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Category: General

Some Sunday Reading

[ 27 ] March 22, 2015 |

How to be a Hack, Fred Hiatt Edition

[ 51 ] March 21, 2015 |

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Above: Now that’s how you compromise on abortion policy!

Today, the editorial board of the Washington Post honors the memory of David Broder with a pitch-perfect parody of Both Sides Doitism.  The thesis: the Republicans holding the nomination of Loretta Lynch hostage to try to leverage Democrats into accepting restrictions on abortion in an anti-sex trafficking bill shows that Democrats are the obstructionist party now. How could anyone possibly defend such a transparently nonsensical assertion?  Behold:

DEMOCRATS WHO have been filibustering the Senate’s consideration of legislation to combat human trafficking cited concerns with language they claimed would greatly expand the reach of Hyde Amendment restrictions on abortion.

You have to love the wording here. Democrats are merely “claiming” that the language would extend the reach of the Hyde Amendment, implying that there’s a dispute about the facts and Democrats might be making it up. A more accurate way of writing this would be “Democrats oppose this version of the bill because it would extend the reach of the Hyde Amendment.” But the way the editorial is worded does demonstrate a skill that’s important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals! Except the weasel.

This skill is also evident in the next sentence:

But when John Cornyn (R-Tex.), chief sponsor of the trafficking bill and Senate majority whip, offered a compromise that would seem to answer their stated objections, it was rejected out of hand.

You have to like the “would seem” wording. You might think from this that the new version of the bill removes the abortion restrictions, so Democrats now have no reason to oppose the bill. But you would be wrong.

Perhaps Democrats thought they could score political points, or maybe they didn’t want to anger their traditional allies in the abortion rights lobby.

Now we’ve reached the heart of the matter. This is pure, distilled multiple times anti-abortion-rights contrarianism of the kind you don’t see quite as much anymore but must be due for a comeback. As always, the central premise is that Democrats can’t possibly have any principled reason for defending hysterical women and their silly reproductive rights; they must be caving to the immensely powerful abortion rights lobby which is preventing them from addressing real priorities. (Needless to say, similar aspersions are not cast on the motives of Republicans cynically using a bill about sex trafficking to both obstruct an executive branch nomination and try to restrict abortion rights. “Pro-lifers” are always assumed to be operating from a plane of the highest principle, even when their positions are a moral, legal, and intellectual shambles.)

Either way, it became depressingly clear that what they weren’t thinking about was the needs of vulnerable people, mostly young women and girls, who are the victims of sex trafficking.

Yes, if you really care about women who have been coerced into sex work, one way of demonstrating that is being indifferent about restrictions intended to make it more difficult for them to end unwanted pregnancies that have a high likelihood of being the result of sex they did not consent to. This isn’t just recycling brain-dead turn-of-the-century abortion contrarianism — they’re taking it to a new level.

The piece goes on to argue that newly amended language would merely preserve the status quo. But if this is true, why can’t the provision simply be stricken from the language altogether? Leahy’s objections to the new language are perfectly reasonable.  They also argue that Republicans are wrong to hold the Lynch nomination hostage…because it gives Democrats an excuse.

This is also great:

There is, as we wrote earlier this week, a reasonable way for the two sides to compromise on the trafficking bill, but both sides need to be reasonable. Sadly, that was not the case for Senate Democrats this week.

There is a compromise out there that would work. Republicans aren’t actually offering this compromise, but nonetheless Democrats should agree to the bill anyway or they’re the obstructionists. I can’t explain High Broderism any better than that, ladies and gentlemen.

World Violence

[ 24 ] March 21, 2015 |

If it seems to you that we have seen an uptick in war and violence around the world, the statistics suggest you are correct.

Road Building

[ 5 ] March 21, 2015 |

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If you want to destroy an ecosystem, build a road through it.

The reality is that most of the natural world deals better with the landmines and toxicity of militarized landscapes or the nuclear pollution of Chernobyl than the basic activities of human beings.

Book Review: Thomas C. Field, Jr., From Development to Dictatorship: Bolivia and the Alliance for Progress in the Kennedy Era

[ 14 ] March 21, 2015 |

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Victor Paz

Thomas Field’s new book on the Alliance for Progress in Bolivia demonstrates just how comfortable America’s Cold War foreign policy establishment was with dictatorship as its preferred method of rule in Latin America. Assuming that Latin America needed American-driven development more than anything else and that communists were both anathema to American foreign policy and the biggest obstacle in the way of developmentalism, dictatorship and development became the twin pillars of the Alliance for Progress, as Field’s important book demonstrates.

The 1952 revolution in Bolivia was a landmark moment in that nation’s history, when a broad revolution brought Victor Paz to power and the reign of the military seemed to end in favor of a government that would reflect the people’s needs. That movement included a lot of support from the left and in his early years, Paz repaid that support, or at least tolerated its existence. The new government nationalized the tin mines and radical leftist union members worked in them. Agrarian reform was undertaken and forced labor abolished. Despite its tin industry, the nation was not particularly important to U.S. policymakers in 1952. That would change with the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

Much of the American foreign policy establishment originally saw Paz as suspicious and a potential communist. But the Kennedy administration viewed him as a key bulwark in holding the line against communism in South America. The Alliance for Progress wasn’t founded to support dictatorship per se. Rather, it intended to bring middle-class modernity to the unaligned states of the region. But as Field usefully points out, that middle-class modernity meant, from the perspective of U.S. economic advisers, the firing of thousands of miners in the nationalized tin mines that were leftist strongholds of communist unions. The stated reason was economic efficiency, but the Kennedy administration also hoped to undermine the communists who not only threatened American hegemony in the region but through their desire to stay employed were keeping nations like Bolivian economically-backwards. Union-busting and labor rationalizations therefore were central to the Alliance for Progress from its beginning. Or as Field states, Kennedy’s foreign policy toward Bolivia was “a program of politicized, authoritarian development that took dead aim at the country’s leftist miners (24).”

Paz was a committed nationalist but he also began to see the nation and himself as one, moving to eliminate rivals and consolidate power. He became increasingly brutal, using ex-Nazis to run his secret security services. None of this bothered Kennedy, Arthur Schlesinger, or any of the other major figures creating Latin American foreign policy. USAID trained indigenous militias (who remained Paz supporters until the end) to attack the miners, eliminate their threat to Paz, and bring modernization to Bolivia. Although Paz long held out against alienating the Communist Party and Cuba, he finally did move against the tin miners and arrested their communist leaders, leading to the miners taking several American government officials hostage in early 1964, Lyndon Johnson’s first foreign policy crisis. His hard moves against the left just endeared him to Washington, who rewarded him with more cash and more military assistance. This just alienated the left even more, continuing the polarization and militarization of Bolivia with U.S. assistance. Vice-President Juan Lechín, the leftists’ man in the government, was increasingly isolated and replaced as VP. For good measure, Paz’s thugs beat Lechín to a pulp so he could not engage in his last official function in office during the new inauguration and thus could not make a speech denouncing the president.

By 1964, the U.S. still held onto Paz as their man in La Paz, but the blind faith in him meant they could not see the cards falling around him. By that year, Paz had not only alienated the left, but the grassroots right and the military. Messing with the nation’s constitution to allow himself to run for a third term helped consolidate opposition to him, with fighters and activists on both sides looking to the military as a solution. General René Barrientos became the center of the military opposition. Originally, a Paz acolyte, the president’s disdain for him finally took its toll. Barrientos created alliances with the communists and was a military solution acceptable to the falangists. With both right and left wing rebellion and a military also alienated from Paz, finally Barrientos led the coup that solved the nation’s Paz problem.

And yet even after Barrientos took power, it wasn’t as if the CIA or Johnson administration lost influence in La Paz. Rather, Barrientos became just as much a tool of Washington as Paz, relying on the U.S. government for the entirety of his five years in power, a period that included the killing of Che Guevara by Barrientos’ troops and the continued repression of the left despite their hopes in him. U.S. influence with Bolivian presidents remained generally pretty strong up until Evo Morales, including once again with Paz, who won a fourth term as president in 1985 where he committed to the country to neoliberalism and helped set the groundwork for Morales’ Bolivarian Revolution.

And while most general readers are unlikely to come to this book with much interest in Bolivia per se, to relate this to another key foreign policy question of the era, this story just reinforces the reality that there is just no reason to believe that Vietnam under Kennedy’s presidency would have come appreciably different than it did under Johnson. For Kennedy, authoritarianism, development, and anticommunism went hand in hand and that meant large infusions of U.S. military aid to ensure that friendly leaders stayed in power. That Johnson would continue Kennedy’s policies in both Bolivia and Vietnam does not exonerate those terrible decisions, but it does suggest that those decisions were not LBJ’s alone and rather the entire U.S. establishment was willing to get the U.S. involved in any number of foreign excursions to defend the world against communism.

Field has definitely written a monograph here and the intricate detail of the Paz administration and his interactions with American officials may not be for all readers. But then that’s the power of such a book, leaving no question in the reader’s mind just how easy it was for Kennedy administration officials–who genuinely thought they were doing the right thing–to slip into supporting a leader using ever more cruelty by the year. These sorts of historical narratives are also necessary for modern readers to understand the roots of American foreign policy problems today. I stress to my students the need to understand the CIA led coup in Iran in 1953 in order to understand the problems between the U.S. and Iran today, noting that while the average American’s attention to a foreign crisis ends at the next episode of American Idol, in other nations who feel the brunt of American power, hostile memories linger for decades. America’s relations with Bolivia are not as geopolitically important as with Iran but hostility lingers much the same. Evo Morales kicking Peace Corps and USAID out of Bolivia comes back to the long-term repressive policies the U.S. has supported in that nation going back to the Paz years.

BREAKING! Republicans Will Not Fix the ACA if the Supreme Court Guts It

[ 45 ] March 21, 2015 |

Paul Ryan urges Republican statehouses to do what they would do anyway:

If the Supreme Court strikes down subsidies to states using the federal health insurance exchanges, Rep. Paul Ryan was asked, should they set up their own exchanges to prevent people from losing their insurance?

“Oh God, no…The last thing anybody in my opinion would want to do, even if you are not a conservative, is consign your state to this law,” the Wisconsin Republican told state legislators Thursday during a conference call organized by the Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative think-tank.

I’ll bet the federal law he’s pretending to favor instead is awesome!  Well, no, actually Ryan is particularly excited about the possibility of repealing guaranteed issue and the requirement that insurance actually cover things.  They are the party of death, you know.

 

GIF Governance

[ 219 ] March 20, 2015 |

The House Judiciary Committee is now sending out press releases touting the Republican immigration “plan” that consist of nothing but GIFs. Clearly a high point in the history of American governance. Of course, every GIF used is of a white person. I guess this is how you reach out to the kids and tell them out to embrace white supremacy.

Would a “Chief Justice Roberts Has Made His Ruling, Now Let Him Enforce It?” Approach Work if the Court Goes the Full Moops?

[ 27 ] March 20, 2015 |

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You may have seen Will Baude’s op-ed arguing that Obama could just ignore a Supreme Court ruling that providing subsidies on the federally established exchanges for everyone but the four plaintiffs. You may have thought that it sounded like a #slatepitch with a suspicious agenda. If so, I think you were right:

The most favorable historical analogy for Baude’s argument would be Abraham Lincoln’s response to Dred Scott. Lincoln argued that the court’s infamous 1857 ruling that Congress could not ban slavery in the territories, and that blacks were by definition not American citizens, was binding on the parties to the suit, but not as a constitutional rule. These weren’t just empty words, either. When he became president, Lincoln pointedly ignored Dred Scott, signing legislation banning slavery in the territories and ordering his attorney general to issue passports to free blacks.

But as a justification for Obama evading a bad ruling in King v. Burwell, Lincoln’s actions don’t get you very far. Everything about Dred Scott was unusual, and actions that are justified in fighting a moral evil on the scale of chattel slavery are not necessarily justified in other contexts. If Obama is within his rights to largely ignore a ruling concerning tax credits, what would happen if the Supreme Court ruled that bans on same-sex marriages are unconstitutional? Would judges in Alabama be justified in making each and every same-sex couple sue to get their marriages recognized? Strong departmentalist arguments have fallen out of favor for good reason.

And even if Baude’s idea is justified in theory, it wouldn’t work. “Every individual, business, or state with standing who wants to get the subsidies enjoined with regard to that individual, business’s workers, or state’s residents will be entitled to such an injunction,” Samuel Bagenstos of the University of Michigan Law School told me. “At that point, the subsidy regime would become such a checkerboard that the federal government couldn’t administer it.”

The point about the ability of states to sue is particularly crucial. Most of the states with federally established exchanges are governed by Republicans who are extremely hostile to the Affordable Care Act, and will be willing to go to court even if most of their citizens would just as soon keep their subsidy. Baude might argue that states will not be able to get the standing to sue, but this is extremely implausible. If the Obama administration tries to bypass a Supreme Court decision, a majority of the court is going to be very generous in determining a plaintiff’s standing to sue so that its ruling can be effectively enforced.

One additional point about Dred Scott is that everything about the case is highly atypical — I think we can be confident that it will be the only Supreme Court decision ever praised before it’s handed down in an inaugural address. It was the culmination of a long-term struggle to preserve the Jacksonian political order, which was dead as soon as South Carolina seceded — Democratic political elites wanted the Supreme Court to “settle” the question of slavery in the territories and it tried to. So using Lincoln’s ability to ignore Dred Scott as a precent for nullifying rulings in other contexts is rarely going to work.

Andrew Cuomo: Bought and Paid For

[ 104 ] March 20, 2015 |

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Above: A terrible person.

George Joseph has an excellent exposé on Andrew Cuomo selling public education in New York to billionaires looking for new profits off formerly public goods. You should read it. But why has Andrew Cuomo done this? Is it because of his deeply felt but perhaps flawed concern about poor children? Of course not:

Clearly, the governor’s ambitions are not focused on New York State any longer. A recent Quinnipiac poll, for example, indicates Cuomo’s education proposal has lowered his overall approval rating to its lowest in office, with only 28 percent in support of and 63 percent against his massive reform plan. While 50 percent support his advocacy of charter schools, an overwhelming 71 percent do not believe teachers should be evaluated based on student test scores, and 65 percent do not believe such scores should determine tenure. Furthermore, if Cuomo was at all interested in staying in New York, he would not be waging an all out war against the state’s still formidable teachers’ union, once considered the preeminent political force in Albany. “Andrew Cuomo’s career is based on copying everything Bill Clinton ever did, going against teachers’ unions with the support of billionaires, just like the Clintons did with Walmart,” argues one Albany lobbyist to The Nation. “He’s not especially original, but he’s tough, mean, and can execute a plan. He doesn’t give a rats’ ass about education, he just wants Wall Street money. He sees the backing of billionaires key to his future success.”

An even more right-wing version of the Clintons is precisely what the Democratic Party needs! Luckily, I think Cuomo has gone too far down this road to ever be the presidential nominee. He has become so toxic to Democratic Party activists that I think an “Anyone But Cuomo” campaign would unite Democrats around someone else were he to run. The one caveat to that is probably if Hillary doesn’t run in 2016 since there wouldn’t be time for another major candidate to play that role except maybe O’Malley and Biden, neither of whom would exactly galvanize the forces, or maybe Elizabeth Warren but she isn’t running in any case.

Say Goodbye to the Weekend in Wisconsin

[ 56 ] March 20, 2015 |

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The next front in Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republican Party’s war on labor is to abolish the state law that mandates one day off a week. I assume the chances of this bill passing is approximately 100 percent.

The Home of the Brave

[ 109 ] March 20, 2015 |

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In order to honor Foreign Language Week, New York’s Pine Bush High School decided to read the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic. You can guess how the good people of Pine Bush responded, if the photo above doesn’t give it away.

Megan McArdle Wants You to Come Up with Recipes for Her and Her Rich Friends

[ 131 ] March 19, 2015 |

*Sigh.* Today I learned middle class and poor people don’t care about their waistlines.

“Longtime readers, of course, have heard me talk about this appliance before: the Thermomix. It’s a food processor/blender that also has a heating element and a scale. Sounds crazy, I know, like one of those weird things you see advertised on television: “It’s a car buffer, and it’s also a Doberman Pinscher!” But in fact, it’s amazing. It consolidates multiple kitchen jobs into a single countertop appliance, saving space, and it also renders a lot of tedious kitchen tasks as easy as pressing a few buttons, from caramelizing onions to making bechamel. I’ve had one for a few years now, and if I was only allowed to have one kitchen electric, it’s the one I would pick. How else would I whip up genoise on a weeknight or make bacon-onion jam to top our burgers with?”

I dunno–try not being a lazy piece of crap? Take time away from admonishing the poors about their wanton ways? There are ways, Megan, there is time.

Couple of notes on QVC (She’s right in that the shopping networks would be the ideal place to hawk these gadgets): 1.) Their buying power is so large they could probably afford to sell them at a significant discount. I can easily see them lopping a good 4oo dollars off the price. 2.) They do installment payment options, making even big-ticket items doable for middle class folks.

I think, though, at precisely the time middle class/upper middle class folks like me began buying Thermomixes would be precisely the time McMegan would lose interest in them. She likes the price point they’re at now…their price tag is their appeal for her.

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