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More on the Extremely Rich Man Who Hasn’t Had Job In 8 Years Who Wants Other People To Work More

[ 133 ] July 9, 2015 |


Jeb Bush was not being taken out of context in the remarks Erik cites below — it was a Kinsleyan gaffe.  (And kudos to Vox’s visual people for showing the “job” Jeb! has had for much of his life.)  Josh Marshall is really good on this:

As our piece here notes, American workers already log dramatically more hours a week than they did a generation ago. They also work more hours a week than workers in any other industrialized economy. It’s sort of a judgment call whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. But unless American workers are part of a different species than people everywhere else in the world there are obviously limits to how many hours people can work every week without severe adverse effects on health, basic perceptions of quality of life and the quality of the work they do. The whole point ‘growth’ in the economic sense is that it is real and something that can be built upon in compounded terms over time, providing ever expanding levels of prosperity without limit. But there are only 16 hours between 8 hours and 24. Eventually you will simply run out. Whatever other countries are doing better than we are can’t be hours worked a week since no one else works as many hours as Americans.

There are arguments that more people need to be working (there are also good arguments to the contrary). And there is a real problem with underemployment – people who are involuntarily working less 40 hours a week. But Bush didn’t say that more people need to be working (questionable) or that more people need to be able to get full-time jobs (true). He said people need to work longer hours.

It’s unclear to me whether Bush doesn’t even fully understand the policies his advisors are trying to explain to him or whether this is just standard patrician work ethic morality. Whichever it is, the real structural problem in our economy is stagnant wages for more than a generation for most of the population. Advances or just keeping up have largely been accomplished by working more hours at the same wages (in real terms). Meanwhile, wealth and income from labor productivity gains have tended to go the very wealthy rather than wage earners. This is all known and discussed to the point of being a cliche. But this is the gist. There’s a decent argument that people working longer hours is the problem; it’s definitely not the solution.

This again is something you say about work when it’s something other people do.

The “it’s what you say about work when it’s something other people do” issue also applies to people who want to raise the Social Security retirement age.  If you have a pleasant white collar job that affords you substantial autonomy (or even better, like Jeb Bush, are independently wealthy), this sounds perfectly OK.  If you’re working in a coal mine or doing data entry or cleaning toilets for a living…really not so much.  And it’s never the latter group of people who want people to have to work until they’re 70.

House Defends American Swastika

[ 87 ] July 9, 2015 |

Shorter House Republican Conference: “To the pinkos at the South Carolina statehouse, we say treason in defense of slavery today, treason in defense of slavery tomorrow, treason in defense of slavery forever!”

Leave it to the GOP to always stay ahead of any attempt to satirize them. 

Thursday Links

[ 158 ] July 9, 2015 |

The Embargo Cannot Fail. It Can Only Be Failed.

[ 80 ] July 8, 2015 |


Shorter Marco Rubio: Obama’s decision to end the Cuba embargo is awful.  The lack of political freedoms in Cuba is proof positive of its immense value.

Give this to Homer Simpson: his causal inferences might have been specious, but at least there were no bear attacks.  Embargo dead-enders are celebrating the policy triumph of the Bear Patrol even though a bear wanders through their backyard and damages their house at least twice a day.

Supreme Court Polarization and the Death Penalty

[ 95 ] July 8, 2015 |


Breyer and Ginsburg’s dissent in Glossip doesn’t indicate that the current Supreme Court will rule the death penalty unconstitutional. But it does indicate that a future Supreme Court with a Democratic median vote might:

It is thus vanishingly unlikely that this court will hold the death penalty unconstitutional. The interesting question is what might happen should a justice nominated by a Democrat become the median vote of the court. In a recent paper, the University of Maryland legal scholar Mark Graber suggests that we are about to see a much more polarized Supreme Court that, rather than hewing towards centrist opinions, swings well to the left or right depending on who has the fifth vote.

The death penalty is one area where this may be most evident. Unless popular opinion shifts strongly in favor of the death penalty, Breyer’s opinion may very well reflect the default position of Democratic nominees, even the most conservative ones. If President Hillary Clinton can replace one of the Republican nominees on the court, we could ultimately see a decision declaring that the death penalty violates the Eight Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments.

But there’s a dark side to the polarized court from the perspective of death penalty opponents. If President Scott Walker or Marco Rubio replaces Justice Ginsburg and/or Breyer, states might aggressively expand the death penalty to encompass homicides committed by minors or the sexual assault of children — and these laws would likely be upheld.

Breyer’s dissent does not reflect a court that is going to rule the death penalty unconstitutional in the short term. But it does suggest that it is a medium-term possibility — and that the stakes of future presidential elections are about to get even higher, with control of the median vote of the Supreme Court accruing a greater policy impact than it’s ever had.

I’m not sure the #slatepitch arguing that Kennedy might be prepared to vote against the death penalty needs further rebuttal, but I would add one additional point.  Kennedy has made some thoughtful comments decrying mass incarceration.  And yet, given the chance to do something about it given an particularly extreme set of facts — someone given 25 to life for stealing golf clubs, a theft the prosecutors could have charged as a misdemeanor — he did nothing.  Which is also what he did when faced with someone given life without parole for possession of 672 grams of cocaine.  He did refuse to join Scalia and Thomas in holding that the Eight Amendment never forbids disproportionate sentences, but it some ways that makes it worse — at least the latter have a coherent reason for upholding grossly disproportionate sentences.  (He’s done something similar with respect to affirmative action, holding out the possibility that a program could be constitutional in theory while never finding one to be in practice.)   Does this sound like a justice willing to hold the death penalty categorically unconstitutional to you?

The Jacksonian Democratic Party Could not be Revived Even if it was Desirable, Which it Most Certainly Isn’t

[ 175 ] July 8, 2015 |


Ed Kilgore has a smart intervention on the question of the Jacksonian tradition in the Democratic Party.  Let us acknowledge the one major progressive achievement of Jackson’s presidency — staring down Calhoun on nullification — before moving on to this point:

So the idea that today’s parties are simply the reverse of those of the Age of Jackson, while useful, isn’t entirely accurate. Just as we pause at Jefferson’s views on church-state separation before labeling him the father of “constitutional conservatism,” there are discontinuities in both the major party traditions after him.

There’s no question that trying to map partisan disputes and coalitions from the antebellum era onto 21st century ones is inherently problematic, and whether it has much value at all is questionable. But I would say that if we have to pick one contemporary party that’s the heir of the Jacksonian tradition, it would certainly be the Republicans, although such an answer is unnecessarily simplified.

This conclusion is beautifully put:

Still, the idea there is some distinctively Jacksonian Democracy out there waiting to be harvested by—let’s face it, this is what some anti-Obama writers implicitly suggest—a national Democratic leader of the right race or the right “populist” ideology is quixotic at best and offensive at worst. You can call it the Party of Obama now as Chait does, if you wish, but it’s really the party formed by Americans who unambiguously view the federal government as the instrument of equality and opportunity and prosperity built on the work and talents of every citizen, who in an old-fashioned Jacksonian sense deserve the full fruits of their labor.

Both the “quixotic” and “offensive” points are crucial. Evidently, Wilentz’s version of the argument puts the matter in the most offensive way possible. It’s one thing to say that it’s in the strategic interests of the Democratic Party to pursue culturally conservative border state whites; it’s another thing to say that the Democratic Party belongs to this faction, and a different Democratic coalition represents a usurpation. But particularly with Obama having established that a Democratic victory doesn’t need West Virginia or Kentucky, even more superficially benign forms of the argument carry the same implication. To be obsessed with Scots-Irish white men retaining their permanent place in the Democratic fold implies that they are primus inter pares. They aren’t, and prettifying Jacksonianism to make this argument is intellectually bankrupt on every level.

But even if it was desirable to restore this element of the 19th century Democratic Party, it’s not something that can just be done by running the right candidate or making some marginal changes. Coalitions drive leaders, not vice versa. There’s nothing Hillary Clinton could do to make Kentucky or West Virginia competitive, any more than running Mitt Romney could make Massachusetts competitive for the Republican Party. (Dana Houle is very good on this point starting here.)

Jacksonian nostalgia is as much a dead end electorally as it is intellectually. If you don’t believe me, look at how Jim Webb does in the Democratic primaries.

It’s Time For Everyone’s Favorite End of Term Activity, Supreme Court Mad Libs

[ 68 ] July 7, 2015 |


How many bad analogies and metaphors and cliches can be crammed into a blog post? Can we learn something from bad arguments about the Supreme Court? Let’s find out!

I wrote in a book review once that the basic distinction between Right and Left when it comes to the Constitution is “rules vs. tools”: Conservatives see the Constitution as a set of rules that must be followed, while liberals see it as a box of tools that can be used to put their policies into effect. And if you have to use a chisel as a screwdriver or bang in nails with a pair of pliers, it’s no problem as long as the thing gets built.

It’s amazing at this late date that people can write such utter crap with a straight face. Where is the clear “rule” mandating that “the equal sovereign dignitude of the states trumps the powers explicitly granted to Congress under the 15th Amendment“? Where does it say that “states must use uniform vote counting methods if not doing so might result in the election of a Democratic president in 2000 but not in any other case?” When was the text of the Eleventh Amendment changed from “another State” to “any State?” Where exactly is the “anti-commandeering” clause of the Constitution? I could go on like this but you get the idea.

This principle turns the 14th Amendment into a Swiss Army knife and the Commerce Clause into a roll of duct tape.

So, it turns out that re-stating the metaphor doesn’t make it any more coherent.

They devise new uses for dusty old buggy whips like the 13th Amendment,

What’s funny about this is that Schwarz almost certainly considers himself an “originalist.” And yet the new scholarship about the 13th Amendment is based on historical analysis. There is good evidence that the contemporary limitation of slavery to only chattel slavery does not reflect the understanding of many at the time of the founding, and there is also good evidence that 13th Amendment was read much more broadly in 1865 than it is 2015. I’m not an originialist or a believer in grand constitutional theory, so I don’t believe that these are knock-down arguments. But the fact that conservative originalists not only have no interest in this scholarship but feel free to contemptuously dismiss it should tell you something.

and even the forlorn Third Amendment was pulled out of the back of a drawer somewhere to be cited in Griswold v. Connecticut (and is now being invoked by the Left and the Right to oppose NSA surveillance).

This is the slightly more sophisticated sounding SCORCHING HOT TAKE on Griswold, used in lieu of the more famous one (“durr, he said ‘penumbras and emanations,’ durr.”) And, yet, if you read the citation of the 3rd Amendment in context in makes perfect sense:

The foregoing cases suggest that specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance. Various guarantees create zones of privacy. The right of association contained in the penumbra of the First Amendment is one, as we have seen. The Third Amendment, in its prohibition against the quartering of soldiers “in any house” in time of peace without the consent of the owner, is another facet of that privacy. The Fourth Amendment explicitly affirms the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The Fifth Amendment, in its Self-Incrimination Clause, enables the citizen to create a zone of privacy which government may not force him to surrender to his detriment. The Ninth Amendment provides: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

The Fourth and Fifth Amendments were described in Boyd v. United States as protection against all governmental invasions “of the sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of life.” We recently referred to the Fourth Amendment as creating a “right to privacy, no less important than any other right carefully an particularly reserved to the people.”

Douglas’s perfectly straightforward point is that many of the individual protections in the Bill of Rights are based on the underlying principle that the state cannot be omnipresent in private homes and in individual lives. (It’s true that he does not defend this point extensively here, but this is because he already did so four years before, and cites this opinion at the end of the “penumbras” sentence. Both the Douglas and Harlan opinions in Griswold should be read as summaries of arguments they made in much more extensive detail in Poe v. Ullman.) This principle was obviously highly relevant to this case, concerning the constitutionality of a statute banning the private use of contraception. And the 3rd Amendment — forbidding the state from using private residences to house military personnel except with legislative authorization during wartime — is plainly relevant to this structural analysis. It wouldn’t make sense to say that the 3rd Amendment standing alone would make the Connecticut’s uncommonly silly law unconstitutional, but Douglas doesn’t say that it does. One can agree or disagree with the conclusions Douglas reaches, but this kind of structuralist argument is a widely-used form of constitutional interpretation, and only hacks think it can be dismissed by repeating a 3-word phrase or mischaracterizing its use of the 3rd Amendment.

And they think nothing of turning the strictest rules on their heads, so that “shall not discriminate on account of race” means “must discriminate on account of race”

I’m not sure what copy of the Constitution Schwarz is using; mine does not contain the former phrase. It does most assuredly guarantee the equal protection of the laws, but I see nothing in this phrase that specifically proscribes every affirmative action program. (Oh, and what I said about originalism.)

and “freedom of speech” requires restricting speech. What, you thought these provisions actually mean what they explicitly say?

Leaving aside all the question-begging, he has a point — I don’t recall the “bong hits 4 Jesus” or “but Islamic! 9/11!” exceptions to the First Amendment either. I wish conservatives would stop trying to turn the First Amendment from a cinder block into one of those cabinets of tools they sell at the Home Depot.

“She meets me back stage. I give her Quaaludes. We then have sex.”

[ 301 ] July 7, 2015 |

The payoffs, backscratching, and cover-ups that allow a famous serial rapist to get away with it.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the fact that a major, extensively promoted biography of Cosby could be published in 2014 that ignored the history of women accusing him of sexual assault and reviewers would barely mention or outright ignore this is highly instructive. It’s amazing what you can fail to find out if you really don’t want to know.

“He’s Right, Williamson Merkel.”

[ 140 ] July 7, 2015 |

Some #realtalk from Thomas Piketty:

But Piketty, who penned the blockbuster 2013 book on income inequality Capital in the Twenty-First Century, slammed conservatives who favor the economic austerity measures Germany and France are demanding of Greece, saying they demonstrate a “shocking ignorance” of European history.

“Look at the history of national debt: Great Britain, Germany, and France were all once in the situation of today’s Greece, and in fact had been far more indebted,” Piketty said. “The first lesson that we can take from the history of government debt is that we are not facing a brand new problem.”

Germany, Piketty continued, has “no standing” to lecture other nations about debt repayment, having never paid back its own debts after both World Wars.

“However, it has frequently made other nations pay up, such as after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when it demanded massive reparations from France and indeed received them,” Piketty said. “The French state suffered for decades under this debt. The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.”

Piketty criticized the “infantile” moral uprightness of Germany, whose economic success upon reunification has led it to rebuke nations like Greece for being in similarly weakened financial states as Germany itself was in decades ago.

Piketty argued that the same debt relief accorded to Germany after World War II should be granted to Greece today.

“After large crises that created huge debt loads, at some point people need to look toward the future. We cannot demand that new generations must pay for decades for the mistakes of their parents,” Piketty said. “The Greeks have, without a doubt, made big mistakes. Until 2009, the government in Athens forged its books. But despite this, the younger generation of Greeks carries no more responsibility for the mistakes of its elders than the younger generation of Germans did in the 1950s and 1960s. We need to look ahead. Europe was founded on debt forgiveness and investment in the future. Not on the idea of endless penance. We need to remember this.”

The Party of Lincoln Is Now the Party of Jackson, and Vice Versa

[ 104 ] July 6, 2015 |


It’s not exactly news that Sean Wilentz’s punditry during the 2008 primaries was an embarrassment. But, via Chait, I somehow missed this definitive example:

Under those pressures, the Barack Obama campaign and its sympathizers have begun to articulate much more clearly what they mean by their vague slogan of “change” – nothing less than usurping the historic Democratic Party, dating back to the age of Andrew Jackson, by rejecting its historic electoral core: white workers and rural dwellers in the Middle Atlantic and border states.


This year’s primary results show no sign that Obama will reverse this trend should he win the nomination. In West Virginia and Kentucky, as well as Ohio and Pennsylvania, blue collar white voters sent him down to defeat by overwhelming margins. A recent Gallup poll report has argued that claims about Obama’s weaknesses among white voters and blue collar voters have been exaggerated – yet its indisputable figures showed Obama running four percentage points below Kerry’s anemic support among whites four years ago.

The idea that a majority coalition isn’t really a majority coalition if it contains too many people of color is appalling on its face. To say that the first major party African-American presidential candidate is “usurping” the Democratic Party in the context of making this argument is…special.

As Chait says, in addition to being offensive the argument is also dumb — Wilentz is confusing cause and effect. As we will see in 2016, Hillary Clinton will not win Kentucky or West Virginia either, and Obama won Pennsylvania and Ohio twice while assembling two majority electoral coalitions. This is because the country’s partisan coalitions have become much more ideologically coherent, with “voted for Eisenhower because Lincoln won the war” voting finally giving way to more rational voting patterns. (Wilentz is actually combining two exceedingly terrible arguments here: “a winning coalition doesn’t really count if it doesn’t have enough culturally conservative whites in it” is married to “who wins states in a Democratic primary is a good indication of who will win them in the general election.”)

And not only is pining for Andrew Jackson’s electoral coalition pointless nostalgia for a ship that’s already reached the other side of the ocean, it’s wishing for a Democratic Party that’s much worse than the current one. Chait:

Jackson is, clearly, the father of the modern Republican Party. As the modern historian Daniel Howe has noted, Jackson’s aggressive policy of Indian-fighting shaped the political landscape of the era. A humanitarian protest movement sprung up to oppose Jackson’s savage aggression, which heavily overlapped with the slowly deepening divide over slavery. In the House, four fifths of slave-state representatives voted for the Indian Removal Act, while only a third of representatives from free states did.

Jackson was a populist, but he directed his populism not at the local elites (of which he was one) but at the federal government. He favored the gold standard, and his opposition to a National Bank served the interests of the local banks that competed against it. He believed the Constitution prevented the government from taking an active role in managing economic affairs. He was instinctively aggressive, poorly educated, anti-intellectual, and suspicious of bureaucrats. (Jackson replaced more qualified federal staffers with partisan hacks.) He resisted any challenge to racial hierarchies. The opposition to Jackson stood for the reverse — a more interventionist federal government, more lenient treatment of racial minorities, a less aggressive foreign policy.

The qualities of the right-wing opposition during the Obama era has made the historic reversal all the more clear. Republicans have revived what they call “Constitutional conservatism,” which reprises the Jacksonian belief that the Constitution prevents economic intervention by the government. Tea-party activists in particular have sounded deeply Jacksonian themes in their populist attacks on TARP, and then Obama’s programs, as giveaways to powerful insiders. As a writer for the right-wing Breitbart News argued several months ago, “Jackson’s views on federalism and economics should be more carefully studied today.”

Oh, and while we’re here can we point out that Arthur Schlesinger Jr. was a hack?

The Age of Jackson, which won the Pulitzer Prize for history, was filled with analytic errors and ghastly omissions. Schlesinger imagined that Jackson had rallied the American proletariat with his populist attacks on wealth. (“The East remained the source of the effective expression of Jacksonian radicalism.”) Actually, Jackson’s strongest support came from the South, which is logical, since that’s where the beneficiaries of his land seizure lived. Schlesinger glossed over Jackson’s veto of legislation to create a national transportation network, which he opposed as unconstitutional. And incredibly, Schlesinger ignored Jackson’s campaigns to seize native lands — his book literally does not mention the Indian Removal Act, the most important policy initiative of Jackson’s presidency.

The “usurpation” of this ugly Jacksonian tradition within the Democratic Party is long overdue.

Bloody, Bloody William Kristol

[ 34 ] July 5, 2015 |

The Man Who Just Couldn’t Be Right About Anything.


[ 154 ] July 5, 2015 |


In a landslide.

I don’t claim expertise, but I’m inclined to defer to this actual expert and see this as the least terrible outcome. As Krugman acknowledges, there’s reason to be concerned about Syriza’s competence (and indeed the heighten-the-contradictions bureaucratic reform proposal is amateur hour.) But nevertheless the troika’s conduct and its offer of austerity today austerity tomorrow austerity forever — punishing ordinary Greek citizens to bail out creditors who made bad bets, even though they won’t even be bailed out – has been abominable. I can understand why the electorate wouldn’t submit to these terms.

And now I’ll leave the discussion to the many people who know more than I do.

…This seems right: “Greece is less likely to get a deal after the referendum, but will get a better deal if it does get one.”

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