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Obama commutes Chelsea Manning’s 35-year sentence

[ 151 ] January 17, 2017 |

President Obama on Tuesday largely commuted the remaining prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the army intelligence analyst convicted of an enormous 2010 leak that revealed American military and diplomatic activities across the world, disrupted the administration, and made WikiLeaks, the recipient of those disclosures, famous.

The decision by Mr. Obama rescued Ms. Manning, who twice tried to commit suicide last year, from an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at the male military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.

Now, under the terms of Mr. Obama’s commutation announced by the White House on Tuesday, Ms. Manning is set to be freed in five months, on May 17 of this year, rather than in 2045.

[EL]: Hmmmm:


Finally, a Fresh Idea!

[ 60 ] January 17, 2017 |


I’ll give this a hard pass:

Hoping to help Democrats recover from what it has dubbed the party’s “worst electoral position since the Civil War,” a centrist think tank is launching a $20 million campaign to study how the party lost its way and offer a new economic agenda for moving forward.

The think tank, Third Way, on Tuesday is set to launch “New Blue,” a campaign to help Democrats reconnect with the voters who have abandoned the party. The money will be spent to conduct extensive research, reporting and polling in Rust Belt states that once formed a Blue Wall, but which voted for president-elect Donald Trump last November.

I’ve made fun of pundit’s fallacies from the left being used to explain the 2016 elections, but at least they’re mostly right on the policy merits. I just wish people would make the case that the Democratic Party should continue to move left on the merits rather than bullshitting about how people who voted for Rob Portman and Ron Johnson and Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin rejected Hillary Clinton because they’re strongly committed to MOAR SOCIALISM. The idea that marginal Trump voters are screaming for MOAR ERSKINE BOWLES is equally stupid as an explanation and has nothing to recommend it on the policy merits either.

Shorter North Dakota Republicans: “Kill the Hippies and the Indians!”

[ 39 ] January 17, 2017 |


North Dakota Republicans have developed a quite rational response to the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests:

Republican lawmakers in North Dakota are taking aim at protesters with a handful of bills that would make another pipeline protest far more dangerous.

The oil-friendly legislature argues that its constituents are frustrated over the protests, which led federal authorities to halt construction of the $3.8-billion Dakota Access Pipeline as thousands of protesters braved cold weather and violence for months.

A bill that state GOP Rep. Keith Kempenich introduced would exempt drivers from liability if they accidentally hit a pedestrian, according to the Bismarck Tribune. House Bill 1203 was written up in direct response to groups of protesters blocking roadways, Kempenich told the paper. He claims protesters were seen jumping out in front of vehicles.

“It’s shifting the burden of proof from the motor vehicle driver to the pedestrian,” Kempenich said. “They’re intentionally putting themselves in danger.”

He admits that the law might be used in cases that don’t involve protests. But a few casualties of justice are apparently worth it; his bill would mitigate instances when panicked drivers might have accidentally “punched the accelerator rather than the brakes” as protesters blocked the roads.

That should go well. White people being able to kill Native Americans without the threat of punishment. Well, that’s a new event in American history!

Industrial Espionage

[ 15 ] January 17, 2017 |
DDR economy-en.svg

Vectorized in Inkscape by User:Mysid; based on a CIA image ( Public Domain.


My latest at the Diplomat highlights some new work on the impact of industrial espionage:

States behave as if industrial espionage is important; developing countries undertake extensive efforts to steal from advanced countries, and advanced countries take steps to protect their advanced technology from theft. In the Cold War, for example, the United States developed and enforced an elaborate system of export controls designed to prevent advanced military and industrial technology from falling into the hands of the Soviets. Today, U.S. officials relentlessly complain about Chinese intellectual property theft, and China continues to steal IP.

But scholars have struggled to demonstrate much actual impact. Industrial espionage competes with domestic R&D, with potentially far reaching negative effects. Also, backwards economies often have trouble incorporating stolen technology into the industrial bases. The Soviet Union continuously had difficulty taking advantage of successful industrial espionage operation during the Cold War, with acquisitions often leading to technical dead-ends rather than sustained progress.

The new paper by Albrecht Glitz and Erik Meyersson suggests that, in at least some cases, industrial espionage works.


How To Respond to the War on the ACA

[ 132 ] January 17, 2017 |


As you know, one of Paul Ryan’s central goals is to take away the health insurance of tens of millions of people to help fund massive upper-class tax cuts. How should Democrats respond? I think this is essentially right. In summary:

  • As with all other issues, the default position of the Democratic caucus should be “no.” Make it clear that there will be no initial negotiations on a replacement plan.  Hope that the tensions within the Republican caucus either cause the effort to collapse on itself, or results in repeal-and-replace. The longer this drags out, the better the chances of preserving the ACA. Obstruct. Delay. Vote no.
  • If the Republicans were to offer cosmetic changes to the ACA — slightly less generous subsidies and more rentier skimming for Medicaid, say, but preserving the basic structure of the ACA and making it worse in ways that could be fairly easily fixed by the next Democratic Congress — this would be one of the few instances in which the bad politics of collaborating with Republicans would be substantively beneficial enough to be worth it. But I think this will be a moot point. This would be the smart political play for Republicans, and I suspect McConnell would go along — but I don’t think Ryan will.
  • If the Republicans are actually determined to pass a horrible statute that will effectively deny tens of millions of people access to health care through a combination of locking people out of the market because they can’t afford or qualify for insurance and allowing companies to sell completely worthless insurance, then the default position holds — no Democratic votes, no negotiation to season the shit sandwich, the end. If Republicans are going to do this, make sure they own it. And, as Chait says, since the only way the Republicans can take away the health insurance of tens of millions of people to help fund massive upper-class tax cuts in this scenario is by nuking the filibuster, this would produce institutional changes that would be very beneficial for liberals in the long run — not least in healthcare policy. And making Republicans own this catastrophe makes it likely that the next Democratic Congress happens sooner rather than later.

Can #3 — certainly the worst of these scenarios — be averted? I don’t know. But while I don’t think Trump is preferable to a generic Republican overall, this is one issue where having Trump rather than Cruz or Rubio or Pence is actually useful.  It’s hard enough to pass healthcare reform when a popular president has a clear agenda and is very focused in getting Congress to pass it. The Republicans are being nominally led by a massively unpopular buffoon who has no idea what he’s talking about and a personality that requires constantly humiliating negotiating partners and reneging on commitments making promises about health care reform that completely undercut the “equal access” bullshit Ryan is trying to sell his marks on. Does this make it impossible for Republicans to kill the ACA? As much as I wish that green lanternites and their president-centric view of the legislative process were right, it doesn’t.  But it does make a heavy lift heavier, and Democrats need to leverage Trump’s unpopularity and politically unhelpful statements while maintaining a laser focus on making Trump as unpopular as possible. A lot of lives are at stake.

The Last Shakers

[ 37 ] January 17, 2017 |


Did you know there were still Shakers? There were 3. Now there are 2.

Sister Frances was a member of the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine who spent her life teaching and writing about her experiences as a member of the ever-dwindling, idiosyncratic Protestant denomination. Brother Arnold Hadd, one of those who survive her, reported that Sister Frances died “surrounded in love, tears and Shaker songs.”

A Shaker since the age of 10, Sister Frances converted to the faith with her mother after her father’s death. As the sect practices complete celibacy, no Shaker is born into the faith. With her death, a small, but significant, part of America’s religious ancestry moves closer to its extinction. To paraphrase John Donne, as the death of any person diminishes the individual, so of course does the death of Sister Frances diminishes our world a bit—and so much more so because she was a refugee of a counter-cultural tradition that held a bit of utopian promise against the machinery of state and industry.

Often confused with the far larger denomination of the Quakers (though itself a relatively small sect), the Shakers came from the same milieu of dissenting, radical religious traditions that emerged in 17th and 18th-century Britain. Ann Lee, the religion’s founder, was the daughter of a Manchester, England blacksmith. In 1774 she set out to the wilds of America with the promise of establishing a godly community in the New World. Mother Ann’s experiment became an important chapter in American utopianism, which included groups as varied as the Oneida Community, the Fourierists, the pilgrims at Ephrata and the social experiments of the 1960s. For Mother Ann, the New World was an opportunity to make the world new. As Mother Ann would reflect on her new home in upstate New York, “I saw a large tree, every leaf of which shone with such brightness as made it appear like a burning torch, representing the Church of Christ, which will yet be established in this land.”

To be fair, it’s fairly impressive that a religion with a central tenet that the sexes should not touch either could survive for more than 200 years.

The Modern Day Yellow Dog

[ 24 ] January 17, 2017 |


The yellow dog contract was common in early 20th century work. These entailed employers forcing workers to sign a contract that explicitly stated they could not join a union as a condition of employment. In the 1915 case of Coppage v. Kansas, the Gilded Age Supreme Court ruled this legal. Finally in 1932, the Norris-LaGuardia Act banned them.

The New Gilded Age Supreme Court has decided to take up the modern version of this, the binding arbitration contract.

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide whether companies can use employment contracts to prohibit workers from banding together to take legal action over workplace issues.

The court accepted three cases on the subject. They follow a series of Supreme Court decisions endorsing similar provisions, generally in contracts with consumers. The question for the justices in the new cases is whether the same principles apply to employment contracts.

In both settings, the challenged contracts typically require two things: that disputes be raised through the informal mechanism of arbitration rather than in court and that claims be brought one by one. That makes it hard to pursue minor claims that affect many people, whether in class actions or in mass arbitrations.

I think we know where this is going and why Merrick Garland is not on the Supreme Court. Republicans saw a real threat to their plan to bring us back to the Gilded Age. And they were going to stop at nothing to kill that threat, ranging from unprecedented destruction of norms concerning confirming justices to approving of massive Russian interference in our election to allow Emperor Tangerine to take the throne despite his massive lawbreaking and impeachable offenses.

If the Roberts court, presumably up to 5 members thanks to Trump outsourcing his selections to Jim DeMint by the time oral arguments occur, there is almost no way it does not rule in favor of employers. To do so would take away one of the only tools workers have without unions to ensure some sort of rights on the job. Forcing mandatory arbitration returns the workplace to the Lochner era of the Gilded Age, where workers and employers were legally assumed to be equals in power on the job, inevitably resulting in the utter crushing of workers. Going back to this point is not the policy of Donald Trump. It’s the policy of the entire Republican Party.

Government by Friedman

[ 79 ] January 17, 2017 |


Betsy DeVos is a devotee of Milton Friedman and will be bringing his ideas about education into the Department of Education.

Milton Friedman, patron saint of the free market, died in 2006, but his ideas about public education live on in the thought and deeds of Betsy DeVos, likely the next U.S. Secretary of Education. The two are ideological soulmates—a fact that justifiably panics supporters of public education.

In a 1955 essay called “The Role of Government in Education,” Friedman laid out his plan for K-12 schooling, which boils down to this: taxpayer funded but privately run. The government would provide each child, through parents or guardians, funds in the form of a voucher to pay for what the government considers the minimum adequate education. Parents and guardians would then choose what education services to purchase on the free market. For Friedman the choices included private for-profit schools, private nonprofit schools, religious schools, and “some even” run by the government. Today Betsy DeVos and other free-market education reformers add home schooling and private online schooling to the mix. They also support privately run charter schools, financed directly by the government, not by student voucher money.

It’s a wealth of privatized choices meant to squeeze out, as much as possible, the least appealing alternative for free-market ed reformers: neighborhood public schools.

Taxpayer funded but privately run is how “privatization” of the public sector works in the United States. In countries where the government owns major companies or industries—for example, Aeroflot in Russia or the UK’s National Health Service—privatization means selling off enterprises to new owners in the private sector. In the United States, the government hands over control to private entities, but the taxpayers keep on paying. The most familiar U.S. example is the privatization of federal prisons.

In 1996 Milton Friedman and his wife Rose (also an economist) launched the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice as “the nation’s only organization solely dedicated to promoting their concept of educational choice.” “Choice” is the ed-reform movement’s euphemism for privatization. All the tools used to create choice—vouchers, charter schools, tax credits for private school tuition, tax credits for individuals and businesses that create private school scholarships, “education savings accounts” (usually government-funded debit cards used for various private-school expenses, not just tuition)—siphon tax dollars out of the public school system and into private hands. DeVos has worked with and donated to the Friedman Foundation, recently renamed EdChoice.* Their visions for the future of K-12 education coincide.

There are massive problems with all of this course, including the neoliberal privatization of public goods, the looting it includes, and the anti-democratic tendencies. But the resistance to this faces another big problems–that the neoliberalization of education has been so embraced by Democratic Party elites, including Barack Obama and Cory Booker.

A useful model for DeVos comes from the outgoing ed-reformer-in-chief, Barack Obama. He allocated $4.3 billion from the 2009 “stimulus package” to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who used it to create the controversial Race to the Top program. More than thirty states competed for RTTT grants by committing to a detailed list of K-12 reforms—reforms that often required changing state laws. In exchange for money, resource-strapped states agreed to evaluate teachers, at least in part, according to student scores on standardized tests; raise or eliminate any caps on the number of charter schools; and “turn around” low-achieving schools by turning them into charters, replacing the teachers and principals, or closing them. Many states found that implementing the reforms cost more than they received in grant money. Much worse, the reforms undermined public school teachers, robbed many neighborhoods of their most stable institution, and introduced into the public system less accountable, often poorly performing schools and financial malfeasance by private operators. But the free-market ed reformers were thrilled. By opening the way for rapid charter school expansion, the Obama administration made the nation’s first significant progress toward privatization.

I have long said that education policy was Obama’s worst policy arena and the impacts of this and his henchman Arne Duncan are enormous. Cory Booker of course went down this road in Newark, bringing in Mark Zuckerberg, whose expertise on education consists solely of his wealth. How did this happen? How did we get to a bipartisan agreement on the neoliberalization of education? That’s a key question for us to figure out.

When did Americans stop talking about public K-12 education as the keystone of a strong democracy, as the incubator for citizenship, shared values, and social cohesion in a diverse nation, as the only educational institution obligated to serve every child who appears on the doorstep? Conservatives don’t bear sole responsibility for changing the conversation. The Clinton and Obama administrations reduced K-12 education to little more than the required stepping stone to a college degree that leads to successful competition in the global economy. That’s a meager sales pitch, making it all too easy for K-12 schooling to be chopped up into products sold on the market.

The only counterweight to “choice” is excellent public schools, and so the only way to save public education (which is largely very good in the United States) is to improve it where it needs improvement. Hundreds of thousands of public school teachers and administrators commit themselves to the task everyday. The job also belongs to everyone who sees the need to rebuild American democracy. In the face of privatization, we are all stakeholders in the public good that is public education.

The answer is rooted in the deregulation craze that began in the 1970s, the rise of the modern corporate lobby that began in the same decade, the concomitant reduction and erasure of American unions, the rise of the DLC and Clintonism as the central tenet of the Democratic Party that it is only just now recovering from, and the long-time American deification of the wealthy. But maybe it’s also rooted in white backlash and the desegregation of schools (even if actual integrated public schools rarely happened without busing). Like other public services, once the government was seen as working for black interests, white people turned on them with a fury with the self-privatization of the religious school or private school as a response to keep white children away from black kids. Combined with suburbanization, the withdrawal of tax dollars from urban districts, and media stories of the horrors of inner cities, it became all too easy to decide that public education was a problem that only corporations could solve.

MLK en français

[ 178 ] January 16, 2017 |

MLK en francais

My to-do list today included tracking down eighteenth-century primary sources in French for some of my ambitious Francophone students. So, obviously, I decided to see what if anything French press had on Martin Luther King (fair warning: all links in this piece go to French language sites).

Mostly, there were stories about Trump’s expertly timed attacks on John Lewis (Le Monde, Figaro, Libération, Radio France Internationale…).

But what really grabbed me was this short video on a kids’ news site, explaining who MLK was.

Two things jump out. First, in contrast to the current propensity to refer to the “alt-right” and other obscuring euphemisms, the narration readily calls out racism: MLK was born into a “racist and violent US” and was ultimately assassinated by a “white racist” (this last taken up with fury by the first young commenter).

Second, there’s some uncertainty about how exactly to handle MLK’s faith. The intro text highlights his role as a “Christian religious leader.” In the video, we hear that

Like his father, he became a pastor, but there was no question of devoting himself only to prayer. What he wanted was to act peacefully to abolish his country’s racist laws. And he would succeed.

That’s an interesting dance between emphasizing King’s religiosity (and implying some connection between it and his nonviolence) and contrasting a religious life with one of action.

Of course, it makes some sense that religion would be harder for this French educational site to handle than race. And, lo and behold, they’ve also got a “What is secularism?” video up (posted most recently this past December 9—which, it turns out, is national secularism day in France). It’s a pretty standard narrative of the signing of the 1905 law, with some specific mention of how this affects children and schools—mostly to bring peace, respect and tolerance to all.

Here, it’s the comments section that’s intriguing (not just for being blissfully innocent and polite). One young man asks,

but if no one can be excluded because of their religion, why is my friend who continues to want to wear a veil excluded?

Though this goes unaddressed by the moderators, another question about how religion works in the classroom gets a lengthy response from one of the site’s writers:

in a public school in France, there can be students from different religions. But no religion can influence the school’s subjects or daily life. When you live in a family who practices a religion, that makes a real difference!  At home, the parents can remind us of the rules of our religion; at school, it’s different. For example, it is forbidden for Muslims to make an image of the Prophet. In public school, it would be different: there are no Muslim rules or Christian ones or Buddhist ones. On the other hand, the rule at school is not to make fun of others on purpose to cause them pain, because of their religion or anything else.

Of course the example given relates to Islam, and it’s also unsurprising that it’s about the prohibition on images of Mohammad (central to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015). There’s an attempt to come up with a secular rationale not to offend others—but the emphasis on not doing this “on purpose” walks this back—unintentional offenses apparently don’t count.

The MLK video had a striking moment discussing segregation:

Even though slavery had been abolished, blacks lived separately from whites. They had their own neighborhoods, their own churches, their own schools.

Muslims in France today often find themselves in their own neighborhoods, certainly in their own mosques, and even in their own schools (especially as a response to the banning of religious symbols, which prevents Muslim girls from attending in their veils). While this social segregation is still a far cry from Jim Crow, it’s hard not to perceive some mauvaise foi on the part of those decrying the racism Martin Luther King faced down, while ignoring their own prejudices. Probably not on purpose.

Plenty more to come on French secularism…

Keep Up the Pressure

[ 46 ] January 16, 2017 |


This is a good sign that even the Cabinet of Deplorables is subject to left-wing pressure.

President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to be labor secretary has voiced second thoughts in recent days, because of a relentless barrage of criticism from Democrats, labor unions and other liberal groups, a business ally and GOP sources tell CNN.
Andy Puzder is the CEO of the company that owns the Hardees and Carl’s Jr. fast food chains.

“He may be bailing,” said a Republican source plugged into the Trump transition effort. “He is not into the pounding he is taking, and the paperwork.”

Democrats and their allies have launched an aggressive campaign against Puzder, who opposes key Democratic workplace priorities, including the goal of a $15 federal minimum wage.

His required ethics and financial paperwork also has not yet been posted by the Office of Government Ethics, which makes the filings public after nominees for top federal positions detail how they plan to comply with federal ethics rules regarding financial holdings.
Puzder’s confirmation hearings was initially scheduled for this week. It is now on hold, and likely will not be held until next month.

A couple of points here. First, the thing about CEOs is that they are not used to being accountable to anyone. They hate the idea of transparency and they hate public pressure. This is why, traditionally, they have hired politicians to do this work for them. For whatever reason, we are in an era where CEOs want to actually hold the offices. This means that they are quite susceptible to pressure, especially as we are seeing with Secretary of State nominee John D. Rockefeller and Secretary of Education nominee Ayn Rand, their business dealings are so execrable that the exposure may force them to run from the light into Peter Thiel’s coffin.

Second, if Pudzer is delayed a month, that’s a month more of workplace protections for people. If he is forced to withdraw and we have another month before another selection and confirmation, that’s 2 months of workplace protections. I am not exactly celebrating this, but small victories.

Third, it’s not like Emperor Tangerine is going to name someone much better than Pudzer if he bails. As I have argued consistently since the election, on most issues, Trump is a bog-standard Republican. On labor policy that’s certainly true. Whether he names Scott Walker or some other CEO or some anti-labor think tank hack, they are going to be terrible. But taking on these people over and over again reinforces how unpopular Trump and his positions are. And that has great value. Even someone as vile as Pudzer is susceptible to public pressure. That’s important to remember.

Draining the Swamp!

[ 118 ] January 16, 2017 |

JS-thenNobody Gets Hurt!

I can’t wait for Chief Justice Roberts to write the opinion holding that this behavior is protected by the 1st Amendment and the equal sovereign dignitude of the states:

Rep. Tom Price last year purchased shares in a medical device manufacturer days before introducing legislation that would have directly benefited the company, raising new ethics concerns for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary.

Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares last March in Zimmer Biomet, according to House records reviewed by CNN.

Less than a week after the transaction, the Georgia Republican congressman introduced the HIP Act, legislation that would have delayed until 2018 a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services regulation that industry analysts warned would significantly hurt Zimmer Biomet financially once fully implemented.

Zimmer Biomet, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of knee and hip implants, was one of two companies that would been hit the hardest by the new CMS regulation that directly impacts the payments for such procedures, according to press reports and congressional sources.
After Price offered his bill to provide Zimmer Biomet and other companies relief from the CMS regulation, the company’s political action committee donated to the congressman’s reelection campaign, records show.

Still, one time a Clinton Foundation donor asked Huma Abedin for a meeting and didn’t get one, so Both Sides Do It but Clinton is worse.

Working for Trump

[ 119 ] January 16, 2017 |

David Schizer, until recently dean of Columbia Law School, has just interviewed for the position of Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Tax Policy in the Trump administration.

I don’t know Schizer, and I don’t exactly have a starry-eyed view of Columbia Law School, but I’ll confess this still sort of shocks me.

I spoke with a friend who had a career rather than a political appointment with a a federal agency, and who quit after Ronald Reagan put a particularly noxious (but not utterly unqualified — how far we’ve fallen!) fellow at the head of the operation, and he turned out to be every bit as terrible as people feared he would be. I asked my friend what he thought of people taking political appointments in the Trump administration.  His view is that this is OK as long as the person goes in ready to resign if necessary (Since my friend actually quit a great federal job on principle I’m inclined to have considerable respect for his views on such matters).

His argument is that you can’t just have completely incompetent hacks running everything, so voluntarily taking a mid-level political appointment under Trump, as Schizer is trying to do, is at least defensible, as long as you realize you may well have to quit.

Whether or not you agree with this view, should it apply downward to at least fairly high-level career appointments? (obviously condemning the average federal employee for keeping his or her job is untenable).  For instance if you’re already an AUSA or a federal public defender should you quit rather than work for Trump?

What about people who don’t currently work for the feds? If your dream is to be an AUSA or the like should it be held against you that you took a job in the Trump administration?  (FWIW I will definitely be holding this against such people, should they in the future try to get any job where I get a say in the matter. This includes people who clerk for judges appointed by Trump, etc).

In hypothetical fantasy land at least, you can apply this logic upward as well. Is it OK to take an actual cabinet-level position as an act of self-sacrificing triage?  (I assume this is how Mitt Romney rationalized his participation in a little humiliation ritual that didn’t end up working out, as they say in the Mafia).

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