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The 2016 GOP Primaries In A Nutshell

[ 42 ] February 5, 2016 |

Scocca puts it perfectly:

1. Donald Trump can’t really be the nominee, because his candidacy is a bizarre and unsustainable media phenomenon.

2. Ted Cruz can’t really be the nominee, because he is incredibly loathsome to the normal human beings who vote for president.

3. Everyone else who could be the nominee is currently being beaten by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

This is the Escher staircase that Jeb Bush is trudging up. He has to believe he can’t lose to Trump. He has to believe he can’t lose to Cruz. So he can’t believe that he can’t win.

My guess is still that Rubio will to some extent break the knot by finishing ahead of Cruz and clearly ahead of Christie and Jeb! in New Hampshire. Things are at least trending in a “Party Decides” direction. But given how long Rubio has run behind Cruz and Trump, considerable skepticism about his candidacy remains justified.


Why the TPP is Terrible, Part the Millionth

[ 7 ] February 5, 2016 |


The Trans-Pacific Partnership was officially signed by the negotiating countries in Auckland a couple of days ago. This received almost no news coverage, although it will when it goes up for ratification in Congress. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka reminds us why the TPP is so awful and something that we must demand our politicians vote against:

From the outset, the AFL-CIO provided detailed and substantive suggestions for improving this agreement and evidence to support our positions. On everything from labor enforcement to investment rules, we offered a path forward. Unfortunately, our policy recommendations were ignored, as were those from the environmental, consumer, public health, global development and manufacturing sectors. That’s what you get from secret negotiations driven by corporate and investor interests.

There are countless ways the TPP would be disastrous for working people. Here are a few of the most egregious.

After much talk about labor standards, the TPP falls woefully short. It retains the totally discretionary nature of enforcement and does nothing to streamline the process so labor cases will be addressed without delay, leaving workers with no assurance of improved conditions. The “consistency” agreements negotiated with Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei don’t add any responsibilities beyond the current labor chapter and give Vietnam five years to come fully into compliance, even though it will receive the benefits of the TPP immediately. There is no deal to address longstanding labor problems in Mexico that have not been remedied despite 20 years of efforts to enforce NAFTA.

The TPP would take a sledgehammer to American manufacturing. The auto rules of origin are so weak that a car or truck made primarily in China or another non-TPP country would still qualify for trade benefits. Popular “Buy American” rules are watered down, requiring the U.S. government to treat bidders from every TPP country as if they were American. Finally, the lack of any enforceable currency manipulation rules means foreign nations can continue to cheat U.S. companies and workers. These features make the TPP an outsourcing deal, not a trade deal.

To add insult to injury, more than 9,000 new foreign companies will be empowered to bypass U.S. courts and access a private justice system — investor-state dispute settlement — that allows them to hold U.S. federal, state and local government decisions ransom. Let that soak in for a minute. Wal-Mart’s Japan subsidiary could sue Seattle for denying a building permit. ExxonMobil’s Vietnamese affiliate could come after the United States for rules and regulations that protect our air and water.

The TPP is also a giveaway to Big Pharma, expanding monopoly rights that will allow drug companies to further drive up costs for patients. These rules are far worse than the ones in the Peru, Colombia and Panama deals negotiated by former President George W. Bush. Doctors Without Borders says the TPP would “jeopardize people’s access to affordable medicines.”

We’ve been down this road before. The Wall Street and Washington elite always tell us that this time will be different. The truth is these trade deals have ripped apart the fabric of our nation. We see the shuttered factories. We visit towns that look like they are stuck in the past. We talk to the workers who lost everything, only to be told they should retrain in another field — but Congress has been slow to fund and authorize those programs. From NAFTA to CAFTA to Korea and now the TPP, these agreements have continually put profits over people. By driving down our wages, they make our economy weaker, not stronger.

There is almost nothing good in this agreement for working people. It’s also worth noting that the labor movement in nations like Vietnam oppose the TPP as well, fearing it will make it much harder to improve conditions in their factories and sweatshops. The TPP is great if you are an elite of any of these nations or a corporate head, especially in the pharmaceutical industry. For the rest of us, such as those who want to protect our environment or labor conditions and don’t want those protections thrown away in an extra-legal court system or those of us who think that American workers who don’t have access to college educations should be able to have a good job that allows them to live a decent life or those of us who believe that Vietnamese and Malaysian workers need to have their rights expanded, the TPP is a complete disaster.

Unfortunately, because of President Obama’s support that is combined with key Democrats in west coast states with large ports that send and receive products to Asia, the TPP is almost certain to past. It would be nice if pressure was placed on relevant senators to make them fear for their political lives if they vote for the TPP, but between the 6-year election cycle for them and the lack of primary options from the left, there’s really little hope here. It was fast-track where the real decision was made. We will be living with the consequences for a long time.

Finally, the TPP is another in a seven decade series of defeats on major bills for organized labor. On everything from Taft-Hartley in 1947 to overturning parts of T-H in 1966 to the failure of a meaningful Humphrey-Hawkins full employment bill in 1978 to NAFTA to the TPP to many other labor bills, the reality is that organized labor has never had the political power to win or defeat bills that were inimical to its most dear interests. Even when labor had more power than it does today, the combination of Republicans and conservative (or pro-business, which is not always the same thing) Democrats was always enough to beat it, at least since 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was the last comprehensive labor bill to become law in the United States. That’s a very long time.

Cheap at Half the Price

[ 70 ] February 5, 2016 |

It’s Friday and time for some hot, fresh, Free Market porn from Merrill Matthews, the Principled Ph.D.

This week he has an immodest proposal, hubba-hubba!

The story so far – Poor people on food stamps are having a hard time finding jobs at the current minimum wage. Worse, dirty old lefties want to raise the minimum wage, which will make life even worse for poor people (shut up, it just will). Help us Free Market Matthews!

Let me propose a different option: Instead of doubling the minimum wage, how about letting low-skilled food stamp recipients work for half the minimum wage?

Yes, lefties. Why won’t you let people on food stamps work for $4 an hour? You’re so mean!

What if an employer who hired a low-skilled worker on food stamps were able to pay that individual, say, $4 an hour for a set period of time, say, six months. After that the employee would be bumped up to the company’s entry-level wage.

Say, how about you go fuck yourself?

That option would allow the employee to get some on-the-job training, and the employer would have some time to see if the employee was a good fit.

Uh-huh, of course. And if after the Friedman Unit the employer decided the the employee was not a good fit, out into the streets with him, the no good moocher!

It’s not a new idea.

Neither is tarring and feathering miscreants. Perhaps you should shut up about ideas that aren’t new.

Some people have proposed allowing employers to pay young workers just entering the workforce something less than the minimum wage as a way to encourage more youth hiring.

Some people have proposed building tumbrils and using them to ferry corporatists pigs and their lackeys to the nearest guillotine. Perhaps you should shut up about that, also.

The price of their labor is the only thing low- or no-skilled workers have to bargain with. Allow those unemployed food stamp recipients to work for less than the minimum wage, at least for a short time, and maybe they will be able to get a job—and a future.

I say we allow people who are on food stamps and those who are receiving less than the minimum wage due to wage theft to have a private word with M n’ M. I bet they’d prefer that to being “allowed” to experience even more exploitation.

That’s where the money is

[ 148 ] February 5, 2016 |

hrc and gs

I have a piece on Hillary Clinton’s tin ear in regard to questions regarding the relationship between her personal finances and the financial industry:

“That’s what they offered,” she explained on Wednesday, when asked why she accepted $675,000 from Goldman Sachs alone. That response carried an unfortunate echo of bank robber Willie Sutton’s explanation for why he robbed banks. “Because that’s where the money is,” he supposedly said. (This in turn brings to mind Bertolt Brecht’s remark that robbing a bank is nothing compared to founding one.)

Clinton could have protected her purportedly progressive bona fides in two ways. First, of course, she could have not taken the money. There is something disgusting about the spectacle of someone who was already wealthy far beyond the imagining of ordinary Americans continuing to accept what she claims were unsuccessful attempts to bribe her, even as she was on the eve of launching a presidential campaign supposedly dedicated to protecting the interests of those ordinary Americans against the depredations of the very masters of the universe funneling millions of dollars into her personal bank account.

Alternatively, she could at least ask voters to hate the game, not the player.

“Yes, it’s a rotten system through and through,” she could have said. “The revolving door that allows politicians to rotate out of office, take huge fees from people trying to win their favor, and then rotate back in, is absurd and wrong. I plan to do my best to make sure that in the future people can’t do this, because I know after seeing it from the inside just how corrupt it is.” (This, by the way, is not too different from what Donald Trump has been saying, which helps explain his popularity, since it’s so obviously true).

Instead, Clinton is taking the line that this is just how the system works (and will apparently continue to work), but that for unspecified reasons she happens to be the kind of person who can be trusted to defraud the people whose money she took.

That she believes this is a satisfactory response provides a glimpse into the extraordinary complacency and self-satisfaction of our elite political class in general, and of Hillary Clinton in particular. (It also helps explain the remarkable success of Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign).

Clinton would do well to contemplate the words of the English writer G.K. Chesterton, in response to the claim that rich politicians cannot be bribed: “The rich man is bribed; he has been bribed already. That is why he is a rich man.”

How Abolitionists Taught Their Children About Slavery

[ 11 ] February 5, 2016 |


Rebecca Onion highlights some pages from Lewis Tappan’s anti-slavery children’s magazine that he ran in the late 1830s.

Because the American Anti-Slavery Society favored complete and immediate emancipation, writes historian Christopher D. Geist, The Slave’s Friend was sometimes shockingly blunt in its depiction of slaveholding. “A frequent theme of The Slave’s Friend was the total cruelty of the slaveholders,” writes Geist. The magazine’s stories told of slaveholders who cropped enslaved people’s ears and chained them in attics or lashed them for the smallest of offenses.

Many pages of The Slave’s Friend equated cruelty to animals—imprisonment, physical torment—with enslavement of people, suggesting that Christian sympathy, when properly felt, would lead a person to be humane to both animals and the enslaved. This kind of imagery, writes historian Spencer D.C. Keralis, “is ubiquitous in abolitionist writing in general, but particularly prevalent in texts marketed to children.”

Issues of The Slave’s Friend were included in the society’s mailings of abolitionist publications to Southern states. In 1835, the magazine’s third issue reached the post office in Charleston, South Carolina, along with other abolitionist literature for adults. Pro-slavery citizens seized and burned the delivery, immolating The Slave’s Friend along with its more mature cousins.

Pretty interesting.

The Declining Military-Welfare State

[ 29 ] February 5, 2016 |


Republicans and neoliberals working in both parties have decimated or wants to decimate much of the American welfare state. But there are exceptions. No one is taking corn subsidies away from Iowa farmers. But they are even going after military benefits, once a cornerstone of the American welfare state. Jennifer Mittelstadt summarizes her new book on the topic at Aeon:

Over the past four decades in the United States, as the country has slashed its welfare state and employers gutted traditional job benefits, growing numbers of people, especially from the working class, grasped for a new safety net – the military. Everyone recognises that the US armed forces have become a global colossus. But few know that, along with bases and bombs, the US military constructed its own massive welfare state. In the waning decades of the 20th century, with US prosperity in decline, more than 10 million active‑duty personnel and their tens of millions of family members turned to the military for economic and social security.

The military welfare state is hidden in plain sight, its welfare function camouflaged by its war-making auspices. Only the richest Americans could hope to access a more systematic welfare network. Military social welfare features a web of near-universal coverage for soldiers and their families – housing, healthcare, childcare, family counselling, legal assistance, education benefits, and more. The programmes constitute a multi-billion-dollar-per-year safety net, at times accounting for nearly 50 per cent of the Department of Defense budget (DoD). Their real costs spread over several divisions of the defence budget creating a system so vast that the DoD acknowledged it could not accurately reckon its total expense.

Most Americans would not imagine that the military welfare state has anything to do with them. After all, in the era since the end of the draft and the advent of the all-volunteer force, military service has become the province of the few: just 0.5 per cent of Americans now serve in the armed forces.

But the history of the military welfare state tells us a great deal about citizenship and welfare. Its rise correlated with and, in some instances, caused the decline of the civilian welfare state, creating a diverging and unequal set of entitlements. And the recent transformation of the military welfare state – a massive privatisation and outsourcing – signals an even more dangerous future for the civilian welfare state.

The history is that the Nixon-era military had to create these welfare programs in order to attract people into the all-volunteer military. Reagan was fine was this too and expanded it. But by the late 80s, free-market fundamentalists started attacking the generous benefits the military gave out. Shrinking defense budgets after the end of the Cold War then encouraged cost-cutting and the privatization of public services for soldiers. Bill Clinton really embraced this and the continued privatization today is a really bad thing, meaning that profiteering corporations are seeking pieces of the pie that often, say, charge soldiers for their own uniforms. We all saw how the role private companies played in the Bush wars of the Middle East and the problems that Blackwater and these other corporations caused. And private companies are involved in the medical and psychological care of ex-soldiers. None of this is good for members of the military, veterans, or the rest of us.

This is a good article and I look forward to reading the book.

Is Coates Just Another *Gasp* Liberal?

[ 290 ] February 5, 2016 |

I think there’s plenty of room to critique Ta-Nehisi Coates from a class perspective. And I don’t think it’s particularly useful for us to look at one or two people as true seers on modern society, tendencies that tend to place them above critique (Paul Krugman is another person who among liberals is used as an authority, where citing him is supposed to end the debate). But I’m not sure that overly long essays that combine vulgar materialism and attacks on Coates’ intentions for promoting reparations is really the best way to do it. The real issue on the left right now concerning Coates is that he doesn’t Feel the Bern. Watching the left flip out on Facebook and Twitter when Coates wrote the reparations piece about Sanders was quite telling. Instantly, for a lot of people, he went from seer to sellout or, even worse, liberal. Again, not that one can’t critique the entire reparations argument (and I agree with some of the critiques at the first link) but right now we in a zone on much of the left where critical analysis is now left behind in the service of promoting an electoral candidate. And really, what is more bourgeois than believing that a single election is the catalyst for change?

“Single Payer” Is Not the Progressive Health Care Goal

[ 320 ] February 5, 2016 |

As I mentioned recently, Bernie’s Sanders’s health care proposal has been criticized for being weak on the technical details and not making tough choices. I don’t really have an issue with that per se.  What I do want to emphasize, however, is that it would be a serious mistake to conflate “universal health coverage” with “single payer”:

The problem with Sanders’s single payer proposal isn’t that it is too vague to allow voters to assess its feasibility and its flaws. The problem with his plan is that it reinforces the idea that European-style universal health care is synonymous with “single payer”; that is simply untrue. There are models that deliver similar or better results than single payer systems, and they are more politically viable within the American system.

In terms of viability, it’s vital to understand the massive economic disruption that implementing single payer in this day and age would cause, and how that would make it a political non-starter regardless of which party controlled Congress. As Paul Starr argued recently in the American Prospect, when President Truman proposed universal health insurance, health care costs were only 4% of GDP; had the US gotten single payer then, health care would be much less costly today. Since then, however, health care costs have ballooned, and that makes a public takeover of the health insurance industry far more difficult.

From the Social Security Act to the Affordable Care Act, major progressive reform in the United States has always involved compromises to buy off vested interests. And, even in countries where there are fewer institutional mechanisms to thwart change, medical lobbies have serious influence. Even with the advantages of a political system that makes it easier for major reforms to pass, nationalized health care was able to pass in the UK only because Labour Health Minister Aneurin Bevan “stuffed the mouths” of medical practitioners “with gold”. It’s one thing to do that in the UK in 1948; the amount of gold that would have to be stuffed into the millions of mouths of the American health industry to make single payer viable in the 21st century would require insanely high (and obviously politically unsustainable) levels of taxation and would also defeat much of the purpose of converting to single payer in the first place.

To implement a single payer health care system from scratch in 2017 would mean not only nationalizing the insurance industry, but severely cutting payments to doctors, hospitals and other areas of the health care industry if it were to bring any cost savings. A lot of people working for politically powerful lobbies would be thrown out of work or bankrupted, and many others would be looking at whopping pay cuts; that would never be politically viable even if it was desirable as policy.

To put it another way, single payer in the contemporary US faces intertwined political and policy problems that are insurmountable. The effects of the lack of cost controls in the American system for decades can’t be undone overnight.

Still, the fact that single payer is probably politically unviable shouldn’t stop anyone from focusing on single payer as a long-term goal if it was the only way of achieving real universal health care. But it’s not.

Many liberal democracies, including Switzerland, France and Germany, have achieved true universal coverage with hybrid public/private models. The Netherlands actually changed its single-payer system to a hybrid system in 2006. When compared to single-payer Canada, the hybrid models in general rank better in quality and efficiency and are as or more equitable. And like single-payer, they deliver better results for far less money than the US spends.

From the Sarah Kliff article linked above:



Click on the image above and compare the Canadian system to, say, the Dutch and Swiss and French ones. Is there any good reason to insist on the Canadian model rather than the European hybrid models when the latter are much more viable endpoints? I don’t think so.

Again, I should be clear that this isn’t about Sanders per se — I’ve been as guilty of using “single payer” as a synecdoche for “universal health care reform” as anyone. And given that we’re a long way out, his single payer proposal has the useful function of emphasizing the work that needs to be done. Sanders also deserves considerable credit for not only defending the value of the ACA while proposing an alternative but for improving it as a legislator.  But Clinton is right that building on the ACA is the better path forward to attaining Sanders’s fundamental goals.


Lights, Camera, Blackness!

[ 30 ] February 5, 2016 |

Fencing Match between St.-Georges and La Chevalière D’Eon

Never mind movies about slavery. The world will be a poorer place until there are a few about about Joseph Bolonge, Chevalier de Saint-George.

That’s the fencing, fighting, violin playing, composing, conducting Chevalier de Saint-George. History records that he died of gangrene, but I think he realized he was too awesome for this planet and moved on to a higher plane.

Or if one must have slavery in one’s movies about black people, what about Mary Elizabeth Bowser, an African-American woman who infiltrated the Confederate White House to spy for the Union?

And for those who don’t like fact, there’s fantasy. Does anyone remember what the Sci-Fi channel did to the Wizard of Earthsea? If not, here’s who Sci-Fi cast as Ged. And Vetch.

It would be great to see the first three books properly adapted and in a theater, but Ursula K. Le Guin would probably shoot anyone who asked, and who could blame her?

I suppose there’s always adapting fantasy novels with all of the white characters played by black actors, which would have the added benefit of upsetting the kind of people who cried buckets when Elba played a Norse god.

But best of all would be several original movies that were written, directed and acted by people who are higher on the Fitzpatrick scale.

That would do for the first year.

Oil! Black Gold! Scottish Tea!

[ 82 ] February 5, 2016 |
Oil platform in the North Sea.jpg

“Oil platform in the North Sea”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

You cannot build socialism on a giant pool of hydrocarbons, Scotland edition:

If an independence referendum ends in a vote to leave, subsequent negotiations can take some time – so Alex Salmond was keen to make sure that, in Scotland’s case, talks would not drag on too long. He set March 24 2016 as Scotland’s Independence Day. History does not record, alas, what celebrations he planned – but we do know what kind of a future he promised. More generous pensions, a fairer education system, protection from welfare cuts – all bankrolled by huge oil revenues which the SNP expected to come flooding in from the North Sea. Now all that has changed, and changed utterly.

Just as the discovery of North Sea oil transformed the prospects for Scottish nationalism in the 1970s, so the collapse of the oil price has destroyed its economic rationale today. America has mastered fracking and doesn’t need to import much oil now; this has helped depress the price of a barrel from $110 to $30. Such prices mean less North Sea tax revenue, but the average motorist is also spending about £30 a month less at the pumps. For the UK, the stimulus from cheap petrol generally balances out the effect of lower North Sea receipts: a country of 60 million can absorb such shocks. A separate Scotland could not.

Had the referendum gone the other way, Salmond would be preparing his first Budget by now. In all likelihood he would be in a state of blind panic. His White Paper on independence envisaged Scotland enjoying almost £8 billion a year in oil revenue by this stage. But that was before the crash. The forecast today is just £100 million, some 99 per cent less than the SNP imagined. So the first question a newly-independent Scotland would have to answer is how on earth to fill the £7.9 billion black hole.

But hey, throw some of that oil together with reactionary nationalism, and you’ll have a stew that will be sure to get the neoliberals hopping mad! And that’s worth it, right?

Just Too Shrill and Hysterical to be President

[ 97 ] February 4, 2016 |

Shorter Verbatim editor of a major D.C. publication: “When Hillary Clinton raises her voice, she loses.”

As a reminder, this is 2016.

Last Days & Time

[ 13 ] February 4, 2016 |

Maurice White, Dec.19, 1941-Feb. 4, 2016


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