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Clear and present danger

[ 2 ] July 27, 2016 |


Jill Stein isn’t going to let Donald Trump win the battle to utter the most noxious and irresponsible things during this news cycle without a fight:

Democrats are now accusing Russia of manipulating our presidential election… exactly what DNC was caught doing. #DNCleak

One problem with political rhetoric is that it naturally tends to be hyperbolic. People claim electing somebody as president would be a genuine catastrophe for the country, when in fact that’s not really very likely, given political inertia, institutional checks and balances, informal norms of governance and campaigning, and so forth.

Then Donald Trump comes along, i.e., a candidate who really would be a genuine catastrophe for the country, because he’s an utterly unqualified narcissistic sociopath who is completely unconstrained by ordinary formal or informal institutions and norms. And pointing this out (over and over again) rings rather hollow, because after all people are always making hyperbolic claims of this sort. But in this case it’s not hyperbole. If anything it’s an understatement, because it’s both hard to grasp and hard to express just how crazy and dangerous it would be to elect Trump president of the United States.

Anybody who does anything to help Trump get elected, which is what Jill Stein is working to do every day, is every bit as culpable in regard to increasing the existential danger the nation now faces as Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters. That’s the practical and moral reality of the situation. Such people should be treated with the contempt they deserve, and what they did shouldn’t be forgotten once the present danger passes, assuming it does.


Anarchobro Confused About American Politics

[ 89 ] July 27, 2016 |


Julian Assange is timing leaks in attempt to throw the election to Trump:

At one point, Mr. Peston said: “Plainly, what you are saying, what you are publishing, hurts Hillary Clinton. Would you prefer Trump to be president?”

Mr. Assange replied that what Mr. Trump would do as president was “completely unpredictable.” By contrast, he thought it was predictable that Mrs. Clinton would wield power in two ways he found problematic.

Ah, yes, Clinton is a known quantity but Trump could really SHAKE THINGS UP so why not go with the devil you don’t know? I believe this argument was also prominently featured back when Salon was finding a new otherwise unpublishable #BernieorBuster every week.

Anyway, it’s really dumb. First of all, much of what will happen under a Trump presidency is eminently predictable. Ryan and McConnell are highly predictable, and Donald Trump — whose interest in the details of the legislative process cannot possibly be underestimated — will sign whatever bills they put on his desk. (Obviously, Assange doesn’t care about this, but they’re relevant to domestic versions of the argument.) Donald Trump’s federal judicial appointments would be 1)highly predictable and 2)from the Sam Alito school of civil liberties. I suppose Trump’s foreign policy is unpredictable, but in the sense that if you put a care package of methamphetamine and blunt objects in a room full of mentally ill felons the precise contours of what would happen are unpredictable but you can sure it would be horrible.

And, of course, trying to throw an election to Donald Trump because of freedom of the press concerns is insane, but anyway.

Major American political party nominates woman for president

[ 91 ] July 27, 2016 |


Gallup has been asking people since 1937, with some variations in wording, whether they would cast their presidential vote for an otherwise well-qualified candidate who was a [ ].

For “woman” the percentages of Americans who said yes they would:

1937: 33%

1958: 54%

1978: 76%

1999: 92%

2007: 88%

2015: 92%

Jennifer Rubin thinks Hillary Clinton’s nomination isn’t particularly notable, because gender is not as important as race in contemporary America:

[G]ender simply is not as big a deal in 21st-century America as race still is. We’ve had women in high places for decades, and we do not have a divide between the sexes (thank goodness) to the degree that we still have along racial lines. We fought a civil war and a brutal battle to do away with Jim Crow. I could go on, but most would agree that this is not as big a deal as nominating or electing the first African American.

We probably need Camille Paglia’s take on this question before we can make generalizations about what most people think about it.

Donald Trump and Campaign Norms

[ 151 ] July 27, 2016 |


As Rob observes below, in his not notably sane press conference today Donald Trump (inter alia) called for Russia to try to steal the former Secretary of State’s emails. In addition, the Trump campaign announced that it won’t be releasing Trump’s tax returns. Ordinarily, this would be small potatoes, but when a businessman has such an extensive history of not paying creditors that he literally can’t get loans from ordinary American banks despite owning a lot of real estate, it’s pretty safe to say that there’s some significantly damaging information in them. Which, of course, is why he’s not going to abide by the norm that presidential candidates release their tax returns.

Basically, what Trump — starting with his attacks on John McCain for getting captured in Vietnam — has been doing is the campaign equivalent of what Mitch McConnell has done in the Senate. That is, ignoring norms about how he’s supposed to behave. He’s basically made an ongoing series of what conventional wisdom would maintain are campaign ending gaffes — and yet, he has the Republican nomination for president and according to the polls has an outside but real chance of being elected to the office.

Mitch McConnell is unquestionably correct that the public doesn’t care about congressional procedure and won’t punish individual members of Congress for legislative dysfunction. With respect to Donald Trump’s approach to campaigning, the lesson is less clear right now. Maybe what worked for him in the Republican primaries will fail in the general, and he will lose by an unusually large margin. But if he loses within the Romney/McCain range — or God forbid, wins — we have to consider the possibility that norms of what makes an effective campaign aren’t actually true (although it’s also possible that what works for Trump won’t work for others.)

In conclusion, Ari Fleischer’s still got it:


[ 136 ] July 27, 2016 |

Kids, don’t say stuff like this if you hope to work for (or, you know, run) government some day:

Also, just the kind of guy you want in control of your missiles:

Ambiguous Dog Whistle?

[ 83 ] July 27, 2016 |

A friend pointed out that in two tweets, Trump managed to get a Jewish politician’s name or twitter handle into parentheses.  Only one set of parentheses, not three, as is the style of white supremacists, but that would be too obvious.  I am genuinely on the fence as to whether this one is a clumsy use of punctuation or a dog whistle.  Obviously, Trump says a lot of things that more obviously sit somewhere on the spectrum from “dog whistle” to “shrieking noise the pod people make in the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers to identify remaining humans,” so Trump’s status as a white supremacist doesn’t exactly hang on this verdict.  I’m just curious what commenters here think.  He later called Debbie Wasserman-Schultz “highly neurotic.”

The Death Penalty and the Liberal Constitutional Agenda

[ 190 ] July 27, 2016 |


Julia Azari notes something about the 2016 Democratic platform that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention:

Finally, the Democratic Party has moved left in a variety of ways. This is exemplified by the Sanders movement, but it didn’t start there. During the Obama years, the party has moved left on cultural issues like gay rights, strengthened its rhetoric about economic inequality, and changed its stances on matters of criminal justice (for example, the platform plank that promises to abolish the death penalty).

It’s worth quoting the relevant passage in full:

We will abolish the death penalty, which has proven to be a cruel and unusual form of punishment. It has no place in the United States of America. The application of the death penalty is arbitrary and unjust. The cost to taxpayers far exceeds those of life imprisonment. It does not deter crime. And, exonerations show a dangerous lack of reliability for what is an irreversible punishment.

While most of the more ambitious parts of the new Democratic agenda have little short-term chance of happening, death penalty abolition is actually a realistic goal. Historically, state practices have a much greater chance of being ruled unconstitutional when they become outliers. This is exactly what’s happened with the death penalty. While a majority of states still have it on the books, actual executions have become concentrated in a handful of mostly reactionary states. (Of the states that formally have the death penalty, 31 did not execute anyone in 2015.) The fact that Bill Clinton’s two nominees — including Stephen Breyer, by far the squishiest liberal on the Court on civil liberties issues — have essentially come out for the position that the death penalty is categorically unconstitutional is another important signal. I’m not sure about Kagan, but I would be shocked if Sotomayor wouldn’t provide a fifth vote to rule the death penalty unconstitutional. If the Democrats can replace Scalia and Breyer and Ginsburg either remain on the court or are replaced by justices who share their views on the issue, it’s possible. Not inevitable by any means. But if public opinion continues to turn against the death penalty and the practice becomes increasingly rare outside of Texas — it’s possible. And at a minimum a Supreme Court with a Democratic majority is likely to place obstacles in front of the death penalty that might act to hasten its ultimate demise.

“Old School Archie Bunkerism”

[ 27 ] July 26, 2016 |

Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley are on board:

A False Choice

[ 49 ] July 26, 2016 |


As someone who passionately believes in fair trade, American jobs, and fighting global poverty, there is nothing more infuriating than the sort of dichotomy that commenters like Annie Lowrey and Dylan Matthews and Zack Beauchamp constantly push, that if one doesn’t support “free trade,” one supports global poverty. Is there any other issue in American politics where nominal progressives or even centrists portray the choice in such stark and moralistic terms, with no sense of nuance? I’m not sure that there is.
I articulated an entirely different version of trade in Out of Sight, one that seeks to slow down capital mobility in order to give workers both at home and overseas a chance to maintain a secure life while also having opportunities for economic growth and a rise out of poverty. That version of trade would force corporations to pay locally living wages, have good working conditions, stop sexual harassment and abuse on the factory floor, and most importantly, have enforcement mechanisms for stopping these problems through the supply chains and other tricks companies use to protect themselves from accountability. Such a system would provide incentives for companies to stay put and treat workers with dignity because they would not be able to bust unions or pollute at will by shuttering a factory and opening a new one. There might still be reasons to move around, but the most egregious would be controlled.

I’m not saying that I am offering the only alternative to the current system of free trade. I am certainly not. What we need is a meaningful conversation about trade that takes both global poverty and the American working class seriously. Neither strict protectionists nor free trade fundamentalists do that. The difference between the two sides is that the former are dismissed as white men in union jackets with out of fashion mustaches and the latter are the definition of Beltway respectability who look down on the American working class while talking of themselves as morally correct because they support ending global poverty without even beginning to deal with the exploitation of the global poor.

In any case, we need many ideas about trade in the conversation, much more than we have now. Here’s a piece by Geoff Gilbert contributing to that conversation.

Any real alternative to the current international investment regime requires confronting the power of private plutocratic capital. So what might a new international trade and investment regime look like?

For starters, it must promote a free exchange of goods and services, but, unlike the current system, it must do so on fair terms. The main idea must be that any fair and free trade and investment regime must expand the number of people who have a say in the investment decisions within and between countries that will determine where jobs will exist and on what terms for employees. Such a regime should give everyone a say, especially women, racial minorities, former colonized countries, and people of all minority sexual orientations and other non-mainstream persuasions who have been most marginalized by the plutocratic regime for centuries. Ideally, investment would be made in producers who share with employees, or better still, where all employees are owners. In short, a fair and free investment and trade regime needs to redefine the rights of capital by subordinating capital rights to human rights.

The sociologist Johanna Bockman analyzes the last attempt to create such an international order by the world’s relatively poor countries at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 1964.

UNCTAD, which included on an equal basis all nation-states recognized by the UN, pursued what Raúl Prebisch, the Argentinian economist and UNCTAD’s first secretary general, called a “new international economic order.” It sought to upend the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the contemporary international “free” trade and investment order, which effectively enforced the old colonial trading arrangements whereby former colonies, instead of developing their own manufacturing capacity, provided the colonizers with the raw materials needed for their high-margin manufactured goods. Yet, complicating the current false choice offered between the “free” trade status quo and protectionism, UNCTAD advocated for trade liberalization and opposed protectionism.

In order to build an international trade and investment order that could benefit all countries, UNCTAD called for “structural adjustment” of the international economy of a sort just a bit different from the austerity, privatization and trade liberalization programs of the same name that the International Monetary Fund has since imposed around the world. On structural adjustment, the Final Act of the 1964 UNCTAD conference stated: “Developed countries should assist the developing countries in their efforts to speed up their economic and social progress, should cooperate in measures taken by developing countries for diversifying their economies, and should encourage appropriate adjustments in their own economies to this end.”

This meant moving parts of the most profitable industries, concentrated in the wealthy Global North countries, to the Global South. It would have required either public capital investment or coercion of private capital to invest toward this purpose. These economic goals would have either displaced private capital with public investment or publically imposed accountability on private capital investment.

“Structural adjustment” would require time and the creation throughout the world of organic democratic organizations capable of facilitating democratic ownership and control of industry.

I’m not sure that I agree with all of this, especially because it then relies on Mondragón, an exception that proved the rule if anything ever has, as its evidence that this can work. But the broader point stands. What trade looks like needs to be a real conversation, not a binary between two choices.

No brain toilers for Trump

[ 121 ] July 26, 2016 |

holy trinity

Updated below

Holy Trinity Church is an 1892 SCOTUS case, mildly famous among lawyers, which is often cited to support the doctrine that legislative intention can trump statutory plain meaning. The case involved the apparent violation of one of the earliest federal immigration laws, when a New York church paid to bring an English pastor to America, to become the church’s minister. The statute forbade employers from paying to bring foreigners into the country, subject to exceptions that didn’t seem to apply to the pastor’s case. The Court got around that by citing legislative history for the proposition that Congress hadn’t intended to stanch the flow of “brain toilers,” as opposed to manual laborers, across our teeming shores:

It appears also from the petitions and in the testimony presented before the committees of Congress that it was this cheap, unskilled labor which was making the trouble, and the influx of which Congress sought to prevent. It was never suggested that we had in this country a surplus of brain toilers, and least of all that the market for the services of Christian ministers was depressed by foreign competition.

The opinion is chock full of nativist paranoia, that makes for amusing reading in these more enlightened times:

“[The act] seeks to restrain and prohibit the immigration or importation of laborers who would have never seen our shores but for the inducements and allurements of men whose only object is to obtain labor at the lowest possible rate, regardless of the social and material wellbeing of our own citizens, and regardless of the evil consequences which result to American laborers from such immigration. This class of immigrants care nothing about our institutions, and in many instances never even heard of them. They are men whose passage is paid by the importers. They come here under contract to labor for a certain number of years. They are ignorant of our social condition, and, that they may remain so, they are isolated and prevented from coming into contact with Americans. They are generally from the lowest social stratum, and live upon the coarsest food, and in hovels of a character before unknown to American workmen. They, as a rule, do not become citizens, and are certainly not a desirable acquisition to the body politic. The inevitable tendency of their presence among us is to degrade American labor and to reduce it to the level of the imported pauper labor.” (Quoting the House committee report).

Anyway, it’s in my view a shame that MR. JUSTICE BREWER’S verbal conceptualization of a laboring “class whose toil is of the brain” never caught on, and we are stuck with the word “intellectual,” which is admittedly a much narrower concept, and also a term which basically can’t be used without irony or sarcasm (indeed you are almost required to add the sneering modifier “so-called” whenever describing anyone as such).

Which brings me at last to my point, which perhaps surprisingly does not involve remarks on the wearing of onions on belts in bygone days: there are almost no intellectuals anywhere on the political spectrum who are actually supporting Donald Trump’s candidacy. At most on the right you can find a few Victor Davis Hanson types who will make a lesser of two evils argument, but the heavy lifters of right-wing brain toiling — your Brooks’s and Douthats and Kristols and Wills et. al., — remain vehemently opposed to him, even now, after all hope has been lost of stopping him from being the GOP candidate.

Of course anybody to the brain toiling left of these gentlemen recoils in unmitigated horror from the prospect of a Trump presidency, with the rare exception of the very occasional apparently brain-damaged not a dime’s worth of difference Princeton professor.

What’s interesting about this I suppose is that it’s some evidence of the shall we say limited influence of intellectuals of any type on either public opinion or the shape of national politics. Basically no thinking person, loosely speaking, is willing to admit to even moderate enthusiasm for the potential reign of Herr Trump, and yet here we are.

Update: Thanks to Newish Lawyer for flagging this very interesting Vox interview with Avik Roy:

The available evidence compiled by historians and political scientists suggests that 1964 really was a pivotal political moment, in exactly the way Roy describes.

Yet Republican intellectuals have long denied this, fabricating a revisionist history in which Republicans were and always have been the party of civil rights. In 2012, National Review ran a lengthy cover story arguing that the standard history recounted by Roy was “popular but indefensible.”

This revisionism, according to Roy, points to a much bigger conservative delusion: They cannot admit that their party’s voters are motivated far more by white identity politics than by conservative ideals.

“Conservative intellectuals, and conservative politicians, have been in kind of a bubble,” Roy says. “We’ve had this view that the voters were with us on conservatism — philosophical, economic conservatism. In reality, the gravitational center of the Republican Party is white nationalism.” . . .

Conservative intellectuals, for the most part, are horrified by racism. When they talk about believing in individual rights and equality, they really mean it. Because the Republican Party is the vehicle through which their ideas can be implemented, they need to believe that the party isn’t racist.

So they deny the party’s racist history, that its post-1964 success was a direct result of attracting whites disillusioned by the Democrats’ embrace of civil rights. And they deny that to this day, Republican voters are driven more by white resentment than by a principled commitment to the free market and individual liberty.

“It’s the power of wishful thinking. None of us want to accept that opposition to civil rights is the legacy that we’ve inherited,” Roy says.

He expands on this idea: “It’s a common observation on the left, but it’s an observation that a lot of us on the right genuinely believed wasn’t true — which is that conservatism has become, and has been for some time, much more about white identity politics than it has been about conservative political philosophy. I think today, even now, a lot of conservatives have not come to terms with that problem.”

This, Roy believes, is where the conservative intellectual class went astray. By refusing to admit the truth about their own party, they were powerless to stop the forces that led to Donald Trump’s rise. They told themselves, over and over again, that Goldwater’s victory was a triumph.

But in reality, it created the conditions under which Trump could thrive. Trump’s politics of aggrieved white nationalism — labeling black people criminals, Latinos rapists, and Muslims terrorists — succeeded because the party’s voting base was made up of the people who once opposed civil rights.

“[Trump] tapped into something that was latent in the Republican Party and conservative movement — but a lot of people in the conservative movement didn’t notice,” Roy concludes, glumly.

So I Saw the Killing Joke…

[ 38 ] July 26, 2016 |

Despite the Killing Joke’s place in the history of fridging women in superhero comics, I still have a great fondness for the Alan Moore/Brian Bolland story (in fact, I’ve often thought that the story could have been done without fridging Barbara Gordon at all) and so when I heard that it was going to be turned into an animated movie with Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Bruce Timm, I was thrilled and I got myself a ticket. (I even accidentally showed up a week early because I forgot which Monday the screening was…)

And then came rumors about the adaptation, and then came SDCC. I felt genuinely torn about whether to go ahead – if it was as bad as it sounded, I didn’t want to support the film; on the other hand, I hadn’t seen the film and wanted to be able to judge from primary evidence. Plus, I’d already bought the ticket and a bunch of my friends were going, so I waffled my way into going.

So is it as bad as people at SDCC thought? In some ways no, and in some ways it’s worse.

WARNING: Spoilers in full for the Killing Joke, which involves violence against women.

Read more…

How Asian-Americans Became Democrats

[ 87 ] July 26, 2016 |


Pretty remarkable shift among Asian-American voting patterns.

If post-1965 immigrants did indeed move the Asian American community to the right, the group’s leftward shift since 1992 is all the more remarkable. Although Bill Clinton won only 31 percent of the Asian American vote in 1992 (or 36 percent of the two-party vote if we exclude Ross Perot), Al Gore won 55 percent in 2000, followed by John Kerry with 56 percent in 2004, and Obama with 62 percent and 73 percent in 2008 and 2012, respectively. In just two decades, the Democratic Party’s share of the Asian American presidential vote more than doubled. Even more remarkably, Obama won every major national origin group of Asian Americans in 2012, including Vietnamese Americans, who have traditionally leaned Republican.

Why has this happened? Largely because the Republican Party has gone totally insane:

Since then, the leftward shift in the Asian American vote has also reflected “push factors” from the Republican side. Congressional Republicans have outdone one another in anti-immigrant rhetoric and proposals and, despite efforts by the Bush administration, consistently scuttled efforts to enact comprehensive immigration reform. To be sure, immigration has never been a top issue for Asian American voters; the economy, education, and health care usually lead as the top three issues in surveys. Still, immigration holds a symbolic place among Asian American voters. A 2014 AAPI Data survey of Asian American registered voters found that 41 percent would consider switching their support away from a candidate who expresses strong anti-immigrant views. Immigration thus matters to Asian American voters less as a top policy priority than as an indicator of whether candidates and parties respect immigrants and welcome them.

Another development pushing Asian Americans away from the GOP has been the rise of Christian conservatism in the Republican Party. The 2012 Pew survey on Asian Americans indicated that the strongest level of Democratic Party support comes from Hindus and those who claim no religious affiliation (these groups make up a significant share of Indian Americans and Chinese Americans, respectively). The same Pew survey did not contain a sufficient number of Muslim respondents, estimated to be about 4 percent of the Asian American population, to produce reliable estimates of their party preference. However, the group’s 2011 survey of Muslim Americans also indicated very strong support for the Democratic Party. Finally, a 2016 AAPI Data survey of Asian American registered voters indicated that 43 percent would consider switching their support away from a candidate who expresses strongly anti-Muslim views.

Asian-Americans also supported social programs and government spending, making Democratic politics more appealing to them. But I prefer the racial essentializing of people like David Brooks.

In 1992, writing in The Washington Post, Stanley Karnow had claimed that Asian immigrants were more likely to identify as Republican because they valued individual responsibility and free enterprise and many of them had fled communist countries. In 2012, New York Times columnist David Brooks claimed that Asian Americans voted Democratic because they came from cultures that do not put a high value on individualism and instead approve government intervention. If cultural values can be used to explain both voting Republican and voting Democratic, they may not explain either one very well. The actions of parties and political leaders over the past two decades provide a far better explanation for the politics of Asian Americans today than do the disparate cultural traditions that immigrants have brought with them.

It’s so hard when this essentializing changes course. I get whiplash. But then those Asians are so inscrutable. All we can know is that it must be some racial characteristic!

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