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The Fed and Job Growth

[ 83 ] February 19, 2017 |

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Nothing excites the blood like the fed and monetary policy. So here’s a great piece by Dean Baker getting after the fed for raising interest rates and causing unemployment.

However, there is little basis for concern about sudden spikes in the inflation rate. We haven’t seen large jumps in inflation except in response to events like surging oil prices, which would not be much affected by Fed policy in any case. Most models show that inflation responds slowly to an overly tight labor market. This means that if the Fed were sleeping on the job and allowed the labor market to get tight enough to starting pushing up the inflation rate, we would be looking at price increases on the order of tenths of a percentage point a year, not a sudden surge to double digit territory.

On the other hand, there are enormous potential benefits from allowing the unemployment rate to continue to fall and for more people to get jobs. As a rule of thumb, the unemployment rate for African American workers is twice the unemployment rate for white workers, with the unemployment rate for African American teens roughly six times the unemployment rate for white workers. The unemployment rate for Hispanic workers tends to be roughly 1.5 times the unemployment rate for white workers, although this relationship is more variable. This means that people who most benefit from reduced unemployment are the most disadvantaged groups in society.

This shows up in patterns of wage growth as well. Workers at the middle and bottom of the wage distribution benefit most from a tight labor market. The only time in the last forty years when these workers saw sustained gains in real wages was the low unemployment years of the late 1990s. While this was a prosperous period for workers in general, workers at the bottom of the wage distribution saw the biggest wage gains.

Given the enormous benefits of lower unemployment, it might seem that it would be worth the risk of slightly higher inflation to press the labor market as far as we can. There are few if any social programs that would provide as much benefit to lower income populations as an increase in African American employment by two percentage points and an increase in the employment rate of African American teens of six percentage points, especially if the pay for these jobs rose by 12 percent, which happened between 1995 and 2000.

Someday, economists will realize that the 1970s are not necessarily that relevant for today and adjust accordingly. Someday.

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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 71

[ 54 ] February 19, 2017 |

This is the grave of Edward Everett.

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Born in 1794 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Everett quickly rose into the ranks of the Boston elite. He was admitted to Harvard at the age of 13 and graduated as valedictorian at 17. He became a Unitarian minister and had his own church by 1813. He became known for his florid speeches, which some loved and some hated. He only lasted a year though before taking a job as a professor Greek literature at Harvard, a job which included a 2-year stint traveling around Europe. Unfortunately, professor jobs don’t come with such perks today. He spent a lot of that time in Germany, becoming one of the first Americans to want to transform American education on German lines, a trend that would continue until World War I made Germans the greatest enemies to civilization in known human history about three seconds after they were the heroes of men like Theodore Roosevelt. Anyway, Everett returned to the U.S. in 1819 and taught at Harvard. He also went on a lot of public speaking tours. He became close friends with Daniel Webster and they shared similar class and political interests.

In 1824, Everett moved into politics. He was elected to Congress as a National Republican associated with John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay. Harvard fired him when they found out he was elected to Congress. He served in Congress until 1835, where he was involved in the formation of the Whig Party and worked on foreign affairs. He had the typical political beliefs of a man like this–supportive of the national bank and high tariffs, opposed to Indian removal. However, in 1826, he gave a three-hour speech that digressed into justifying slavery. Many would never forgive him.

Still, in 1835, he was elected to be governor of Massachusetts. There he founded the state board of education, worked on expanding railroads and other industry, and played an active role in settling the boundary dispute between Maine and New Brunswick. However, he lost reelection in 1838 due to a combination of the Liberty Party drawing third party votes away from the Whigs and throwing the election to the Democrats (gee, I wonder if third party advocates learned from this?) and new temperance bill angering the public. Everett was named Ambassador to Britain after William Henry Harrison won the presidency in 1840. He stayed in the job until Polk took the Oval Office in 1845.

Everett then briefly became president of Harvard, hated it, and jumped at the chance to take over as Secretary of State after Daniel Webster’s death in 1852. It was only the last months of the Fillmore administration, but it was still a feather in his cap. He then was elected to the Senate in 1853. When he missed a critical vote on the Kansas-Nebraska Act, antislavery forces in Massachusetts were disgusted and Everett resigned in 1854.

Everett spent the rest of his life traveling around the country, giving his long-winded speeches. He was named the vice-presidential candidate of Constitutional Union candidate John Bell in 1860, but he basically didn’t care and didn’t do anything to campaign. Remaining a conservative Whig, he was deeply involved in the attempt to create the Crittenden Compromise, which Lincoln completely rejected.

Of course, what Everett is really known for his going on like Texas in the ceremony to commemorate the Gettysburg battlefield. In a 2-hour speech, he made all sorts of comparisons to ancient history and called for reconciliation. Then Abraham Lincoln walked up and blew him off the stage in 2 minutes. Everett himself was not bitter about this, knowing the greatness of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and he served as an elector for Lincoln in 1864. Everett died in 1865 after catching a cold giving yet another speech, not resting, and then testifying for 3 hours in a lawsuit about his property.

Everett has been portrayed in movies and TV more than you would think. He was played by Gordon Hart in a 1939 short called Lincoln in the White House. José Ferrer portrayed him in the 1991 TV movie about the Gettysburg Address titled The Perfect Tribute. David Francis played him in a 1999 TV movie about P.T. Barnum. In Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies, a 2012 work of transcendent art, he was played by David Alexander. And Ed Asner was the voice of Everett in a new documentary on the Gettysburg Address that appeared last year.

Edward Everett is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Music Notes

[ 39 ] February 18, 2017 |

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We need to talk about the amazing awesomeness of Drive-By Truckers live shows. I saw my 11th show in New York last weekend. It was supposed to be my 12th, but the Boston show the previous Thursday had to be rescheduled because of snow. For all their great albums (and some more just OK, but mostly they are great), the live show is really where to see them. They bring the Rock. Especially early in their career, they created signature guitar riffs for the best songs that are just awesome live. For a bunch of middle-aged guys, they bring tremendous energy. I’ve seen amazing shows and I’ve seen less amazing shows, but not only have I never seen a bad show, usually the less successful shows are for an external reason, either a bad venue (it’s remarkable how much this matters) or, in the case of the show I saw last spring in Providence, Patterson Hood’s voice was totally shot. And with Hood and Cooley switching songs the whole show, nothing ever becomes repetitive.

There two sorts of a shows for a constantly touring band like this. There are the shows where they are supporting a new album and shows a year after the last album when they are playing whatever they want. I prefer the latter because by then they’ve figured out what songs are better live and which can be dropped. But this was the former, supporting the excellent American Band album. One of the many great things about DBT is that you can follow them for a whole tour and still get at least 1 song they hadn’t performed before on the given tour by the end. They played 8 of the 10 new songs, leaving out “Baggage” and “Sun Don’t Shine,” which are my two least favorite songs on it. You know you are going to always get “Sink Hole,” “Zip City,” and “Hell No I Ain’t Happy.” You will probably get “Women Without Whiskey” and “Let There Be Rock.” And then there’s probably 50 back catalog songs they choose from in a given set. In this show, they were focused on the older albums. In fact, outside of the new album, they played no songs less than 10 years old. I was a bit concerned about this, but then looked at the set the night before, where they had played 6 or 7 songs from those albums. In this show, we got the first three great songs the band wrote: “Uncle Frank,” “The Company I Keep,” and “The Living Bubba,” about a musician Hood knew who was dying of AIDS but played until the end. All of these are treats. Also got “Gravity’s Gone,” “Shut Up and Get on the Plane,” and “Where The Devil Don’t Stay,” all Cooley classics. And speaking of great riffs, Hood played the always awesome “Lookout Mountain.” So that’s always fun, not knowing what you are going to hear.

And of course the songs off the new album were great. “Ever South” is epic, “What It Means” sadly gets more timely every day. I imagine that “Ramon Casiano” and “Surrender Under Protest” are going to be long-term staples of Cooley. And then they closed, as they have on most shows of the tour, with a medley of “Hell No I Ain’t Happy” with “Sign O’ The Times.” And then “Rockin’ in the Free World.” I saw them do that in a show in Dallas in I think 2008. Then, it was a cool old song that rocks pretty hard. Today, it was tremendously insistent, a necessary message. That’s a horrible thing. But it’s a great performance. Then Hood started leading the crowd in a chant of “R-E-S-I-S-T” and that was it. Just a great show from an amazing band. Really, you should take the time to go see them next time they are around. After all, the Big Rock Show can’t go on forever.

Here’s a whole show you can watch with pretty good sound.

In other news:

The great jazz pianist Matthew Shipp claims he is not going to record any more albums. I do not approve. I very strongly recommend any of the albums he has recorded for Thirsty Ear, especially Equilibrium and Pastoral Composure.

Aretha Franklin says she is retiring. I kind of thought she mostly was already. But anyway, she deserves it.

Al Jarreau died. It’s funny; after listening to music constantly for the last 20 years how there can be major musicians about whom I basically know nothing.

Some album reviews:

Rachid Taha, Zoom

This French-Algerian singer has made a career of making connetions with western rock and rollers, most famously covering The Clash in Arabic. This 2013 album builds on those connections, with Mick Jones and Brian Eno both appearing. Personally, I could not care less about famous collaborators, especially on albums of non-westerners, except to the extent that they get people more listeners. Singing both in French, Arabic, and English, Taha deserves your ears, even as this did not move me to purchasing it. He’s not a great singer, but the music is pretty excellent and the songs politically solid. There is a certain cliche here of “musician from the developing world who can sing in western languages fusing world music broadly defined and liberal lyrics together to make white people feel cosmopolitan” thing going on here that gives me some hesitation, a la Manu Chao. If it wasn’t so blatant, I wouldn’t mention it, but there is a genre of sorts here that I inherently distrust.

B

William Tyler, Modern Country

William Tyler’s album of instrumental guitar rock made me very skeptical, despite the good reviews. So often I find rock instrumentals utterly pointless; often less skilled or instrumentally creative than jazz musicians, they can end up being snoozefests or exercises in bloated pompacity. But I was pleasantly surprised. Not only is Tyler a fine guitarist, but these are excellent and evocative compositions that bare some resemblance to the work of Bill Frisell. This is atmospheric music that avoids boredom. Tyler is a huge Grateful Dead fan and it shows in both the experimentation and Americana touches. The latter is intentional as Tyler attempts to place his work within the geographical landscape of the United States. This means a very particular type of sound, another similarity to Frisell, with a mix of blues, jazz, rock, and folk, often played at a medium but propelling tempo. As per normal, Americana is never in the cities but rather part of a long drive on two-lane roads across rural America. So at some level, Tyler doesn’t escape the cliches that do limit self-conscious Americana, but this is a really successful and interesting album.

A-

Glitterbust, Glitterbust

People forget that before Kim Gordon because arguably the greatest New Yorker of the late 20th century, she was a stoner Deadhead kid from California. Of course she’s always loved her noise music. So now that Sonic Youth is no more, she is fully engaging in whatever projects she wants. That includes creating an album with another stoner kid from California, Alex Knost, a pro surfer and guitarist. This 2016 album is a kind of surfer noise album with just occasional vocals from Gordon. Mostly it works pretty well. I like the compositions and love the guitar work. The only thing this really could use is more vocals. Gordon just kind of makes vocal noises from time to time. I like her voice enough that I really wanted more of it. Plus, the 5 songs are pretty long and more vocals would add to them. But if you wanted to take surfing and place it in guitar noise in ways that are not surf music, this would be a good way to do it. Interesting stuff.

B

Tacocat, Lost Time

This is a good feminist band out of Seattle. This 2016 release, their third, continues their heavily political themes, including songs about how techdudes have ruined Seattle, a topic always close to my heart, as well as mansplaining and internet trolls. The music is sort of pop-punk. The attitude is both funny and irritated. I don’t know that this is a great album or anything. Reviewers seem to like their first two albums a little better, fwiw. But it’s a solid album and worth your time. I think I am seeing this band on Monday, so I will have more.

B

While not musically related, this is also a good time to note my deep gratitude for readers who occasionally buy me things off my Amazon wishlist. A reader recently purchased for me some nice tea accessories and the collected stories of the mid-century writer John O’Hara, which are really blowing me away. So I do appreciate it.

As always, this is an open thread on music or anything else unrelated to politics.

Trump’s Appeal to the Working Class

[ 417 ] February 18, 2017 |

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I would hope that the horrors of Trump would have moved workers against this anti-worker fascist president who attempts to name utterly horrible humans as Secretary of Labor. But with the Democratic Party having no answer on industrial jobs, if anything, even more union members are finding him appealing.

Mr. Trump summoned the heads of the building and construction trade unions, most of which supported Mrs. Clinton, to discuss infrastructure spending three days after his inauguration. “It was a substantial meeting about good middle-class jobs,” said Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, adding that Mr. Trump was the first president to invite him to the Oval Office.

Some of Mr. Trump’s other early moves, like his presidential memorandums giving the go-ahead to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and killing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and his announcement that he would quickly seek to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, were clearly conceived with a similar objective.

They appear to have had the desired effect. Dennis Williams, head of the United Auto Workers union, which endorsed Mrs. Clinton, has professed eagerness to meet with Mr. Trump to discuss how they might undo Nafta and protect American jobs.

“He’s the first president that has addressed this issue, and I’m going to give him kudos for that,” Mr. Williams said at a round-table discussion with reporters in Detroit on Thursday.

Other unions may also have reason to do business with the White House. Consider the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which also endorsed Mrs. Clinton. Some portion of the union, namely its freight railroad workers, is heavily dependent on coal, and union officials say members in that sector voted heavily for Mr. Trump because he refused to foreclose on its role in the national economy.

If you need work or you see a recent past where you had more economic security than you have now (which is probably not a myth), it’s pretty easy to see why you might not pay attention to any of the facts that Trump is your enemy and embrace the idea of building a border wall, of building infrastructure in projects corrupt and ineffectual, of wanting to see pipelines built.

There’s no way around it–this is a response to the utter failure of Democrats to have a real jobs program for working people. As I have said for a very long time, people want WORK. They want jobs. Americans wrap dignity up in work. The lack of work is embarrassing. This isn’t new. The Great Depression and 25 percent unemployment didn’t lead the U.S. working class toward revolutionary ideology. It led them to leave their families and live in shame. Democrats became the party of the working class because they promised and delivered on jobs and then on working class security through the FHA, the GI Bill, and other core legislation of the postwar period that turned the white working class into the middle class, while offering the black working class at least more than the Republicans did.

The Democrats however embraced capital mobility and the growth of financial capitalism with a gusto nearly that of Republicans. Beginning under Carter and then Clinton and Obama, they never had a good answer for the working class. Job retraining for lower-paying jobs, reeducation assistance, and telling people to move to Texas are not answers. Economic destabilization makes both racialized nationalism and lies about job creation increasingly appealing to the white working class. Until we have answers about how there are going to be good jobs for people in the places where they live, we are really going to struggle holding on to the union members still voting for Democrats, especially the white ones, many of whom live in states that Democrats narrowly lost in 2016.

Another Union Loss in the South

[ 58 ] February 18, 2017 |

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The International Association of Machinists had hopes to organize Boeing’s plant in South Carolina, which exists precisely because Boeing executives wanted to bust the unions in their Seattle plants. It did not end well.

Organizers with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers failed to persuade a majority of about 3,000 union-eligible Boeing workers in the state to vote for the union amid enormous pressure from management.

Boeing said 74 percent of the more than 2,800 workers voting rejected the union.

Many analysts say that Boeing decided to put its second Dreamliner aircraft assembly line in the state to reduce the leverage of the machinists’ union, which represents Boeing’s work force in the Puget Sound region of Washington State and has used work stoppages to exact concessions from the company in the past. South Carolina is one of the least unionized states in the country.

Hoyt N. Wheeler, an emeritus professor of business at the University of South Carolina who taught labor relations and employment law, said in an interview before the vote that a victory would be “highly significant” because “one of Boeing’s motivations for coming to South Carolina was to escape the union.”

The election took on added significance because of the emphasis President Trump has placed on domestic manufacturing, and on Boeing in particular. The president has called out the company over the cost of the new Air Force One program it is developing, and he recently sought to pit Boeing against Lockheed Martin to hold down the cost of the F-35 fighter jet.

74 percent. Holy moly. That’s not even close. I’m surprised the IAM even went to a vote with that low level of support. There is some speculation that it’s because they fear Trump NLRB appointees. And they had already canceled one vote. So I guess they had to go through with it.

Organizers who work in the South hate to hear this, but the reality is that the South is basically impossible to organize on a large scale. It has always been thus. The failures of the textile strike of 1934, Operation Dixie in 1946, the UAW campaigns of the 1990s, the Volkswagen vote in 2014. Again and again, large-scale organizing has failed in the South. This has been one of the core defining issues of the American labor movement. Southern white workers resist unions. Employers started moving down there quite explicitly because of not only the lack of a union tradition, but traditions of white solidarity that would divide workforces and long traditions of paternalism. From the moment unions started to organize in the South, they were portrayed as scary outsiders, first often as Jews and communists, then as black institutions that would destroy the South.

There simply is no good answer for this. Until the American labor movement can organize the South, it can’t become a force again. But given that it has never been able to organize the South, there’s not any real hope that they will succeed. It’s a heck of a problem. And the problem is most accurately portrayed, as it has always been, that the white working class chooses racial solidarity over class solidarity over and over again.

12) Obama

[ 233 ] February 18, 2017 |

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CSPAN’s latest survey of presidential rankings is out. Obama comes in at #12, one spot above James Monroe. Given that I can’t think of anything particularly notable Monroe did except the Monroe Doctrine which was really all John Quincy Adams, I find this slightly confusing. The top of the list:

1) Lincoln
2) Washington
3) FDR
4) TR
5) Eisenhower (really?)
6) Truman
7) Jefferson (talk about the rest of one’s career being used as the criteria instead of his actual presidency. The Embargo alone should drop him 15 places)
8) Kennedy
9) Reagan (kill me)
10) LBJ
11) Wilson
12) Obama

Bottom 5 from worst to least worst are Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Pierce, Harding, and Tyler. I think it’s safe to say that future rankings will have a new name in this bottom 5.

And Grant at 22 is just about right. It’s amazing how much the left overcorrected from the ridiculous Dunningite “Grant is a horrible tyrant” to “Grant is one of our greatest presidents based upon my selection of facts that ignore all the other facts.” 22 is perfect for a deeply flawed man and weak president who actually did something about southern destruction of black rights during his first term, although far, far, far less in the second after he basically allowed white terrorists to kill dozens of African-Americans and offered an extremely tepid response.

Anyway, this should keep you arguing for the day.

General Strikes

[ 6 ] February 16, 2017 |

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I have an interview in the Denver-based publication Denverite, presumably in no way connected to our Bronco fan commenter, about this idea of general strikes. Again, I’m skeptical.

Erik Loomis is an assistant professor of history at the University of Rhode Island and his areas of study include the American labor movement.

The first thing he told me is that he’s pretty skeptical about Friday’s general strike, in large part because it’s directed by activists and radicals, not workers, and doesn’t seem connected to existing worker movements.

“They seem to be saying, ‘Let’s shut things down,’ because that’s what they want to do anyway,” he said.

Loomis wrote about the most famous American general strikes — in Seattle in 1919 and in Oakland in 1946 — for In These Times back in 2011 when Occupy Oakland was calling for a general strike. Both of those strikes were incredibly threatening to people in power and were crushed. The Oakland strike started with a strike by department store clerks for better wages and working conditions, and in December of that year, members of the typically more conservative American Federation of Labor joined them.

AFL workers from 142 unions around Oakland walked off their jobs — bus drivers, teamsters, sailors, machinists, cannery workers, railroad porters, waiters, waitresses, cooks. For over two days, Oakland shut down. Over 100,000 workers participated in the strike.

The strikers controlled Oakland. All businesses except for pharmacies and food markets shut down. Bars could stay open but could only serve beer and had to put their juke boxes outside and allow for their free use. Couples literally danced in the streets. Recently returned war veterans created squadrons to prepare for battle. Union leadership took a back seat to rank and file actions.

Loomis said the term “general strike” calls up radicalism, but the goals of the Oakland strike were not particularly extreme. They wanted the department stores to meet the demands of the striking clerks, and they also wanted to break the Republican political machine that controlled Oakland at the time, which had close ties to the department store owners.

On the other hand:

On Monday, thousands of people in Milwaukee held a “Day without Latinos, Immigrants and Refugees” rally to protest immigration crackdowns by Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., an outspoken supporter of the president. People then called for a national “Day without Immigrants” shutdown on Thursday, with immigrants, regardless of legal status, staying home from work and school, not opening their businesses and not spending money in any way.

Dozens of prominent restaurants in Washington, D.C., plan to close. In Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Austin and other cities, workers have said they’ll stay home, and restaurant owners are closing their doors out of necessity but also solidarity for their largely immigrant workforce.

There’s not a lot of evidence online of immigrants in Denver planning to participate, and a few activists I spoke to hadn’t heard much either. But it’s also not the kind of thing that requires a Facebook group to organize. So we’ll just have to see what happens today.

Loomis said this protest — if a lot of people participate — would have more in common with a general strike than the events calling themselves general strikes.

Why?

“The workers themselves are leading it,” he said.

Immigrants as a group share common interests and common vulnerabilities, and working together to make the impact of their absence felt, they have collective power, Loomis said.

“It’s very organic,” he said. “It’s very real to those workers. They’re saying this is an expression of our power and our interest. It’s not a bunch of radicals telling people what to do.”

Ambush

[ 28 ] February 16, 2017 |

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After Fidel Castro died and my response of “Castro did this that was good and he did this other thing that was bad” was picked up by conservative media as “Leftist protestors mourn Castro’s death!”, human malignancy Tucker Carlson wanted me to come on his show. I did not even reply. And there’s a good reason for that, which is obvious when watching anyone foolish enough to go on the show, such as the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple. Pareene speaks wisely:

Also, maybe don’t appear on Tucker Carlson’s show in the first place?

If you’re a person who strives to be honest and forthright in your work, and especially if you are a person who is not a trained and experienced professional on-air personality, you are at an immediate disadvantage the moment you agree to be on a cable news show, especially one hosted by someone utterly lacking in shame. You, the ambushee, receive no benefit from agreeing to appear on a bad cable news show as a designated punching bag. You get nothing, unless you’re really excited to get a free ride in a town car to a TV studio. Maybe if you really want someone to apply a lot of pancake makeup to your face but you are too nervous to ask someone at the Macy’s counter, appearing on Fox News to be harangued by a washed-up fraud is worth it.

Otherwise, there’s no upside to this sort of thing, besides maybe, if you’re lucky, a decent, post-show, setting-the-record-straight blog post. No matter how smart and conscientious you are, you are not equipped to fight back effectively, because you are playing a rigged game.

Ideally, no one should ever agree to be on cable news, ever, especially the sort of people who really want to be on cable news, all of whom should be in jail. But normal, decent people should, at the very least, stop agreeing to appear on shows like Tucker Carlson Was Cheaper And Less Likely To Sue For Sexual Harassment Than Most Of The Alternative Host Options For This Slot.

Journalists, bloggers, reporters, random people whose beliefs or appearance can be easily caricatured: Next time that booker emails you, just say “fuck off.”

Now I actually regret not responding to Carlson’s booker, telling her what a terrible person she is.

Reasonable Moderate Sam Alito!

[ 64 ] February 15, 2017 |

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In addition to Trump embracing Steinesque anti-vaccination silliness that Scott mentions below (and that was in the original draft of this post), we have Reasonable Moderate Sam Alito understanding basic science.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito delivered a fascinating keynote speech at the Claremont Institute’s 2017 annual dinner on Saturday night. Alito, who received a Statesmanship Award from the conservative think tank, devoted much of his address to criticizing his bêtes noires, including environmental regulation, affirmative action, the “media elite,” the European Union, and emergency contraceptives.

But then Alito went off the rails. He declared that he would provide two examples of this alleged regulatory overreach. The first was a fair illustration of his point, involving water regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency. The second was Massachusetts v. EPA. In that case, the Supreme Court found that carbon dioxide is a “pollutant” within the scope of the Clean Air Act, allowing the EPA to regulate it. Alito dissented from the 5–4 decision. And in his speech on Saturday, he summarized his frustration with the majority opinion:

Now, what is a pollutant? A pollutant is a subject that is harmful to human beings or to animals or to plants. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Carbon dioxide is not harmful to ordinary things, to human beings, or to animals, or to plants. It’s actually needed for plant growth. All of us are exhaling carbon dioxide right now. So, if it’s a pollutant, we’re all polluting. When Congress authorized the regulation of pollutants, what it had in mind were substances like sulfur dioxide, or particulate matter—basically, soot or smoke in the air. Congress was not thinking about carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases.

Alito’s comments here are straight out of the climate change denialist playbook—and were rejected in Massachusetts v. EPA, for good reason. The Clean Air Act defines “air pollutant” as “any air pollution agent or combination of such agents, including any physical [or] chemical … substance or matter which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air” and “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” In its decision, the Supreme Court correctly recognized that carbon is a “chemical substance or matter” that is “emitted into” the air and “endanger[s] public health” by contributing to rising global temperatures. There is no textual support for Alito’s assertion that the law was meant to be limited to “soot or smoke.”

But what’s really odd about Alito’s comments on Saturday is that he seems to have forgotten key details of the case. Massachusetts v. EPA was not, contra Alito’s intimation, an example of “a massive shift of lawmaking from the elected representatives of the people to unelected bureaucrats.” To the contrary: The case marked a departure from the usual deference that courts afford administrative agencies. Instead, it constituted a triumph of an independent judiciary. What Alito forgot to mention in his speech was that, at the time, the EPA refused to regulate carbon. Massachusetts, already suffering from the effects of climate change, sued the EPA, demanding that it enforce the Clean Air Act. Those “unelected bureaucrats” at the EPA were refusing to enforce a law passed by the people’s “elected representatives.” And the judiciary stepped in to ensure that the bureaucrats followed the law.

It’s a real wonder the Republican Party hasn’t repudiated Trump….

The Nazi in the White House

[ 227 ] February 15, 2017 |

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I know, you are asking which one. In this case, Stephen Miller. Not only does he look like Joseph Goebbels, but he holds the same worldview. Or at least the same worldview of David Duke, who he follows on Twitter and who he approvingly liked a tweet from about Pizzagate yesterday.

USA! USA!

The Electoral College: It’s Always Been Bad

[ 72 ] February 15, 2017 |

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Above: Birney or Bust

An essay from a historian on how the electoral college facilitates minority rule and should be abolished.

Sixteen years earlier, the defense of majority rule was far less urgent. Not unlike those who blame Ralph Nader for Al Gore’s loss in 2000, or Jill Stein for Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, Lincoln blamed a third-party candidate, James G. Birney of the Liberty Party, for Henry Clay’s loss in 1844. Many Whigs, including Lincoln, complained that, by voting for Birney, the antislavery Whigs of New York had made their idea of perfect the enemy of good. James K. Polk carried the country by only 38,000 of 2.7 million votes cast. He won New York by only 5,106. If Birney’s 15,814 votes in that state had gone to the Whigs, Lincoln concluded, “Mr. Clay would now be president, Whig principles in the ascendant, and Texas not annexed; whereas by the division, all that either had at stake in the contest, was lost.”

Lincoln’s counterfactual assessment may have been flawed. In reality, it was Clay’s wavering on the Texas question that probably cost him New York. Furthermore, unlike Gore and Clinton, Clay would have lost the national popular vote (albeit narrowly) even if he had won New York, and with it the presidency—a state of affairs that seems not to have concerned Lincoln.

As a member of the House of Representatives in 1848, while maintaining that Congress best understood the popular will, Lincoln conceded that the president “is elected by them [the people], as well as congress is.” Lincoln had been a Whig candidate for presidential elector in Illinois in 1840 and 1844, and would be again in 1852. (Given that Illinois was a solidly Democratic state, he never had a chance to actually cast an electoral vote.) He was certainly aware that the framers of the Constitution had given the power to elect the president to electors chosen by the state legislatures and not to the people. Yet by 1832—sixteen years before Lincoln addressed Congress on the issue—every state but South Carolina provided for the popular election of electors, a development that created the persistent misconception, or illusion, that the American people elect their president.

Today that illusion is beginning to crumble. The Electoral College has defied the will of a plurality of American voters for the second time in only sixteen years. Despite acting as the representative of the nation as a whole, the president is elected on the same basis as Congress, with each state receiving a number of electors equal to the total number of its senators and representatives, and each (with the exception of Maine and Nebraska) holding a separate winner-take-all election to determine its preferred presidential candidate. In any election for a deliberative body (which the founders intended the Electoral College to be), a political party can win more votes overall and yet find itself a minority if the other party wins more seats but by smaller margins. For example, more Americans voted for Democratic Senate candidates than for Republican candidates in 2016; yet Republicans won 22 out of the 34 seats up for election. Thus the current workings of the Electoral College, with the division of a national election into fifty state elections (plus Washington, D.C.), transfer that potential disparity to the executive branch.

Under Lincoln, democratic government prevailed, with emancipation serving as both a means to that end as well as an end in itself. Over a century and a half later, our new president took his oath on the same Bible Lincoln used and noted that “what truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.” This is a laudable sentiment. It would therefore behoove the American people to consider whether our Constitution has allowed minority rule to become too common to be admissible.

Leaving behind the fact that Lincoln was correct about Birney throwing the election to Polk, the Electoral College has always been horrible.

Stone Cold Sane

[ 153 ] February 15, 2017 |

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Today in the annals of #NotTheOnion, we have this column at Fox News.

Donald Trump is stone cold sane.

When a man acquires billions of dollars through complex real estate transactions, invests in many countries, goes on to phenomenal success in television and turns his name into a worldwide brand, it is very unlikely that he is mentally unstable.

When the same man obviously enjoys the love and respect of his children and his wife, who seem to rely on him for support and guidance, it is extraordinarily unlikely that he is mentally unstable.

OK, you say that other than being lies, that’s not really evidence. But what about this?

And when that very same man attracts to his team the kind of intellect and gravitas represented (to name just a few) by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Dr. Ben Carson, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general and commander of the U.S. Central Command, he cannot be mentally deranged. Period. It is a statistical impossibility.

The intellect and gravitas of Mr. “Pyramids Were Built to Store Grain” and the living embodiment of Nathan Bedford Forrest is indeed impressive. Yet, I’m not quite yet convinced that Trump cannot be mentally deranged. But this, now this is indisputable evidence!

Anecdotally, by the way, I have never had one bad Trump experience. Not one. I own several of his ties — all of them of the highest quality. I have stayed in his hotels and never had a single complaint (and I am a born complainer). I have eaten in his New York restaurant — flawless service, excellent food. I own an apartment at Trump Place in Manhattan. Impeccable design, sturdy construction, fabulous amenities. A mentally unstable man would be unlikely to deliver superior products across multiple industries, don’t you think?

SOLD! No one who produces ties can be insane, no matter if he doesn’t actually know how to wear one. This is the strongest argument I have ever heard. It’s also statistically impossible that a man who eats a taco salad can be opposed to Mexican migration!

And now the punchline:

I should note that nothing I am saying should besmirch the reputations of men like President Abraham Lincoln or Sir Winston Churchill, both of whom are said to have fought the ravages of major depression or bipolar disorder. One was instrumental in ridding America of slavery. The other was instrumental in saving the world from tyranny. Mahatma Gandhi, by the way, also reportedly suffered from depression. Psychiatric illness does not, a priori, disqualify a person from rendering extraordinary service to mankind.

Mind you, neither Lincoln nor Churchill nor Gandhi led a nation after becoming a business sensation and television star. That trifecta defines one man: President Donald J. Trump.

I got nothing.

You’d like to think that an article so piss poor, so reeking of desperation, would lead even Fox News readers to question it. But I’m probably naive.

Meanwhile, back in the real world.

Sweet mother of god…..

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