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Talking With Threatening Trolls

[ 236 ] May 18, 2016 |


They are an unrepresentative minority, but Bernie Bros are real and they are less than spectacular.

As Rob reiterated earlier today, there’s nothing about this unique to Sanders; neither Clinton’s supporters nor surrogates behaved any better at thus stage of the 2008 campaign, and evidently Mark Penn et al. could see and raise any of Jeff Weaver’s aggressive intelligence-insulting and rube-running about his candidate’s chances of winning. But am I ever looking forward to this being over.


The Feckless Neoliberalism of the Democrat Party

[ 163 ] May 18, 2016 |


Surely the Department of Labor in a Romney administration would have done the same thing:

Millions of Americans will get a raise beginning Dec. 1, and not because their employers will have a sudden outbreak of Christmas generosity. Rather, it will come courtesy of the Obama administration, which on Tuesday evening released the final version of a long-planned update to the nation’s overtime regulations.

Under the new Department of Labor rules, salaried employees earning less than $47,476 annually will automatically receive overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week, double the current $23,660 ceiling. Administration officials estimate that more than 4 million workers will be impacted by the change, which will increase their pay by an estimated $12 billion over the next decade. “It is based on a simple proposition. If you work overtime, you should actually get paid for working overtime,” Vice President Joe Biden said on a press call.

The change in overtime eligibility rules was first proposed by the Obama administration two years ago and immediately ran into opposition from pro-business groups like the Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, and the National Restaurant Association. Opponents claim the change will be a job- and income-killer, forcing many businesses to either cut their employees’ hours, make do with less workers, or even switch more work over to automated technology that minimizes or eliminates the need for human involvement.

This is a really important change. As Olen explains, under the status quo ante, companies could easily evade overtime laws by making ordinary workers “managers” and paying them low salaries rather than by the hour, allowing employers to demand more uncompensated hours. Requiring workers with such titles and salaries to be paid something like a middle class salary is the only effective way of combating this scam.

Hillary Clinton’s “Shift to the Left”

[ 109 ] May 18, 2016 |


Political reporters have been characterizing Clinton coming out for a Medicare buy-in and against the Hyde Amendment is a shift to the left. This is not exactly true, as both reflect long-standing views. Which doesn’t mean her emphasis on them isn’t important:

Last week, Hillary Clinton unveiled a single-payer health insurance plan that would allow people to buy into Medicare starting at age 50 or 55. To some political reporters, this embrace of a public option represents an ideological shift. “Mrs. Clinton is moving to the left on health care,” asserted The New York Times, attributing it to her unexpectedly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders. Clinton was “floating a new idea,” declared The Wall Street Journal.

But this is not precisely correct. There’s nothing remotely new about Clinton’s support for a Medicare buy-in or a public option for health insurance. From the beginnings of her husband’s administration, health care has been a major priority for her, and she deserves major credit for the Affordable Care Act, which closely resembles the plan that was a centerpiece of her 2008 campaign. Sanders is having an effect on Clinton, but he is not causing her to change her stance, so much as he is compelling Clinton to emphasize her existing, more-liberal positions.

Indeed, Clinton’s support for a Medicare buy-in is nothing new, and dates back at least 15 years. In a 2000 debate in her New York Senate campaign against then-House Republican Rick Lazio, Clinton said that she would ideally “allow people between 55 and 65 to buy into Medicare.” This shouldn’t have been surprising, since her husband had floated the idea in his 1998 State of the Union address. It’s hardly a novel concept.


But a better example is her expressed support for repealing the Hyde Amendment ban on Medicaid coverage of abortion.

The Amendment is one of the most important legislative barriers to abortion access, and also exacerbates the unequal access to reproductive care faced by poor women. Even if a Clinton replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Anonin Sclaia ensures that Roe v. Wade survives, the Hyde Amendment substantially limits practical access to abortion. So it was very welcome for progressives to see Clinton come out against it (as has Bernie Sanders.)

Even so, this is not actually new for Clinton. In a 2008, her campaign told a reproductive rights website that she “does not support the Hyde amendment. She believes low-income women should have access to the full range of reproductive health care services.” Her opposition to the Hyde Amendment is a change in emphasis, not a change in ideology.

Does this mean that the Sanders campaign is having less of an effect that some people have claimed? I don’t think so. For national political leaders, emphasis and priorities matter. There’s a difference between opposing the Hyde Amendment while answering a question in an online interview, and pledging to repeal it during a presidential campaign speech. That’s not because Clinton’s saying something in public will cause people to change their views, but because party leaders help set the legislative agenda. Democrats have to try to figure out what they will do during the next period of unified Democratic government, even if it doesn’t come about in 2017. For the presumptive nominee to support policies like a Medicare buy-in and a repeal of the Hyde Amendment makes the next Democratic Congress more likely to put them on the front burner.
Like most politicians with ambitions for national office, Clinton has both more-liberal and more-conservative aspects of her record and policy views. Sanders, and the support he’s receiving, are encouraging her to emphasize the former—and to progressives, who want the party’s left flank to keep the pressure on, this is an immensely valuable thing.

In that sense, whether these ideas are “new” positions for Hillary Clinton may not matter very much in the end. Progressives saw more of their agenda realized under Obama than under Bill Clinton, but that had more to do with political circumstance than with the president’s personal ideological preferences. Opposition to the Hyde Amendment is a longstanding part of Hillary Clinton’s record; so is feinting to the center by saying that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” That she feels more inclined to emphasize the former rather than the latter matters, and it’s evidence of a party moving in a more progressive direction.

Another way of putting it, as I elaborate on in the piece, is that if you compare the body of legislation signed by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, it looks as if the latter is considerably more liberal. But most of the difference is that the Democratic coalition to the whole has moved to the left, not differences in their personal views. Had he assumed office in 2009 Clinton would have governed much more like Obama than like he did in the 90s. And there’s never been a penny’s worth of difference between Obama and Hillary Clinton on domestic policy. The relative success of the Sanders campaign both reflects and (if played correctly) should accelerate the leftward shift of the party.

She had won the victory over herself. She loved The Donald.

[ 64 ] May 17, 2016 |


The process of the GOP meekly falling into line behind Il Douche continues apace:

For all the disgusting insults Donald Trump has lobbed at Fox News Channel anchor Megyn Kelly—from retweeting someone calling her a bimbo, to implying she was on her period while moderating a debate—even the most naïve observer of politics and media in the Age of Trump must have known that Tuesday night was inevitable. And by “Tuesday night,” I don’t just mean a television special—this particular one on the Fox broadcast network, and moderated by Kelly with Trump as her star guest. Equally preordained was the fact that, at a time when Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, and most of the Fox News Channel have made their peace with Trump, Kelly would eventually conduct a fawning, boring, and pointless interview with the presumptive Republican nominee.

Despite the ridiculously positive media coverage she receives from a press mostly skeptical of her FNC peers (which ignores how racist her show continues to be), Kelly is less a maverick than a team player (on a rather dirty team). It’s true that she did a good job challenging Trump and other Republicans at the debates. But that challenge of Trump took place in the context of a network that was at least partially opposed to him, and at a time when Murdoch was uncomfortable with Trump’s rise. As Gabriel Sherman reported on Tuesday, one “high-level” Fox source told him that it was Murdoch himself who encouraged Kelly to go after Trump at that first debate.

Now, with Murdoch having warmed considerably to Trump, it was predictable that Kelly would do so as well, seeking out a meeting with the businessman and conducting the cozy interview that aired on Tuesday night.

We can only hope that Fox News’s attempts to prop Trump up will be as ineffectual as its attempts to stop him from being the nominee.

Ex Ante Public Opinion Is Not Why It’s Nearly Impossible to Pass Single Payer In the U.S.

[ 214 ] May 17, 2016 |
US President Barack Obama arrives to deliver remarks on the health care system at the annual meeting of the American Medical Association in Chicago, Illinois, June 15, 2009.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst    (UNITED STATES POLITICS HEALTH) (Newscom TagID: rtrlthree456391) [Photo via Newscom]

US President Barack Obama arrives to deliver remarks on the health care system at the annual meeting of the American Medical Association in Chicago, Illinois, June 15, 2009. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES POLITICS HEALTH) (Newscom TagID: rtrlthree456391) [Photo via Newscom]

Since I’ve seen this poll touted in multiple places as evidence that of course single payer is viable except that the Democrat Party Won’t. Even. Try., I guess I need to belabor the obvious:

  • If you think any non-trivial number of Republicans — let alone 40%! — would support Medicare-For-All NATIONALIZING ONE SEVENTH OF THE ECONOMY AND RATIONING AND STARVING GRANDMA TO DEATH once it was actually proposed by an actual Democratic president, let’s set up a poker game ASAP.
  • In March 2009, 72% of the public favored the Affordable Care Act. Remember what a snap passing that was? Remember how well that popularity held up? It’s easy to get people to agree in the abstract to replacing the existing health care system with something better, but once the actual tradeoffs are on the table (often distorted by the bill’s opponents), it’s a different story.
  • All plans for further comprehensive reform have to deal honestly with the paradox that while people are often unhappy with the system in general they tend to be happy with their coverage in particular. (Note that while 72% of Democrats favor single payer, 79% want to keep the ACA as is.) The fact that people who have Medicare have no incentive for further comprehensive reform is a particular problem.
  • And, of course, maintaining public opinion is the least of the problems single payer faces. The fact that virtually every powerful vested interest — not just insurance interests but medical practitioners, big pharma, hospitals, etc. etc. — would be in five-alarm opposition makes it virtually impossible to pass single-payer even if the public was really strongly behind it ex ante.
  • If the United States ever gets a European-style health care system, which should absolutely be a liberal goal, it is massively more likely to be a hybrid model that builds on the ACA than a single-payer or nationalized system. Given that single-payer does not inherently produce better results than hybrid systems, this isn’t necessarily a major problem.

Deciding Not to Decide

[ 45 ] May 17, 2016 |


As the oral arguments suggested, none of the Republican nominees were willing to endorse the latest round of accommodations the Obama administration made to religious employers so that their employees would receive the contraceptive coverage to which they’re entitled, so they just punted back to the lower courts without deciding anything:

The cases have come to the Court as a result of its 2014 opinion Hobby Lobby v. Burwell. In that case, the Court (unpersuasively) held that the contraceptive mandate constituted a “substantial burden” on the religious freedom of religious employers and that therefore the federal government had to find a less burdensome way of ensuring that women were provided with contraceptive coverage as part of their employer-provided health insurance packages. As the dissenters predicted, the opinion created a mess in which religious employers continued to find accommodations inadequate. Most, but not all, of the federal circuit courts to have heard this latest round of challenges have held that the new accommodations are consistent with the freedoms guaranteed to employers by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Resolving this kind of split among circuit courts is the Supreme Court’s job. But, thanks to Senate Republicans who refuse to give a hearing to Merrick Garland, President Obama’s pick to replace Scalia, in many cases the Court is unable to perform it. The result is opinions like Zubik, in which the nation’s top appellate court does not so much decide a case as beg litigants and lower courts to resolve the disputes so that they don’t have to.

Rather than just uphold the opinions of the lower courts — which would have allowed affected women in most of the country to immediately start receiving the coverage to which they’re legally entitled — the Supreme Court vacated these opinions. In the next round of litigation, “the parties on remand should be afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans ‘receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.'”

In theory, this sounds reasonable. But, in practice, it is unlikely to work. These cases came to the Supreme Court in the first place precisely because the employers and the government fundamentally disagree about what constitutes a reasonable compromise between the religious freedom of employers and the right of employees to “receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.” It seems unlikely that the Supreme Court begging them to try again will solve the problem. And indeed, one suspects the point is not so much to facilitate a compromise as to punt the issue until after the presidential election in November.


The ongoing uncertainty is far from ideal. The fact that even Justice Anthony Kennedy was unwilling to accept the reasonable compromises offered by the government, however, makes it clear that things could have been even worse. Had Antonin Scalia been alive to hear the case, it seems clear that there would have been a 5-4 vote against the government. Postponement is better for people who believe that religious employers should not be able to obstruct the rights of their employees than an outright loss.

Ultimately, then, the placement of this dispute over contraceptive coverage into ongoing legal purgatory is yet another reminder of what’s at stake in the upcoming elections. If Hillary Clinton wins with a Democratic Senate majority, the right of female employees to receive equal health insurance coverage in these cases will be upheld. If Donald Trump wins, this is one of the many ways in which the reproductive freedom of American women will be diminished. And if Hillary Clinton wins but Republicans hold the Senate, expect a lot more cases in which the Supreme Court is unwilling or unable to decide.

With respect to Tony Kennedy and his crying-while-eating-the-oysters “no, really I don’t hate women and support their right to contraceptive access despite having held here that a trivial burden on employers justifies them imposing their religious beliefs on their employees and obstructing their statutory rights because surely there’s another way the government can do this” concurrence in Hobby Lobbyover to you, Prof. Tushnet. I mean, how many of these shell games does AMK have running right now? “There is theoretically a way that employees can maintain their right to contraceptive coverage from religious employers, even if I can never find one in practice, no matter how insubstantial the burden on employers is.” “There is theoretically a way in which local governments can take race into account to integrate their schools, but not even using it as a tiebreaker when giving scarce slots to equally qualified students.” “Searching for a regulation that is actually an “undue burden” on abortion since 1992.” At least with Alito or Thomas, you don’t get the pretense.

The Bernie-or-Busters In: Let’s Get Pretentious!

[ 339 ] May 16, 2016 |

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The latest in Salon‘s inexhaustible parade of atrocious “President Trump is the key to progressive change in America” columns achieves a pretension-to-achievement ratio that will be hard to match (although, Christ, I’m sure somewhere there’s a recent prep school graduate at his parents’ summer home in Connecticut who will try to be up to the challenge.) Most of it is a pompous non-sequitur about the history of advertising — which, you may have noticed, is part of political campaigns. It’s the kind of quarter-assed theory that explains everything and therefore nothing about politics, and does not merit any engagement. Towards the end, however, is a graf that is almost elegant in how comprehensively it refutes itself:

Bernie or Bust is no doubt a foolhardy and extreme position, not least because it is bound to create all kinds of bad PR for the reformist cause.

This is really a remarkable admission. One thing that always gets left out of how awesome it would be to Heighten the Contradictions is that if you successfully throw an election you will (correctly!) be held in contempt by the rest of the political coalition. If you had a list of the most influential people in American politics in 2016, Ralph Nader would be lucky to crack the top 1,000. So while the terrible consequences of a Trump presidency are a sufficient reason to reject Bernie-or-Bustism, there’s also the fact that it makes absolutely no sense on its own terms. Nothing would do more to torpedo the influence of Sanders and his supporters within the Democratic Party than for a subset of nitwits to produce a presidency that is a world-historical catastrophe, a point Sanders himself understands perfectly well.

Out of context, this would seem a perfect argument against Bernie-or-Bustism, but then we get back to the insanity:

In the big picture, however, it looks like our best chance—perhaps our only chance—to deliver a long awaited verdict on a disastrous New Democrat agenda responsible in part for every bad decision from the Iraq Resolution to Citizens United.

Hey, if President Donald Trump and a median Supreme Court Justice who would have had to turn to his left to see Antonin Scalia is the price that needs to be paid to DELIVER A VERDICT, it’s worth paying! The fact that it would make the left flank of the Democratic Party significantly less influential going forward makes it an even better idea! I am not a crackpot! And what’s even better is that, given quite a number of Bill Clinton-era compromises he can choose from, his first example is a Republican war with superfluous Democratic support and his second example is a Supreme Court decision that zero Supreme Court justices nominated by a Democratic president have ever supported. The fact that a Trump presidency would probably stick us with it for decades while a Clinton presidency would likely lead to it being narrowed our overruled outright is surely central to his point.

There’s no way of writing a good Bernie-or-Bust argument because the position is absolutely indefensible, and yet somehow every one Salon publishes is even worse than it even needs to be. I mean, next time, when citing bad New Democrat policies use welfare reform and the deregulation of the financial industry. You’re welcome!

…and I really shouldn’t neglect this:

There is ample evidence that voters in 2016 demand a political system that appeals to their rational judgment, not one that preys on the unconscious.

Yes, that it certainly the lesson of an election year in which one major party nominates Donald Trump as their candidate for president.

Curating Memes, With Mr. Curt Schilling

[ 52 ] May 14, 2016 |

This is the kind of multi-layered wit that your Facebook friends might be too POLITICALLY CORRECT to let you see:


You’re welcome, America! Unfortunately, the quislings at Fox don’t want America to be exposed to the truth either:

When he isn’t sharing shitty Facebook memes and complaining about people scolding him for sharing shitty Facebook memes, former ESPN baseball analyst Curt Schilling is looking for a job. Fox Sports, the most obvious destination, doesn’t want him.

Last Friday, I asked Fox Sports if they were talking to Schilling about joining in some capacity, since a company currently stocking its kennel of hot-takers with diseased, three-legged dogs like Colin Cowherd, Jason Whitlock, and Skip Bayless seemed like a good fit. A spokesperson said that Schilling had reached out, but that the network declined:

And When He Sees His Reflection, He’s Fulfilled

[ 63 ] May 14, 2016 |


St. Ralph offers some typically shrewd analysis of electoral politics:

“She’s going to win by dictatorship. Twenty-five percent of superdelegates are cronies, mostly. They weren’t elected. They were there in order to stop somebody like Bernie Sanders, who would win by the vote,” he says.

I see — Clinton is winning by “dictatorship” because the unelected superdelegates are going to support…the winner of the most votes and the most pledged delegates of Democratic primary voters.

To date, Clinton has captured 3 million more total votes than Sanders, but Nader argues the results would be different if independents were allowed to participate in each state.

Would more open primaries have helped Sanders? Sure. Would they have made up the difference between him and Clinton? Almost certainly not. Are open primaries self-evidently less democratic than closed ones (unlike New York’s) offer a reasonable deadline to switch primaries? No. Does Nader mention the much more obviously undemocratic method of choosing a candidate — caucuses that make it difficult or impossible for the disabled, workers with night shifts, single parents, etc. etc. to vote — that favored Sanders over Clinton? Nope. Is there any discernible principle here other than Nader’s belief that his preferred candidate should win? Of course not.

Needless to say, Nader is Trump-curious:

The liberal activist says Trump has brought some important issues to the fore.

“He’s questioned the trade agreements. He’s done some challenging of Wall Street – I don’t know how authentic that is. He said he’s against the carried interest racket, for hedge funds. He’s funded himself and therefore attacked special interest money, which is very important,” Nader says.

If you think that Trump wants to increase taxes or regulation on Wall Street, you’ve massively uninformed, a liar, or both. Ditto for anyone who thinks that wealthy funders won’t be supporting Trump. But then, we are dealing someone who combines a relentless, and generally unjustified, leftier-than-all-of-thou affect with a belief that wise billionaires must come to save us all.

And, finally, we get a classic expression of the voter-as-atomistic-consumer model:

A Connecticut resident, Nader would not budge on revealing his November ballot choice, but says Sanders and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein best represent the movement he’s trying to advance.

“Once you endorse somebody by saying you’re going to vote, you’re stuck with all the other things that that person may not be good at,” he says.

If you make the determination that Lyndon Johnson was a better choice to be president than Barry Goldwater, you’re personally responsible for the Vietnam War, so it totally would have been better for Johnson voters to cast write-in votes for themselves and throw the election to Goldwater. This is silly coming from anybody — coming from someone who denies any responsibility for the consequences for his active and successful attempts to throw a presidential election to George W. Bush…what can you even say.

Is Donald Trump Running to the Left of Hillary Clinton?

[ 45 ] May 14, 2016 |


SPOILER: uh, no, and anybody who makes this claim is massively incompetent.

I mean, it’s one thing for the HA! Goodmans of the world to cherry-pick one or two issues (trade being the most obvious) where Trump’s incoherent rants have elements that are to the left of Clinton’s and use this to conclude that Clinton is no different or worse than Trump, but when this kind of abject nonsense appears in the Washington Post it’s another matter. It’s going to be remarkable how quickly the media tries to pretend that Trump is just a normal candidate and tries to aggressively blur the massive policy differences between them (to the extent to which Trump can be said to have policy positions at all.)

The Seriousity Of Paul Ryan, Washington’s Most Principled Man of Principle

[ 62 ] May 13, 2016 |


Being a prominent Republican means, among other things, that your self-descriptions always matter more than your actions:

Politico, reporting on Ryan’s meeting today with Trump, notes, “The speaker even brought charts and slides illustrating the nation’s budget woes to help Trump understand the problem he has spent 20 years trying to solve.”

In reality, Ryan’s record in public life supports a very different conclusion. Over the last two decades, he has supported all of the major deficit-increasing legislation: the Bush tax cuts, the Bush-era defense buildup, and Bush’s debt-financed Medicare drug benefit. During the Bush administration, Ryan distinguished himself from the president by demanding even larger tax cuts — and, during the fight over privatizing Social Security, advocated a plan that the administration rejected because it would have exploded deficits by too much. Likewise, Ryan has opposed all of the major deficit-reducing legislation during this period — ending portions of the Bush tax cuts, ending overpayments to private tuition lenders, and enacting the deficit-reducing Affordable Care Act, especially its cost-containment measures. Ryan also voted against the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction framework, and torpedoed bipartisan efforts to negotiate a deficit-reduction compromise between the Obama administration and Congress.

To be Scrupulously Fair, the fact that Ryan doesn’t actually care about deficits led him to torpedo any Grand Bargain, so he will always have performed one valuable public service for the republic.

However Did an Ignorant Crank Win the Republican Presidential Nomination?

[ 52 ] May 13, 2016 |


Donald Trump will be getting exceedingly appropriate advice for his tax plans:

But what’s really interesting is whom, according to Politico, Mr. Trump has brought in to revise his plans: Larry Kudlow of CNBC and Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation. That news had economic analysts spitting out their morning coffee all across America.

For those who don’t follow such things, Mr. Kudlow has a record of being wrong about, well, everything. In 2005 he ridiculed “bubbleheads who expect housing-price crashes in Las Vegas or Naples, Florida, to bring down the consumer, the rest of the economy, and the entire stock market” — which was exactly what happened. In 2007 he predicted three years of “Goldilocks” prosperity. And on and on.

Mr. Moore has a comparable forecasting record, but he also has a remarkable inability to get facts straight. Perhaps most famously, he once attempted to rebut, well, me with an article detailing the supposed benefits of state tax cuts; incredibly, not one of the many numbers in that article was right.

Surely he needs to work with the Dow 36,000 guys too, but there’s still time. Krugman sees one implication of this:

But my guess is that the explanation is simpler: The candidate has no idea who is and isn’t competent. I mean, it’s not as if he has any independent knowledge of economics, or even knows what he doesn’t know. For example, he keeps asserting that America has the world’s highest taxes, when we’re actually at the bottom among advanced nations.

Obviously, this is true. And yet, as Krugman said earlier, Trump (like Moore and Kudlow) is firmly within the Republican mainstream on taxes. Whether the plans are literally crafted by Moore or Kudlow or not, every remotely viable Republican candidate for president proposes a massive upper-class tax cut paired with unspecified spending cuts and pretends that this will actually create a surplus because the plan will UNLEASH the entrepreneurial genius of the American people, just like it has in the Kansas and Louisiana miracles. Trump is probably right to just cut out the middleman.

And given this Republican consensus, the precise details don’t really matter. If Trump becomes president, he’ll sign whatever loony upper-class tax cut the Republican Congress puts on his desk. And this tax plan will be one that Stephen Moore and Larry Kudlow will be very happy with. In conclusion, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

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