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The Mystery of Rick Perry’s “Fed Up”

[ 29 ] August 15, 2011 |

perry book

Scott’s post makes me wonder just when Rick Perry started thinking seriously about running for president. Yglesias points out that the book Fed Up, which appeared under Perry’s name nine months ago, argues that the modern administrative state is basically unconstitutional (with a bit of hedging for a couple of civil rights laws).

I find it a bit hard to believe that a prospective candidate would go into print with something like this, at least if his handlers had anything to say about it. (In terms of subtle signalling to Wingnuttia, this book seems less like a dog whistle and more like a ceremonial gong). A quick check of NEXIS reveals that between mid-July and mid-August of last year only two stories appeared that featured the phrases “Rick Perry” and “run for president.” (This past month the comparable number for the same search was 529). My theory, which is mine, is that Perry did not start seriously considering the idea of a presidential run until the first batch of GOP contenders started falling on their faces, and the inevitable longing for someone “electable” began to cast about for likely lads. In a nostalgia-riven culture, it’s not too surprising that longing settled on Perry, whose campaign is shaping up as the political equivalent of Beatlemania for those magical years when missions were accomplished and housing bubbles floated ever-upward in great, unbroken rings.

The simulation gap

[ 29 ] August 11, 2011 |

It was probably just my imagination running away with me, but I thought last night the USMNT already looked more fluid and creative under Klinsmann than they did under Bradley. My favorite detail from this game involved the blown non-red card which wasn’t given in the 86th minute when Agudelo sprung Rogers on a breakaway. (BTW if I understand the rules of futbol correctly the ref doesn’t have the option of awarding a penalty kick in this situation, which seems unfortunate. Without the foul Rogers is on the keeper and surely has a better than even chance of scoring. A red card with five minutes left and a direct free kick from 25 yards seems like too small price to pay for avoiding that outcome).

Anyway the detail that appeals to me is how Rogers remembers a full second after he hits the ground that he’s supposed to have suffered some horrible injury from the foul, and then duly starts clutching his leg in agony. (You can see this at about 1:10 of the video, which complies with the international convention that all soccer highlight videos on Youtube must be accompanied by a crap music soundtrack).

This is clearly a developmental problem for US soccer, and it may help to have a former European superstar player as a coach, although it would be better if he were Italian (any Italian player in Rogers’ situation would be singing two arias from Aida before he hit the ground, and a little puff of smoke in the form of a mushroom cloud would rise from his body on impact).

. . . Daniel points out in comments that Klinsmann was a notorious dive artist in his day, so that’s another reason to be optimistic about the new era.

(A few months ago my brother was in Buenos Aires and he watched a father in a park spend quite a bit of time teaching his five-year-old how to dive)

London’s burning

[ 122 ] August 9, 2011 |

Nina Power in the Guardian on the larger context of the London riots:

Those condemning the events of the past couple of nights in north London and elsewhere would do well to take a step back and consider the bigger picture: a country in which the richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest, where consumerism predicated on personal debt has been pushed for years as the solution to a faltering economy, and where, according to the OECD, social mobility is worse than any other developed country.

As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett point out in The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, phenomena usually described as “social problems” (crime, ill-health, imprisonment rates, mental illness) are far more common in unequal societies than ones with better economic distribution and less gap between the richest and the poorest. Decades of individualism, competition and state-encouraged selfishness – combined with a systematic crushing of unions and the ever-increasing criminalisation of dissent – have made Britain one of the most unequal countries in the developed world.

Urban riots are usually complex events, in which people participate for many reasons, ranging from simple boredom and criminal opportunism on one end, to conscious political protest on the other. To the extent the latter is a factor in a riot, the riot becomes a genuine threat to the political order. As William Paley observed more than 200 years ago (How Subjection To Civil Government Is Maintained (1785):

Could we view our own species from a distance, or regard mankind with the same sort of observation with which we read the natural history, or remark the manners, of any other animal, there is nothing in the human character which would more surprise us, than the almost universal subjugation of strength to weakness; than to see many millions of robust men, in the complete use and exercise of their personal faculties, and without any defect of courage, waiting upon the will of a child, a woman, a driveller, or a lunatic. And although, when we suppose a vast empire in absolute subjection to one person, and that one depressed beneath the level of his species by infirmities, or vice, we suppose perhaps an extreme case: yet in all cases, even in the most popular forms of civil government, the physical strength resides in the governed. In what manner opinion thus prevails over strength, or how power, which naturally belongs to superior force, is maintained in opposition to it; in other words, by what motives the many are induced to submit to the few, becomes an inquiry which lies at the root of almost every political speculation. It removes, indeed, but does not resolve, the difficulty, to say that civil governments are now-a-days almost universally upholden by standing armies; for, the question still returns; How are these armies themselves kept in subjection, or made to obey the commands, and carry on the designs, of the prince or state which employs them?


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A passionate intensity

[ 42 ] August 8, 2011 |

As America prepares to party like it’s 1899, we need to ponder whether you can tell anything by looking into a man’s (or woman’s) eyes.

Lisa: You know Bart, Pablo Neruda says the eyes are mirrors of the soul.

Bart: (clearly offended) I am familiar with the works of Pablo Neruda.


Baseball and American political dysfunction

[ 39 ] August 8, 2011 |


I forget which French intellectual said that anyone who wants to understand America needs to understand baseball. This is probably an exaggeration, but while staring at this box score and then this financial data it occurred to me that the reason we have such a dysfunctional political system can be traced to the same factors that have preserved the nonsensical way pitchers are credited with “wins.”

don mossi

In 1876 National League pitchers completed 91% of their starts. Under the circumstances, a rule which credited the pitcher who was pitching when his team took a lead it didn’t subsequently surrender with the “win” made good sense. In 2011 NL pitchers completed slightly less than 3% of their starts. This guarantees that in a large minority of games the pitcher who is credited with the “win” bears little or no relation to the pitcher who did the most to help his team achieve it.

In theory this problem could be fixed quite easily — just give the official scorer the discretion to award the win to whichever pitcher deserves it most. But we can’t do that. Why? Because of the Framers. The Framers wanted political gridlock and they also wanted to take dictatorial discretion out of the hands of official scorers, who, if they could award wins to anonymous middle relievers they particularly liked, would soon be sending the rest of us to FEMA “re-education” camps. It’s a slippery slope.

Don’t know much about history

[ 75 ] August 5, 2011 |

sam cooke

Of course in the contemporary GOP having a really bad college transcript is just a form of anti-intellectual street cred. (That C in gym would be a big problem for a Democrat “man” though).

Nobody could have predicted

[ 58 ] August 4, 2011 |

Blast email from the RNC this morning

Reach Out And Touch Medicare
For The Record…It Was Obama Who Offered To Cut Hundreds Of Billions In Medicare During The Debt Debate Read more…

Will Obama face a primary challenge?

[ 141 ] August 2, 2011 |

Last week Bernie Sanders suggested it would be a good idea, and today I would guess a lot more people agree with him.

They are all losers, from the White House to both houses of Congress,” said political analyst Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia. “The condemnation is universal. People are just disgusted with them.”

But Obama may have taken the most damage. Boston University political history professor Thomas Whalen predicted he’s lost friends on his own side with a compromise with Republicans that “probably guarantees some kind of liberal opponent to President Obama in 2012,” he said.

“I think there are a lot of ticked-off people on the Democratic side here, because President Obama, he’s basically giving (the GOP) 80 percent of what they want. I don’t see how he can declare some kind of political victory here.”

At this point a primary challenge would almost certainly be a purely quixotic gesture. Obama has already raised nearly $50 million for his re-election campaign, and it’s difficult to even come up with a name of a plausible opponent (Sanders says he’s not interested, and Obama campaigned hard for Russ Feingold last fall, which would seem to eliminate the two most obvious choices).

Beyond that, would a primary challenge by a prominent progressive be a good thing? This in my view is a difficult question to answer at the moment. The disadvantages of such an effort are obvious. The argument for it turns on the extent to which one believes that the difference in the current attitude of the GOP and the the Democrats towards their bases (fear and contempt, respectively) represents a problem for progressive politics. Given that Obama has done nothing in two and a half years that has displeased neo-liberals (except to the extent that neo-liberals agree with progressives on various issues; in other words Obama has done nothing that any Democrat this side of Zell Miller would consider too “left”), and an enormous amount that has angered progressives, some pushback is probably desirable. But without a plausible candidate for what would almost surely be a symbolic gesture, such speculations are probably academic in the worst sense of the word.

Update: At Davis X. Machina’s suggestion:

Silver linings

[ 145 ] August 2, 2011 |

There’s no reasonable defense of the substance of the debt deal on even vaguely liberal, let alone progressive, grounds. (The extent to which the Democrats were stuck with that substance because of a combination of procedural perversity and GOP lunacy, as opposed to their own ideological bad intentions and political incompetence, is a separate topic).

A couple of notes:

(1) The claim that the deal doesn’t cut Medicare benefits gets those who make it an F in Econ 101. Cutting reimbursements to providers is a functional cut in benefits.

(2) It’s unfortunate that the increasingly desperate struggle to protect the most prominent features of what remains of the social safety net obscures the fact of how deep these budget cuts are in terms of the rest of the government’s functions. As Dean Baker points out, if you make the reasonable assumption that the cuts going forward will mostly exempt entitlement programs, the military, and unemployment insurance, that means that something close to a third of the rest of the federal budget is going to get cut. It would be nice to fantasize that this consists mostly of subsidies to Archer Daniels Midland and bridges to nowhere, but in point of fact the rest of the budget consists of essentially everything the federal government does that doesn’t involve direct transfer payments or killing foreigners. Given that we’re not living in 1890 any more that’s actually quite a few things that are pretty important: education, science, environmental protection, infrastructure, health and safety, the entire federal legal system, and so on.

Now on the bright side:

(1) There seems to have been a big shift in the mainstream political discourse toward the idea that the Pentagon’s budget shouldn’t continue to grow at 9% per year, as it has over the last decade. Even a lot of right wingers are making noises about cutting military spending, although who knows how long that will last the next time somebody with an Arab name kills a white person. In any case, we’re at least at a point where Bill Kristol and John Bolton are beginning to worry that we may no longer be quite as eager to invade whatever country annoys them next week.

(2) The complete ideological incoherence of the Tea Party wing of the GOP, i.e., we need a balanced budget amendment but don’t touch our Social Security or Medicare, has had no apparent effect on its political salience. I’m growing more optimistic that Bachmann has a real shot at the nomination, and that Obama will face an opponent whose platform consists of demanding extremely unpopular cuts in government spending while launching investigations into exactly what the queers are doing to the soil.

Paul Krugman is shrill

[ 85 ] August 1, 2011 |

Shorter Krugman: Coffee is for closers.

Republicans will surely be emboldened by the way Mr. Obama keeps folding in the face of their threats. He surrendered last December, extending all the Bush tax cuts; he surrendered in the spring when they threatened to shut down the government; and he has now surrendered on a grand scale to raw extortion over the debt ceiling. Maybe it’s just me, but I see a pattern here.

Did the president have any alternative this time around? Yes.

First of all, he could and should have demanded an increase in the debt ceiling back in December. When asked why he didn’t, he replied that he was sure that Republicans would act responsibly. Great call.

Meanwhile John Boehner:

Remember how this all started: the White House demanded a “clean” debt limit hike with no spending cuts and reforms attached. We stuck together, and frankly made them give up on that.

Then they shifted to demanding a “balanced” approach – equal parts spending cuts and tax hikes. With this framework, they’ve given up on that, too….

Now listen, this isn’t the greatest deal in the world. But it shows how much we’ve changed the terms of the debate in this town.

Under the circumstances, it’s easy to forget that Democrats control the White House and the Senate, and that we live in a country where taxing the rich is extremely popular, and cutting entitlements is extremely unpopular. This is like giving up a three-run game-winning homer to Mario Mendoza.

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Help us Obi-Wan Pelosi: You’re our only hope

[ 86 ] July 31, 2011 |

The Democrats are slowly figuring out that in the long run it doesn’t pay to negotiate with the political equivalent of suicide bombers.

“We all may not be able to support it,” she said. “And maybe none of us will be able to support it.”

Liberals in her caucus are set to revolt. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), a leader among House progressives, blasted the deal in an official statement earlier Sunday.

“”This deal trades peoples’ livelihoods for the votes of a few unappeasable right-wing radicals, and I will not support it,” he said.

As for what alternatives are available to allowing the lunatic wing of the GOP to send the economy off a cliff, here’s an interesting suggestion.

Update: In the wake of Obama’s announcement of a deal Pelosi issued a very equivocal statement, saying that she looked forward to reviewing the agreement with her caucus “to see what level of support we can provide.”

I used to be disgusted

[ 154 ] July 31, 2011 |

Now I try to be amused.

The deal they were discussing, this person said, resembled the bill that Mr. Boehner won approval for in the House on Friday more than it did the one that Mr. Reid had proposed.

It would immediately raise the debt ceiling by about $1 trillion, accompanied by a similar range of spending cuts, and set up a new bipartisan committee that would work to find deeper cuts in exchange for a second debt limit increase that would extend through the 2012 election.

A failure of the new committee to win enactment of its proposal could then set off automatic spending cuts across the board, including to entitlement programs.

Of course nothing fills the Village with joy like a bipartisan committee. (The Ghost of David Broder may arise just to write a column about this triumph of the sensible center over partisan politics). The Democratic leadership appears to be trying to sell this thing by claiming that automatic cuts in defense spending will “force” the committee to come up with something more palatable than the big cuts in Medicare and non-military discretionary spending which will also automatically take place next year.

Upate: The proposed deal may be slightly less horrible that it appeared at first glance, in that the Bipartisan Committee will consider tax increases as well as spending cuts. (That the automatic cuts in Medicare are framed as coming out of the provider side rather than from beneficiary payments is mostly a political fig leaf, given that direct cuts to providers will to a significant extent become indirect cuts to beneficiaries). I doubt the current Congress will actually go for any recommendation that includes real tax increases, and therefore the most likely outcome of this deal is that the automatic cuts will take place.

In sum this deal will probably result in fairly massive spending cuts and no revenue increases, at a time when the economy remains in a deep recession in all but the narrowest technical sense. That this is happening under a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate naturally raises the question of the extent to which the Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular are getting rolled, and the extent to which this outcome reflects something close to the genuine policy preferences of large swathes of the contemporary Democratic party.

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