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Knowing That Pundits Don’t Know What They’re Talking About Is A Huge Strategic Advantage

[ 134 ] November 6, 2014 |

A useful summing up on McConnell:

But at a time when McConnell is likely poised to take over as Senate Majority Leader, it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge his political acumen. Not acumen in winning reelection, but acumen in masterminding the Republican comeback after the huge Democratic wave elections in 2006 and 2008. His master plan was simple — hang together and say no. And, by and large, it worked. McConnell is not the most charismatic politician of our time, but he is arguably the sharpest mind in contemporary politics on a strategic level.


To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked. Six years into the affair, we now take it for granted that nothing will pass on a bipartisan basis, no appointment will go through smoothly, and everything the administration tries to get done will take the form of a controversial use of executive power.

It’s been ugly. But in most voters’ mind, the ugliness has attached to Obama and, by extension, Democrats. It was a very counterintuitive strategy, but it was well-grounded in the best political science available. And it worked.

Most political coverage is premised on some potentially noble lies about how the public will punish politicians who subvert basic institutional norms or prevent popular things from being done. McConnell’s evil genius is to see that it’s all nonsense. The public generally doesn’t pay attention to the details of political squabbles. For all intents and purposes nobody in Congress pays a real price for obstructionism; even if the popularity of the party is dragged down it doesn’t affect the election chances of the vast majority of members. By the same token, Republican statehouses can refuse the Medicaid expansion and Obama will get more blame than the Republicans who turn it down, and so on. This cold strategic logic presents a serious problem because the structure of American government requires certain norms of comity to function in most circumstances — we’re about to get a lot of grim lessons about the superiority of parliamentary systems that don’t massively dilute and misallocate accountability — but this isn’t McConnell’s problem.

The JP Morgan Chase Whistleblower

[ 43 ] November 6, 2014 |

Good to see Taibbi back to doing what he does best:

Fleischmann is the central witness in one of the biggest cases of white-collar crime in American history, possessing secrets that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon late last year paid $9 billion (not $13 billion as regularly reported – more on that later) to keep the public from hearing.

Back in 2006, as a deal manager at the gigantic bank, Fleischmann first witnessed, then tried to stop, what she describes as “massive criminal securities fraud” in the bank’s mortgage operations.

Thanks to a confidentiality agreement, she’s kept her mouth shut since then. “My closest family and friends don’t know what I’ve been living with,” she says. “Even my brother will only find out for the first time when he sees this interview.”

Six years after the crisis that cratered the global economy, it’s not exactly news that the country’s biggest banks stole on a grand scale. That’s why the more important part of Fleischmann’s story is in the pains Chase and the Justice Department took to silence her.

She was blocked at every turn: by asleep-on-the-job regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission, by a court system that allowed Chase to use its billions to bury her evidence, and, finally, by officials like outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, the chief architect of the crazily elaborate government policy of surrender, secrecy and cover-up. “Every time I had a chance to talk, something always got in the way,” Fleischmann says.

Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap?

[ 21 ] November 6, 2014 |

Looks like he’s on the Highway to Hell.

At the State Level, Candidates Matter A Lot

[ 69 ] November 5, 2014 |

Here’s the thing: Republicans were slaughtered in 2006. Reagan’s Republicans lost 8 Senate seats in 1986. LBJ’s Democrats lost 3 Senate seats (with a more than 8% negative vote swing) and lost 47 seats in the House. FDR’s Democrats lost 72 House seats and 7 Senate seats, in 1938 — which understates matters, given that FDR’s attempt to get anti-New Deal Democrats defeated in primaries came up a cropper. (Bill Clinton, I will grant, broke even in the Senate and gained slightly in the House, but in addition to the frivolous impeachment that was in motion the deal-making he used to maintain popularity 1)is no longer possible, and 2)was dubiously desirable.)

You get the idea. The in-party — even in cases where presidents are transformative and/or have bold agendas that deliver plenty to their constituents — rarely fares well in the midterms of term 2. Combined with a very unfavorable map, the fact that midterms massively favor the Republican electorate, and Republicans at both the state and federal level figuring out that the damage you inflict on constituents will actually be held against the party controlling the White House, the Democrats were going to get clobbered, and the “this proves Obama should have led with leadership by (proposing the most politically efficacious policy which by pure coincidence happens to be the policy I prefer on the merits)” genre is mostly a waste of time. Messaging and position-taking might matter a little at the margins, but there wasn’t any magic formula that was going to prevent the 2014 midterms from being a bloodbath at the federal level.

As Alec MacGillis argues, though, it’s crucial not to lump the inevitable Republican wave at the federal level with the state races. Some of the factors pertain, especially with respect to turnout, but fundamentals become less important and cadidates moreso, which was bad news for Democrats in some blue states:

I’m skeptical of that claim. No doubt, disaffection and low turnout among core Democratic voters hurt the party’s gubernatorial candidates in blue states as it did Senate candidates in red and purple ones. And anti-Washington, anti-Obama sentiment certainly played a role in the GOP’s Senate takeover. But to explain why some Democratic gubernatorial candidates lost in blue states while others (such as Gina Raimondo in Rhode Island, Dannel Malloy in Connecticut, and John Hickenlooper in Colorado) managed to hang on, one really needs to take into account the state and local context of the races.


But why would Coakley and Brown go down, while Hickenlooper and Malloy survived? Here one has to consider the ultimate local context, the quality of the candidates. Hickenlooper and Malloy provoked plenty opposition in their states, not least with their signing of sweeping gun control legislation after the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. But voters also had a clear sense of where these men stood. The same could not be said for the lackluster Coakley and, especially, for Brown, who ran one of the worst campaigns I’ve ever observed up close. The son of a Jamaican father and Swiss mother, a colonel in the Army Reserve and former JAG officer whom O’Malley plucked out of relative obscurity in the Maryland House of Delegates to be his running mate in 2006, Brown is an amiable enough fellow but gives off the distinct vibe of a second-stringer. His big chance to show his stuff, the launch of the Maryland insurance exchange under Obamacare, was a total fiasco.

This is a real problem. Massachusetts was the worst example, with a candidate who had already failed disastrously once winning the primary fairly easily, but the weak bench created in part by the 2010 wave might continue to have reverberations.

Today In The Glory Of Third Party Politics

[ 109 ] November 5, 2014 |

Have any doubts about the brilliance of splitting the more left-wing vote into multiple parties as a way forward? Surely they’ve been erased now:

Republican Gov. Paul LePage secured a second term early Wednesday morning, defeating Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud after a long, expensive and often bitter campaign.


Independent candidate Eliot Cutler, who received 36 percent of the vote four years ago, less than 2 percentage points behind LePage, had 8 percent of the vote. The Cape Elizabeth attorney conceded shortly before 10 p.m.

“Tonight I’m very, very humbled and very proud – very, very proud – because for 50 years plus, I was raised across the street,” said LePage, referring to his childhood home near the Franco American Center. The governor left home at a young age, striking out on his own and fleeing an abusive father.

“I’m home,” he said Tuesday. “But home is Maine.”

He added, “Home is where every person born in Maine should have the opportunity to carve out their piece of the American dream. I have it. I have the American dream.”

LePage never mentioned Michaud but said he had a newfound respect for Cutler. LePage said Cutler should be the state’s attorney general, a position elected by the state Legislature.

I’m sure you do! But, really, what harm can he do?

The [Maine] legislature has voted for a Medicaid expansion five times, but each time it has been vetoed by Governor LePage.. An estimated 28,000 people would sign up for coverage by 2016 if the program were expanded, according to estimates from the Urban Institute.

Well, surely we can all agree that tends of thousands of poor people being denied medical coverage is a price worth paying if it allows onanists to congratulate themselves for being too good for mere politics.

I Hear Jian Ghomeshi Needs Someone To Help Polish His CV!

[ 40 ] November 5, 2014 |

Tales from the new Gilded Age:

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz has sparked controversy by suggesting young people ought to consider unpaid work as a way to gain job experience.

“When I bump into youths, they ask me, you know, ‘What am I supposed to do in a situation?’ I say, look, having something unpaid on your CV is very worth it because that’s the one thing you can do to counteract this scarring effect. Get some real-life experience even though you’re discouraged, even if it’s for free,” Mr. Poloz told reporters Monday in Ottawa.

It becomes increasingly hard to do satire these days.

BREAKING! Working Poor In Florida Freed From Neoliberal Shackles of the Affordable Care Act

[ 149 ] November 4, 2014 |

rick scott

Shorter newly-reelected Gov. Lex Luthor to Florida citizens being offered Medicaid at little cost to the state: “Drop dead, literally.”

Election Predictions You Can Take RIGHT TO THE BANK

[ 96 ] November 4, 2014 |

The crack data analysts at LGM have, after lengthy consideration, declared that Jeff Sessions will be re-elected in Alabama.  (The white supremacist clown is running unopposed, just as happens all the time in upstate New York.)

Seriously, let’s say:

Senate: 52 GOP 48 Dem/Ind

House: 243 GOP 192 Dem

I’ll predict that Coakley loses in MA, Snyder wins in MI and Walker wins in WI, but Crist beats the Lex Luthor of insurance fraud, Brownback loses in Kansas and LePage loses in Maine. I’ll also venture that the WFP maintains its ballot line in NY.

On A Right To Vote Amendment

[ 70 ] November 4, 2014 |

For Election Day, I have a bit of a long read arguing that the fundamental problem is bad judges, not bad constitutional text:

And even if an amendment did pass, it’s not at all clear that the problem would be solved.

The limitations of using the Constitution to protect the right to vote can be summed up in two words: Shelby County. Section 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment explicitly empowers Congress “to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” Nonetheless, in 2013 the Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act, even though Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion was not backed by any constitutional provision suggesting a restriction on Congress’ Fifteenth Amendment powers, nor any precedent not authored by Roberts himself. As Judge Richard Posner observed in Slate, “The opinion rests on air.”

The framers of the Reconstruction amendments would not have been surprised by Shelby County. As the University of Maryland’s Mark Graber demonstrated in an extraordinary new paper, with the exception of Rep. John Bingham, the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment paid relatively little attention to the precise wording of the substantive rights in Section 1. Their skepticism about what James Madison called “parchment rights” was strongly influenced by the Supreme Court’s infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision, which ruled that Congress had no power to ban slavery in federal territories — despite explicit textual language giving Congress the power to “make all needful Rules and Regulations” concerning the territories. (As it happens, both Dred Scott and Shelby County relied on the dubious theory that the explicit powers of Congress should be limited by a “equal sovereignty of the states” principle, a principle wholly created by the judiciary.)

For this reason, they were more concerned about preserving the ability of Republicans to control the federal judiciary than with exactly what words the Constitution should use to protect the rights of freed slaves.

In other words, they thought that bad judges were a much bigger problem than textual lacunae, and there’s a great deal of truth in this. It’s very likely that the Roberts Court would uphold most contemporary vote-suppression laws even if a right-to-vote amendment was passed.

I have no problem with arguing for a right-to-vote amendment as a mobilizing too, but the Constitution already contains text that could protect the right to vote.  We shouldn’t be forgetting to make that case too.

BREAKING! Kaus “Goes” Republican

[ 73 ] November 4, 2014 |

Shorter Mickey Kaus: “When all you have is a hammer, you might as well use it to repeatedly hit prospective immigrants with. Only this is a special magical hammer that will give every American a good job at a good wage.”

Thank You John Roberts!

[ 41 ] November 4, 2014 |

A good analysis of how many people have been denied access to medical care because of a ludicrously irrational Supreme Court decision:

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act — its expansion of Medicaid to low-income people around the country — must be optional for states. But what if it had ruled differently?

More than three million people, many of them across the South, would now have health insurance through Medicaid, according to an Upshot analysis of data from Enroll America and Civis Analytics. The uninsured rate would be two percentage points lower.

Today, the odds of having health insurance are much lower for people living in Tennessee than in neighboring Kentucky, for example, and lower in Texas than in Arkansas. Sharp differences are seen outside the South, too. Maine, which didn’t expand Medicaid, has many more residents without insurance than neighboring New Hampshire. In a hypothetical world with a different Supreme Court ruling, those differences would be smoothed out.

Fortunately, now that the Roberts Court has stood up for the Equal Sovereign Dignitude of the states and heightened the contradictions, freeing the poor from the burden of what might even be the ultimate evil of private health insurance, I would expect Tennessee and Texas to have single payer health care any year now.

Two Bad Tastes That Taste Worse Together

[ 40 ] November 3, 2014 |

An elected judiciary is a bad idea. An elected judiciary with virtually no campaign finance restrictions is an even worse idea. Charles does an excellent job of explaining why. Let me add this:


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