Archive for National

May
26

This might actually be fun

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“Donald Trump cares about exactly one thing: Donald Trump,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said, opening up with both barrels in a speech on Tuesday:

“Donald Trump was drooling over the idea of a housing meltdown because it meant he could buy up a bunch more property on the cheap,” Warren said at a Washington, D.C. gala for the Center for Popular Democracy Tuesday night.

“What kind of a man does that?” an incredulous Warren asked. “Root for people to get thrown out on the street? Root for people to lose their jobs? Root for people to lose their pensions? Root for two little girls in Clark County, Nevada, to end up living in a van?”

“What kind of a man does that?”

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Photo by Rachel Sian, via Creative Commons.

Photo by Rachel Sian, via Creative Commons.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) told Huffington Post yesterday he has “issues” with his state’s HB2 anti-transgender law passed overnight in March:

Burr has largely avoided talking about the law. He previously said he was out of the country when it passed; stated it’s up to the courts to decide if it’s valid; suggested it doesn’t actually discriminate; and declared it a state issue.

It is certainly an issue for Charlotte. The Chamber of Commerce there is under fire from the Human Rights Campaign as an “anti-LGBT bully.” The Chamber supported a city council vote for repealing the now moot nondiscrimination ordinance that the legislature gave as the reason for passing HB2. The Chamber nonetheless issued a letter to state lawmakers asking them to allow cities to pass ordinances to protect LGBT citizens.

A report from the Chamber estimates that HB2 has so far cost Charlotte and Mecklenburg County “$285 million and a loss of as many as 1,300 jobs,” according to the Charlotte Observer:

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Edward Snowden. Photo by Laura Poitras / Praxis Films CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

Edward Snowden. Photo by Laura Poitras / Praxis Films CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

The Guardian has a lengthy read about a Department of Defense figure involved in handling DoD whistleblowers. So far, John Crane has escaped the media spotlight surrounding the case of Edward Snowden. Crane worked in the Department of Defense’s inspector general office for handling internal whistleblowers when – ten years before Snowden – Thomas Drake came to report the same illegal activities Snowden revealed to the press. Mark Hertsgaard sets the stage:

Drake was a much higher-ranking NSA official than Snowden, and he obeyed US whistleblower laws, raising his concerns through official channels. And he got crushed.

Drake was fired, arrested at dawn by gun-wielding FBI agents, stripped of his security clearance, charged with crimes that could have sent him to prison for the rest of his life, and all but ruined financially and professionally. The only job he could find afterwards was working in an Apple store in suburban Washington, where he remains today. Adding insult to injury, his warnings about the dangers of the NSA’s surveillance programme were largely ignored.

According to the account Crane gave to Hertsgaard, DoD officials first illegally disclosed Crane’s identity to the Justice Department, then “withheld (and perhaps destroyed) evidence after Drake was indicted; finally, they lied about all this to a federal judge.”

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May
22

Strange attractors

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Visual representation of a strange attractor by Nicolas Desprez via Wikimedia Commons.

Visual representation of a strange attractor
by Nicolas Desprez via Wikimedia Commons.

Dissatisfaction runs deep. This season, large blocks of American voters across the political spectrum are backing anti-establishment candidates. Yet the public does not seem to agree on a coherent set of fixes. Dissatisfaction is like a vague pain that comes and goes and moves around.

Perhaps the closest thing to a strange attractor around which left and right opinions cluster is the undue influence of money in our politics. Donald Trump claims he is so wealthy no one can buy him. Bernie Sanders has turned $27, his stated average campaign contribution, into a stadium-sized brag. But in his new book, Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections, Richard Hasen argues that the view that big money is buying elections and bribing politicians is too narrow an understanding of how money influences our politics and policy. I have not read Hasen’s book, but an excerpt at Bill Moyer’s blog provides a sense of where Hasen’s argument will go:

It is hard for reformers to avoid the corruption talk. To begin with, “corruption” resonates with the general public — a poll commissioned by Represent.Us saw support jump from 60 to 72 percent of Americans when a campaign finance reform bill is packaged as an anticorruption measure. Using the term broadly, corruption can mean anything deviating from some perfect state of nature.

Of course, corruption shorthand has escalated in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court, but the word paints with too broad a brush:

The new Citizens United era is not full of corrupt politicians taking bribes or of elections going to the highest bidder. To claim it is so puts the public’s spotlight in the wrong place, looking for elected officials to use large amounts of money for private gain. The more central problem of money in politics is something just as troubling but much harder to see: a system in which economic inequalities, inevitable in a free market economy, are transformed into political inequalities that affect both electoral and legislative outcomes. Without any politician taking a single bribe, wealth has an increasingly disproportionate influence on our politics. While we can call that a problem of “corruption,” this pushes the limits of the words too far (certainly far beyond what the Supreme Court is going to entertain as corruption) and obscures the fundamental unfairness of a political system moving toward plutocracy. The political power of the wealthy is especially troubling in our current period of rising economic inequality, when those with great economic clout can use their increased political power to protect their economic position.

Widespread use of “corrupt” and “rigged” to describe our current state even by progressive icons such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren seems to be having the unintended consequence of promoting a sense that affecting change through political means is pointless, if not hopeless. Let’s just say my experience is that limited efforts of short duration are not likely to produce durable reforms. I attended the funeral of a friend last week, a former Freedom Rider with a history that went back to who SNCC, who never lost hope and never stopped fighting. Perhaps he was naive. And perhaps not.

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May
21

Standing Ovation

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Photo by TJ Amos

Photo by TJ Amos

I’m an inside/outside player. On the outside, I get to throw stones at the Democratic Party on national blogs when I get a bug up my ass. On the inside, as someone who helps get local and statewide candidates elected, people think I bring something valuable to the table and they listen to me. And I have a national platform to take them to task if they don’t. But if I were on the outside completely, I’d just be another harping lefty activist who’s all sticks and no carrots. But since I’ve been doing field successfully for 7 cycles, I’m now an old guy and maybe even The Establishment. When George W. Bush arrived, I knew I needed allies to fight back, so I went to where I could find them in bulk in one convenient location. Do I agree with all of them on everything? Hell, no. But that was never the point. Strength in numbers was. When I got there, local politics was still a southern old-boys club. Now, I’m one of the people in charge. My chair and I and my “Moral Monday” arrestee state senator are from Chicago.

I do not understand the need among many progressives to bet it all on one spin of the roulette wheel with everything bet on black, or on the long bomb with time running out, or on who’s running at the top of the ticket in a presidential year. My job description doesn’t change depending on who’s at the top of the ticket. As long as someone from our side of the aisle wins and gives me the next three SCOTUS picks, I’m good. Some coattails would be nice as well. That’s just a part of why I don’t much care about the Bernie v. Hillary thing.

Last week I went to the funeral of a friend of mine who was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer just weeks before. People said he was too focused on helping the community to look after himself. Isaac Coleman was a Freedom Rider and a member of SNCC. Two years ago he was declared a local “Living Treasure.” The church was packed. They started the “service” by naming off groups he had worked with and asked people from those groups to stand. Some got to stand multiple times. The largest group was the local Democratic Party. Isaac was a fierce advocate for the right to vote. “Take five,” he would say, “and if you can’t take five, take ten.”

The very idea that as an activist you would bet so much on a single, big political race would have seemed alien to him. It is to me. The local needs are too great.

I live in a state taken over by a T-party legislature that has passed one of the worst voter ID bills in the country, drafted absolutely diabolical redistricting maps, passed HB2 as a get-out-the-vote tool, and launches regular legislative attacks against our cities where the largest block of blue votes are. President Bernie isn’t going to fix that for me. Neither is President Hillary. And not in Michigan or Wisconsin either. We have to beat them ourselves. Here, not in the Electoral College.

But friends on the left now talk about the Democratic Party the way conservatives talk about “the gummint,” as though it is some sort of monolithic beast with agency of its own apart from that of its voters and activists. I get it. That’s how it looks if your focus is Washington. It looks a mite different out here in the provinces where we’re fighting the border wars. Sometimes out here — and more regularly than every four years — we get to win. That’s what keeps us going. Because the battle never ends.

I work with some very good people and some very good Democrats. But I’m seeing smart, good-hearted (many new) activists who didn’t learn from 2008. They think ideology is what’s most important. Talk the nuts and bolts of winning — practical politics — and they see you as gutless, cautious, calcified, afraid to bet it all on black and lose dramatically, because grinding out yardage on the ground is selling out. (A Princeton historian addressed that in part on air last week.) Their focus is the Big Enchilada (the presidency) when the fights that have more immediate impact on their lives are more local. That’s not to say global warming and national issues are not important. But if you want to sustain yourself for the Long March, you need to drink in some local victories or you’ll burn out before getting there.

Isaac never did. At then end of the service, we all gave him a long, standing ovation.

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In days of yore (pre-Internet), I telephoned the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) about a wall-sized world map I had heard about developed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). When I described what I was looking for, the woman on the other end said the GPO didn’t carry the map from the CIA.

“You want DMAODS,” she said matter-of-factly.

“And that would be?” I asked.

“Defense Mapping Agency Office of Distribution Services,” she said.

Naturally.

Dave Johnson of Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) and Kevin Drum of Mother Jones (MJ) point to a report by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) on the prospective economic benefits of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The projected economic impact, Drum observes, is “pretty close to zero.” Drum produced a handy chart (at top).

Drum writes:

Generally speaking, I’d say this means you should mostly ignore the economic aspects of TPP. The benefits will be minuscule and the damages will be minuscule. The error bars on a 30-year forecast are just too big to say anything more. Instead, you should focus on other aspects of the agreement. How will it affect poor countries in Asia? Is it a useful bulwark against the growing influence of China? What do you think of extending US patent and trademark rules throughout the world? All of those things are real. The economic impact is basically a crapshoot.

But is it? Jared Bernstein comments that it might seem incredible “that we’ve been intensely wrangling over this trade deal so hard for so long when these are the predicted outcomes.”

“Enquiring minds want to know” why, if the economic payback is so lean, are international business interests so keen on passage of TPP? Johnson worries that it is not the economic impacts Americans have to worry about:

[The report] estimates a decline in output for U.S. manufacturing/natural resources/energy of $10.8 billion as exports would increase by $15.2 billion and imports would increase by $39.2 billion by 2032. This translates to a loss of even more U.S. jobs in these key sectors.

Keep in mind that this ITC report assumes that there will be a “level playing field” on which other TPP countries will not manipulate currency, suppress labor or other things that hurt American jobs. It also assumes that the countries will buy from us (trade) instead of following national economic strategies to enhance key national strategic industries by selling to us but not buying from us. Of course, this is not what happens in the real world, other countries protect themselves as countries with key national economic interests; we do not.

These are only the economic projections from TPP. They do not take into account that most of TPP is not about the economic results from “trade”; it is about enhancing the power of corporations over governments. Even if TPP dramatically increased economic activity (which all goes to a few at the top now anyway) it would not be worth handing over our democracy and sovereignty to the billionaires behind the giant corporations.

But, “good news.” Public Citizen observes that historically these ITC economic projections tend to be wildly off-base:

Looking back, the USITC predicted improved trade balances as a result of the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and 2007 U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. The agency projected only a small deficit increase from China’s 1999 World Trade Organization entry deal and the granting to China of Permanent Normal Trade Relations status.

Instead, the U.S. trade deficits with the trade partners increased dramatically and, as detailed in the text of the new study, manufacturing industries from autos to steel and farm sectors such as beef that were projected to “win” saw major losses. A government program to help Americans who lose jobs to trade certified 845,000 NAFTA jobs losses alone.

That is to say, trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA, TPP and TiSA tend to leave American workers USCWOAP.

(cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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May
19

Essence of Limbaugh

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The Brookings Institution’s Robert Kagan examines the Donald Trump phenomenon. “It has nothing to do with the Republican Party … except in its historic role as incubator of this singular threat to our democracy.” In the Washington Post, Kagan writes:

And the source of allegiance? We’re supposed to believe that Trump’s support stems from economic stagnation or dislocation. Maybe some of it does. But what Trump offers his followers are not economic remedies — his proposals change daily. What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger. His public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of “others” — Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees — whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision. His program, such as it is, consists chiefly of promises to get tough with foreigners and people of nonwhite complexion. He will deport them, bar them, get them to knuckle under, make them pay up or make them shut up.

“Incubator” is perhaps the right metaphor for where Trump developed. Unless it was a Petri dish. But I too am not sure it was the Republican Party proper. Certain influential players, sure. Senator Joseph McCarthy, Senator Barry Goldwater, Lee Atwater, and Roger Ailes. Rush Limbaugh and a host of imitators for sure. I recall how creepy the appearance of Rush Rooms at restaurants was in the early 1990s. People could eat their lunches and not miss out on their daily Two Minutes Hate. They could share an experience validated by others. Only the Hate ran three hours a day. Would you like some ketchup with your Orwell?

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May
18

And then there are parasites

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Image via DakkaDakka.

Image via DakkaDakka.


Moses: A city is built of brick, Pharoah. The strong make many, the starving make few. The dead make none.

Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer offers up a prescription for boosting the nation’s economy in the American Prospect that you would be wise to read. Hanauer focuses on the low-wage “parasite economy” characterized by firms that derive “record profits on the backs of cheap labor” and from taxpayer subsidies that support their employees. Not so the real economy:

The real economy pays the wages that drive consumer demand, while the parasite economy erodes it. The real economy generates about $5 trillion a year in local, state, and federal tax revenue, while the parasite economy is subsidized by taxes. The real economy provides our children the education and opportunity necessary to grow into the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, and civic leaders, while the parasite economy traps them in a cycle of intergenerational poverty.

“The parasite economy is simply bad for business,” Hanauer writes:

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Categories : Economy, Labor, Manufacturing
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May
17

Transparently crafty

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It boggles the mind to watch voter ID proponents stand before the cameras with their hands over their hearts and their flys unzipped and announce how they truly are defending democracy by designing ways to make it harder for minorities, students, and the elderly to vote. As if false earnestness can mask what they are really up to. Everybody’s wise to Eddie except Eddie.

Talking Points Memo reports on testimony in a case challenging Wisconsin’s voter ID law:

The former staffer to a Wisconsin state Republican senator who went public last month with accusations that the state’s voter ID law was passed by GOPers looking for a political advantage elaborated on the claims in federal court Monday and identified the previously unnamed legislators he said were gleeful over the law.

Todd Allbaugh, testifying in a case challenging the law, named then-Sens. Mary Lazich, Glenn Grothman, Leah Vukmir and Randy Hopper as being “giddy” in a 2011 private caucus meeting about passing the bill, the Journal Sentinel reported. Allbaugh previously confirmed to TPM that Grothman, now a U.S. congressman, was among the state legislators who cheered the political implications of the voter ID requirement — which opponents say disenfranchise minorities and lower income people — after Grothman told a local TV station it would help Republicans win the state in 2016.

According to Allbaugh’s testimony Monday, Grothman said at the 2011 meeting, “‘What I’m concerned about here is winning and that’s what really matters here. … We better get this done quickly while we have the opportunity.”

“They were talking about impeding peoples’ constitutional rights, and they were happy about it,” Allbaugh testified Monday. Other Republicans in the room were “ashen-faced” over the discussion, according to Allbaugh.

In testimony, Allbaugh said Grothman contacted him after he went public to correct the former staffer’s memory on the meeting, WisPolitics.com reports. “Here’s the thing. I fundamentally believe that Democrats cheat, and I don’t believe our side does, and that’s why we need this bill.”

A lot of people fundamentally believe a lot of things. That has now become an acceptable basis for public policy.

Jay DeLancy, leader of North Carolina’s Voter Integrity Project, committed a Kinsley gaffe during recent comments on North Carolina’s ID law, carolinacoastonline.com reports:

DeLancy, in an interview on Viewpoints, a call-in show on WTKF-FM, which is owned by Carteret Publishing, Tideland News’ parent company, discussed the ruling upholding HB 589. He advised proponents to be vigilant, even in the face of success. DeLancy acknowledged that challenges would continue and that if North Carolina were not careful, it could end up like Virginia, “a blue state,” he said, meaning, if people are allowed to vote, Democrats would win. Host Lockwood Phillips quickly questioned DeLancy on the comment. DeLancy backtracked, claiming the Voter Integrity Project is “nonpartisan,” but he also said that he believed it is Democrats who are behind cases of voter fraud.

It’s fundamental: the only plausible explanation for Republicans losing elections is their opponents must have cheated.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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May
15

Give us back the lie

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Huntington, Indiana from the air, looking northeast.

Eli Saslow reports for the Washington Post on the decline of manufacturing in northeast Indiana where the American Dream is proving to be just that. Chris Setser stands to lose his $17/hr production line job at United Technologies Electronic Controls (UTEC) in Huntington. Like Carrier air conditioning plant in Indianapolis before it, the company announced plans to relocate to Mexico. Setser’s philosophy of “We can make it work” and “Life always evens out” is being tested:

All around him an ideological crisis was spreading across Middle America as it continued its long fall into dependency: median wages down across the country, average income down, total wealth down in the past decade by 28 percent. For the first time ever, the vaunted middle class was not the country’s base but a disenfranchised minority, down from 61 percent of the population in the 1970s to just 49 percent as of last year. As a result of that decline, confusion was turning into fear. Fear was giving way to resentment. Resentment was hardening into a sense of outrage that was unhinging the country’s politics and upending a presidential election.

Still, Setser believes in the “‘basic guarantees’ of the working class,” Salow writes. That his basic work ethic and work history will guarantee his home, cars, and annual trip to the lake will remain intact. He’s planning on remarrying. And he’s leaning towards Trump:

“We’re getting to the point where there aren’t really any good options left,” he said. “The system is broken. Maybe its time to blow it up and start from scratch, like Trump’s been saying.”

Krystal [his 16 year-old] rolled her eyes at him. “Come on. You’re a Democrat.”

“I was. But that was before we started turning into a weak country,” he said. “Pretty soon there won’t be anything left. We’ll all be flipping burgers.”

“Fine, but so what?” she said. “We just turn everything over to the guy who yells the loudest?”

Setser leaned into the table and banged it once for emphasis. “They’re throwing our work back in our face,” he said. “China is doing better. Even Mexico is doing better. Don’t you want someone to go kick ass?”

Globalization. Financialization. Greed, one of the deadly sins. Nothing a little ass-whupping won’t fix.

Daniel Engber at Slate has a lengthy but worthwhile examination of the state of psychological research pertaining to success. Angela Duckworth’s notion of “Grit” in particular, but other measures as well. Americans tell themselves hard work and perseverance always win out. It’s just not true. While Duckworth began her research looking at which West Point cadets had the “grit” to survive Beast Week without quitting, the quality appears to have had limited applicability:

Even the task of graduating from West Point itself doesn’t really compare to the trials of Beast. When Duckworth looked at students’ grades and “military performance scores” during their first year at school, she found that grit offered little guidance on how they’d handle the rest of the United States Military Academy curriculum. The whole candidate score—that old-fashioned, talent-based assessment—did much better. Considering that three-quarters of the students who fail to finish at West Point flunk during the post-Beast curriculum, those first seven gritty weeks appear to represent a special case, and one of marginal importance.

That is, Engber writes, “Grit matters, but only in specific situations that require strength of will.” Chris Setser might be “gritty.” He might believe Trump is. But grit alone will neither secure the “basic guarantees” to which Middle America once believed it was entitled, nor will it be enough for Trump. He seems to believe he can bully and bluster his way through any challenge, and actually knowing anything about the basic functions of government won’t matter. Trump, a former private military academy student, might have learned the value of grit, but doesn’t seemed to value other qualities that go into making an effective world leader.

One can see dead factory after dead factory stretched out for 75 miles east of here. Some textile facilities, but mostly empty furniture factories. Tens of thousands of Setsers have lost work over the last couple of decades. Hard work and perseverance were not enough to secure their futures. But many may be willing to vote for anyone who will give them back the illusion that they would. The fall elections from the presidency on down may turn on which party makes the better case. Or they might just settle for the guy who promises to kick some nonspecific ass.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)