizing that she would benefit from a more
European-style system? Well, you'd do everything you can to exaggerate
the disincentive effects of higher taxes, while trying to convince
middle-income voters that the benefits of government programs go to
other people. And at the same time, you'd do everything you can to
disenfranchise lower-income citizens, so that the median voter has
a higher income than the median citizen.
So far, efforts along these lines have been remarkably successful.
But operatives on the right are clearly worried that their three-decade
run of success may be coming to an end. Indeed, the whole panic about
the lucky duckies and all that can be seen as reflecting a great fear
on the part of the right that any day now the median voter will realize
where his true interests lie, and start supporting much more
Andrew Leonard: Romney's Ohio Problem: The political problem is
globalization, a problem for both candidates, but more so for Romney,
especially if you consider his tax returns:
Consider: 267 out of the 379 pages of Romney's return detail his
holdings in 34 offshore foreign corporations and partnerships --
including 15 in the Cayman Islands, as well as Bermuda, Luxembourg,
the Netherlands and Ireland. In 2011, Romney reported $3.5 million
in foreign income out of total of $13.7 million. He paid $88,853 in
foreign taxes -- an effective tax rate of a minuscule 2.4 percent.
He also applied for and received a foreign tax credit in the U.S. --
so he actually lowered his U.S. tax liability by getting a credit
for the low taxes he paid on investments parked outside the United
This also underscores a big problem with trickle-down policies
like tax cuts and easy credit for the rich: even when they turn
around and invest that money, they're more likely to invest it
abroad, because that's where the returns are, and the tax breaks
are just gravy on top of that.
Patrick Tyler: Defusing Israel's "Detonator" Strategy: The "detonator"
is a Moshe Dayan concept: basically, Israel tries to bully other nations
into doing its bidding by threatening to make an even bigger mess if they
have to act alone. It is unlikely that an Israeli strike can seriously
disrupt Iran's nuclear infrastructure, but attempting to do so is certain
to make a region-wide mess, not least for the US.
"The philosophical underpinning of U.S. policy toward Israel," President
Ford said, "had been our conviction -- and certainly my own -- that if we
gave Israel an ample supply of economic aid and weapons, she would feel
strong and confident, more flexible and more willing to discuss a lasting
peace." But after serial wars and a strong aversion within the ruling
elite to compromise, Ford lamented, "I began to question the rationale
for our policy."
Israel deserves our attention and protection. But 60 years after its
founding, it remains in the thrall of an original martial impulse, the
depth of which has given rise to succeeding generations of leaders who
seem ever on the hair trigger in dealing with their rivals, and whose
contingency planners embrace only worst-case scenarios in a process that
magnifies the sense of national peril, encourages military preemption
and covert subversion, and undermines any chance for a more engaging
diplomacy based on compromise and accommodation.
By the way, Tyler has a new book out, Fortress Israel: The Inside
Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country -- and Why They Can't
Make Peace. I've ordered a copy.
Matthew Yglesias: Plossers "Warns" That QE 3 May Lead to Economic
QE 3 skeptic and Philadelphia Federal Reserve President Charles Plosser
gave a very strange speech outlining his opposition to monetary stimulus
which I think can best be summarized as starting with concerns that it
won't work and ending with dire warnings that it might work. Perhaps the
strangest part comes when he warns that aggressive monetary stimulus in
today's era might lead to consequences similar to those seen in the
mid-1930s, when FDR's stimulative monetary policies broke the back of
the Great Depression.
The sense you get from bankers like Plosser is that we already have
the perfect recovery, aside from the lose end of disposing of the Democrat
in the White House. The big banks are flush again, more concentrated than
ever; profits are back up to pre-recession levels, companies are sitting
on piles of cash, and the stock market is higher than ever, so business
(and Republicans) are quite content with doing nothing more. After all,
the vast increase in unemployment isn't their problem -- if anything, it's
their blessing, as it weakens labor markets, allowing businesses to demand
more givebacks from labor.
Links for further study:
Brian Beutler: A History of Mitt Romney and the 47 Percent
Ryan Cooper: Democrats and Hunters: A Natural Alliance: Actually,
hunters have long been concerned about environmental depradations
(except, of course, their own, but even there not without exception).
David Corn: Secret Video: Romney Tells Millionaire Donors What He
Really Thinks of Obama Voters: on the freeloading 47%, the
"takers" who are in thrall to Obama's socialist largesse.
Nicholas Lemann: Transaction Man: Long piece on Romney, but only
the abstract is online.
John Quiggin: The White Working Class: Unraveling confusion about who
supports the Republicans: nothing correlates more than money, but there
is a bump for non-college-educated white men over college-educated at
the same income levels. The former are fortunate to have gained their
success without education credentials and connections, and so are eager
to believe their success earned, where much of it is arguably luck.
Quiggin posted a follow-up,
A Quick Update on the White Working Class, where he admitted that
most of the Republican trend in this class so defined is concentrated
in the South -- no big surprise there.
John Quiggin: The Golden Age: Major article on whatever happened
to all that leisure science, technology, and capitalism had promised
to economic thinkers like Keynes.
Mark Thoma: Nontaxpayers Are Overwhelmingly the Elderly and Students.
Sunday, September 16. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Jonathan Bernstein: Paul Ryan Fails -- The Truth: Much one can say
about Ryan's mendacity, but this is a pretty good example. Ryan attacked
Obama for not doing anything about the Simpson-Bowles commission report:
He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent
report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly
From this quote, you'd never suspect that Ryan was himself a member
of that commission ("they . . . them . . .
them"), and that he and the other House Republicans had voted against
the report. There was, in short, no bipartisan agreement for Obama to
walk away from. More examples follow, but Bernstein is only scratching
While you're at it, take a gander at
Brad DeLong: Paul Ryan Calls for Fewer Jobs and Higher Unemployment
in America. That's not literally what he said. His phrase was,
"We want honest money." Which is to say he's against the Fed expanding
the monetary base. Whether that means he wants to dispose of the $8
trillion of "fiat currency" the Fed has created since 1950 isn't
clear, but at least looking forward he wants an economy that cannot
grow, which certainly adds up to DeLong's title. (I am saddened,
though, that Paul Sweezy takes a fall in the end.)
Lawrence Downes: The Man in the Empty Chair: Applauds Clint Eastwood
at the GOP Convention ("the perfect distillation of the Republican
The last four years have been an extended exercise in Republican
denialism: This cannot be. This isn't happening. If you're really
the president, show us your papers.
Imaginary Barack was invented in Hawaii, sneaked into the Oval
Office, and has no legitimate claim on the presidency. As for the
real tall black guy posing in Washington, go ahead and treat him
any way you want. You can jab your finger in his face, shout him
down, call him a Muslim, a Kenyan, an illegal alien, you can invent
all kinds of lies about him and then you can tell him -- get out
of that chair.
In reality, the president is a more-or-less mainstream,
smarter-than-average pol, left-of-center on some things, to the
right on others, like guns, disturbingly hawkish on ordering the
killing of American citizens suspected of terrorism, on national
security, executive secrecy and immigration. He is, too, an
inveterate compromiser who used to bend over backward to make
deals -- sometimes in advance! -- with Republicans.
But that guy is not as scary as Imaginary Barack.
Matt Stoller: Clinton's No Liberal Hero:
A few years ago, Clinton said, "I never had any money until I got out
of the White House, you know, but I've done reasonably well since then."
That's $2.9 million, just in 2011, for 15 speeches. Indeed. So while
Romney and Clinton are ostensible political opponents, they share more
than you'd know just from press reports. The primary difference between
them is not a question of fealty to finance, but that Romney made his
fortune with Bain Capital before he sought office, whereas Clinton made
his afterward. [ . . . ]
This split is why the 2012 election is so empty of substance, because
the concerns of the elites are addressed, and the voices of millions are
simply unacknowledged. Bill Clinton offers essentially the same belief
system as both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, one in which private industry
runs the government through payoffs to ex-officials, and government returns
the favor through bailouts. If Americans are ever going to grapple with the
power of banks over their lives, they are going to have to come to grips
with the real track record of their leaders, including Bill Clinton. And
it isn't pretty. And until people like Bill Clinton can be compensated in
ways that aren't obviously corrupting, and their track records honestly
assessed, elections will continue to be unimportant, simple popular
ratification of an increasingly authoritarian creditor state.
Stephen M Walt: Why Do People Keep Predicting War With Iran?:
Cites a number of examples starting with Jeffrey Goldberg's 2010
cover story in The Atlantic -- one could go back further; as
Juan Cole notes, back in 1992 Netanyahu predicted that Iran
was "3 to 5 years" from having a nuclear weapon -- up to yesterday:
Last but not least, yesterday's New York Times featured a one-sided
story on the "shadow war" between Israel and Iran that placed virtually
all the blame for the trouble on Tehran. On the front page, it described
a "continuing offensive" by Iran, without mentioning that there has been
a long cycle of tit-for-tat between these two countries. Only after the
jump came any mention of the assassination of Iranian civilian scientists
(almost certainly by the Mossad), or any acknowledgement that Iran might
be acting defensively rather than conducting a totally unprovoked campaign
of aggression. [ . . . ]
As I noted a few months back, it's virtually impossible to know how
much credence to place in the repeated predictions that Israel is about
to attack. It does prove that there is no shortage of journalists or
pundits who are willing to serve as sympathetic stenographers for
government officials, but it doesn't tell you very much about what is
going to happen or what these officials really believe. Why? Because
the various officials whose alarming testimony forms the basis for
these articles have lots of different reasons for stirring the pot
in this fashion.
It's worth reminding ourselves that there is considerable opposition
within Israel's own security illuminati to attacking Iran, which as far
as I can tell has more to do with how unlikely an affective attack would
be than with any repercussions (which, most likely, would redound on the
US far worse than on Israel). One outspoken opponent of a strike is
ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who unfortunately has an even worse idea
in mind for a solution: subvert and overthrow the Iranian regime.
Walt also has a piece titled
Why Americans Don't Understand the Middle East, which starts with
a photo of NBC correspondent Richard Engel.
Links for further study:
James K Galbraith: No Return to Normal: Written in 2009, subhed:
"Why the economic crisis, and its solution, are bigger than you think."
Main thing wrong with the piece is the assumption that there would be
a solution: in fact, the Republicans have managed to kick the legs out
from under nearly everything Obama pushed, and have intimidated Obama
to the point that he didn't push much. Then there's important stuff
that never occurred to Obama or his team, like:
Second, we should offset the violent drop in the wealth of the elderly
population as a whole. The squeeze on the elderly has been little noted
so far, but it hits in three separate ways: through the fall in the
stock market; through the collapse of home values; and through the drop
in interest rates, which reduces interest income on accumulated cash.
For an increasing number of the elderly, Social Security and Medicare
wealth are all they have.
That means that the entitlement reformers have it backward: instead
of cutting Social Security benefits, we should increase them, especially
for those at the bottom of the benefit scale. Indeed, in this crisis,
precisely because it is universal and efficient, Social Security is an
economic recovery ace in the hole. Increasing benefits is a simple,
direct, progressive, and highly efficient way to prevent poverty and
sustain purchasing power for this vulnerable population. I would also
argue for lowering the age of eligibility for Medicare to (say) fifty-five,
to permit workers to retire earlier and to free firms from the burden of
managing health plans for older workers.
Plug at the end of the piece for Galbraith's book, The Predator
State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals
Should Too. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best political book
written in the last decade.
Jeremiah Goulka: Why I Left the GOP: Better late than never, but
John B Judis: Mitt Romney, Latter-Day Neoncon
Ed Kilgore: World Without Labor Day: Looks like it's become a
Republican meme that the people we should celebrate on Labor Day
are the entrepreneurs (you know, the "job creators") instead of
the people who actually did the work.
TPM quotes Eric Cantor: "Today, we celebrate those who have taken
a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success."
Andrew Leonard: Apple's Enormous Insult:
I've been an Apple-hater since c. 1980, but more evidence why should too:
Apple shrugs. Instead of joining this one-world utopia of interoperability,
Apple is replacing its own unique, incompatible-with-everyone-else dock
connector with a new dock connector that is incompatible with itself.
[ . . . ] That's the true genius of Steve Jobs. He
resurrected a model of old-school tech monopoly that everyone else thought
Stephen M Walt: What Terrorist Threat?: Includes a link to an
article (PDF only) by John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart,
The Terrorism Delusion: America's Overwrought Response to September
11. Mueller wrote a book in 2006 called Overblown: How
Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security
Threats, and Why We Believe Them, in 2009 wrote Atomic
Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism From Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda (has
a couple pages on Israel and Iran, not nearly enough), and
co-wrote with Stewart the 2011 book, Terror, Security, and
Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland
Sunday, August 19. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Ben Jacobs: Further Bad News for Southern Democrats: Points out
that the Democrats only bothered to run three candidates for six
Louisiana house seats. (The Libertarians managed five.) This is
just further evidence of how poorly organized the Democrats are.
(Cue Will Rodgers joke here.) Some of the blame here surely goes
to Obama's decision to get rid of Democratic Party chair Howard
Dean and his "50 state strategy." For another example, Obama's not
going to be interested in running any sort of campaign in Kansas,
and that's trickled down to the local party. The Democrats didn't
bother to file a candidate to run against Kevin Yoder in a house
seat that only two years ago was held by a Democrat. In Wichita,
the Democrats didn't nominate anyone for District Attorney, an
office they've held for more than a decade.
Ed Kilgore: Telling the Brief Success Story of Mitt Romney:
Success, success, success. What other option does his campaign have than
to paint a brief and heavily edited story of Mitt's life as one unbroken
triumph after another? But the editing will have to be heavy: Bain without
outsourcing or too much "creative destruction," the Olympics without public
subsidies or too many references to London, and of course the Massachusetts
governorship with most of his major accomplishments going unmentioned.
I suppose they could have gone in a very different direction, telling
Mitt's tale as one of sin and redemption whereby he has finally come to
the True Faith of a ideology that treats government merely as a help-mate
to private-sector "job creators" and moral censors. But such an approach
would show defensiveness about "success," and we can't have that in a
room full of the smug and self-righteous, can we?
Paul Krugman: The Ryan Role:
Mark Kleiman points us to a lamentable but revealing column by William
Saletan, which illustrates perfectly how the essentially ludicrous Paul
Ryan has gotten so far -- namely, by playing to the gullibility of
self-proclaimed centrists, who want to show their "balance" by finding
a conservative to praise. [ . . . ]
Look, Ryan hasn't "crunched the numbers"; he has just scribbled some
stuff down, without checking at all to see if it makes sense. He asserts
that he can cut taxes without net loss of revenue by closing unspecified
loopholes; he asserts that he can cut discretionary spending to levels
not seen since Calvin Coolidge, without saying how; he asserts that he
can convert Medicare to a voucher system, with much lower spending than
now projected, without even a hint of how this is supposed to work. This
is just a fantasy, not a serious policy proposal.
So why does Saletan believe otherwise? Has he crunched the numbers
himself? Of course not. What he's doing -- and what the whole Beltway
media crowd has done -- is to slot Ryan into a role someone is supposed
to be playing in their political play, that of the thoughtful, serious
conservative wonk. In reality, Ryan is nothing like that; he's a hard-core
conservative, with a voting record as far right as Michelle Bachman's,
who has shown no competence at all on the numbers thing.
Also worth noting is Krugman's first reaction to Romney's pick of
Paul Ryan for VP:
Galt/Gekko 2012. Clever to put Ryan ahead of Romney there: reminds
me of what happened the last time a vacuous but opportunistic headliner
(Bush) picked a hardcore ideologist (Cheney) for his ticket mate.
Paul Krugman: Culture of Fraud:
One of many comments on Romney's "white paper on economic policy":
The big story of the week among the dismal science set is the Romney
campaign's white paper on economic policy, which represents a concerted
effort by three economists -- Glenn Hubbard, Greg Mankiw, and John Taylor --
to destroy their own reputations. (Yes, there was a fourth author, Kevin
Hassett. But the co-author of Dow 36,000 doesn't exactly have a
reputation to destroy).
And when I talk about destroying reputations, I don't just mean saying
things I disagree with. I mean flat-out, undeniable professional malpractice.
It's one thing to make shaky or even demonstrably wrong arguments. It's
something else to cite the work of other economists, claiming that it
supports your position, when it does no such thing -- and don't take my
word for it, listen to the protests of the cited economists.
And by the way, this isn't obscure stuff. To take one example: the
work of Mian and Sufi on household debt and the slump has been playing
a big role in making the case for a demand-driven depression, which is
exactly the kind of situation in which stimulus makes sense -- so you
have to be completely out of it and/or unscrupulous to cite some of
their work and claim that it refutes the case for stimulus. Or to take
another example, which Brad DeLong picks up, anyone following the debate
knows that the Baker et al paper claiming to show that uncertainty is
holding back recovery clearly identifies the relevant uncertainty as
arising from things like the GOP's brinksmanship over the debt ceiling --
not things like Obamacare. [ . . . ]
Remember, Romney spent months castigating President Obama because he
"apologizes for America" -- something Obama has never, in fact, actually
done. Then he spent weeks declaring that Obama has denigrated small
business by claiming that businessmen didn't actually build their own
firms -- all based on a remark that was clearly about infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Romney's tax plan is now a demonstrated fraud -- big tax
cuts for the rich that he claims would be offset by closing loopholes,
but the Tax Policy Center has demonstrated that the arithmetic can't
possibly work. He turns out to have been dishonest about when he really
left Bain. And on and on.
So this is a campaign that's all about faking it -- fake claims about
Obama, fake claims about policy, fake claims about Romney's personal
Is it really surprising, then, that the economists who have decided
to lend their names to the campaign have been caught up in this culture
A personal note: my own view of Romney, never high in the first place,
was taken down a couple notches several weeks ago when I first saw the
talking head credited as Romney's "chief economic advisor" pop up on TV:
Glenn Hubbard. The nation has no shortage of conservative economists, so
how unimaginative (not to mention lazy and ignorant) was it for Romney
to settle on the same guy who advised Bush 12 years ago? Of course, if
you're in the 0.1% stratospheric bubble Romney inhabits, you might think
of the Bush years as some sort of golden age of prosperity, ane experience
that virtually everyone else missed out on. (Mankiw, by the way, was
Bush's second chief economist, after Hubbard.)
Also on Romney's white paper, see:
Andrew Leonard: Back to the Bush Future!, and for background,
Kevin Hassett, World's Worst Economist, Works for Romney.
Also, this bit by
Brad DeLong (HHMT = Hassett, Hubbard, Mankiw, Taylor):
HHMT: We are presently in the most anemic economic recovery in the
memory of most Americans, with significant joblessness and long-term
unemployment, as well as lost income and savings.
WRONG: We are in the worst downturn, but we are not in the "most
anemic" recovery -- the recovery of 2001-2004 was more anemic. HHMT
should know: three of them held high federal office in the George W.
Bush administration that managed that recovery, and back then all
four attempted (uncovincingly, IMHO) to rebut claims from people
(like me) that the early 2000s recovery was anemic and that more
stimulative policies were then needed.
Much more from
DeLong on Hassett, including this Barry Ritholtz quote: "Call it
the audacity of cluelessness." You can also read how Hassett "called
for the USAF to attack France and Switzerland to stop CERN's Large
hadron Collider from going into action."
Andrew Leonard: Our Chick-Fil-A Economy:
I blame Meat Mondays and Chick-Fil-A. Somewhere during the the past 10 to
15 years economic policy positions in the U.S. have become cultural values:
Issues like tax cuts or deficits have become as toxic in the public discourse
as abortion or gay marriage. Increasingly, people seem to choose their
positions not because of what the "evidence" indicates, but because they
are seeking ideological markers that fit snugly into a web of tribal
partisan allegiances. To pick just one defining example: It doesn't matter
whether one can prove that tax cuts are at a historic low, or have a
disastrous effect on the deficit, or even how many economists point out
that further cuts won't generate revenue to pay for themselves. Opposition
to taxes defines what it means to be a conservative today, just as does
opposition to abortion. You can't be a conservative who supports higher
taxes -- that would make you a liberal. The hardening into concrete of
this faith-based economic policy value system is a relatively recent
phenomenon that has incurred disastrous fallout: The U.S. is now incapable
of debate or compromise. We've chosen sides, and all-out war is all we've
A full explanation of the Meat Monday (as opposed to the socialist
plot behind Meatless Mondays) follows, including a quote from Senator
Charles Grassley (R-IA): "This is a reminder to USDA that it's supposed
to advocate for American agriculture, not against it." Which makes
Congress Hangs Farmers Out to Dry all the more interesting:
Just how screwed up is the United States? A catastrophic drought has
impelled the federal government to designate more than half the nation's
counties as disaster areas. Yet even in the face of this historic disaster,
Congress has proven itself incapable of passing legislation, large or small,
to help the farmers affected by the drought.
The big failure is Congress' inability to pass a new farm bill. The
Senate did manage to rally the votes to get a comprehensive trillion-dollar
five-year bill through its chamber, but House Republicans refused to go
along because the bill includes too much funding for food stamps.
[ . . . ]
The Senate, however, is unlikely to take up the House's bill because
it pays its $383 million price tag by gutting $650 million from two
environmental conservation programs. The point is moot, anyway, because
the Senate has also closed down for the rest of August. The drought will
continue, but Washington can't be bothered.
The dysfunction doesn't end there. Conservative activist groups also
opposed the House bill, on the grounds that farmers and livestock owners
should have known better.
One area where we actually do have an overbloated welfare state is
for farmers, but in the past that's been an agreeable compromise. In
particular, food stamps help the poor, but they also help absorb the
sector's overproduction, so both right and left benefit -- as long as
they can get together and compromise. But we've lost not only the
ability to tolerate something that is mutually beneficial, we've also
lost sight of why it's important to have a government that actively
meddles in the farm market: because the market, left to itself, is
dysfunctional -- something that had become abundantly obvious in the
years before the New Deal.
Links for further study:
Joel Beinin: The Left, the Jews and Defenders of Israel: Reviews
three books, two by US liberals who wish their love of Israel to be
returned by something more liberal than the current right-wing junta
(Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, and Jeremy Ben-Ami,
A New Voice for Israel: Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish
Nation), plus a book that sees anti-semitism lurking under every
rock (especially the red ones: Robert Wistrich, From Ambivalence
to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews and Israel). Focuses mostly on
the latter, but picking over who said what when misses the point:
from 1870-1945, every increase in anti-semitism in Europe was the
result of the nationalist drive to war, scapegoating Jews as outside
the nation, and raising the pitch of violence. (Dreyfus, you should
recall, was blamed for sabotaging France in the Franco-Prussian War.)
That nationalist drive, in turn, was driven by Europe's imperialist
subjugation of the rest of the world -- a culture both for war and
for racism. It isn't ironical that when some Jews sought to follow
the path of European imperialism and nationalism, they recapitulated
the drive to war and racism. The Zionists' most convenient scapegoats,
of course, were the Arabs whose land and freedom they took, but
Zionists have never lacked for Jews to blame as well: indeed, how is
the whole "self-hating" characterization not an especially insidious
form of anti-semitism? What is remarkable about Israel isn't its long
slide into racism and militarism, but how long it was able to pass
itself off as progressive and moral -- an illusion so alluring that
Beinart and Ben-Ami are still under its spell.
By the way, you can read selected quotes from Beinart's book
here. Also quotes
The Unmaking of Israel, which goes further into the
undemocratic nature of Israel.
Eric Foner: Freedom Deferred: Book review of Stephen Kantrowitz:
More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic,
1829-1889 (Penguin). I also noticed a 2003 article by Foner,
Not All Freedom Is Made in America, which cited Louis Hartz,
Prevailing ideas of freedom in the United States, he noted, had become
so rigid that Americans could no longer appreciate definitions of
freedom, common in other countries, related to social justice and
economic equality, "and hence are baffled by their use."
Rosie Gray: How Management Killed "The Village Voice".
Mark Oppenheimer: The Prodigal Frum: Useful background story, helps
explain both why Frum was Bush's most eloquent defender and why he
occasionally wanders off the reservation. Quotes Frum's brother Michael:
"When you're born with a silver spoon in your mouth, it's easy to say
poor people don't deserve fuck all."
William Julius Wilson: The Great Disparity: Review of two books,
Timothy Noah's important The Great Divergence: America's Growing
Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It (Bloomsbury), and
Charles Murray's hideous Coming Apart: The State of White America,
1960-2010 (Crown Forum).
Sunday, July 22. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Mike Konczal: Mythological Job Creators:
I'd argue that instead of self-reliance, the real idea the right is
appealing to here is the idea of the "job creator." It goes beyond
the person who gets by on his own without any help from the government
or the public at large. It's the idea that the rich create all the value
of the economy. [ . . . ]
And, crucially, rather than being a myth or a fairy tale conservatives
tell themselves, this idea of the "job creator" is the basis for current
policy-making on the right. As Texas Governor Rick Perry put it during
the primary, "America is not going to move forward until we remove
restrictions of over-taxation, over-regulation and over-litigation on
the job creators and free them so the jobs can be created." Charles
Krauthammer argues on TV that we have a capital strike that's holding
back the economy. John Boehner gives speeches where he argues "private-sector
job creators in particular -- are rattled by what they've seen out of
this town over the last few years. My worry is that for American job
creators, all the uncertainty is turning to fear that this toxic environment
for job creation is a permanent state. Job creators in America are
essentially on strike."
Speeches like these diagnose the problem, and then it turns into
policy. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's policy plans for job
creation operate under the assumption that those at the top of the
economic pyramid are being held in check. His Day One proposals include
"the elimination of Obama-era regulations that unduly burden the economy
or job creation," "revers[ing] the executive orders issued by President
Obama that tilt the playing field in favor of organized labor," cutting
corporate taxes, eliminating the estate tax, and a variety of other
policy designed to give the "job creators" a firmer hand in controlling
the economy. His education policy includes putting private actors in
charge of everything, especially putting commercial banks back into the
sweet spot of collecting government-insured money and expanding how easy
it is for for-profit colleges to qualify for federal money. Presumably
he does this because the private is always superior to the public,
regardless of how much the business model appears to be a vacuum for
subsidies. His tax and social safety net policy focus on boosting the
earnings of those at the top of the pyramid on the backs of those at
These policies include no hint that the economy is stuck due to
inadequate demand or the weak purchasing power of the middle and working
classes and the delinking of wages and productivity. There's no mention
of the need to expand education and infrastructure to create the economy
of the 21st century. There's absolutely no sense that the economy encourages
the most innovative or entrepreneurial when there is full employment and
a portable social safety net that provides economic security. And it is
light-years away from the observation that society is a system of
cooperation in which the value in the economy is created together.
Also see Konczal's follow up:
What Policy Agenda Follows From "You Didn't Build That?".
Andrew Leonard: Dusty, Red-State Bailout: On federal crop insurance,
a form of "safety net for climate change."
Dust bowl, here we come? The worst drought in the United States in 50
years is still looking for more records to break. On Wednesday, Agriculture
Secretary Tom Vilsack declared another 39 counties in eight states disaster
areas, bringing the current total to 1,297 counties in 29 states -- or one
out of every three counties in the country. According to the Drought Monitor,
61 percent of the continental United States is currently experiencing
"moderate to exceptional drought." The situation is most extreme in Iowa
and Illinois -- two states responsible for a third of the U.S. corn
With each day that passes, the disaster is getting worse, and there's
no imminent help to be expected from the weather gods -- the near-term
forecast for much of the grain belt is "hot and dry." Corn and soybean
prices are spiking to record heights, even the mighty Mississippi is
drying up, and food prices are bound to rise, both in the United States
and globally. Most troubling of all: If you are inclined to believe the
consensus prediction of climate scientists, this is exactly the kind of
extreme weather catastrophe that we can expect to see more of in the
Never mind the wishy-washy dilly-dallying that warns us not to attribute
any specific climate event to rising temperatures. The circumstantial
evidence alone is broadly compelling. The last 12 months, NOAA tells us,
were the warmest in North America since detailed records started being
kept in 1895. In June, 2,284 temperature records were broken in the U.S. --
and lo and behold, a historically massive drought hammered the country in
July. The most recent climate science suggests that rising temperatures
will increase the intensity and frequency of future extreme weather events.
With desiccated cornfields sending farmers into fits of gloom across the
nation, now might be a good time to wonder if we ought to be doing anything
to prepare for even worse climate-induced agricultural mayhem in the future.
Leonard explains that federal crop insurance was a New Deal invention,
even though it's been continued mostly because it suits agribusiness. And
he points out that "When Republican constituents need help, Republican
senators are suddenly a lot friendlier to the welfare state." And he adds
It's amusing, if a little bit unfair, to compare Roosevelt's comments
to Wallace to a statement of profound helplessness made by the current
secretary of agriculture to reporters on Wednesday, with respect to what
the federal government could do for farmers above and beyond making
access to emergency loans cheaper.
I get on my knees everyday and I'm saying an extra prayer right now.
If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance I could do, I would do it.
As Gov. Rick Perry found out in Texas, prayer doesn't bring rain.
Nor is simply hoping for the best or appealing to native spirits likely
to decrease the number of extreme weather events in the future.
What might help, however, is paying the proper attention to what
science can tell us about how future risks might be mitigated. Put
the political and ideological battle over the earth's temperature
aside: For the companies that stand to lose the most from massive
weather disasters -- the reinsurance companies that backstop regular
insurance companies across the planet -- the increasing frequency and
intensity of extreme weather events is a very big bottom line deal.
Andrew Leonard: Romney's Tax Nightmare:
It's bad enough that the son of a man who set the template for modern
presidential candidates by releasing 12 years of his returns can't be
persuaded to release more than one year (plus an estimate for 2011).
But one would tend to expect that a man who has been doing nothing but
run for president since 2006 would take pains not to engage in
tax-avoidance strategies guaranteed to make him look bad politically.
But one would be wrong. Because quite obviously, Romney screwed up.
The only thing we can say for sure about his tax strategy is that he
didn't manage his affairs as a serious presidential candidate should
have. So maybe the question we should be asking instead of, What is
he hiding? is, Why didn't he clean up his act years ago?
And the answer to that question, I would argue, is that Romney is
unable to escape who he truly is: a card-carrying member of the 1
percent who believes it is his right, nay, his duty, to minimize
his taxes. Because there's certainly nothing unusual about a man in
Romney's position (minus the presidential aspirations!) purchasing
the best low taxes money can buy. It's standard behavior for Fortune
500 corporations -- just like the outsourcing and offshoring strategies
that Bain (with or without Romney technically at the helm) invested in.
In this world, an offshore Cayman account isn't the exotic scam that it
seems to you and me -- it's a marker of wealth and position, like a
membership in an elite country club, or horses in a stable, or a pair
of Cadillacs in the garage. It's what you do! It's what's expected.
Alex Pareene: Aaron Sorkin Versus Reality: One more for the "Hack
List," including a critique of Sorkin's HBO series The Newsroom.
I've seen two episodes. The second was uproarious for about 60 seconds
as Jeff Daniels roasted three idiots on immigration -- I've always been
a sucker for Oklahoma jokes -- but otherwise the worst hour of TV I've
seen all year. Actually, The Veep isn't much funnier, but at
least it tries to be a comedy, and occasionally succeeds. And I walked
out after about 15 minutes of Political Animals, so there could
be worse shows.
Aaron Sorkin is why people hate liberals. He's a smug, condescending
know-it-all who isn't as smart as he thinks he is. His feints toward
open-mindedness are transparently phony, he mistakes his opinion for
common sense, and he's preachy. Sorkin has spent years fueling the
delusional self-regard of well-educated liberals. He might be more
responsible than anyone else for the anti-democratic "everyone would
agree with us if they weren't all so stupid" attitude of the
contemporary progressive movement. And age is not improving him.
Robin Wells: Mitt Romney's Offer of Government of Billionaires, for
Billionaires, by Billionaires:
As a very perceptive article in the
ew York Magazine, Lisa Miller describes how new psychological
research indicates that wealth erodes empathy with others. In the
"Money-Empathy Gap", Miller cites one researcher who says that:
"The rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests
above the interests of other people. It makes the more likely to
exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with,
Researchers found a consistent correlation between higher income,
management responsibility and disagreeableness. One researcher
interpreted her findings to imply that money makes people disinterested
in the welfare of others. "It's not a bad analogy to think of them
as a little autistic" says Kathleen Vos, a professor at the University
If this research is accurate (as it seems to be, replicated in
various ways by several researches), the synergies between it, the
increasing concentration of wealth and the Citizens United ruling,
have striking implications for the future of the Republican party.
As Newt Gingrich, the uber-southern politician, plaintively explained
how he lost the Republican primary: "Romney had 16 billionaires. I
had only one." The domination by the super-wealthy means that
Republicans not only have no interest in the welfare of the rest
of the 99.9%, they have no understanding of why this is a problem.
The noblesse oblige days of the old money, such as the Bushes, the
Kennedys and the Roosevelts are long gone, replaced by the new
mega-money of hedge funds, corporate raiders and global industrialists.
How else can one explain the allegiance of the Republican party to
the profoundly unpopular Ryan tax plan, which would eviscerate Medicare
and Medicaid while delivering more tax cuts to the rich? What is the
future of a party in a democracy when the powers-that-be can no longer
even understand, much less address, the welfare of the vast majority
of its citizens?
Links for further study:
Dean Baker: The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive:
E-book, available as a big PDF file, or on Kindle or Nook. I've been
meaning to get to this for some time now. Looks very important.
Helena Cobban: West Point Military Historian Denies the Net Value of
a Decade of War.
George Scialabba: 2001 review of Charles Lindblom, The Market
System: What It Is, How It Works, and What to Make of It, regarded
by Henry Farrell over at Crooked Timber as must-read.
Nicholas Shaxson: Where the Money Lives: Long, detailed piece on
Romney's tax avoidance schemes. For example:
One cannot properly understand Wall Street's size and power without
appreciating the central role of offshore tax havens. There is absolutely
no evidence that Bain has done anything illegal, but private equity is
one channel for this secrecy-shrouded foreign money to enter the United
States, and a filing for Mitt Romney's first $37 million Bain Capital
Fund, of 1984, provides a rare window into this. One foreign investor,
of $2 million, was the newspaper tycoon, tax evader, and fraudster
Robert Maxwell, who fell from his yacht, and drowned, off of the Canary
Islands in 1991 in strange circumstances, after looting his company's
pension fund. The Bain filing also names Eduardo Poma, a member of one
of the "14 families" oligarchy that has controlled most of El Salvador's
wealth for decades; oddly, Poma is listed as sharing a Miami address with
two anonymous companies that invested $1.5 million between them. The
filings also show a Geneva-based trustee overseeing a trust that invested
$2.5 million, a Bahamas corporation that put in $3 million, and three
corporations in the tax haven of Panama, historically a favored destination
for Latin-American dirty money -- "one of the filthiest money-laundering
sinks in the world," as a U.S. Customs official once put it.
Bain Capital has said it did everything required by the U.S. government
to check that the investors were not associated with unsavory interests.
U.S. law doesn't require Bain to enforce the tax laws of its investors'
home countries, but the presence of Swiss trustees, Bahamas trusts, and
Panama corporations would raise red flags with any tax authority.
Elbert Ventura: Christopher Hayes's Jeremiad Against the Ruling Class:
Review of Hayes' new book, Twilight of the Elites: America After
Meritocracy (2012, Crown).
Sunday, July 15. 2012
Someone asked yesterday whether I'd be running a Weekend Roundup
this week, and I replied "no, probably not." Didn't have anything
stashed away, but since then I found a few things. Classification
sysem is a little ricketty, as I wound up quoting from some of the
links I had intended as future references, while leaving the top
section dominated by Romney bashing. There will be a lot more of
that before the season's out. And hopefully it will get nastier,
because if anything these critics are too kind.
Robert S Becker: Romney, Perfect Foil for a Republicrat Incumbent?:
On paper, Obama fans should be ecstatic, taking on a tin-ear, gaffe-prone,
flip-flopping, bromide-driven, predatory casino capitalist who fudges,
lies, and distorts the destructive downsides to his great business triumphs.
Here's a brash politician who shrinks from his single public office --
recoiling from his most celebrated success, the horror of state health
reform. Throw in his massive spoils, flush with secret, offshore holdings
and tax dodges, capped off with a personal reign of terror against that
pet dog on vacation and one fellow student pinned down and victimized for
just seeming different. Does this ultimate, fabricated Republican nominee
not already pale next to the post-primary John McCain?
Paul Krugman: Business Is Not Economics:
Romney is running for president entirely on the basis of his business
success. In a better world he could be running on the basis of his
successful health reform, but now he's condemning that very achievement.
In a better world he could actually be running on the basis of some
kind of coherent policy ideas, but instead he's offering nothing but
a mix of tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the middle class
so extreme that focus groups refuse to believe that this is his actual
Krugman is wrong that his introductory quote from Obama is "exactly
right": the notion that a businessman's one and only obligation is
"to make sure you're maximizing returns for your investor" is one of
the most pernicious myths to have arisen since 1980. Before, people
who ran businesses lived in towns and states and countries that they
felt some obligation to respect and protect. Moreover, most felt like
they had moral obligations to their workers and customers even beyond
what was proscribed by criminal law. When Obama describes the blind
rapaciousness of business as "part of the American way" he is being
unduly charitable and even ahistorical. He would be much better off
defending Americans against the ways of such predators. (Of course,
American history is full of predatory businessmen -- a who's who of
the 19th century would find little but, notably Jay Gould and John
D. Rockefeller -- which is why from the Sherman Antitrust Act in the
1880s on numerous laws and regulations were enacted to limit the harm
businessmen could do; moreover, steeply progressive taxes took away
much of the incentive to larceny.)
Alex Pareene: Mitt Romney Shakes Off Boos at NAACP:
Romney also brought up his father, George Romney's, sterling civil rights
record -- George Romney was an ardent anti-segregationist -- which, as
usual, served to reinforce how cowardly and worthless Romney is compared
to his father. George Romney took tough, unpopular stands on issues that
sharply divided his party in the 1960s. He walked out on his party's
presidential convention and called its nominee, Barry Goldwater, a
racist. Goldwater's people won the battle for control of the party and
their descendants are still in charge. One of Mitt Romney's first moves
as governor of Massachusetts was to eliminate the state's Office of
Affirmative Action with an executive order. He's no George Romney, and
he has always known that if he wanted to be a Republican president, he
couldn't ever try to be.
Matt Taibbi: Romney's 'Free Stuff' Speech Is a New Low:
First, at NAACP:
He came out with the same half-assed, platitude-filled stump speech he
usually doles out at campaign stops, literally the same exact speech,
only he added quotes from Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Hooks, and Dr.
King. As he told a mostly white audience in Montana the next night:
"I gave them the same speech I am giving you." He seemed almost proud
of the fact that he didn't put any extra thought into what he was going
to say in his first big address to black America. If some speeches feel
like a verbal embrace, Romney's felt like a stack of cardboard emptied
from the bay of a dump truck. [ . . . ]
Romney can't even be mean with any honesty. Even when he's pandering
to viciousness, ignorance and racism, it comes across like a scaly
calculation. A guy who feels like he has to take a dump on the N.A.A.C.P.
in Houston in order to connect with frustrated white yahoos everywhere
else is a guy who has absolutely no social instincts at all. Someone
like Jesse Helms at least had a genuine emotional connection with his
crazy-mean-stupid audiences. But Mitt Romney has to think his way to
the lowest common denominator, which is somehow so much worse.
Most of Taibbi's recent blog entries are on the LIBOR scandal,
something I'm behind the learning curve on. But I did notice a
Thomas Friedman's New State of Grace: even when he's trying to
be nice, it's hard to let Friedman totally off the hook.
Links I saved but never did much of anything with:
Mike Konczal: How LIBOR Impacts Financial Models and Why the Scandal
Matters: As I mentioned above, I'm behind the learning curve,
but this looks like a good place to start catching up.
Mike Konczal: 38 Million Missing Quits, the Battle to Quit and Replacing
Government with a UBI: Three Points of Workplace Coercion: This
links back to some Crooked Timber pieces that came up in my Yglesias
post. The argument is that when companies become abusive of workers,
the workers can quit, which provides a check on how abusive companies
can really be. On the other hand, as Konczal's chart shows, workers
have become even more reluctant to quit their jobs during the current
depression. That means they're even less likely to push back against
abuse by walking, and less pushback against the powerful usually means
more abuse. Key quote:
There are, roughly, 38.4 million quits that should have occurred that
didn't since the economy went into recession. I'm assuming nobody
believes that employers decided to become very nice all of a sudden
in December 2007, but that instead the economy went into a deep
recession. As a result of this recession, where the number of unemployed
versus job openings has skyrocketed (because both the unemployed have
increased and job openings shrunk), it is very difficult to find a job.
This translates into declining labor share of income, as workers are
left with little bargaining power in the Great Recession. If one assumes
that labor management techniques are sticky, or that hysteresis creates
the conditions where people who have lived through bad economic times
have weaker bargaining power, this coercion is likely to cement and be
Paul Krugman/Robin Wells: Getting Away With It: A review essay
on Noam Scheiber: The Escape Artists: How Obama's Team Fumbled the
Recovery, Thomas Frank: Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times
Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right, and Thomas Byrne
Edsall: The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American
Politics. On the latter's sense that "a brutish future stands
Yet most of the evidence Edsall advances for this thesis involves
pointing to the consequences of the economic crisis -- which isn't
at all a crisis of scarcity, but rather a crisis of bad financial
and macroeconomic policy. Why, exactly, must there be a "death struggle"
over resources when the US economy could, according to Congressional
Budget Office estimates, be producing an extra $900 billion worth of
goods and services right now if it would only put unemployed workers
and other unused resources back to work? Why must there be a bitter
struggle over the budget when the US government, while admittedly
running large deficits, remains able to borrow at the lowest interest
rates in history?
The truth is that the austerity Edsall emphasizes is more the result
than the cause of our embittered politics. We have a depressed economy
in large part because Republicans have blocked almost every Obama
initiative designed to create jobs, even refusing to confirm Obama
nominees to the board of the Federal Reserve. (MIT's Peter Diamond,
a Nobel laureate, was rejected as lacking sufficient qualifications.)
We have a huge battle over deficits, not because deficits actually
pose an immediate problem, but because conservatives have found
deficit hysteria a useful way to attack social programs.
Ryan Lizza: The Obama Memos: long piece toward an insider history
of Obama's political strategy, including the undersized stimulus, the
efforts to assuage the powers-that-be on everything from health care
to banking reform, the president's cynical centrism and general lack
of principles, his opponents' even direr lack of scruples, etc. One
quote, just a taste:
Most of Obama's conservative dinner companions from his evening at
George Will's home now describe him and his Administration in the
most caricatured terms. Will declared Obama a "floundering naïf" and
someone advancing "lemon socialism." Charles Krauthammer called Obama
"sanctimonious, demagogic, self-righteous, and arrogant." Lawrence
Kudlow described him as presiding over a government of "crony
capitalism at its worst." Michael Barone called it "Gangster
Government." Rich Lowry said that Obama is "the whiniest president
ever." Peggy Noonan, correcting some interpretations of the President
by her fellow-conservatives, wrote, "He is not a devil, an alien, a
socialist. He is a loser."
Many of Obama's liberal allies have been disillusioned, too. When
Steve Jobs last met the President, in February, 2011, he was most
annoyed by Obama's pessimism -- he seemed to dismiss every idea Jobs
proffered. "The president is very smart," Jobs told his biographer,
Walter Isaacson. "But he kept explaining to us reasons why things
can't get done. It infuriates me."
Ryan Lizza: The Second Term: The most depressing piece of political
reporting I've seen in years, partly because it's all hypothetical --
that second term isn't assured, especially with billions of dollars of
right-wing media dominance in the way -- but mostly because Obama's
ambitions are so lame. Nor does the history of second terms past offer
any encouragement. Clinton's second term is remembered for impeachment
and banking deregulation. Bush's for Katrina and Lehman Bros. Reagan's
for Iran-Contra. Even Eisenhower had a miserable second term. Roosevelt
decided to balance the budget and instead restarted the Great Depression.
Obama has thus far failed to do anything remotely Rooseveltian, but his
fiscal conservatism could well lead to a comparable disaster.
Diane Ravitch: In Mitt Romney's Classroom: Behind a paywall, but
all you really need to know:
The central themes of the Romney plan are a rehash of Republican education
ideas from the past thirty years, namely, subsidizing parents who want to
send their child to a private or religious school; encouraging the private
sector to operate schools; putting commercial banks in charge of the
federal student loan program; holding teachers and schools accountable
for students' test scores; and lowering entrance requirements for new
teachers. These policies reflect the experience of Romney's advisers,
who include half a dozen senior officials from the Bush administration
and several prominent conservative academics, among them former secretary
of education Rod Paige, former deputy secretary of education Bill Hansen,
and John Chubb and Paul Peterson, both advocates of school choice.
Unlike George W. Bush, who had to negotiate with a Democratic Congress
to pass No Child Left Behind, Romney feels no need to compromise on anything.
He needs to prove to the Republican Party's base -- especially
evangelicals -- that he really is conservative. With this plan, he
Real conservatives have become so disdainful of liberal ideas --
like science, the arts, democracy -- that they're increasingly willing
to throw out the baby with the bathwater. (Come to think of it, that's
pretty much their attitude toward government too.) Education used to
enjoy conservative support because it was seen as an important tool
in socializing the lower classes, but these days all the rich want to
do is to escape society, to enjoy their own private enclaves and to
hell with everyone else.
Corey Robin: Justice Scalia: American Nietzsche: Explores the
whole "originalism" con. I've always found it amusing that Scalia
alone seems to be able to intuit exactly what was running through
the minds of a group of politicians as disparate as John Adams and
Thomas Jefferson, and that somehow they always wound up thinking
exactly what Scalia thinks at the moment. Article has links to
previous installments, and a Part III appeared
later. By the way, I think a simpler explanation of Scalia's
behavior is that he is just profoundly corrupt. See, e.g., Mike
Konczal's discussion of Scalia's
Christmas Tree dissent in the ACA case.
And, in non-political news:
Saturday, July 7. 2012
I more or less gave up on reading Matthew Yglesias's blog shortly
before he moved to Slate, and have rarely looked at him since. Don't
know whether I will much in the future, either, but I thought I'd
give him another try, and scrolled through a month's posts -- he
does produce a lot of material. And I pulled out the most interesting
quotes below -- generally (but not always) things I agreed with.
Would have pulled out a different set if I tried to critique him:
I'm not convinced by his knee-jerk efforts to find market mechanisms
(or at least tax manipulations) to solve all problems, and he has an
anti-left streak that often slips into mere contrarianism. And I'm
not sure what I think of his urbanism -- obviously something that
means much more to him than to me.
Reversed the order, so the old stuff is first. Not sure if it's
worth digging back deeper, but I was getting diminishing returns --
a lot of his posts have a pretty limited shelf life.
Private Equity Is Unpopular [06-08]:
One of the most shocking moments of media out-of-touchness that I've
seen in my lifetime was the spasm of pundits acting as if Barack Obama's
criticisms of Mitt Romney's business record were likely to prompt some
kind of backlash from the public. Obviously a rich man who makes
decisions that ruin some families lives in order to get even richer is
engaging in behavior that the median voter is going to find disreputable.
Low-Wage Labor and Its Complements [06-08]:
Speaking with Fareed Zakaria, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach
argues for severe curbs on immigration and in the process ends up
revealing a pretty shocking level of ignorance about the agricultural
economy for a Kansas politician. Adam Ozimek shows that Kobach seems
completely unaware of the extent to which the American farm sector
is operating in an international context.
But I think Kobach's fundamental problem -- as is often the case --
is a failure to recognize that there are different factors of production
and they complement each other. A farm is a place where labor, machines,
fertilizer, and land all come together to produce some grains, fruit, or
vegetables. To simply assume that if you cut off the supply of cheap
immigrant labor will raise wages ignores the very real possibility that
simply less land will be cultivated. Even if you ignore the international
dimensions of the issue, Americans don't have a fixed totally
price-insensitive appetite for foodstuffs. If you restrict the supply
of agricultural labor you'll have less agricultural output and fewer
acres in cultivation. [ . . . ]
No factor of production is an island, and creating scarcities of
one factor damages the others.
Job-Creation Is the Fed's Job [06-12]:
My former boss Michael Tomasky has a column up arguing that Obama should
offer a one-year extension of the Bush tax cuts in exchange for Republicans
agreeing to spending-side stimulus. His logic, I think, is fairly impeccable.
Republicans will probably turn this down, which would be advantageous to
the White House in the politics of taxation. And if they say yes, it's a
win for the White House because both sides of the deal will pack some
short-term job creation punch.
Where I think it all breaks down is that once again we have liberals
ignoring monetary policy. The big risk that Obama faces with his American
Jobs Act is that in the scheme of things even the rosier estimates don't
have it massively accelerating the recovery. What's more, as I write in
my latest column there's a real risk that anything that did have huge
positive impact in the labor market would get crushed by the Federal
Seems to me like a dumb proposal all around. The Bush tax cuts are
so weighted to the rich that they offer no practical stimulus. Get rid
of them and the long-term balance sheet, which is what has hung over
the entire austerity drive, clears up. Ideally you'd like to do more
than that, but blowing the 2010 election cost Obama that option. Now
all he can do is campaign against the Republicans for blocking every
constructive plan he puts forth, and that campaign is weakened by
cutting deals with the devil. As for the point about the Fed, Obama
screwed himself by reappointing Bush's chairman (Bernanke) instead of
getting his own guy on the job (even if it was only Larry Summers):
single dumbest mistake he made (unless it was escalating Afghanistan,
or failing to repeal and restructure the Bush tax cuts at the start,
when he had the numbers; oh well, there are so many).
Obama on the Economy [06-14]:
If you wanted a concise version of the speech it's this. Obama thinks
there are a lot of worthwhile things the public sector does -- give old
people health insurance and pensions, build transportation infrastructure,
finance K-12 schools, subsidize college tuition -- and that in order to
pay for those things we should raise taxes on high-income people. Romney
thinks that higher taxes on high-income people people would be really
bad for economic growth and that Obama is overestimating the value of
these public sector undertakings so we should cut them instead.
Unfortunately, far and away the least plausible portions of the speech
were the ones where Obama tried to explain how re-electing him would lead
to his vision becoming law. He's quite persuasive on the point that an
Obama re-election would block Romney from doing various perhaps-objectionable
things. But the idea that a second term for Obama will change the fact that
41 Republican Senators can and will filibuster any Obama ideas that they
don't like (i.e., basically all of them) doesn't add up.
The Affordable Care Act and the American Disconnect [06-18]:
The Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act (aka "ObamaCare") will,
for better or for worse, take a large number of Americans who currently
can't afford health insurance and either give them insurance or else
give them money to buy insurance with. Obviously, if you're a person
like that there's a lot to like about this law.
But Washington, D.C., political and media circles don't involve many
people like that. Or even many people who know any people like
that. So even though this town contains plenty of folks who perfectly
sincerely want to help low-income Americans get health insurance (the
law wouldn't have happened otherwise), it's still seen in political
journalism as primarily a political story about "winners" and "losers"
in various congressional, media, legal, and electoral arenas. But for
millions of currently uninsured Americans, it's a real-world story
about a potential financial windfall or fiasco depending on how the
Supreme Court rules. Alec MacGillis ventured out in the real world to
talk to impacted people, and the
story is both emotionally touching and politically telling.
The key punchline is that, basically, the folks with the most to
gain from the new law are barely -- if at all -- aware that it even
The Forgotten Flip-Flop: 2003 Medicare Reform [06-19]:
The Republican version of a Medicare benefit seemed to me to be a tactical
retreat. Democrats had a much more progressive bill to achieve this purpose,
so I thought the GOP had ginned up an alternative to muddy the waters but
fundamentally had no particular interest in a very expensive addition to
Medicare. But they did. It was a hard lift whipping the votes in the House
to pass the thing since many conservatives objected, but they got it done.
And in an odd coda, the bill's passage was integral to the birth of the
Affordable Care Act. That's because the deficit-financed subsidies to private
insurers inside Medicare became offsetting spending that Democrats could cut
in order to make Obamacare deficit-neutral. If the Bush administration had
never created that program in the first place, Democrats wouldn't have been
able to cut it later on and use those savings to finance their own health
care bill. They'd have either had to write a much stingier program or else
include substantially more in the way of tax hikes. And yet even though the
2003 Medicare bill was controversial at the time, it seems to have basically
been eliminated from memory. Now all good Republicans are against spending
money on anything, but nobody proposes to repeal the basic benefit. It's as
if the whole thing never happened.
America's Fiscal Union in Action [06-25]: with map of "Federal taxes
minus spending, 1990-2009, as % of 2009 GDP":
Two key points I would make about this in relation to the eurozone are
that these transfers are both really big and extremely persistent.
Mississippi and Alabama have lagged behind the rest of the nation in
economic development for a very long time, and I see no particular
reason to believe they'll ever catch up. Residents of economically
backward and politically dysfunctional states can and do exercise
their right of exit rather than sticking around and solving problems,
and the availability of large and persistent fiscal transfers means
that local political elites focus their energies on rent-seeking
rather than development. Other places such as Florida and Arizona
develop regional economic specialization as low-wage high-temperature
retirement zones living off incomes earned in more dynamic economies
The Affordable Care Act vs. the Dentists' Cartel [06-26]:
One of the tragedies of the Affordable Care Act debate is that for
all the pixels spilled over it, there are still dozens and dozens of
provisions that have barely been discussed. I, for example, am more
interested than your average person in the issue of how dentists extract
regulatory rents from patients and dental hygenists through rules that
make it illegal for hygenists to offer teeth-cleaning services to people
unless they're employed by a dentist. And yet until Jon Chait reminded
me yesterday, I'd completely forgotten that one element of the Affordable
Care Act tackles this issue, prompting furious backlash from the dental
lobby. [ . . . ]
One problem with reforming dental regulation to help patients is that
the dentists are a concentrated interest that's more able to lobby
effectively than are the disparate interests of patients.
Globalization and Labor Unions [06-27]:
What's probably true is that not globalization but policy that has
the United States running a perpetual trade deficit has been bad
for labor unions by depressing manufacturing employment. That speaks
not to the level of trade, but to the structure of the American tax
code and to the nature of American currency policy.
I'll add that the US trade deficit is one of the main ways we
transfer money to the rich: the dollars that working people pay for
foreign-produced products return to the US to bid up the price of
assets (with much of that filtering through the banking industry,
and sticking to greedy fingers along the way).
John Roberts Saved America From Socialized Health Insurance [06-29]:
I'm not a mind reader, but I think I have a more convincing explanation
of why John Roberts ultimately voted to uphold the Affordable Care Act
than these theories that rely on a bankshot "long game" to alter Commerce
Clause jurisprudence. My theory is that he embraced the individual mandate
for the same reason that Mitt Romney embraced it as governor of Massachusetts
and Bob Dole embraced it as minority leader of the U.S. Senate -- it's a
reasonable mechanism for ensuring universal coverage without creating a
government-run single purchaser of health care services.
A lot of attention has been paid recently to the fact that once President
Obama came to embrace that position, the conservative movement rapidly
abandoned its own alternative to single payer. But the plaintiffs in the
health care cases weren't just asking the court to veto the law, they were
asking the Supreme Court to declare the middle ground alternative to be
now and forever impermissable.
If that had happened, liberals would have had no choice but to start
campaigning for Medicare for all.
Of course, Roberts got nothing but grief for his efforts. The most
striking thing about the right wasn't the hypocrisy -- it was, after
all, their plan -- but their rabid sense of entitlement, how convinced
they always are that they should be able to dictate whatever policy
madness takes over their fevered brains.
Opening New Patent Offices Won't Fix America's Broken System
It's hardly the fault of the career staff (as opposed to, say, judges
and Congress), but this is incredibly lame. The presumption here is that
the problem with the patent system in the United States is that we're
somehow not efficient enough at transforming patent applications into
patents. The actual problem is that the underlying presupposition that
it helps the economy to engage in profligate granting of
Power Tools: The Libraries of the Future [07-03]:
It's in the nature of books that the vast majority of books any given
person owns will not be in use at any given time. Under the circumstances,
establishing vast municipal stockpiles of books for people to borrow is
much more efficient than relying on a series of household stockpiles.
But over time digital technology is eroding this rationale (the day has
not yet come when every individual is equipped with a smartphone or
tablet capable of reading e-books but it's quite foreseeable), and it
makes more sense to shift away from stockpiling of books and toward
things like the Oakland Public Library's tool lending program. I have
a hammer, several scredrivers, a power drill, a hacksaw, and a bunch
of other tools that I'm almost never using and households all over DC
are in this very same position. The most successful libraries we be the
ones who spend less time thinking "how do I extend my traditional
reading-and-learning mission into the digital age" and more time
thinking "what sort of club goods are being underprovided thanks to
transaction costs, enforcement problems, and information issues."
We Have Too Many Patents, Not Too Few [07-06]: quotes Richard
Posner: "It's not clear that we really need patents in most industries."
I don't think it's clear that we need patents for pharmaceuticals either,
but we do need something. Proposals to reform pharma patents
typically involve some alternative mechanism for financing innovation.
I would tax pills and use the money to finance prizes. But the point is
that in many industries you could just scrap the patents and that's your
solution right there.
It's particularly good to see Posner on this bandwagon because to an
extent the conventional wisdom on the patent situation in digital
industries has been cleaving along a "geeks vs lawyers" axis of
polarization. Posner is a very famous legal scholar, and should help
get the geek point of view much-needed exposure in law schools.
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.
Sunday, May 20. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Glenn Greenwald: The American Character:
Starts by complimenting a Fareed Zakaria piece (not something one does
all that often -- as Greenwald puts it, "a reliable and pleasant purveyor
of conventional 'centrist' wisdom").
What Zakaria is describing here, of course, is a permanent, sprawling
Surveillance State, one that has been inexorably built over the course
of six decades but which has massively accelerated under two different
dministrations in the post-9/11 era and which has no end in sight.
Quite the opposite.
One of the reasons I loathe Election Years -- which actually endures
for 18 months -- is because the vast bulk of the most consequential
political issues are completely ignored by virtue of enjoying full
bipartisan consensus. The transformation of America into a full-scale
Surveillance State is, on every level, indescribably significant; as
Zakaria put it, it "now touches every aspect of American life."
Its never-ending growth results in a massive transfer of wealth from
ordinary citizens to the private sector corporations which operate it;
it empowers unaccountable public and private sector factions which
surveil and store massive amounts of private information about the
citizenry; it is conducted entirely in the dark and thus further
eliminates notions of transparency and accountability; and it destroys
any remnant of personal privacy, the indispensable attribute which
fosters and enables creativity, dissent and challenges to orthodoxy
and has thus long been viewed as the most central right, the one that
anchors all the others.
Paul Krugman: Win Some, Lose Some:
Is it possible that I have misjudged Mitt Romney?
My take has always been that he's a smart guy who also happens to
be both ambitious and completely amoral; he decided that his career
can best be advanced by pandering to the crazies of the right, and
will say anything to that end.
More and more, however, he has been coming out with statements
suggesting that he is, in fact, a dangerous fool.
[ . . . .] I'm beginning to suspect that we can --
that outside of whatever he did at Bain, Romney really is ignorant
as well as uncaring.
Case in point was JPMorgan Chase's recent $2 billion trading loss --
"no biggie," according to Romney.
Andrew Leonard: Sabotage: The New GOP Plan: May 4 post (finally
catching up), on Paul Ryan's Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act
of 2012, designed to avoid the war cuts mandated by last summer's debt
But a close look at the insidious nature of proposed cuts is stil
revealing, even in the midst of all the posturing. Ever since the
midterm elections of 2010, House Republicans have been honing a new
approach to government. Forget about old school "starve the beast"
politics, the simple-minded belief that lowering taxes and depriving
the government of revenue will ultimately topple the social welfare
state. The new school tactic is sabotage. Break the government.
Pour sugar into the gas tank. Steal the spark plugs.
Ryan's new package of cuts takes aim at the heart of the two
biggest pieces of legislation Democrats passed during the Obama
administration, bank reform and healthcare reform. The details are
wonky, but the goal is clear. By defunding crucial mechanisms
designed to ensure that the laws actually work as intended,
Republicans achieve two goals simultaneously: They avoid the
anathema of cuts to defense spending, while rendering the legislation
that they hate so much not just toothless, but incapacitated.
Machiavelli would applaud. Republicans may have lost the 2008
presidential election, but their insurgency-style guerrilla tactics
ever since have ensured that the war is far from over. In 2012, the
politics of sabotage rule Washington.
Andrew Leonard: Kansas' Nasty New Tax Plan: Rare for someone
writing on either of the coasts to notice what's happening in Kansas,
but this much is true:
Kansas is special. In most American states in which Republicans control
the state legislature, the GOP busies itself with redistricting efforts
designed to minimize the chances of Democratic electoral success. But in
Kansas, the fight is over new districts cooked up to get rid of moderate
Republicans. Similarly, nearly all Republican-dominated states are working
hard to limit the ability of women to get abortions, but only in Kansas
will you hear a state legislator compare rape to a flat tire.
Something is clearly the matter with Kansas, so it may be it's not
the wisest idea to go overboard extrapolating from the state's behavior
to potential developments on the national scene. On the other hand, if
you're wondering what complete Republican control of the U.S. government
at the federal level would look like, Kansas does offer some clues.
Take taxes, for example. Last week, Kansas House and Senate negotiators
agreed on a new tax plan that will sharply cut income taxes for wealthy
state residents while at the same time raising taxes on the poor. The
result, predictably, will be a shortfall in state revenue that will
undoubtedly force additional cuts to state services.
[ . . . ]
The details are different, but the basic outline is similar to the
ideas codified in Paul Ryan's Mitt Romney-endorsed budget: We'll pay
for tax cuts for the wealthy by cutting services that help the poor.
Romney might not be as conservative as Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, but
when the bills passed by a GOP-controlled Legislature start arriving
on his desk, his response will be identical: He'll sign it.
Andrew Leonard: Corporate Criminals Gone Wild: Interview with
Charles Ferguson, who produced the Oscar-winning documentary Inside
Job (worth seeing, maybe more than once), and who has a new book
coming out: Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption,
and the Hijacking of America (May 22, Crown Business). All worth
reading, and he makes sure to spread the blame among Clinton and Obama,
but you have to conclude that the Bush administration's nonchallance
about regulating anything and enforcing any laws on business is what
made the atmosphere so conducive to wrongdoing. Here's a sample quote
But you know, when I was in academia and also when I was running a
software company I had a fair amount of contact with portions of the
financial sector, investment banking industry, and the venture capital
sector. And certainly they were already pretty rapacious and pretty
politically conservative. But they would never then have said and done
the things that they say and do now. I recently was at a dinner in New
York City and one of the people there was a very, very successful man
who is on the borderline between venture capital and private equity. And
this guy went into an extended rant about how he was at a disadvantage
because he had to pay 15 percent capital gains taxes. When I was first
dealing with venture capitalists in a significant way, the capital gains
tax rate was 28 percent, and nobody was complaining. Then they got them
reduced to 20 under Clinton, and then later 15 under Bush. Plus, they
got a rollover provision so if they took the proceeds of a venture
capital investment and rolled it over into a new venture capital
investment it was tax-free. At that point, we've reached nirvana,
what more could there be?
But now we're in this environment where this guy was loudly and
aggressively complaining that he has to pay 15 percent to the government.
And if that's where you're at, then of course you are going to complain
about Dodd-Frank. You are going to complain about everything. If you
have already got 96 percent of what you want, why not take the remaining
4? That's where the culture of American finance is right now, and I think
it's really dangerous for the country.
Andrew Leonard: Romney's Solar Flip-Flop:
Of course, back in 2007, Romney also believed that climate change was
man-made and supported a global cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse
gas emissions. Now he says "we don't know what's causing climate change
on this planet" and "I do not believe in cap-and-trade." So it shouldn't
be all that much of a shock that Romney is giving the cold shoulder to
solar power. If there's one thing we know about Mitt, he never allows
his past positions on an issue to weigh him down.
Alex Pareene: David Brooks, "Structuralist":
David Brooks is everything that's wrong with elite opinion in America.
The president reads him and takes him seriously. That is why the opinions
of venal faux "reasonable" clowns like Brooks matter. Brooks today sums
up the new argument for not actually doing anything to alleviate worldwide
unnecessary hardship: The problem is "structural," not "cyclical"!
[ . . . ]
This is Brooks' conclusion:
But you can only mask structural problems for so long. The whole thing
has gone kablooey. The current model, in which we try to compensate for
structural economic weakness with tax cuts and an unsustainable welfare
state, simply cannot last. The old model is broken. The jig is up.
It's so sad, but everyone will now just have to accept that social
democracy is an impossibility. We have learned that "the old economic
and welfare state model is unsustainable," so shut up about your
unemployment benefits running out and there being no jobs still.
Actually, if Brooks had just stopped at "it's a structural problem"
he'd be right, but he missed what the structural problem is. It isn't
that there's some sort of mismatch between jobs and skills -- there
always is a little disconnect there but if employers wanted certain
skills they could easily train for them. The real problem is that
there's no way to reverse the decline of wages except by changing
the rules of the labor market -- e.g., by forcing wages up, reducing
Alex Pareene: America's Idiot Rich:
Based on "multiple media accounts of billionaire thought and an entire
special issue of the New York Times Magazine, but especially the account
of one Thomas Conard, one of Mitt Romney's confreres at Bain Capital.
He has a book coming out arguing that massive wealth disparity "is an
unalloyed Good Thing," something he'd like to see doubled (and has
contributed over a million dollars to Romney's campaign to help bring
Conard also detests charitable giving and has developed a statistical
method for finding a spouse, because he is a sociopath. Because he is
very wealthy, he is very used to his ideas being taken seriously --
even economists offer him (qualified) praise. He is utterly convinced
that his book will convince every serious person that wealthy finance
industry titans not only deserve their wealth, but make society a
better place for all. He has basically taken what is a gut feeling
among his class and turned it into a philosophy and an argument.
Alex Pareene: The Book of Mitt:
Long post, an excerpt from Pareene's e-book The Rude Guide to Mitt,
where Pareene is rude to Mitt's Mormonism. A taste:
The Mormonism of the 19th century bears little resemblance to Mitt
Romney's Mormonism. Mitt Romney's Mormonism is the impossibly cheery
"Donny and Marie" variety, not the armed apocalyptic homesteading cult
member variety. Tolstoy -- referring to the scrappy/crazy 19th century
version -- called Mormonism "the American religion," and he decidedly
did not mean that as a compliment. But the modern church still deserves
the title. It's the Coca-Cola religion, with a brand that denotes a
sort of upbeat corporate Americanness, considered cheesy by elites but
undeniably popular in pockets of the heartland and abroad.
[ . . . ]
The modern Mormon aesthetic is deeply indebted to Walt Disney, but
somehow even more square. Their grand temples look like variations on
Cinderella's castle. Their religious music sounds like Oscar-nominated
Alan Menken-penned hymns. Their annual pageants -- I highly recommend
attending the Hill Cumorah pageant in upstate New York, in which
formative stories from the Book of Mormon are acted out for an audience
of thousands just beside the actual hill where Smith found the plates --
are spectacular, involving massive casts and lavish costumes and thrilling
theatrical effects, paired with the cheesiest imaginable dialogue and
storytelling, like a vintage Disneyland animatronic "Ben-Hur." (The
sound system was easily the best I've ever heard at a large outdoor
performance. Each line of risible King James pastiche narration was
crystal clear from a hundred yards out.)
It's very easy to make fun of a religion that literally takes communion
in the form of Wonder bread, but the appeal of all that mandated clean-cut
decency is also pretty easy to figure out. It pairs well, for example,
with motivational business leadership books. In France, church leaders
encouraged a young Mitt Romney to study "Think and Grow Rich," the
landmark self-help book written in 1937 by motivational guru Napoleon
Hill. Romney had his fellow missionaries read it, and told them to
apply the lessons to their mission work. [ . . . ]
This sort of "think yourself rich" bullshit, with its promise of a
foolproof path to success made up of basic lessons in persistence and
confidence combined with pseudo-scientific hokum, is a great philosophical
fit with Mormonism, which teaches that men are on a spiritual progression
toward Godhood. And the fantastic thing about Mormonism is that you can
apply the early 20th century version of "The Secret" -- want something
very, very badly and you will make it real with thought powers! -- toward
the amassing of material riches both here on Earth and after death,
because Mormon doctrine says the believer will continue working and
procreating in the afterlife. That may sound tedious and frankly hellish
to you and me (though you do eventually get your own planet!), but this
exaggerated re-conception of the Protestant work ethic is an essential
tenet of Mormon culture and dogma. It helps that Mormonism is decidedly
less squicky about rich people than traditional Christianity. (Again,
Tolstoy really nailed it with that "American religion" thing.)
Another excerpt is
Rich. Weird. Romney. Pareene also has an earlier post the touchy
subject of making fun of someone else's religion --
The Coming War on Mormon Jokes. Needless to say, the problem with
Romney is not his religion; it's his politics. How nutty (or treacherous
even) a religion seems has more to do with your personal distance from
it than anything else, and other people are likely to think the same
about you -- even if you're an atheist and are convinced you've gotten
rid of all that nuttiness and treachery. On the other hand, people with
right or left politics can be found attached to virtually every religion
(including none) -- I'm inclined to argue that fact shows the irrelevance
of religion, especially compared to more predictive traits like class,
but I do find -- and G.W. Bush certainly reinforced this point -- the
gloss that religion gives to bad politics to be especially toxic.
It occurs to me that the practice of presidents (and presidential
candidates) wearing their piety on their sleeve only dates back to
Jimmy Carter. Kennedy actively campaigned against his religion. LBJ
was so confused or indifferent he wound up attending Catholic masses
on occasion, after starting out in a church which I know (all too well)
regarded such as utter nonsense. And he was followed by the war criminal
Nixon, nominally a Quaker.
Charles P Pierce: The Rise of Deb Fischer and the Grifter Conservative:
Republican Senate primary in Nebraska, which Fischer wound up winning.
A Fischer win, of course, would be an act of cannibalism on a par with
the nomination of Richard Mourdock in Indiana, and a further indication
that there is very little room within the party in which Willard Romney
can "pivot to the center." On the state level, the party is a tight,
hard crystal of pure crazy. Given the right combination of circumstances,
any Republican can fashion any other Republican as being of "the Left"
or "the Establishment." If done successfully, this can render the
targeted candidate unelectable in a primary. In this case, she would
demonstrate that a candidate endorsed by the Club For Growth (Stenberg)
and another one backed by both the Tea Party Express and Citizens United
(Bruning) can be rendered insufficiently conservative. This leaves the
state party on the ideological scale somewhere to the right of an Uzi.
It's also a great indication that "conservatism" is more performance
than principle, more intellectual style than actual substance, and more
dogwhistling than ideology.
One reason I've missed many weaks doing this, and have much more than
(or are they features?) that literally kill my browser, so I stopped
looking at it. But most of the above links are from Salon: I scraped
them up by using a second computer, some newer software, plus I turned
have been grossly abusing it ever since it came out, and that's turned
into the rule (plus other nuissances like Flash) for music zines. It's
a long, sore slog to collect that data, and turning the baubles off is
a first step. (Of course, what I really need are more automated tools,
although actually looking at the review pages does provide some useful
information gathering.) Anyhow, this proved to be useful for cracking
Salon. Reminds me especially how invaluable Andrew Leonard is.
While I'm on a roll, I could expend this considerably, but will hold
the rest for next week. Means indeed there will be a next week.
Sunday, April 22. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Henry Farrell: Happy Krauthammer Day:
It's that time of the year again -- it's been five months plus five months
plus five months plus five months plus five months plus five months plus
five months plus five months plus five months plus five months plus five
months plus five months plus five months plus five months plus five months
plus five months plus five months plus five months plus five months plus
five months plus five months plus five months since Charles Krauthammer
Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We've had
five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven't found any, we
will have a credibility problem.
I'll confess that I was a bit disappointed last week, when Charles
Krauthammer didn't make the cut for Atrios' shortlist for Wanker of the
Decade (he did get a nod-in-his-direction though; Fred Hiatt's nod was
intended to honor the Washington Post's editorial page as a whole).
But having reflected a bit, I think this was the right call. To be a
really first rate wanker, you have to be at least partially oblivious
to what you are. I've always had the sense that Krauthammer knows exactly
what he is -- nasty and thoroughly mendacious. Not a wanker then, but
rather worse than a wanker. He's whatever it is that Karl Rove is (when
rugose and squamous entities drag out their tortured forms from under
rocks, to caper and desport themselves beneath the gibbous moon, they
console themselves at least they're not working for American Crossroads).
By the way, next year will be the tenth anniversary. Still writing for
the Washington Post, still syndicated, still on the talk shows.
Ed Kilgore: Journey to the Center of Ted Nugent's Mind:
In a nugget from last weekend's National Rifle Association annual meeting,
Ted Nugent offered this warning:
"If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either
be dead or in jail by this time next year," Nugent said, according to a
video posted on YouTube by the NRA. "If you can't go home and get everybody
in your lives to clean house in this vile, evil America hated administration,
I don't even know what you're made out of."
Don't know if this means we need to put Ted on suicide watch come
November 7 if things don't turn out his way, or just let the police
know he's threatening to do a crime so he can get himself incarcerated.
But it's a fine reflection of the wingnut mind at its deepest that he
seems to think us godless socialists care enough about his ravings to
TPM reports that the NRA has scrubbed Nugent's video from its website,
after Romney distanced himself from it. TPM also reports that
Bishop of Peoria Compares Obama and Contraception Mandates to Hitler and
Stalin. There are plenty of sane reasons one might be unhappy with
Obama, but his opponents keep resorting to insane ones -- suggesting
they may be insane themselves.
Paul Krugman: The Drywall Chronicles:
So Mitt Romney gave a speech at a closed Ohio drywall factory, which
he tried to use as a symbol of Obama's economic failure. The symbolism
was perfect -- not as an illustration of Obama's failure, but as an
illustration of just how stupid Romney thinks we are.
Even regular reporters noticed that the factory in question closed
under, yes, George W. Bush -- a fact Romney failed to mention, although
his campaign scrambled to cover for him afterwards.
What I didn't see mentioned was the point that this was a drywall
factory -- that is, a supplier of a product largely used in home
construction. It's one thing to say that Obama should have revived the
economy as a whole; it's another to say that he should have brought
back the housing bubble!
Krugman also provides a chart comparing job losses during the first
3 years + 3 months of the Bush and Obama administrations:
If you bother doing the math, you'll also notice that Bush's job
losses were cushioned by growth in public sector jobs, whereas Obama's
total was made much worse by public sector job cuts. Bush started out
with a much milder recession, and his main remedies were tax cuts for
the superrich and the fiscal stimulus of big post-9/11 military deficits,
which, uh, didn't work very well. (From 2004-07 the economy under Bush
did grow, but almost exclusively from the unsustainable housing bubble.)
Krugman brings this up because Romney's proposed solutions are pretty
much the same as Bush's: tax cuts for the rich, and more wars.
I'm beginning to think that Obama's big mistake wasn't that his
stimulus package was too small (although it was) but that he didn't
end the Bush tax cuts as soon as he entered office (perhaps keeping
some of the bottom end cuts, but not necessarily the "middle class"
ones he wanted to keep). Had he done so, he wouldn't have been nearly
as vulnerable to complaints about his deficits -- they would pretty
much vanish when the economy picked up -- which would have given
him more leeway to spend in constructive fashion, or at least more
resolve to fight back against debilitating cuts.
John Quiggin: The Coming Boom in Inherited Wealth:
Inequality is up, even more so -- 93% of additional income in the
US in 2010 went to the top 1% -- but some argue that "those at the
top were more likely to earn than inherit their riches." Depends
on what you mean by "earn" but Quiggin adds:
The fact that currently wealthy Americans have not, in general,
inherited their wealth follows logically from the fact that, in
their parents' generation, there weren't comparable accumulations
of wealth to be bequeathed. More generally, starting from the
position of relatively (to earlier periods and to the current one)
equal income and wealth that prevailed between about 1950 and 1980,
growing inequality of income must precede growing inequality of
wealth, since wealth is simply the cumulative excess of income over
consumption (and US high-income earners have not been notable for
restraint as regards consumption).
So, given highly unequal incomes, and social immobility, we can
expect inheritance to play a much bigger role in explaining inequality
for the generations now entering adulthood than for the current
recipients of high incomes. That will include direct transfers of
wealth as well as the effects of increasingly unequal access to
education, early job opportunities and home ownership.
One more thing to emphasize is that over the last few decades,
the right-wing movement was almost exclusively financed by people
who were born to wealth -- the Kochs, Olins, Richard Mellon Scaife,
the Coors, and so forth. Same for major figures in the movement,
from Bill Buckley to Bill Kristol, and for that matter G.W. Bush.
Aside from the Kochs, most of these figures are far from the top
of the list, but their politics starts from their aristocratic
sense of entitlement. Back in the more equitable 1950s, before
greed became something to brag about, it seemed more likely that
at least some of the fortunates might redirect themselves to
public service -- the Kennedys, even the occasional Rockefeller
and Harriman. Less so now, as the concentration of wealth occurs
alongside a diminished sense of social responsibility.
Adele Stan: Koch Coughs Up Another $Mil for Pro-Walker Group:
The group is called The Republican Governors Association, which has
bought up $3 million worth of advertising to defend the recalled
Wisconsin governor. One reason this caught my eye is that Koch
Industries got a nice headline in the Wichita Eagle last week for
their generous donation to help out with tornado recovery in south
Wichita: they donated $100,000. Koch's headquarters are in Wichita,
but they're on the north side of town and weren't affected by the
Sunday, April 1. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Ari Berman: The .000063% Election:
At a time when it's become a cliché to say that Occupy Wall Street has
changed the nation's political conversation -- drawing long overdue
attention to the struggles of the 99% -- electoral politics and the
2012 presidential election have become almost exclusively defined by
the 1%. Or, to be more precise, the .000063%. Those are the 196 donors
who have provided nearly 80% of the individual contributions raised by
super PACs in 2011 by giving $100,000 or more each.
[ . . . ]
Otherwise the super PACs on both sides of the aisle are financed by
the 1% of the 1%. Romney's Restore Our Future Super PAC, founded by the
general counsel of his 2008 campaign, has led the herd, raising $30
million, 98% from donors who gave $25,000 or more. Ten million dollars
came from just 10 donors who gave $1 million each. These included three
hedge-fund managers and Houston Republican Bob Perry, the main funder
behind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004, whose scurrilous ads
did such an effective job of destroying John Kerry's electoral prospects.
Sixty-five percent of the funds that poured into Romney's super PAC in
the second half of 2011 came from the finance, insurance and real estate
sector, otherwise known as the people who brought you the economic
meltdown of 2007-2008. [ . . . ]
In his book Oligarchy, political scientist Jeffrey Winters
refers to the disproportionately wealthy and influential actors in the
political system as the "Income Defense Industry." If you want to know
how the moneyed class, who prospered during the Bush and Clinton years,
found a way to kill or water down nearly everything it objected to in
the Obama years, look no further than the grip of the 1% of the 1% on
our political system.
This simple fact explains why hedge-fund managers pay a lower tax
rate than their secretaries, or why the U.S. is the only industrialized
nation without a single-payer universal healthcare system, or why the
planet continues to warm at an unprecedented pace while we do nothing
to combat global warming. Money usually buys elections and, whoever is
elected, it almost always buys influence.
In the 2010 election, the 1% of the 1% accounted for 25% of all
campaign-related donations, totaling $774 million dollars, and 80% of
all donations to the Democratic and Republican parties, the highest
percentage since 1990. In congressional races in 2010, according to
the Center for Responsive Politics, the candidate who spent the most
money won 85% of House races and 83% of Senate races.
The media loves an underdog story, but nowadays the underdog is
ever less likely to win. Given the cost of running campaigns and the
overwhelming premium on outspending your opponent, it's no surprise
that nearly half the members of Congress are millionaires, and the
median net worth of a U.S. Senator is $2.56 million.
Paul Krugman, citing
Timothy Noah, has a variant post on the above that
What I would note, however, is that to a large extent we've been living
in Noah's crankocracy for decades. There have been limits on the ability
of rich crackpots to intervene directly in elections, but not on their
ability to finance think tanks, provide sinecures for deferential
politicians, and so on. And the prevalence of crankocracy explains a
lot about our current state of affairs.
For what the money of rich cranks does is ensure that bad ideas
never go away -- indeed, they can gain strength even as they fail in
practice again and again. The notion that wonderful things happen if
you cut taxes on the rich and terrible things happen if you raise them
has a stronger hold than ever on the GOP, despite the experience of
the Clinton tax hike and the Bush tax cut. Climate denialism gains
force even as the planet warms. And so on.
And this isn't just a matter of self-interest on the part of rich
cranks; even they will suffer if the economy remains depressed for
decades, or the planet becomes unliveable. But those are fact they'd
rather not believe in, and their resources ensure that lots of people
share their blinkers.
Chris Bertram: The new enclosures as a threat to freedom:
Britain's Tory/LibDem government wants to privatize parts of the
road network. Bertram lists similar examples, and more are in
store, as the potential for the private sector to profit by
squeezing the public is much greater than anything they could
No doubt our "libertarian" friends approve of this shift, but those
who don't have an ideologically distorted view of liberty should be
alarmed. First, the extension of chargeable private space means that
the range of actions permitted to individuals who lack money is reduced.
Lack of money reduces your purely negative freedom, as anyone who
tries to perform actions encroaching on the state-enforced private
property of others will quickly discover. Second -- and this point
should hold even for those silly enough to reject the view that private
property restricts the freedom of those who have less of it -- the
increase in privatized public space means that we are increasingly
subject to the arbitrary will of private owners concerning what we
can and can't do. Rights of assembly? Rights of protest? Rights to
do things as innocuous as take a photograph? All of those things are
now restricted or prohibited on formerly public land across the United
Kingdom or subject to the permission of the new private owner. The
interest of those who endorse a republican conception of freedom is
thereby engaged, as is those of liberal persuasion who think a list
of basic liberties should be protected: less public space, less
capacity to exercise those basic liberties. The proposed privatization
of the roads is just an extension of this.
[ . . . ]
fn1. For an argument to this effect and a demolition of the idea
that lack of money confers lack of ability rather than unfreedom,
see G.A. Cohen,
Freedom and Money (PDF)
Ed Kilgore: Trayvon Martin Case: Roost, Meet Chicken: Laura had
been talking about this case for several days before I read anything,
and this was my first introduction -- now more than a week old, but
pace Stalin, I tend to take statistics much more seriously
than I do individual cases.
I hadn't paid much attention to the Trayvon Martin case until yesterday,
but I can now understand why it is generating so much outrage. For all
that it resembles a hundred old-school "police brutality" cases where
a young black male met a bad end in a murky encounters with white men
in authority, it's actually something different: a lesson in what might
happen when a society decides to deliberately supplement its police
forces by heavily arming citizens and hoping they act responsibly.
Sometimes they don't, and sometimes, moreover, if you pass laws
designed to give people the benefit of doubt when they are defending
themselves you can give vigilantes a license to hunt and kill. The
more we learn about the Martin case, the more it looks like that is
exactly what happened, with the injustice compounded by the tendency
of the actual authorities in Florida to take the side of a gun-toting
neighborhood ethnic cleanser with an attitude and an arrest record
against an unarmed black teenager brandishing a bag of Skittles and
just trying to get out of harm's way.
For one thing, I wasn't aware of those "stand your ground" laws
(even though Kansas, sure 'nuff, has one). One commenter added,
quoting a Tampa Bay editorial:
Since the law went into effect, reports of justifiable homicides
have tripled, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
It has been used to absolve violence resulting from road rage, barroom
arguments and even a gang gunfight. In 2008, two gangs in Tallahassee
got into a shootout where a 15-year-old boy was killed. The charges
were dismissed by a judge citing the "stand your ground" law.
OK, that starts to sound serious, like statistics.
Ed Kilgore: The "What Then" Debate: "Now that there is a reasonable
possibility that the Supreme Court will strike down as unconstitutional
the individual mandate that represents the glue holding the Affordable
Care Act together," Kilgore checks up on some opinion-takers: James
Carville, Robert Reich, David Frum -- who has the best quote:
"Repeal" may excite a Republican primary electorate that doesn't need
to worry about health insurance because it's overwhelmingly over 65
and happily enjoying its government-mandated and taxpayer-subsidized
single-payer Medicare system. But the general-election electorate
doesn't have the benefit of government medicine. It relies on the
collapsing system of employer-directed care. It's frightened, and it
Kilgore sums up:
Since conservatives cannot go back to what they were proposing just
a few years ago -- you know, a competitive system of private insurance
options complemented by an individual purchasing mandate and federal
regulation of coverage denials and rates -- they may have problems
responding to this scenario.
Sure, Republicans have their highly misleading pet rock proposals
to hold down premiums -- interstate insurance sales and "tort reform" --
and a shriveled booby prize of an approach to extend health insurance
to people who are routinely denied coverage -- state-run "high-risk
pools" that typically offer crappy coverage at astronomical rates.
But all the focus on ObamaCare since 2009 has obscured the fact that
most people who are not on Medicare pretty much do hate the health
care status quo ante, and will expect both parties to propose new
Sunday, March 18. 2012
Before we get to the usual scattered links I squirreled away during
the previous week, two front page items in the Wichita Eagle today:
Joby Warrick, Carol Morello, Krissah Thompson: Suspect and family were
stressed by deployments: Another background piece on Staff Sgt.
Robert Bales, who massacred 16 Afghans the other day. More heart-warming
stuff about what a fine soldier he was, great family guy, etc.; also
financial strains: an underwater mortgage, passed up for a promotion;
also his wounds, plus seeing a fellow soldier blown up just a few days
before. Also this:
Army comrades described him as a model soldier who was polite, professional
and exceptionally cool under fire. A student of Middle Eastern history and
customs, he often admonished younger GIs to treat noncombatants with courtesy
"Some guys had a pretty negative attitude, but Bales wasn't like that at
all," said Capt. Chris Alexander, who served with Bales in Iraq. "He said
there was no need to be a jerk. Be polite, be professional and have a plan
to kill everyone you meet if you need to."
The first two parts of his formula are advisible for anyone dealing
with the public. However, it's hard to overstate how peculiar the third
is, but then there's nothing else quite like being an American soldier
occupying a foreign land.
Roy Wenzl: Jobs require technology; video games can help: Starts out:
Kaitlin Albright likes to kill computerized people in video games. She is
a native of Caldwell, Kan., a little town on the Oklahoma state line; she
is a 19-year-old freshman at Wichita State University. She has killed
people in video games since she was 2 years old.
She is one of those kids that baffled parents complain about, because
she's addicted (her own word) to these video games. She estimates that
she has spent more than 10,000 hours of her life killing people or doing
other fun things in games like Call of Duty, or the Assassin's Creed, or
other games. Ten thousand hours, by the way, translates into 250 work
weeks, or 5 years of work.
"Killing people is fun," she says.
When I read she's studying to become a neurosurgeon, my gut reaction
was that'll give her more opportunities to kill people. Actually, that's
better than becoming a drone pilot, which is the most direct application
of her skills and mindset. She's pretty much the flipside to Bales: he
was trained to be desensitized so he could kill people more efficiently,
whereas the issue never arose for her -- the people she learned to kill
so routinely never were real, so she could easily joke about it. The
argument that video games makes people smarter has been made several
times (e.g., Steven Johnson: Everything Bad Is Good for You;
Tom Bissell: Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter). I suspect
that is precisely wrong as well: I don't doubt that kids who have them
can sharpen their smarts playing video games, but I don't believe that
one leads to the other. (I am pretty sure that my own vast exposure
to television as a child contributed much to what I know, but I don't
find much evidence of that in other people.)
And on to the usual links:
Gail Collins: Dogging Mitt Romney: Background on the story that
won't go away (v. also the New Yorker cover stage right):
I don't know if I've ever mentioned this, but Mitt Romney once drove
to Canada with the family Irish setter on the roof of the car.
Seamus, the dog-on-the-roof, has become a kind of political icon.
You cannot go anywhere without running into him. There are Seamus
T-shirts and endless Web sites. This week, the story was a New Yorker
cover, with Rick Santorum playing the role of the Irish setter.
[ . . . ]
At some point -- possibly in response to the excitement about being
passed by tractor-trailers while floating like a furry maraschino cherry
on top of the car, Seamus developed diarrhea. And Romney, who had
designated all the acceptable rest stops before beginning the trip,
was forced to make an unscheduled trip to a gas station. Where he kept
the family in the car while he hosed down the station wagon and the
dog, then returned to the highway.
"It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in
business: emotion-free crisis management," [Neil] Swidey wrote.
People, does any of this sound appealing? Elect Mitt Romney and
he will take the nation on the road to the future. Some of us will
be stuck on the roof. The rest of us will be inside singing camp songs
and waiting for the day when the master plan lets us stop to visit the
bathroom. Plus, anybody who screws up on the way to the future gets
Mike Konczal: The 1% Had a Fantastic 2010: Good chance the 2011
numbers will be even more pronounced.
Well we finally have the estimated data for 2010 by income percentile,
and it turns out that the top 1% had a fantastic year. The data is in
the World Top Income Database, as well as Emmanuel Saez's updated
Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States
(as well as the excel spreadsheet on his webpage). Timothy Noah has a
first set of responses
here. The takeaway quote from Saez should be: "The top 1% captured
93% of the income gains in the first year of recovery."
This helps explain why the Republicans (and some Democrats) are so
happy to do nothing more that might promote recovery: the economy for
their favorite constituency has already recovered, and in relative
terms was better than ever. Noah's takeaway line: "This is an economy
that was in no hurry to share what little prosperity there was with
the bottom 99 percent." More from Konczal:
The Great Recession dropped income for the bottom 99% by 11.6%,
completely wiping out the meager gains of the Bush years. And crucially,
while 2010 was a year of continued stagnation for the economy as a whole,
the 1% began to show strong gains, even when you exclude capital gains.
As you can image, this has increased the percentage of the economic
pie that the top 1% takes home. As Saez notes, "excluding realized capital
gains, the top decile share in 2010 is equal to 46.3%, higher than in 2007."
[ . . . ]
It's also worth mentioning that, pre-Recession, inequality hadn't been
that high since the Great Depression, and we are looking to rapidly return
to that state. It's important to remember that a series of choices were
made during the New Deal to react to runaway inequality, including changes
to progressive taxation, financial regulation, monetary policy, labor
unionization, and the provisioning of public goods and guaranteed social
insurance. A battle will be fought over the next decade -- it's been fought
for the past three years -- on all these fronts. The subsequent resolution
will determine how broadly-shared prosperity is going forward and whether
or economy will continue to be as unstable as it has been.
So far, that battle has almost always gone to the 1%, in large part
because Republicans have been able to obstruct virtually all changes
(and in lesser part because Democrats especially fond of the 1%, like
Obama, haven't challenged the gross inequities of the current system).
But unless significant changes are made, there will be no recovery --
much less advance -- for the 99%. There's just not enough opportunity
for growth when 93% of it is slurped up by the 1%.
You might also look at the Dow Jones chart in
Paul Krugman: Taking Stock. This would be even more revealing if
you plotted jobs alongside it: a number that has remained relatively
stagnant while stock prices have nearly doubled.
Paul Krugman: Ignorance Is Strength:
One way in which Americans have always been exceptional has been in our
support for education. First we took the lead in universal primary
education; then the "high school movement" made us the first nation
to embrace widespread secondary education. And after World War II,
public support, including the G.I. Bill and a huge expansion of public
universities, helped large numbers of Americans to get college degrees.
But now one of our two major political parties has taken a hard right
turn against education, or at least against education that working
Americans can afford. Remarkably, this new hostility to education is
shared by the social conservative and economic conservative wings of
the Republican coalition, now embodied in the persons of Rick Santorum
and Mitt Romney. [ . . . ]
It's not hard to see what's driving Mr. Santorum's wing of the party.
His specific claim that college attendance undermines faith is, it turns
out, false. But he's right to feel that our higher education system isn't
friendly ground for current conservative ideology. And it's not just
liberal-arts professors: among scientists, self-identified Democrats
outnumber self-identified Republicans nine to one.
I guess Mr. Santorum would see this as evidence of a liberal conspiracy.
Others might suggest that scientists find it hard to support a party in
which denial of climate change has become a political litmus test, and
denial of the theory of evolution is well on its way to similar status.
But what about people like Mr. Romney? Don't they have a stake in
America's future economic success, which is endangered by the crusade
against education? Maybe not as much as you think.
After all, over the past 30 years, there has been a stunning disconnect
between huge income gains at the top and the struggles of ordinary workers.
You can make the case that the self-interest of America's elite is best
served by making sure that this disconnect continues, which means keeping
taxes on high incomes low at all costs, never mind the consequences in
terms of poor infrastructure and an undertrained work force.
And if underfunding public education leaves many children of the less
affluent shut out from upward mobility, well, did you really believe that
stuff about creating equality of opportunity?
So whenever you hear Republicans say that they are the party of
traditional values, bear in mind that they have actually made a radical
break with America's tradition of valuing education. And they have made
this break because they believe that what you don't know can't hurt them.
Probably too low for Krugman's radar, but Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback
has a signature program to shift funding from college prep classes to
vocational training. The disturbing thing about this attack on higher
education is that it reflects a significant hardening of the class
strata in America. For most of my lifetime college has been touted as
the path by which ambitious low- and middle-class progeny can move up
in the world, and this was seen as an essential attribute of America
(you know, "the land of opportunity"). Now, this Republican shift is
saying: forget wasting your time on education, you're doomed to stay
within the class you were born into. Meanwhile, the children of the
rich go to elite colleges not to study but to be with their own kind,
consolidating their class consciousness.
Rick Perlstein: Why Conservatives Are Still Crazy After All These Years:
It suddenly feels like conservatism has gotten crazier than ever.
Republican debate audiences cheer executions and boo an active-duty
soldier because he is gay. Politicians pledge allegiance to Rush Limbaugh,
a pill-popping lunatic who recently offered "feminazis" a deal: "If we are
going to pay for your contraceptives, we want you to post the videos online
so we can all watch." Thousands of "Oath Keepers" -- "Police & Military
Against the New World Order" -- swear to disobey the illegal orders certain
to come down the pike once Barack Obama institutes martial law. One major
Republican presidential candidate talks up indentured servitude -- and
another proposes turning schoolchildren into janitors. Only 12 percent of
Mississippi Republicans believe Barack Obama is a Christian. Arizona
Republicans push a bill to allow bosses to fire female employees for
using birth control.
And so on and so forth, unto whatever wacky new wingnuttism just
flashed over the wires today.
But are right-wingers scarier now than in the past? They certainly
seem stranger and fiercer. I'd argue, however, that they've been this
crazy for a long time. Over the last sixty years or so, I see far more
continuities than discontinuities in what the rightward twenty or thirty
percent of Americans believe about the world. The crazy things they
believed and wanted were obscured by their lack of power, but they were
always there -- if you knew where to look. What's changed is that loony
conservatives are now the Republican mainstream, the dominant
force in the GOP.
David Remnick: Threatened: A few years ago Remnick was a reliable
apologist for Israel who could always find a silver lining no matter
what Israel did, so this is an interesting turnaround:
A visitor to Tel Aviv and other freethinking precincts might overlook
the reactionary currents in the country, but poll after poll reveals
that many younger Israelis are losing touch with the liberal, democratic
principles of the state. Many of them did their military duty in the
Occupied Territories; some learned to despise the Occupation they saw
firsthand, but others learned to accept the official narratives
justifying what they were made to do.
Last year, a poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute found
that fifty-one per cent of Israelis believed that people "should be
prohibited from harshly criticizing the State of Israel in public."
Netanyahu encourages the notion that any such criticism is the work of
enemies. Even the country's staunchest ally, the United States, is not
above suspicion. The current Administration has coöperated with Israeli
intelligence to an unprecedented extent and has led a crippling sanctions
effort against Iran, yet Netanyahu, who visits Washington this week, has
shown imperious disdain for Barack Obama. In fact, the President is a
philo-Semite, whose earliest political supporters were Chicago Jews:
Abner Mikva, Newton and Martha Minow, Bettylu Saltzman, David Axelrod.
He was close to a rabbi on the South Side, the late Arnold Jacob Wolf.
But to Netanyahu these men and women are the wrong kind of Jew. Wolf,
for example, had worked for Abraham Joshua Heschel, the rabbi most
closely associated with the civil-rights movement and other social-justice
causes. Wolf brought Martin Luther King, Jr., to speak in his synagogue,
marched in Selma, and, in 1973, helped found Breira (Alternative), one of
the first American Jewish groups to endorse a Palestinian state in the
West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu has distaste for such associations; his gestures toward
Palestinian statehood are less than halfhearted. (After he spoke of
giving Palestinians their own state, his father, the right-wing historian
Benzion Netanyahu, shrewdly observed, "He supports it under conditions
that they will never accept.") To Netanyahu, the proper kind of ally is
exemplified by AIPAC and Sheldon Adelson -- the longtime casino tycoon
and recent bankroller of Newt Gingrich -- who owns a newspaper in Israel
devoted to supporting him.
Nate Silver: Live Coverage: Alabama and Mississippi Primaries:
A lot of interesting stat-think here, fascinating for someone like
me who spent many years thumbing through old almanacs of county by
county voting statistics. There are hints but no firm answers why
Silver's own estimates gave the victorious Santorum a 12% chance
of winning Alabama and a 2% chance in Mississippi. Demographics,
maybe: it is clear from the map that the three counties in Alabama
with the state's largest cities were the only counties that gave
Romney a lead. (Mississippi was a little messier, but Jackson and
Biloxi gave Romney leads.) On the other hand, do we really want to
know why the dumbest white people in America chose as they did in
the nation's most uninteresting political contest?
Matt Taibbi: Too Crooked to Fail: On Bank of America:
At least Bank of America got its name right. The ultimate Too Big to Fail
bank really is America, a hypergluttonous ward of the state whose limitless
fraud and criminal conspiracies we'll all be paying for until the end of
time. Did you hear about the plot to rig global interest rates? The $137
million fine for bilking needy schools and cities? The ingenious plan to
suck multiple fees out of the unemployment checks of jobless workers?
Take your eyes off them for 10 seconds and guaranteed, they'll be into
some shit again: This bank is like the world's worst-behaved teenager,
taking your car and running over kittens and fire hydrants on the way to
Vegas for the weekend, maxing out your credit cards in the three days you
spend at your aunt's funeral. They're out of control, yet they'll never
do time or go out of business, because the government remains creepily
committed to their survival, like overindulgent parents who refuse to
believe their 40-year-old live-at-home son could possibly be responsible
for those dead hookers in the backyard.
Gary Trudeau: Doonesbury: First panel in a series on the political
obstructions the gentlemen legislators of Texas have placed in the way
of a woman trying to get an abortion. You've probably heard about this
because the series has set off another round of newspapers rejecting
the strip. (A no-brainer here with the Wichita Eagle, which ran it for
a while on the opinion pages then dropped it altogether.) Use "next"
to flip through. The rape scene occurs four days in.
Paul Woodward: Did Israel provoke Gaza escalation to test Iron Dome?:
Four days ago I suggested that the reason Israel assassinated the
Popular Resistance Committee leader Zuhair Qaisi in Gaza may have had
less to do with foiling an attack and much more to do with testing
Iron Dome. Yousef at The Jerusalem Fund agrees, saying that a successful
test of the missile defense system could go a long way to assuage the
Israeli public's fears about retaliation from Iran following an Israeli
attack. [ . . . ]
In the glow of the test's successful outcome, Israel's defense minister
Ehud Barak didn't even seem to think it was worth the effort to perpetuate
the narrative that Qaisi had ever posed an imminent threat. After the
militant leader's assassination, Barak said: "it is not completely clear
what the plan was and where, or if it had been foiled."
Jerry Haber (cf.
Is Israel a Rational Actor?) suspects the same thing, although he
holds out the alternative possibility that Netanyahu and Barak are just
fucking nuts. The model assumes that if Israel attacks Iran, Hamas and
Hezbollah will respond by attacking Israel, because they're just Iranian
agents. That's certainly not true of Hamas, and unlikely of Hezbollah.
More likely, I think, that they just wanted to stir the pot, including
the fear level of their own people -- and that, rather than proof that
their anti-missile defense system works, is the cover they need to start
a war with Iran.
Sunday, March 11. 2012
Some links and comments, trying to get back onto some sort of weekly
Tom Engelhardt: The 0% Doctrine:
During AIPAC week, Obama said some things that seem intended to derail
Israel's drive toward war with Iran, but he also said some things that
committed the US to take charge of implementing Israel's war -- a war
that, we should remind ourselves, would be unthinkable if Israel would
only agree to a fair resolution of its 64-year conflict with the
Palestinian people living under its occupation. Obama reiterated the
cliché about all options remaining on the table: US options include
the world's largest arsenal of nuclear weapons, sufficient to turn
every acre of Iran into a long-term nuclear wasteland, as well as the
world's largest and most heavily armed invasion force (one that has
already been used effectively on two countries bordering Iran), plus
all sorts of less extreme options, like the current effort to strangle
Iran economically through sanctions. What would trigger more drastic
actions is evidence that Iran is actually developing nuclear weapons --
evidence which thus far has been limited to Israeli hallucinations.
Whether he meant to or not, in his latest version of Iran war policy
President Obama has built on the Bush precedent. His represents, however,
an even more extreme version, which should perhaps be labeled the 0%
Doctrine. In holding off an Israeli strike that may itself be nothing
but a bluff, he has defined a future Iranian decision to build a nuclear
weapon as a new form of aggression against the United States. We would,
as the president explained to Jeffrey Goldberg, be committing our military
power against Iran not to prevent an attack on the U.S. itself, but a
nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
And by the way, note that he didn't say, "We don't bluff." His
formulation was: "I don't bluff." And that "I" should not be ignored.
The Bush administration promoted a cult of presidential power, of (as
they called it at the time) a "unitary executive." No one in the White
House uses such a term these days, any more than they use the term
"Global War on Terror," but if both terms have disappeared, the
phenomena they named have only intensified.
The Global War on Terror, with its burgeoning secret military, the
elite special operations forces, and its growing drone air force,
controlled in part by the CIA, should be thought of as the president's
private war. In addition, as legal scholar Jonathan Turley wrote recently,
when it comes to drone assassinations (or "targeted killings" as they
are now more politely known), Attorney General Eric Holder has just
claimed for the president the "authority to kill any American if he
unilaterally determines them to be a threat to the nation." In doing
so, added Turley, "Obama has replaced the constitutional protections
afforded to citizens with a 'trust me' pledge." With terror in its
crosshairs, war, in other words, is increasingly becoming the president's
private preserve and strikes on the enemy, however defined, a matter of
his own private judgment. [ . . . ]
The irony is that the president has propounded a war-making policy
of unprecedented extremity at a moment when there is no evidence that
the Iranians are pursuing a bomb -- not yet at least. The "supreme
leader" of their theocratic state has termed the possession of nuclear
weapons "a grave sin" and U.S. national intelligence estimates have
repeatedly concluded that the Iranians are not, in fact, moving to
build nuclear weapons. If, however -- and it's a giant if -- Iran
actually got the bomb, if a 10th country joined the nuclear club
(with others to follow), it would be bad news, and the world would
be a worse place for it, but not necessarily that greatly changed.
What could change the world in a radical way, however, is the 0%
doctrine -- and the trend more generally to make war the personal
prerogative of an American president, while ceding to the U.S.
military what was once the province and power of diplomacy.
One thing we can be glad of is that Obama's 0% Doctrine only seems
to apply to Iran. Had it been in effect when North Korea was on the
verge of developing its bomb we would have been obligated to attack,
launching a second Korean War. The North Koreans were better prepared
to respond to such an attack, with thousands of artillery aimed at
nearby Seoul (pop. over 10 million), plus hundreds or thousands of
missiles that could hit more distant targets -- notably Japan. Such
an attack would probably have resulted in a million or more deaths,
yet was avoided by the US not having an insane policy based on
political posturing to appease a foreign lobby.
Fortunately, we've found out that we can live with a nuclear-armed
North Korea, and for that matter a number of other nuclear-armed states
we may or may not especially like. Despite the obvious danger, no one
has actually used nuclear weapons since the US lost its monopoly on
them -- and they've never been used against a nuclear-armed foe, like
the US or Israel. So why should Iran be any different? I can't think
of any serious reason. (If, for instance, you think they're obsessed
with killing Jews, wouldn't you expect them to at least discriminate
against their own Jewish community? I mean, long before the "Final
Solution" became policy the Third Reich had established a horrific
record of villifying and attacking German Jews.)
Paul Pillar explores this question and sensibly concludes
We Can Live With a Nuclear Iran. Pillar looks at all the arguments
now in circulation as to why a nuclear-armed Iran would be disastrous,
and carefully picks them apart. He looks at the arguments for going to
war, and at some of the ways Iran could fight back. Even if such a war
didn't escalate into a huge disaster for all concerned, "surgical" air
strikes are unlikely to do more than marginally slow down Iran, and
certain to increase Iran's resolve to develop a deterrent against
In return for all of these harmful effects, an attack on Iran would
not even achieve the objective of ensuring a nuclear-weapons-free
Iran. Only a ground invasion and occupation could hope to accomplish
that, and not even the most fervent anti-Iranian hawks are talking
about that kind of enormous undertaking. Panetta's estimate that an
aerial assault would set back the Iranian nuclear program by only
one or two years is in line with many other assessments. Meanwhile,
an attack would provide the strongest possible incentive for Iran
to move forward rapidly in developing a nuclear weapon, in the hope
of achieving a deterrent to future attacks sooner rather than later.
That is how Iraq reacted when Israel bombed its nuclear reactor in
1981. Any prospect of keeping the bomb out of Iranian hands would
require still more attacks a couple of years hence. This would mean
implementing the Israeli concept of periodically "mowing the lawn" --
a prescription for unending U.S. involvement in warfare in the
Middle East. [ . . . ]
Why would anyone, weighing all the costs and risks on each side
of this issue, even consider starting a war with Iran? The short
answer is that neocon habits die hard. It might seem that the recent
experience of the Iraq War should have entirely discredited such
proclivities, or at least dampened policymakers' inclination to
listen to those who have them. But the war in Iraq may have instead
inured the American public to the extreme measure of an offensive
war, at least when it involves weapons of mass destruction and
loathsome Middle Eastern regimes.
Indeed, we see exactly the same fools pushing for war with Iran
as led the charge into Iraq. The failure to learn anything from the
last decade is as shameful as what the US did during those years.
Paul Glastris/Ryan Cooper/Siyu Hu: Obama's Top 50 Accomplishments:
A laundry list, including some stretches (e.g., 13. Improved America's
Image Abroad) and sleight of hand (e.g., 5. Began Drawdown of War in
Afghanistan). Someone could take these apart point by point (e.g., top
three were: Passed Health Care Reform, Passed the Stimulus, and Passed
Wall Street Reform) but most are merely inadequate steps forward --
they showcase Obama's "realism" but also his essential conservatism,
lack of understanding, lack of commitment to the people who elected
him, and his inability or unwillingness to stick his neck out. And
some (e.g., 21. Tightened Sanctions on Iran) mask major failures. Also
note that none of the 50 (not even 21) refer to Israel/Palestine, the
object of one of two special envoys Obama appointed among his first
acts in 2009. Another item not on the list is Obama's
signing of a law that helps the government prosecute embarrassing
Arthur Goldwag: The Right Wing's Pornography of Resentment: Faced
with loss of advertisers, Rush Limbaugh apologized for a couple of words,
but more telling than mere name-calling is the quote below:
The sliming that Sandra Fluke has endured -- from Rush Limbaugh, of course,
but also from his rabid cheering section like Atlas Shrugged's Pam Geller
("She is banging it five times a day . . . . Calling
this whore a slut was a softball") and the blogger Ace of Spades ("A
shiftless rent-a-cooch from East Whoreville") -- is bizarre and over-the-top
But even weirder was Limbaugh's proposition: If "Miss Fluke and the
rest of you Feminazis" expect us to pay you to have sex, "we want something
for it," Limbaugh said last week. "We want you to post the videos online
so we can all watch." (Those words were later erased from Limbaugh's
official transcript of the show; Atlantic Wire preserved them.)
Ann Jones: Playing the Game in Afghanistan: This piece appeared
news that a US soldier went house-to-house in Kandahar to murder
sixteen Afghan (mostly children). That's just one of many incidents
showing how the US occupation in Afghanistan is self-destructing,
losing "hearts and minds" not just of Afghans but of the US soldiers
as well. It remains politically taboo to say anything critical of the
US army and its heroic soldiers, but you have to wonder about an
organization that isn't able to impress on its workers the critical
importance of not burning korans or pissing on Afghan corpses. Also
disconcerting is the tendency of late for Afghan soldiers to turn
their guns on their trainers. The idea had been to hand the country
off to reliable local troops (although I don't ever recall hearing
the term Afghanization, perhaps recognition of how poorly the idea
played out in Vietnam and Iraq), but Jones explains in several ways --
through history, economics, and "the Afghan sport of buzkashi"
why that was bound to fail.
Many people who know Afghanistan well, however, have warned from the
beginning against this plan to train up an armed force. I'm among the
naysayers, and I'll tell you why.
First, consider what the plan proposes. The number of Afghan soldiers
and police to be trained varies widely from one report to the next, but
the last estimate I received directly from the Kabul Military Training
Center called for 240,000 soldiers and 160,000 police (who, incidentally,
are also called "soldiers" and trained in a similar manner). That brings
the total proposed Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) to approximately
four times the number of current coalition troops in the country.
It costs the U.S. $12 billion annually to train the army alone and
the estimated cost of maintaining it beyond 2014 is $4 billion per year,
of which the Afghan government says it can pay no more than 12%. Clearly,
Afghanistan does not need and cannot sustain such a security force.
[ . . . ]
Second, take just a moment to do something Washington has long been
adverse to -- review a little basic Afghan history as it applies to
Plan A. Start with the simplest of all facts: in the country's modern
history, no Afghan national army has ever saved a government, or even
tried. More often, such an army has either sat on its hands during a
coup d'état or actually helped to overthrow the incumbent ruler.
[ . . . ]
Another objection to spending billions on training an Afghan National
Army is this: you never know whom they will shoot. The problem is not the
odd rogue soldier or Talib infiltrator. The problem is that the Afghan
moral code is different from ours, though still apparently invisible to
our military and political leaders. [ . . . ]
In short, for their own safety and advancement, Afghans back a winner,
and if he goes into decline, they ditch him for a rising star. To spot
that winner is the mark of the intelligent survivor. To stick loyally to
a losing cause, as any patriotic American would do, seems to an Afghan
Now, apply this to the ANA as American and NATO troops draw down in
2014. Any army intended to defend a nation must be loyal to the political
leaders governing the country. Estimates among Afghan experts of how long
the ANA would be loyal to Afghan President Hamid Karzai start at two weeks,
and remember, 2014 is a presidential election year, with Karzai barred by
the constitution from seeking another term. In other words, Obama's Plan A
calls for urgently building up a national army to defend a government that
will not exist before our own combat troops leave the country.
And if that election is riddled with fraud, as the last one was? Or
inconclusive? Or violently contested? Has President Obama or Secretary
of Defense Panetta or anyone else given any thought to that?
These days, as Afghan men, mostly in army and police uniforms, shoot
and kill NATO soldiers on a remarkably regular basis, the American military
still publicly writes off the deaths as "isolated incidents."
But the isolation may be an American one. The connections among Afghans
are evident to anyone who cares to look. [ . . . ]
While some commentators speak of Afghan treachery and others detect a
Taliban plot to infiltrate the security forces, I suspect something
quite different. Malcolm Gladwell might call it a tipping point. What
we are watching unfold in Afghanistan is the desertion of chapandazan
who have already found new khans.
Ed Kilgore: Beyond Mitt's Small Donor Problem: The most striking
thing about the Romney campaign is the concentrated money behind it.
To some extent I think this is happening because it can happen: with
unlimited campaign funding it makes more sense to target bigger donors.
It's pretty well known that the virtually certain 2012 presidential
nominee of the Republican Party, Mitt Romney, has financed his campaign
so far with an exceptionally successful corporate fundraising effort
and has built the largest, best-financed, and above all most abrasively
negative Super-PAC operation ever known. But Mitt's failure to attract
small-dollar donors is less well-known, and as Paul Waldman notes at
the American Prospect today, the gap between Romney and the other
candidates on this score are pretty shocking. The percentage of total
money raised from contributions under $200 are as follows: Rick Santorum
49%; Newt Gingrich 48%; Ron Paul 46%; Barack Obama 42% -- and Mitt Romney
I suspect that Obama will get less from small donors this time around,
partly because his first term has vindicated the idea that big donors are
making sound investments, and also because so much big money in the arena
makes a mockery of democracy. Rarely has any candidate presented himself
so blatantly and exclusively as a tool of the top one percent as Romney
(well, Steve Forbes, of course, but he wasn't much of a contender).
Playboy Interview: Paul Krugman: Some choice quotes:
To the extent that sacrifices need to be made, shouldn't the people who've
made out like bandits this past generation be first in line? The problem
with getting out of the slump is that we need to spend more. It's not that
somebody needs to spend less. We have idle workers who have the skills and
the willingness to work. We have idle factories. Dealing with this is not
about saying somebody needs to suffer. It's saying that we need to be
prepared to open the taps. We should not be using the language of sacrifice
to talk about how we deal with the current slump. It's a little shocking
that that shorthand rhetoric about "shared sacrifice," which is what people
say when they want to sound serious, infiltrated the rhetoric from the
beginning, even with a Democratic president. That's a major part of the
reason we're still in this slump. [ . . . ]
Obama is very much an establishment sort of guy. The whole image of
him as a transcendent figure was based on style rather than substance.
If you actually looked at what he said, not how he said it, he said very
establishment things. He's a moderate, cautious, ameliorative guy. He
tends to gravitate toward Beltway conventional wisdom. He's a certain
kind of policy wonk, the kind that looks for things that are sort of
centrist in how Washington defines centrist. He was talking about Social
Security cuts during the 2008 primary. That's how you sound serious in
our current political culture. He wasn't sufficiently distanced to step
back and say that a lot of our political culture is completely insane.
[ . . . ]
I think the choice we made, really without understanding that we were
making the choice, was to make Walmart jobs low paying. They didn't have
to be. In a different legal environment, a megacorporation with more than
a million employees might well have been a company with a union that
resulted in decent wages. We think of Walmart jobs as being low wage
with 50 percent turnover every year because that's the way we've allowed
it to develop. But it didn't have to be that way. If the rise of big-box
stores had not taken place under the Reaganite rules of the game, with
employers free to do whatever they wanted to block union organizing, we
might have had a different result. Part of the hysterical opposition to
the auto-industry bailout was the notion that we were bailing out
well-paid workers with union jobs. [ . . . ]
What we know is that the New Deal era produced a big leveling; it
basically turned us into a middle-class country, and it stuck. The
question is not why it happened but why it stuck. It was unions. The
thing about unions is they don't just negotiate higher wages for their
members. They also have an effect on people who are not unionized. It's
probably true that the union movement was a big factor in our having a
largely middle-class country. The destruction of unions outside the
public sector is an important factor in our no longer being a middle-class
country. People say, "Oh, we can't maintain unions in the modern globalized
economy." But then you see advanced countries where it works -- Canada
has had some decline in unionization but nothing like ours. It was a
political decision. The best generation of economic growth we've ever had
was the 25 years or so after 1947, which was a period of high unionization
and high marginal tax rates. This is just an excuse for what amounts to
pushing down the standards of U.S. workers.
Jane Mayer: The Kochs vs. Cato: Background on the Kochs' lawsuit to
take over the Cato Institute. They helped found it, put money into it,
and figure they should own it. After all, they own everything else they
put money into. They even have a technical term for this: freedom.
Alex Pareene: Sarah Palin's Hollywood Ending: On HBO's adaptation of
Game Change, or at least the juicy parts on Sarah Palin.
The film subscribes to the simplest theory of Sarah Palin: That she is
childlike, vain and incredibly ignorant but also an essentially decent
person and wonderful mother. The moments that come closest to "unfair" --
Sarah Palin doesn't know that the head of Great Britain's government is
the prime minister, not the queen -- are basically plausible. This isn't
Andrew Sullivan's conniving, dangerous pathological liar. It's an
overwhelmed working mother whose most unhinged moments are explained
by a crash diet. Her convention speech is largely stripped of its
snarling attack lines, imagining a world in which it appealed to "the
base" because of Palin's heartfelt commitment to special-needs children
and not because she was very good at saying mean things about Obama.
(The film actually repeats the bullshit story that her teleprompter
broke midway through, and she kept going.) Even when the film has her
take a major heel turn -- "if I am single-handedly carrying this
campaign, I am gonna do what I want!" -- after "winning" her debate
with Joe Biden (played by video footage of Joe Biden), she is still
basically an innocent seduced by the adoration of riled-up crowds and
One brief scene did reflect favorably on Palin: her contemptuous
brush-off of putative future son-in-law Levi Johnston before he was
paraded before the GOP Convention as a family values icon. The single
most hideous trait of that convention was how they tried to spin
Bristol Palin's unwed teen pregnancy into a vindication of pro-life
principles, as if more unwed teen pregnancies was the movement's
entire raison d'être. On the other hand, the candidate who got a
free pass was McCain. Every day I'm thankful he got beat, and all
the more so this week when he made headlines advocating arming
dissidents in Syria.
Friday, February 10. 2012
Most likely I won't be able to post on Sunday, so thought I should kick
these out prematurely:
Adam Gopnik: The Caging of America.
Interesting article on how the US became the world's number one jailor
state. I've been meaning to write more about this piece, but haven't
gotten it done. Much of this is derived from William J. Stuntz: The
Collapse of American Criminal Justice, who makes good points about
what's wrong and vague ones about what should be done.
Glenn Greenwald: The Growing Iranian Military Behemoth: Irony alert:
Iran still spends less than 1% of what the US spends for its military.
If Ahmadinejad doubles that, it's still less than 2%. Includes a chart,
and a map of all the US bases surrounding Iran, but it doesn't have
enough resolution to pick out the aircraft carriers and such in the
Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. Does not include a corresponding map
of Iran's foreign military bases, because, well, there aren't any.
Jason Gubbels: Barbara Ehrenreich Already Warned Us About the Komen
Foundation: Quotes from Ehrenreich's
Cancerland article, all worth reading, plus this illustration:
Ed Kilgore: Regressively Worse:
As Kevin Drum
notes today, the data on state tax burdens, as illustrated by a
new report from the Corporation for Enterprise Development, shows a
sea of regressivity, particularly in states that rely disproportionately
on consumption taxes and property taxes that are levied at flat rates on
assets that are disproportionately limited for those at or near the bottom
of the income scale. [ . . . ]
But the overall picture is a grim confirmation of the fact that the limited
progressivity of federal taxes must be weighed against the unwillingness
or inability of most of the states to follow suit.
The notorious variability of state and local taxes make it hard to
come up with any equitable tax plan. There's also a big problem with
carve-outs, where businesses get exemptions or other favors -- they've
become so common around here that businesses that don't demand them
are just being stupid. I've long felt that the solution to this would
be to set the federal tax level high enough to cover state and local
needs all across the country, then pass the money down to the state
and local authorities. If they wind up with more money than they need
or want, they can in turn rebate their citizens. Uniform tax rates
would eliminate a lot of the practice of businesses auctioning plants
off to whoever gives them the sweetest tax deal -- a game that is far
worse than zero-sum.
Andrew Leonard: Why Wall Street Hates a Healthy Labor Market:
"It's simple: When workers gain some leverage, it gets a little harder
to generate totally obscene profits." Main thing here is a quote from
a stock forecaster, warning that lower employment could drive profits,
and therefore stock values, down:
In other words, stock prices could slump because an increase in the
demand for labor will put upward pressure on wages. For the vast
majority of Americans, this is fantastic news. For the 1 percent,
not so much.
The news inspires memories of the go-go days of the dot-com boom,
when the stock market greeted every new monthly release of gangbuster
job growth numbers with a sharp sell-off. Wall Street doesn't like it
when American workers are in demand.
This is something to keep in mind when you see Republicans pushing
for austerity measures that hurt the economy, especially by throwing
people out of work.
Also see Leonard's
Wall Street's Song of Obama Woe. I still think these bankers have
it pretty good compared to how much actual value they produce, and I
suspect that their histrionics are just for show. But if banking looks
less lucrative, maybe smart young college grads will go elsewhere and
actually do something useful with their lives.
Trita Parsi: How Obama Became Vulnerable on Iran:
Iran was fast expanding its influence in the region during the George
W. Bush Presidency. "Iran was on a roll," one Obama Administration
official told me. But in the past three years, it has lost its regional
momentum. Iran's domestic political situation is much more unstable
following the fraudulent 2009 elections, its source of soft power in
the region has take a hit following the Arab uprisings, its economy
is hurting under the crushing weight of government mismanagement and
sanctions, and its ability to play the major powers against each other
has been severely limited since Obama took office.
Yet, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC poll, Americans
disapprove of the way Obama has handled the Iran issue by a 48 to 33
percent margin. This result is well below his overall job performance
numbers and significantly worse than the approval ratings for his
handling of terrorism and international affairs.
The numbers must have perplexed Democratic operatives. Efforts by
the White House to showcase how tough Obama has been on Iran -- including
National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon's triumphalist speech at the
Brookings Institute in November 2011 -- have failed to impress the public.
But it is also because of the Obama administration permitted the Right
to define the metrics of success on Iran. Obama has completely bought into
the idea that a "strong" Iran policy is one that is tough, punishing and
confrontational. As on so many other issues, Obama has permitted the
debate to take place on the Right's turf. In doing so, he has betrayed
his own platform of pursuing "smart" rather than just "tough" policies.
Jordan Michael Smith: Chastened Liberal Hawk Fears Clash With Iran:
The hawk in question is Kenneth Pollack, who wrote an influential book
advocating invasion of Iraq, then went to follow it up with one on Iran
before he started to get cold feet:
Pollack was one of the authors of America's "dual-track" policy with
Iran, whereby efforts at serious talks are coupled with sanctions. He
is now convinced that policy is failing. "The problem is that Iran
sees it very differently from the way we see it," Pollack said in an
interview. "They put our efforts in terms of human rights and reaching
out to the opposition, as well as the sanctions, in the same scheme as
what the Israelis are doing, which includes assassinations, acts of
sabotage, cyberattacks; and what the Saudis are doing, which is aid
to basically every group fighting the Iranian proxies all over the
Middle East; and what the British are doing, which is gathering
Cumulatively, he says, these efforts are convincing Iran not that
it should relinquish its nuclear efforts but that it is under attack:
"To the Iranians, this looks like a concerted Western covert war against
them." The current hard-line regime in Iran takes this as the threat of
war, and is prepared to fight a war rather than back down, Pollack says.
TNR article points out the ways in which U.S. policies toward Iran,
intended as an alternative to war, are leading us directly to that result.
[ . . . ]
Pollack's perspective is informed by his experience with Iraq. He was
instrumental at the CIA and NSC in implementing sanctions against Iraq in
the 1990s, sanctions that he rightly calls "the most draconian sanctions
ever in history, probably." Those sanctions ultimately failed, in preventing
war, in being a humane policy, and in persuading the court of international
"Everyone assumed that Saddam Hussein would have to do what the
international community wanted, because he wouldn't dare to starve his
people to death. But guess what? He decided to starve his people to death."
About Iran today, he says, "Everyone thinks now sanctions are so great,
we're putting so much pressure on the Iranians, but I don't think it's
going to be enough pressure to get the Iranians to cave, and in one or
two years we're going to hear that the Central Bank sanctions are too
harsh, and they need to be lifted. That's what happened in Iraq."
One recurrent problem with sanctions is that I can't recall when the
US ever imposed sanctions without tying them to regime change -- a pose
that both required demonizing the existing regime and that militated
against ever compromising. (Myanmar may be an exception, one that shows
how little emotional attachment we have there.) No regime wants to give
up power, least of all due to a tantrum by an overweening foreign power.
As for what a threatened nation would do to gain the presumed safety
of nuclear weapons, I'm reminded that Ali Bhutto of Pakistan swore his
country would "eat grass" if that's what it took to build the bomb.
(North Korea pretty much did just that.)
James Surowiecki: Private Inequity: One good thing about Mitt Romney's
presidential candidacy is that it provides a "teachable moment" to help
people learn about private equity firms:
The real reason that we should be concerned about private equity's
expanding power lies in the way these firms have become increasingly
adept at using financial gimmicks to line their pockets, deriving
enormous wealth not from management or investing skills but, rather,
from the way the U.S. tax system works. Indeed, for an industry that's
often held up as an exemplar of free-market capitalism, private equity
is surprisingly dependent on government subsidies for its profits.
Financial engineering has always been central to leveraged buyouts.
In a typical deal, a private-equity firm buys a company, using some
of its own money and some borrowed money. It then tries to improve
the performance of the acquired company, with an eye toward cashing
out by selling it or taking it public. The key to this strategy is
debt: the model encourages firms to borrow as much as possible, since,
just as with a mortgage, the less money you put down, the bigger your
potential return on investment. The rewards can be extraordinary:
when Romney was at Bain, it supposedly earned eighty-eight per cent
a year for its investors. But piles of debt also increase the risk
that companies will go bust. [ . . . ]
As if this weren't galling enough, taxpayers are left on the hook.
Interest payments on all that debt are tax-deductible; when pensions
are dumped, a federal agency called the Pension Benefit Guaranty
Corporation picks up the tab; and the money that the dealmakers earn
is taxed at a much lower rate than normal income would be, thanks to
the so-called "carried interest" loophole. The money that Mitt Romney
made when he was at Bain Capital was compensation for his (apparently
excellent) work, but, instead of being taxed as income, it was taxed
as a capital gain. It's a very cozy arrangement.