Saturday, November 27, 2021

Speaking of Which

I saw a meme today which pictured Dwight Eisenhower and quoted a number of seemingly progressive planks in the 1956 Republican platform:

  • Federal assistance to low-income communities
  • Extension of Social Security
  • Asylum for thousands of refugees, expellees and displaced persons
  • Extending minimum-wage protections "to as many more workers as is possible and practicable."
  • improving the unemployment benefit system
  • Protection of the right of workers to organize into unions and to bargain collectively
  • assure equal pay for equal work regardless of sex.

While figureheads like Eisenhower and Nixon saw little benefit in attacking the overwhelmingly popular platforms of the New Deal, rank and file Republicans were often still as adamantly opposed as they had been under Coolidge and Hoover (two of the three presidents who famously "served under [Treasury Secretary] Andrew Mellon"). This was posted by a distinguished historian who also mentioned Wendell Wilkie, but way overshoots the mark in arguing that "there were days when being Republican was a mark of intelligence and integrity" -- consider Joseph McCarthy for one, and Barry Goldwater for another. But rather than nitpick, my comment tried to show a broader context:

From 1932-80 and 1980-2020 we've seen eras where one party dominated and the other tried to cope by largely adopting the dominant party's rhetoric and agenda. Only two Republicans were elected president in the former period: Eisenhower and Nixon. Both basically accepted the New Deal/Great Society framework, although their commitment to it was negligible, and the core of the party was often resistant and destructive, as when Republicans joined with Southern Democrats to pass Taft-Hartley, which eventually crippled the labor movement. Similarly, from 1980-2020 only two Democrats were elected President: Clinton & Obama. Both accepted major tenets of Reagan's anti-big-government conservatism, both actively courted business interests, and limited their reform proposals (e.g., in health care) to ones that would favor business interests. That slide to the right was halted by the abject failure of Republicanism to do anything but make the rich richer, by the failure of New Democrats to actually reform anything, and by the gross embarrassment of Trump. On the other hand, Biden doesn't look like an era-founding leader on the order of Roosevelt and Reagan (or looking back further, you can play this game with Jefferson and Lincoln, who inaugurated similarly dominant eras), and there are still Democrats stuck in the Reagan-era mindset (most famously Manchin and Sinema), so we're in a bit of a muddle right now. On the other hand, the only way you're going to see Republicans start trying to be reasonable is if the party gets beat so bad they have no other alternative.

One notable thing about this these eras is that the first three start with dramatic breaks toward more equitable and inclusive polities, but the Reagan one is anomalous, attempting to impose a more stratified, hierarchical power. It is also by far the least popular, secured beyond Reagan himself only through chicanery and corruption. Moving forward, we can draw on the progressivism of the past, but need a new understanding of how the word works, and what our place within it should be.

David Edward Burke: Has the Antiracist Movement Become a Counterproductive Religion? I don't know anything more about John McWhorter's book Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America than what I've read in this review, but I have a couple of kneejerk reactions. First is the inclusion of "Racism" in the title. Call it Wokism if you must, and try to show how a religious (he specifically rejects that it is merely religion-like) devotation to Wokism is counterproductive in various ways. But as written, Wokism is a subset of, and therefore more or less equivalent to, racism. That is not true, and muddies our understanding of racism. Sure, the word by itself can be confusing, but it's hard to grow up in America without understanding that racism refers to white-over-black or white-over-non-white discrimination. Second, the implication is that racism is simply a matter of belief. I know Critical Race Theory isn't often taught in America, but isn't it obvious that racism in America is not just opinion but systemic in law, custom, and culture? If you don't know that, you deserve to be harrangued by the consciously woke. There is much more we can quibble with, like when it's useful or counterproductive to accuse someone of being racist, or whether a phrase like "white privilege" even means anything significant. But that's because I jumped to the end of the review, only to read: "Democrats will be motivated to think carefully about whether to wholeheartedly embrace or distance themselves from the more extreme and tyrannical elements of the far left." What the fuck? I get that some people "on the left" (not unlike "on the right" or "in the middle") care so much about seemingly minor slights that they react harshly (whether about racism or sexism or snobbery or pollution or food or satire or all sorts of things) but that doesn't make them tyrants. In order to be a tyrant, you have to have power, including the ability to punish people who offend you. Maybe someday some people on the left will have that kind of power, and we should work to ensure they wield it responsibly, with charity and forbearance, such as would be consistent with a belief system based on equity, justice, mutual respect and tolerance -- i.e., on the very principles that separate left from right. But for now, virtually all tyrants and would-be tyrants are on the right.

James M Bush: Author, activist and contributor Dan Georgakas has died aged 83: Probably best known for his book about his home town, Detroit: I Do Mind Dying.

Clay Cockrell: I'm a therapist to the super-rich: they are as miserable as Succession makes out: We're taking it slow through Succession's 3rd season. I can't think of a single show ever more devoid of sympathetic characters -- even Billions, where comparably rich wastrels at least on occasion get to show off their cleverness and accomplishments, or Breaking Bad, another triumph of technical skill over any shred of decency. Perhaps we are meant to admire people who get rich through lack of scruples. Popular culture started lionizing criminals in the 1960s with The Dirty Dozen and It Takes a Thief -- they broke the ice by toiling for legitimate institutional powers, but as such groups and causes became increasingly suspect, and as the notion of a public good gave way to individual greed, the rationalizations soon broke down. Succession differs in that it focuses more on the idiot heirs than on the conquering founder, although in this case whatever skill Logan Roy may once have wielded seems every bit as atrophied as his offspring. No one in the show seems even remotely competent to run the company, including Roy's lackeys and the featured outside investors (from Sandy and Stewie to Roy's estranged brother). One might suspect the whole concoction is intended as a stereotyped assault on contemporary capitalism, but our limited view of reality isn't all that different. This article's testimony about the miserable rich feels right. Of course, the rich feel trapped. They live in a world where getting rich is sold as the solution to every problem, yet also a world where one can never be too rich. For more on the show, see Emily VanDerWerff: The four F's of trauma response and the four Roy kids of Succession.

Matthew Cooper: Biden Was Right to Pick Powell to Chair the Federal Reserve. I don't agree, but I'm not terribly bothered either. I thought Obama made a serious mistake in reappointing Ben Bernanke instead of picking someone more in sync with Democratic interests, and Clinton's double-reappointment of Alan Greenspan was an even bigger mistake. If you're going to get blamed politically for the economy -- and Democrats have a knack for getting blamed even when all conventional indicators are bully (see Clinton, Obama, and especially Biden) -- you really should get your own person into the slot, especially since you lose the power to fire that person as soon as he's confirmed. Of course, Clinton and Obama were badly compromised here: the Fed Chair nominally works for the people, but really works for the banks, and both had a lot of big donors in the banking industry, with this one spot they're especially serious about IOU's. Biden too, most likely. Powell has done a decent job so far, and has some fairly progressive economists in his corner (e.g., Dean Baker). But he's been on his best behavior pending reappointment, and even so he's promising interest rate hikes. He could easily turn into Biden's worst nightmare.

Garrett Epps: Are the Courts Getting Ready to Crack Down on Reporters? Good question. The right-wing Veritas Project, which is designed to produce defamatory videos about what they regard as the left, is suing the New York Times not just for defamation but for an order to prevent the Times from further reporting about Project Veritas. Normally, such a lawsuit would be a joke. Epps has also written a big piece on How the Trump Era Changed the Supreme Court.

Paul Krugman: Wonking Out: How Global Is Inflation: Very, which means it has little to do with US federal policies; and Going Beyond the Inflation Headlines. For many people, pandemic subsidies and extra support for the safety net, like the extra money added to usually-miserly unemployment compensation, was a lifesaver, but for other people it just added to savings, helping to fuel the recovery even before the pandemic has really ended. Where this demand got ahead of supply (which is still impacted by various dislocations caused by the pandemic), companies have been able to jack up prices, reducing buying power. I'm not sure it's helpful or even accurate to describe this as inflation -- an old-fashioned but more apt term is price gouging. What one calls it matters, not least because different solutions appear depending on whether one calls it inflation or price gouging. We're accustomed to thinking of inflation as something that can be controlled by government austerity and central bank fiscal policy, even though the effects of both are precisely equal to the long-discredited medical practice of bleeding. To limit prices, we reduce demand by putting people out of work, so they can't spend. However, the method -- increasing interest rates -- is perverse, as interest rates are often a component in costs, so you'd think they'd prices further up. Moreover, higher interest rates are a windfall for lenders -- especially those debts that are indexed to the interest rate (like credit card debt). (There is also a perversity on the side of lowering interest rates: it makes money cheaper for banks, and the easiest -- and therefore the first -- thing they do with it is to fuel speculation, creating asset bubbles.)

On the other hand, the main ways for attacking price gouging are to increase supply, reduce monopoly, and tax away windfall profits. Also: the old-fashioned approach of price controls and rationing, which can be effective in the short run, while raising fears of shortages and bureaucratic hassle -- not that the famously efficient market doesn't have comparable problems. Also: a lot of price gouging is predicated on fraud, so oversight and review can help.

Much more to be be said about this than I can manage now. Some more links:

Chris Lehmann: We All Live in the John Birch Society's World Now: A review of Edward H. Miller's book, A Conspiratorial Life: Robert Welch, the John Birch Society, and the Revolution of American Conservatism, noting: "It's clear today that figures like Welch were much closer to the emerging ideological mainstream than any Cold War liberal could have imagined."

Susan Lustbader: What the Arbery and Rittenhouse Verdicts Couldn't Tell Us: Writer is a public defender in New York City. She provides a judicious, tightly reasoned analysis of this month's two high-profile murder trials: the acquittal in Wisconsin of a teenager, Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot three and killed two at an anti-racism march in Kenosha, and the conviction of three self-appointed vigilantes for the murder of an unarmed black man in Georgia. Good description here of why each trial went its own way, but the bigger point is how exceptional such trials are compared to the everyday workings of the mass incarceration system. "To get a sense of the way racism pervades our criminal justice system, I would recommend paying less attention to blockbuster cases and instead visiting a local criminal court on a random day and witnessing the parade of low-income people of color shuffled before the court, most of them accused of minor, victimless offenses. Pay attention as a judge decides, within minutes, how much money will be required for each person to get out of a cage." More pieces relevant here:

Gail Pellett: Why Care About the Rise of Fascism? The legacy of Sophie Scholl and White Rose, and their resistance against the Nazi regime in Germany, in 1942. The segue to its contemporary relevance starts with the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville in 2017, and includes a smiley, armed picture of Kyle Rittenhouse. If you doubt the relevance of fascism to right-wing political "thought" in America, check out where Chuck Rufo is heading in Zack Beauchamp: The intellectual right's war on America's institutions.

Bill Scher: Youngkin's Win Proves That Republicans Shouldn't Fear Expanded Voting Rights: When Republicans swept the 2010 elections, it occurred to me that most of the shift could be explained by the dropoff in votes following the peak 2008 presidential election. Evidently, Republicans came to the same conclusion, as they've become obsessed with erecting obstacles against voting ever since. Of course, they've worked even harder at obstacles that discriminate against likely Democratic voters, but a lot of restrictions, like limiting early voting, cut across party lines. One thing I didn't realize until later was that the dropoff in 2010 was almost identical to the dropoff from 2004 (which Bush won, barely) to 2006 (which was a major Democratic wave). What I now think happens is that when voter turnout increases, a lot of low information voters show up, and those are precisely the ones that are most gullible for Republican propaganda. Both in 2016 and 2020, Trump ran significantly better than the polls. There is a theory which tries to explain this: that Republican-leaners are intimidated by pollsters and are too shy to disclose their true feelings. Given how many Republicans are proud of being assholes, I rather doubt this. Same basic thing happened in Virginia, where Republican overshot the polls. Scher thinks this means that Republicans shouldn't fear higher voter turnout. I'd counter that Democrats shouldn't fear lower voter turnout. Indeed, as long as you keep your people committed, the total turnout doesn't matter much. I'm not saying that Democratic efforts to expand the electorate and get more people to vote are wasted. They underscore the Democrats commitment to democracy, which is something Republicans have given up on, so this helps to underscore the danger of giving Republicans more power to abuse. On the other hand, Democrats need to understand that the real threat to democracy in America isn't gerrymandering or the other scams Republicans use to leverage their power. The real threat is money. And while Democrats complain about money interests when running for office, they have yet to try to do something about it when they do have power. The result is to make them look corrupt -- something Republicans harp on even though they're even more complicit in giving moneyed interests inordinate power in federal and state governments.

Zachary Siegel: Give People Safe Drugs: "Over 100,000 overdose deaths happened last year, driven by volatile and lethal fentanyl." I think this is clearly right, although I'd add that it should be under the rubric of a general health care reform such that people can both get the painkillers they think they need and also the medical supervision and social workers they really do need. The main thing holding us back, aside from the myriad profits many interested parties (both legit and criminal) reap, is a stubborn idiotic belief in the persuasive power of hypocrisy. If anything, the effect is the opposite.

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