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Category: General

Escape from Nixonland

[ 13 ] October 14, 2014 |



Paul Krugman points out yet again why, as the annual deficit continues to shrink, “deficit hawks” remain undeterred by the spectacular inaccuracy of their predictions:

But what about people who pay a lot of attention to the budget, the self-proclaimed deficit hawks? (Some of us prefer to call them deficit scolds.) They’ve spent the past few years telling us that budget shortfalls are the most important issue facing the nation, that terrible things will happen unless we act to stem the flow of red ink. Are they expressing satisfaction over the fading of that threat?

Not a chance. Far from celebrating the deficit’s decline, the usual suspects — fiscal-scold think tanks, inside-the-Beltway pundits — seem annoyed by the news. It’s a “false victory,” they declare. “Trillion dollar deficits are coming back,” they warn. And they’re furious with President Obama for saying that it’s time to get past “mindless austerity” and “manufactured crises.” He’s declaring mission accomplished, they say, when he should be making another push for entitlement reform.

All of which demonstrates a truth that has been apparent for a while, if you have been paying close attention: Deficit scolds actually love big budget deficits, and hate it when those deficits get smaller. Why? Because fears of a fiscal crisis — fears that they feed assiduously — are their best hope of getting what they really want: big cuts in social programs. A few years ago they almost managed to bully the nation into cutting Social Security and/or raising the Medicare eligibility age; they even had hopes of turning Medicare into an underfinanced voucher program. Now that window of opportunity is closing fast.

A few days ago I noted that, despite the enormous growth of the American economy, median household income has barely increased over the past 40 years, and has actually declined among younger households. There is, however, one group (other than, of course, the upper class) whose real income has increased substantially over that time: the elderly.

Median household income for households headed by Americans 65 and older has increased from $16,831 in 1967 to $35,611, in 2013 dollars. In the late 1960s, a large majority of elderly Americans either lived in poverty or close to it. (The current poverty line for a two-person household is $15,730). Today that bleak state of affairs has been altered drastically, largely if not exclusively as a consequence of Social Security and Medicare. These programs, born of the New Deal and the Great Society respectively, have been nothing less than fabulous successes, which is why they’re so popular.

Obviously both programs require some changes going forward, with Social Security needing some fairly modest tweaks to remain fully funded, and Medicare calling for more challenging reforms (the ACA is a good start in regard to the latter).

Progressives have been living in Nixonland for so long that it’s often easy to forget that most Americans actually like the results of Big Government (sic) just fine, at least as it’s manifested in our most expensive and important social programs.

Stay Classy, Politico!

[ 25 ] October 14, 2014 |

Mike Allen’s influential newsletter, Pay For Play, gives us careful analysis of Karen Lewis’s brain tumor:

PLAYBOOK WINNER OF THE DAY: Mayor Rahm! Chicago Tribune 2-col. lead, “Lewis bows out … Ailing union chief’s decision eases Emanuel re-election bid,” by Rick Pearson, Juan Perez Jr. and Michelle Manchir: “Karen Lewis, the … combative and charismatic leader of the Chicago Teachers Union, will not run for mayor, significantly boosting Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s chances to win re-election next year.”

I’m tempted to say that Emmanuel must have paid for that, but I’m sure Allen can be that callous for free.

Careful archival research by LGM has uncovered Politico’s daily HOT TAKE from April 15, 1865:

PLAYBOOK WINNER OF THE DAY: Andrew Johnson! Doughface Star Tribune Picayune 2-col. lead, “Lincoln assassinated … national hero John Wilkes Booth challenges federal overreach.” Objective analysis of consequences: “Unity ’64 and No Labels agree: President Johnson should finally bring moderate governance to White House, countering Radical Republicans and their nutty ideas like “the 13th Amendment empowered the federal government to legislate to stop the re-imposition of a slave system” and “black people should have access to public accommodations” and “black people should vote” and “treason should be punished” … Easy re-election win in 1868 expected.”

The cause of traffic fatalities is driving

[ 109 ] October 14, 2014 |

Good post by Philip Cohen on the absurd misdirection and dubious statistics surrounding the texting-while-driving panic. The parallel with making the famous crying Indian commercial about littering, rather than pollution/deforestation is apt. Driving, of course, is what’s deadly here, and texting-while-driving, like anything that takes your focus away from such a dangerous, high-stakes activity, is obviously a terrible idea, the effort to focus on this one distracting activity misdiagnoses the fundamental problem. A serious approach to reducing traffic fatalities would recognize that humans being what they are, there are real limits to the use of social norms and laws to make humans better driving machines (and for many reasons not immediately solvable via public policy, modern life isn’t really geared toward only driving cars when you’re well-rested, not distracted or angry, incommunicado with the outside world, etc). Getting drivers to take seriously the danger associated with the activity itself is key. Stigmatizing texting-while-driving is fine, but if we’re serious about continuing to push the fatality figures down, the most important thing we can do is make the kind of transit investments and change the regulatory environment to encourage the construction and development of neighborhoods and cities that facilitate low-car lifestyles. (To mount a hobby-horse of mine, down with parking requirements!) The good news is the kids want it, if we’ll let them have it.

Today in Hacktackular Business Reporting

[ 8 ] October 14, 2014 |

I suppose it’s too much to ask major newspapers to write stories about corporations that are more than fawning portrayals of brilliant CEOs. But this Washington Post piece on departing Gap CEO Glenn Murphy is gross. Jena McGregor, who writes a column on “leadership,” a category that inevitably reinforces the power of the elite, lauds Murphy for raising wages to a grandiose $10 by next year. Yes, yes, Gap floor workers will now be flying to Ibiza for vacation. And the article says how he great Murphy is for women at the workplace.

What this piece sort of leaves out, except for a throwaway at the end, is that no CEO has done more to make sure workers in Bangladesh labor in dangerous factories while American retailers hold no responsibility than Glenn Murphy. Murphy refuses to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which would legally bind his company to improving conditions in factories where Gap clothing is made. European companies have led on this but most American companies have refused, led by Gap. People have tried to shame Murphy but he has no shame. I guess that’s part of the reason the WaPo thinks he so brilliant.

Noncompete Clauses for Fast Food Workers?

[ 120 ] October 14, 2014 |

Even by the standards of the fast food industry, this is a gratuitous way to treat workers:

If you’re considering working at a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, you may want to read the fine print on your job application.

A Jimmy John’s employment agreement provided to The Huffington Post includes a “non-competition” clause that’s surprising in its breadth. Noncompete agreements are typically reserved for managers or employees who could clearly exploit a business’s inside information by jumping to a competitor. But at Jimmy John’s, the agreement apparently applies to low-wage sandwich makers and delivery drivers, too.

By signing the covenant, the worker agrees not to work at one of the sandwich chain’s competitors for a period of two years following employment at Jimmy John’s. But the company’s definition of a “competitor” goes far beyond the Subways and Potbellys of the world. It encompasses any business that’s near a Jimmy John’s location and that derives a mere 10 percent of its revenue from sandwiches.

Since there are obviously no trade secrets at stake here, this is clearly just punching employees. Let’s take the one thing we have trained this low-skill, low-wage workers at and make sure she can’t use it if she leaves it at one of our equally low-skill, low-wage competitors!

The Worst Thing Ever

[ 23 ] October 14, 2014 |

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis was all geared up to run for mayor against the odious Rahm Emanuel. She had a huge lead in the polls and it could have been an amazing victory. Unfortunately, pretty much the worst thing possible has happened:

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who just pulled out of mayoral contention, is suffering from a cancerous brain tumor that was diagnosed shortly after she experienced a severe headache on Oct. 5.

As a result, Lewis underwent a five-hour surgery at Northwestern Hospital, where she is scheduled to undergo a regimen of chemotherapy and radiation. The tumor had nothing to do with her weight loss surgery in Mexico.

Lewis has wanted Mayor Rahm Emanuel gone practically since he took office, but she will not be the one to unseat him in February, the head of her mayoral exploratory committee said Monday.

The feisty 61-year-old CTU leader will not run for mayor, Jay Travis, he head of her mayoral exploratory committee said in a statement Monday.

I just have no words.

Impeachment, or Trial For Treason?

[ 24 ] October 14, 2014 |

Shorter Republican Party: The fact that the writing of EPA regulations is not delegated entirely to the coal lobby is a worse scandal than Whitewater and Benghazi put together.

Thom Tillis: The Welfare State = Slave Reparations

[ 47 ] October 13, 2014 |

In 2007, North Carolina state House speaker Thom Tillis voted for a state resolution apologizing for slavery. Of course, in conservative land this is controversial. So he explained his vote by saying he needed to undermine the reparations movement, which had already basically succeeded anyway because the welfare state is pretty much the same thing:

“This measure does not obligate legislative members to provide reparations. A subset of the democrat [sic] majority has never ceased to propose legislation that is de facto reparations and they will continue to do so as long as they are in the majority,” Tillis said. “Federal and State [sic] governments have redistributed trillions of dollars of wealth over the years by funding programs that are at least in part driven by their belief that we should provide additional reparations.”

“I believe there are several conservative democrats who are prepared join Republican in OPPOSITION to measures that propose new entitlements and reparations,” Tillis added. “However, a vote against the resolution would most likely eliminate any chance that we would get support from more conservative members of the democrat party members to oppose such measures.”

Tillis is now in a tight campaign to defeat Kay Hagan as senator from North Carolina. He is obviously the kind of voice the Senate needs to moderate American politics.

Allure of Antebellum

[ 140 ] October 13, 2014 |


You’d like to think that Gone With the Wind influenced fashion themes that romanticize plantation life would be dead in the fashion industry. This new fashion spread titled “Allure of Antebellum” suggest not. This is a brutal takedown of this incredibly offensive campaign.

The Obama Administration Has Numerous Failures. The ACA Isn’t One of Them.

[ 194 ] October 13, 2014 |

I agree with some of Sawicky’s critique of Krugman’s Rolling Stone defense of the Obama administration. The point about the kiss up/kick down nature of the criminal prosecutions, in particular, is unanswerable. I don’t agree with the Cornel West argument that he pretended to be something he wasn’t — he strikes me as exactly the moderate liberal Democrat he’s always posed as — but I don’t think anything meaningful or interesting turns on the distinction. The record is what it is, and I think despite some oversimplifications Krugman’s bottom line is correct (only two presidents of the last century could even plausibly claim to have a more substantial record of progressive achievement, which is a successful presidency where I live.)

I can’t say, however, that Max’s attempt at a non-Green Lantern critique of the ACA succeeds:

On the big fucking deal of health care, PK tries to get the best of both sides of the argument. He acknowledges the left criticism of relying on health inscos to fill the coverage gap, then implies that the stupid left doesn’t understand a single-payer plan would not have gotten enough votes to pass. What the not-actually-stupid left really wanted and had a right to expect was the inclusion of some kind of public option, which was arguably not a manifestly disabling feature from a political standpoint. And even if it proved to be so, there is no reason to make a rhetorical virtue in the form of bogus celebrations of “the market” out of a political necessity.

First of all, sad as it is the single-payer argument isn’t a strawman. There are otherwise very smart liberals, not just on the intarwebs somewhere but in the New York Review of Books, that we could have had single payer had Obama only Bully Pulpited the Overton Window Under the Bus on Steroids. (There’s a variant of the argument that concedes that single payer probably wasn’t viable, but Obama should have made it his opening bid, on the theory that if you walk into an Audi dealership and offer $500 for their best car they have no choice but to sell it to you for $1,000.)

But I agree that the more common critique was the failure to include a public option. On that, two points. First of all, a public option was worth trying, but I don’t agree that it was a magic bullet that would have transformed the ACA from hopeless neoliberalism to real progressivism. The public option passed by the House would have had, at best, a minor impact on the exchanges. It was not the road to nationalizing the health care industry. But the policy merits are moot, because it’s pretty obvious that the votes even for the weak House version weren’t there in the Senate. I don’t know how anyone could see how Lieberman acted and still think that it could have gotten 60 votes. Max doesn’t even try to outline what leverage Obama had over the many Senate Democratic opponents of a public option, which given how such conterfactuals tend to go is probably for the best.

The fact that Max doesn’t. even. try. to explain how a public option could have passed suggests that this isn’t his biggest issue with the ACA. The more important one seems to be his objection to Obama “mak[ing] a rhetorical virtue” out of the exchanges. (He’s been even more explicit about this before, conceding that Obama got about as much as could have been expected out of Congress but criticizing him for various alleged Bully Pulpit failures.) The theme continues here:

This problem of turning a practical limitation into a rhetorical virtue afflicted the inadequate stimulus plan as well. Instead of taking what could be gotten but acknowledging the level was insufficient, the Administration acted as if it was all good. It wasn’t. PK again agrees. He can say it but you can’t.

Well, anyone can say it; the question is whether the inadequacy is plausibly Obama’s fault, and Max doesn’t really argue that it is. But leaving aside that I don’t think that presidential rhetoric matters very much, I don’t understand this particular criticism even on its own terms. Obama is supposed to run down the important legislation he signed? I’m not really inclined to urge that presidents demonstrate political incompetence.

On a final point, on the ACA I continue to reject the idea that it reflects “neoliberalism.” As always, missing from these arguments is the Medicaid expansion. As far as I can tell, none of Obama’s critics from the left would disparage the original Medicaid that covered a fraction of a fraction of the poor as “neoliberalism,” and yet a Medicaid that covers everyone within 138% of the federal poverty line is not seen by Obama’s left critics as an accomplishment worthy of any particular note. The focus is on the exchanges, suggesting that had Obama (like Great Society Democrats) just done nothing for the uninsured who don’t qualify for Medicare or Medicaid he would somehow be more progressive than he was because he used more regulated and subsidized markets to insure people. This doesn’t make any sense. If the U.S already had single payer or national health, you could call it “neoliberal” reform. If single payer could plausibly have passed, you could call it “neoliberal.” But given the actually existing status quo ante, it’s not “neoliberal” in any sense. When Obama touts it a a major progressive achievement, he’s not just doing what any politician would, he’s right on the merits.

The L.A. Cudgel

[ 43 ] October 13, 2014 |

The NFL says it wants a team in Los Angeles. And maybe it does. But it may well not because if it puts one there, it loses its favorite tool to beat cities over the head until they cough up money for new stadiums. If a team does go to Los Angeles, I guess teams can still threaten to move to San Antonio, but that may not have quite the same power.

Of course, opposing the stadium ripoffs is a LGM staple. But even within the world of publicly funded stadiums, NFL stadiums are a spectacularly stupid investment. A baseball stadium gets a minimum of 81 days of use a year. An NBA stadium gets at least 41. An NFL stadium gets 10. Even if it hosts the occasional outside event, no one is in this stadium the vast majority of the year.

Happy Genocide Day!

[ 150 ] October 13, 2014 |


Everyone have a Happy Genocide Day (observed) today. 522 years ago, Christopher Columbus arrived in Hispanola. The terrible treatment of Native Americans began almost immediately.

On Christmas night, his biggest ship, the Santa Maria sank on a harbor of the island. With its remnants, Columbus built the fortress of the Navidad. He left thirty-nine men at the fortress and sailed to Spain on January 16, 1493 taking with him six Taino captives and a cargo of parrots, plants and gold. The purpose of Columbus’s second voyage was to colonize, control and exploit the island. His goal was to bring to the Spaniards “as much gold as they need…and as many slaves as they ask.” His fleet thus comprised 17 ships and 1,300 men as well as 20 horsemen to terrorize the native people.

When Columbus returned to Española, he found that the thirty men he had left on the Navidad were all dead, killed by the Indians after they had invaded the kingdom of the Maguana governed by the intrepid Caonabo. Guillermo Coma who had accompanied Columbus wrote that “bad feeling had arisen and had broken out in warfare because of the licentious conduct of our men towards the Indian women, for each Spaniard had five women to minister to his pleasure.” Columbus then built a new town, Isabella, forty leagues east of Navidad, near the river where Pinzon had found gold in the Cibao. After Isabella was built, Columbus set out for the gold mines of Cibao with his horsemen and infantry. Several forts were built on the way, especially in the plains of the Yaque River, which he named Vega Real. During their invasion of the interior of the island, thousands of Indians were killed. By the end of 1494 the Taino were in open revolt. Columbus had hoped to put down the resistance by kidnapping Caonabo the chief of the Cibao region and making an exemplary spectacle of him.

Columbus sent troops to occupy the north east of the island and had more forts built in the Cibao region. He immediately instituted a system requiring a quarterly tribute in gold from the Taino, which was calculated according to the number of people over the age of fourteen. He introduced Indian slavery suggesting that it would be lucrative enough to compensate for the meager supply of gold found. In 1495, he and his men went on a raid in the interior of Española capturing as many as fifteen hundred Taino, men, women and children. Columbus picked the 500 best specimens and sent them to Spain. Two hundred of these five hundreds Taino died en route to Spain. Columbus’s reaction was to exclaim: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

Columbus and his brother Bartholomew as well as Alonso de Hojeda undertook a series of military expeditions all over the island. Villages that could not pay the tribute imposed on the Taino were brutally repressed. Las Casas charged that two thirds of the population was thus wiped out. On July 22, 1497 the Crown authorized the distribution of lands to the Spanish colonists (Repartimiento) to sow grain and plant gardens. This land was designed to encourage permanent Spanish settlers in Espanola who were expected to establish small farms with Spanish labor. Columbus on the contrary instituted a Repartimiento where native communities were allocated to Spaniards for their own use. This system was the first concrete measure to colonize and annihilate the Taino population of Española.

Highlights of European-indigenous interactions in what became the United States include Juan de Oñate chopping off the feet of the Acoma, the Puritans committing genocide against the Pequot in 1637, Nathaniel Bacon massacring friendly Indians in his campaign against William Berkeley in 1676, the Trail of Tears, the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864, the Dawes Act in 1887, Wounded Knee in 1890, the repression of indigenous languages and cultures at the Indian Schools, termination in the 1950s, and well, the list could go on and on and on.

But it’s Columbus Day because that guy was awesome.

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