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Category: General

The new Radical Republicans

[ 46 ] November 29, 2016 |


Thanks to Donald Trump’s eminently predictable parroting of every important dogma of the contemporary Republican party, total denial is about to become the official position of every branch of the US government in regard to the great environmental crisis of our time:


Priebus appeared on the latest Fox News Sunday to explain Trump’s apparent “major flips on policy this week in an interview with the New York Times,” as host Chris Wallace put it — including the apostasy of possibly having “an open mind” about “pulling out of the Paris climate agreement.”

Trump is appointing countless climate science deniers to key positions, which tells you vastly more about what he believes and what he’ll do than his latest semi-coherent ramblings. As I wrote last week, Trump’s repetition of the phrase “open mind” during his Times interview was meant to distract from his constant repetition of long-debunked denier talking points (and it worked).

Priebus confirmed Trump wasn’t being forthright with the Times, telling Wallace, “As far as this issue on climate change — the only thing he [Trump] was saying after being asked a few questions about it is, look, he’ll have an open mind about it but he has his default position, which most of it is a bunch of bunk, but he’ll have an open mind and listen to people.”

You can’t you have an “open mind” on climate if your default position is “most of it is a bunch of bunk.” What is there to “listen to” if you believe the decades of research by thousands of scientists embraced by every nation in the world is mostly bunk? That’s the definition of epistemic closure of the mind. No surprise, then, that FoxNews — a major promoter of denial — didn’t call Priebus out on this absurd statement.

Here’s a little thought experiment: if you were to transport the contemporary GOP back to, say, 1970, what would the Party Line be on the existence of, say, anthropogenic smog?  Since the human contribution to global warming is today as well established as the human contribution to smog was back then, my better than a guess is that the Line would be identical to the present Line on climate change.

In other words, we’d hear a lot about how there really isn’t a smog problem at all, and to the extent there is one it’s almost wholly a natural phenomenon (forest fires! volcanoes! ozone is a natural part of the atmosphere!), and didn’t you know they had terrible smog in 19th century London EVEN THOUGH THERE WERE NO CARS LOL, and anyway there were only 96 Stage Three smog alerts in the LA basin in 1969 after the 107 in 1968 so this supposed “crisis” is going away all on its own.  Just ask this scientician!

Clean Air Act vote, 1970:

Senate:  73-0

House:  374-1

In Chancery

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting
in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in
the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of
the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus,
forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn
Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black
drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown
snowflakes--gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of
the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better;
splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one
another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing
their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other
foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke
(if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust
of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and
accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and
meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers
of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city.
Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping
into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and
hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales
of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient
Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog
in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper,
down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of
his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the
bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog
all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the
misty clouds.

Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as
the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman
and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their
time--as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling

The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the
muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction,
appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old
corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln's Inn
Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in
his High Court of Chancery.

Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire
too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which
this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds
this day in the sight of heaven and earth.

Tort Reform Might Finally Be Coming!

[ 266 ] November 29, 2016 |



Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services secretary, already has a plan for how to abolish Obamacare.

The Washington Post reported late Monday that Trump intends to announce Price, who currently serves as House Budget Chair, to lead the federal agency overseeing Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.

Price will arrive with at HHS with a clear blueprint for what comes next. He is the author of the Empowering Patients First Act, one of the most thorough and detailed proposals to repeal and replace Obamacare. He’s the HHS secretary you’d pick if you were dead serious about dismantling the law.

It would replace the law with a plan that does more to benefit the young, healthy, and rich — and disadvantages the sick, old, and poor. Price’s plan provides significantly less help to those with preexisting conditions than other Republican proposals, particularly the replacement plan offered by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

The biggest cut to the poor in Price’s plan is the full repeal of the Medicaid expansion, a program that currently covers millions of low-income Americans, which Price replaces with, well, nothing.

I’m sure that the insurance and medical lobbies that are among his biggest funders will totally bail on him when they find out that wants to end Obama’s neoliberal BAILOUT of the insurance industry, though!


Jonathan Cohn has a good piece explaining what the choice of Rep. Price means in policy terms. Unlike many Republicans, Price has at least given a lot of thought to how to replace the ACA. But Price’s own replacement proposal would roll back the Medicaid expansion, a substantial portion of financial assistance for others getting coverage, and a fair amount of regulation of the individual market. And so, the likely end result (again, at best) is that a lot of the 20 million people who would lose coverage due to repeal will remain without coverage, and protections for those with bad medical conditions will be eroded.


I have obtained new numbers from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index that suggest that a lot of poor and working-class whites — who voted for Trump in disproportionate numbers — have benefited from Obamacare, meaning they likely stand to lose out from its repeal (and even its replacement with something that covers far fewer people). Gallup-Healthways numbers from earlier this fall showed that overall, the national uninsured rate has plummeted to a new low of 10 percent, a drop of over six percentage points since the law went into effect — which alone is a major achievement.

But that drop, it turns out, is even more pronounced among poor whites. Gallup-Healthways tells me that among whites without a college degree who have household incomes of under $36,000, the uninsured rate has dropped from 25 percent in 2013 to 15 percent now — a drop of 10 percentage points. It’s often noted that the law has disproportionately expanded coverage among African Americans and Latinos. That is correct, but it has also disproportionately expanded coverage among poor white people.

Of only editors and journalists had any discretion over what was worth covering, this might have gotten, say, half as much attention as Hillary Clinton’s email management practices.

Obstructionism Works

[ 341 ] November 29, 2016 |

MItch McConnell

Mitch McConnell’s Supreme Court blockade was not only a yooooge substantive win, it was a political coup as well:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took a risk when he declared last February that the Senate would not consider any appointment by President Barack Obama to replace the recently deceased Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. McConnell risked making himself and his party look intransigent and dangerously irresponsible, blinded by hatred of Obama to the point of disabling a branch of government. He risked making voters angry at his party during an election year.

The risk paid off. Near as I can tell, Republicans paid no electoral penalty for this maneuver. Sure, they took some heat from the political media for it, but, like most other issues, it was quickly absorbed into the partisan divide. Conservative media sources claimed it would be inappropriate for a president to name a justice during his final year in office, other outlets noted there was precedent for it, and the Senate majority held fast to its position.

But there was a larger game being played here. McConnell’s move made the Supreme Court seat an issue for the presidential election. It motivated conservatives to stay on board with the Republican presidential nominee no matter who it was.


The Supreme Court vacancy changed all that. It informed key constituencies, particularly evangelical Christians, that there was far more on the ballot than Trump. The balance of the Court, particularly on such issues as abortion, was in play. Abandon the nominee, and Hillary Clinton gets to pick the next one, two, or three justices. Stand by the nominee, no matter how repellent, and you get to.

Of course, one question I can’t answer is why marginal liberal voters are less able to keep their eyes on the prize. People on the left seem much more likely to go through contortions to explain away the significance of the Supreme Court or argue that it’s BLACKMAIL to bring it up or whatever. I don’t get it.

I will say that there was a potential missed opportunity here. Barack Obama made at least one blunder that materially affected the election, nominating James Comey to head the FBI. His nomination of Merrick Garland probably didn’t. But if only as part of a longer-term project to focus liberal attention on the Court, it would have been nice to pick a nominee that Democratic constituencies would have a stake in. Instead he picked a nominee almost guaranteed to generate a minimum of attention. Given that his nominee was obviously never going to be given a hearing, politics were the only relevant consideration, and the politics of Garland never made any sense. But at least the Democrats will get credit for not playing “identity politics,” right?

Anyway, I still find the fact that people are seriously talking about Dems working with Trump after 8 years of watching McConnell prove that congressional obstructionism is a bill the president gets stuck with amazing.

A Day in My Life

[ 220 ] November 28, 2016 |


Above: Steve Bannon and Jonah Goldberg

On Saturday, I wrote a post about Fidel Castro. It is titled “Castro–It’s Complicated!” That’s because he was a complex man with a complex legacy. I used the post and a boatload of historical literature on these issues to do two things. First, I attempted to place Castro within the context of his time, both in terms of Cuban history and the larger history of postwar global revolutions. Most of you liked that. I also sought to point out the hypocrisy of American responses to Castro given our own history. The response to this was more mixed, but that’s fine. In general though, the point was that Castro was a very complex person who needs to be seen in a larger context. Fairly uncontroversial generally, especially given that around some parts of the old left there were outright lamentations for his passing, although most of the left had pretty complex takes on it.

Earlier today, I was contacted by the press person for Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News to appear to talk about my Castro essay. First, LOL. Yes, please make me your piñata for the evening. What fun. I mentioned this to Lemieux earlier today and he pointed me to what my interview would look like. I didn’t even respond to the bow-tied jerk.

But then, why did this happen? How on earth did this come to their attention? I found this really confusing, especially given the tone of the essay. The post literally says “It’s Complicated!” But of course I remembered the Professor Watch List, which I am on. And so I figured I should at least investigate this a little bit. So I put my name into Google News. And lo and behold, it is of course originating from terrible, poorly written stories by right-wing students funded by the larger fascist funding network. I mean, could you at least spell my name correctly in the various paragraphs when you discuss me? Or at least incorrectly in the same way? It’s like some kid who gets a D in my class all of a sudden gets hired to write for Rolling Stone or something.

But here’s how the fascist networks operate. Low level functionaries get paid something I guess to gather the red meat. And then it spreads up the line, presumably without anybody even reading any of it. Again, this is based on a post actually saying that Castro’s legacy is nothing more than complicated. The kid uses quotes from it that are literally “Castro did this one thing was good but on the other hand did this other thing that was bad.” But if we know one thing in 2016, it’s that truth does not matter. So it started going up the food chain. First, Laura Ingraham’s lifestyle site (what!?!) grabbed it. Evidently, they employ an editor because my name was spelled correctly.

Who grabbed it then? Why none other than Steve Bannon, Inc. Yes, I was attacked in the official publication of the incoming president of the United States.

Many professors at universities across the United States have praised Castro for his efforts in combating colonialism, capitalism, and racism.

Erik Loomis, a professor of history at the University of Rhode Island, praised Castro as a champion of social justice, calling the dictator “a tremendously complex person who attempted to rebuild a society around ideas of justice while also refusing to allow democratic institutions to form.”

Loomis goes on to add that in his several decades at the helm of leadership in Cuba, Castro brought “outstanding medical care and education to his own people and the poor around the world while limiting the ability of educated people to use their skills at home.”

He called Castro, along with Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara and communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, “an inspiration for billions of people around the world seeking freedom from colonial overlords.”

Like Loomis, 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders came under fire during the Democratic primaries for an interview he gave in 1985 in which he praised Castro for his efforts in bringing healthcare and education to Cuba.

Let’s step back a second here.

calling the dictator “a tremendously complex person who attempted to rebuild a society around ideas of justice while also refusing to allow democratic institutions to form.”

So, like, someone who tried to do some good things but also really screwed up? Wow, I truly wish I was on the front lines with Pol Pot in 1976. And then:

He called Castro, along with Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara and communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, “an inspiration for billions of people around the world seeking freedom from colonial overlords.”

That’s crazy. Actual demonstrable facts undisputed by any professional historian. Might as well be a member of the NKVD torturing some poor sap for a forced confession in 1938 Stalinist Soviet Union!

I do like how they segue straight from me to one Bernie Sanders. Also, if the following video of Bernie praising Castro proves one thing, it’s that the Trump campaign would have had no red meat to attack Sanders with and thus Bernie would have walked away with the presidency if only Democrats hadn’t nominated that huge sellout $hillery.

From there, it has gone to the most dishonest human being on the internet. That’s right, one Jonah Goldberg, author of Liberal Fascism: Two Words Next to Each Other. After wrapping himself in his sexual fantasy of what George Orwell stood for instead of the actual Orwell with his tremendous commitment to justice, he writes:

Such un-nuanced arguments always make leftist eyes roll. As University of Rhode Island professor Eric Loomis put it, “Castro: It’s Complicated!” cautioning against thinking “in terms of simplistic moral judgments.” It seems to me that when people want to ban simplistic moral judgments, it’s usually because simple morality is not on their side.

Some of us would call nuanced arguments and a lack of simplistic moral judgments “critical thinking.” But then this is Jonah Goldberg, so LOL.

To my knowledge, this is as far as it has gone. This is so transparently stupid that I can’t imagine it going any farther. But again, this is part of a well-funded plan to intimidate professors from speaking out. And let’s not beat around the bush–Breitbart is Trump’s publication. It’s entirely possible and in fact probable that I am going to become a frequent target of attack in a nation with declining freedoms. You can imagine that I don’t feel that comfortable right now. But as I have said before and will continue to say, this is the moment where you decide whether you will stand up to fascism or whether you acquiesce to make your life easier. This level of previously unfathomable intimidation is going to continue and get worse. I will fight until the end. Being tough in the face of this and publishing more rather than less is the only answer. And despite the fact that facts don’t actually matter to these people, if they want to attack me on issues of historical fact backed up with dozens if not hundreds of books and articles of historical and other scholarly literature, go for it.

In conclusion:

Moral panic in the culture of fear

[ 62 ] November 28, 2016 |

This is big story right now on most of the mainstream national news sites, (although to its credit at least the Times isn’t treating it like the outbreak of World War III):


An Ohio State University student plowed a car into a campus crowd, then jumped out and started stabbing people with a butcher knife before being shot dead by police Monday morning, officials said.

Ten people were taken to hospitals after the ambush, but none of the injuries were considered life-threatening. The incident was initially reported as an “active shooter” situation, but the suspect did not shoot anyone.

A police officer was on the scene within a minute and killed the assailant, likely saving lives, university officials said. “He engaged the suspect and eliminated the threat,” OSU Police Chief Craig Stone said. [emphasis added]

This actually sounds quite a bit like something that happened down the street from me just last month, which I’m pretty sure you haven’t heard about unless you live in the Denver-Boulder area, and maybe not even then:

BOULDER — A man wielding a machete on the University of Colorado campus was shot and killed on Wednesday morning after ignoring orders to drop his weapon — becoming the third person killed by Boulder law enforcement officers this year.

CU and Boulder police defended the use of deadly force inside the Champions Center on the north side of Folsom Field. Officers shot the man inside a stairwell after responding to a report of a man inside the building armed with a machete.

“Given the weapon the suspect was armed with, given the statement already made to our initial victim and given the nature of how he was maneuvering through the Champions Center, we believe it was in the best interest of the university that it was a deadly-force situation,” CU campus Police Chief Melissa Zak said at a news conference.

At 9:15 a.m., a patient who was being treated at the sports medicine facility at the Champions Center encountered the suspect in the parking lot outside the building, Zak said.

The suspect made harassing statements and followed the patient, who was not identified, into the building, Zak said. Officers from CU and the Boulder Police Department arrived and confronted the suspect on a stairwell between the fourth and fifth floor of the Champions Center.

“They ordered the individual to drop the machete,” Zak said, “and he did not drop it, at which time an officer-involved shooting occurred.”

Obviously other people suffered injuries in this morning’s incident, although none of those injuries are apparently life-threatening, while the CU incident merely involved threatening behavior.  But it would be safe to say that in a country in which 45 people are murdered on an average day, neither of these incidents would seem especially noteworthy or of more than strictly local interest.

Hey, but what if we’re talking about a terrorist attack of some sort?

Officials said the former Marine shot and killed by police after entering a University of Colorado building wielding a machete displayed character “incongruent with Marine Corps’ expectations and standards,” but his friends said he was a “goofball” at heart who had overcome a rough upbringing to excel as a drill instructor. . .

Officials have not revealed any possible motive for the incident, but a source close to the investigation told the Daily Camera the suspect was a “religious zealot of some kind” and who had been overheard talking about “looking for sinners.”

The source said the suspect approached a woman sitting in her car in the parking lot outside the Champions Center and wrote a message referring to the Ten Commandments on the vehicle before he entered the sports-medicine facility.

In a video posted on his Facebook page, Simmons speaks out against the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

“Get the (expletive) over it,” Simmons said in the video. “They want the human population to stop focusing on all the money and the conflict, they want you to focus on the racism and that stuff.”

Looks like we’ve got another mentally disturbed white guy on our hands.  Not a story, in other words.

Meanwhile, Twitter has some thoughts on today’s incident:

You insisted Ohio take in Somali Muslims knowing the inevitable terrorism they’d bring Ohio State University is on you

Looks like Kasich will eat any and everything.
Idiot John Kasich shoves pancakes down his throat while shoving terrorists down Ohio’s.

John Kasich’s comments all about him. No mention of Somali Muslim Terrorist. Just “we may never know why”. I know why. Duh.

Thanks John Kasich for inviting 45,000 Somali terrorists to Ohio. We will R.E.M. her this at your next reelection

John Kasich speaking – STFU – You asked for this!

The Economic Anxiety “Debate”

[ 524 ] November 28, 2016 |


I am really frustrated with the entire state of the post-election debate, whether it is liberals hating Bernie Sanders, the left gloating, or especially the dismissal of economic anxiety as a real thing. This debate is especially problematic because you have some people legitimately saying that the overwhelming reason for white votes for Trump is economic anxiety. This is not true. Most whites have been voting Republican for a long time. On the other hand, you have stories like this that interview white Republicans that seem to dismiss the entire idea of economic anxiety because that’s not what is driving the various voters they speak with. Such is this piece on voters in Ritzville, Washington. Ritzville is a town in eastern Washington with not much going on except for being an outpost on I-90.

Ritzville proper is something of a time capsule from the ’50s. Even the names of the throwback storefronts hint at this — Memories Diner, the Ritzville Pastime Bar and Grill. It’s also got a Perkins and a Starbucks closer to the highway and the people of Ritzville are proud to tell you both are among the most successful in the state — thanks to truck drivers and travelers making one last stop before the final push to Seattle.

Two main streets run parallel on either side of a set Northern Pacific railroad tracks, headed south toward Tri-Cities. One street’s got the gas stations and the motels while the other is where the old stone buildings and “character” of the town lies, including Chamberlain’ shop. Every few hours, an Amtrak or a multi-engine train pulling coal or oil or grain lumbers by and the town is cleaved in two.

It seemed like a place to test the dominant narrative that has grown out of the election: This, supposedly, is the place government has forgotten — the home of the poor, rural, white masses that flipped the national electoral map for Trump. While cities flourish, the story goes, agrarian backwaters like Ritzville have fallen off of the map for public officials. Frustrated, residents of towns like this turned to Trump, casting a vote for change, even if it came from a man further from these parts of the world than any candidate in history.

Yes, Donald Trump turned Grays Harbor and swaths of Washington’s Timber Belt red. Yes, factories have closed and union members have leaned farther right. But the people I spoke to in Ritzville and nearby Lind don’t go right to economic hardship when asked why they voted for our new President-elect. They meander toward other things like refugees and Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border and, yes, the “rioters” in Seattle before arriving at economic anxiety, if they ever get there at all. Many out here are doing just fine.

Seems to me like some basic research about Ritzville is in order before making any claims about its relationship to the election. In 2016, Adams County voted 67-24 Trump, at least according to the latest number I saw. In 2012, Adams County voted Romney 66-32. In 2008, Adams County voted McCain 67-32. In 2004, Adams County voted Bush 73-26. In 2000, Adams County voted Bush 69-28. I could go on. There is nothing about what happened in Ritzville or Adams County that says anything at all about what has changed between 2012 and 2016. It says nothing about “economic anxiety” in any way. What it says is that Adams County, Washington is a deeply conservative place and that hasn’t changed meaningfully at any point in last 5 election cycles at least.

And that’s what is really frustrating about the blithe dismissals of economic anxiety as an important thing. Of course one can point to crazy racism and laughingly say “Economic Anxiety!!!” But that doesn’t help because those people weren’t changing their votes over this or any other issue.

Where the economic anxiety debate legitimately matters is not in long-term Republican counties. It’s in traditionally blue counties in swing states that swung sharply to the right in the last 4 years. Erie County, Pennsylvania went 48-46 for Trump. He won by 2000 votes. In 2012, Obama defeated Romney 57-41 in Erie County, winning by 19,000 votes. Donald Trump won Pennsylvania by about 68,000 votes. It is counties like these–blue-collar union counties with long histories within the Democratic Party, histories that lasted long after LBJ delivered the South to the Republicans in 1964, long after the Reagan era, that voted for Barack Hussein Obama twice. The critical question is why did these people switch their votes at this time. This is where a discussion of economic dislocation and hopelessness plays an important role. It must play an important role. These are voters that Democrats can probably get back without appealing to racism, which it absolutely must never do. That’s the debate we need to be having. Economic issues need to be taken seriously as part of that debate.

But as for why ranchers in eastern Washington or suburbanites north of Dallas voted for Trump, stories that say it was not because of economic anxiety are so obvious as to be ignored.

Resistance in Trump’s America

[ 83 ] November 28, 2016 |


This sort of massive resistance is critical. It will happen around undocumented immigrants and sanctuary cities. If ICE agents actually invade churches to take out undocumented people, the national outrage will be tremendous.


In New York, with a large and diverse Latino population, Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged not to cooperate with immigration agents. And Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago has declared that it “will always be a sanctuary city.”

Across the nation, officials in sanctuary cities are gearing up to oppose President-elect Donald J. Trump if he follows through on a campaign promise to deport millions of illegal immigrants. They are promising to maintain their policies of limiting local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration agents.

In doing so, municipal officials risk losing millions of dollars in federal assistance for their cities that helps pay for services like fighting crime and running homeless shelters. Mr. Trump has vowed to block all federal funding for cities where local law enforcement agencies do not cooperate with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents.

Some believe Mr. Trump could go further than simply pulling federal funding, perhaps fighting such policies in court or even prosecuting city leaders.

“This is uncharted territory in some ways, to see if they’re just playing chicken, or see if they will relent,” said Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports reduced immigration.

Cities have “gotten away with this for a long time because the federal government has never attempted to crack down on them,” Ms. Vaughan said.

The fight could also signal a twist in the struggle over the power of the federal government, as this time liberal cities — rather than conservative states — resist what they see as federal intervention.

Cities “may not have the power to give people rights,” said Muzaffar Chishti, the director of the Migration Policy Institute’s office at the New York University School of Law. “But they have a lot of power of resistance, and that’s what they’re displaying right now.”

It’s hard to really say to what extent some cities will resist. When city budgets decline by 10 percent, will that lead to tensions that harm immigrants? If mayors are prosecuted, what will happen? But if people stand tall in this situation, the moral correctness of their stance will win out in the end, I believe. While a lot of Americans are pretty racist, many of them, or at least the average Trump voter, is some degree of passive in that racism. Will they go so far as to see troops invade churches? Well, some will. But some won’t and I refuse to believe that the country has become so depraved that it will squash resistance like a bug. Maybe I am just overly optimistic right now.

Overall, this is a fine story except to say that at the very end, they very heavily mischaracterize the meeting in Providence that Mayor Jorge Elorza spoke at. I was at that meeting. It did not have 150 people. It had approximately 1000 people. That’s the sort of mass resistance meeting that can really lead to something positive. And right now, we all need something positive to hang some hopes upon. What we need is massive resistance to crackdown on voting rights, to the doubling down on the war on drugs, to the treatment of Muslims, and to all the outrages that could potentially be starting in less than 2 months.

The Media Refuses Accountability For Its Own Malpractice

[ 145 ] November 28, 2016 |

I generally admire Lynn Vavreck’s work, but this apologia for the media’s gross malpractice in its coverage of the 2016 campaign is, to say the least, unpersuasive. I completely reject the general assumption that the media essentially lacks agency and can only follow the lead of campaigns. But aside from that, the analysis has a lot of problems:

I compared the content of campaign ads with the content of news articles about two specific topics: candidate traits or characteristics, and the economy or jobs. Both the candidates and news organizations spent more time discussing the candidates’ fitness for office (or lack of it) than they did the nation’s economy.

Note the choice to focus solely on ads rather than on ads and speeches and candidate websites, etc., which obviously stacks the deck against policy appeals. And it also obscures the fact that Clinton’s campaign paid much more attention to policy and in much more detail.

The candidates’ controversies received more coverage, on average, than their views on the economy. From June until Election Day, 38 percent of the stories mentioned Mr. Trump’s various missteps, and 35 percent mentioned Mrs. Clinton’s email.

Let’s just stop here and note that this data reflects a grotesque failure on the part of the media to inform the public.

Closer to the election, from Oct. 8 on, the numbers got even more lopsided. This was an important date — just after the release of the “Access Hollywood” video and a few weeks before F.B.I. Director James B. Comey’s letter to Congress. From this point, 53 percent of the campaign articles mentioning either controversies or the economy discuss Mrs. Clinton’s email, while only 6 percent mention her alongside jobs or the economy. As for Mr. Trump, 31 percent mention his entanglements, while 10 percent mention him related to jobs and the economy.

Again, this is extraordinary. Clinton’s EMAILS! were receiving constant attention and being treated as the equivalent of Trump’s many actual scandals, even when there was no actual news about Clinton’s EMAILS! happening. What is being described her is just staggering malpractice. And yet:

These choices have consequences. According to the Gallup Organization, Americans’ reports of what they heard or read about Mrs. Clinton between June and September were mainly references to her handling of emails during her time as secretary of state. In contrast, mentions of Mr. Trump changed week by week, tracking what was happening on the campaign trail.

But before anyone blames the news media, it’s important to examine what the candidates themselves were talking about over the course of the campaign. If media reports reflect candidate discourse accurately, then it is not merely the media choosing to report on scandals. It might be at least as much the candidates’ choosing to campaign on them that results in unending coverage of traits and characteristics.

Leaving aside the implicit denial of agency to the media, conflating “what candidates are saying” with “advertising” is obviously very problematic. Clinton spent a lot of time talking about policy; the media just chose not to cover it. (For this reason, I also find the implicit empirical assumption that the media would have spent significantly less time focusing on EMAILS! if Clinton had run more policy ads massively implausible. I think Clinton running more policy ads would have been a good idea, but that’s a different issue.) And the denial of agency to the media shouldn’t be left aside.

I will concede that when it comes to covering Trump, the media had a legitimate dilemma. There is no precedent for a major national candidate engaging in one ordinarily disqualifying act after another throughout a campaign. The sheer number of scandals had the perverse effect of diluting the impact of any one. But each one of the scandals were news, and the media couldn’t refuse to report on one because it would dilute the impact of other stories. There were problems with the coverage of Trump but he didn’t receive the kind of fawning coverage George W. Bush did in 2000.

But what can’t possibly be defended is the media’s relentless focus on EMAILS!, an utterly trivial pseudo-scandal featuring no significant misconduct by Clinton, and implicitly equating it with Trump’s frauds and alleged sexual assaults and boasts about sexual assaults and serial dishonest. The media wasn’t forced to engaged in this false equivalence. It wasn’t forced to provide this extraordinarily disproportionate amount of coverage. Nothing forced the media to report non-stories like “donor asks Huma Adebin for a meeting and doesn’t get one” as the equivalent of Donald Trump refusing to pay contractors or conning his fans out of tens of millions of dollars. As Krugman says:

Prominent media outlets made choices about what to cover and how to cover it. They weren’t compelled by the candidates or the campaigns. These choices have to be defended on their own merits. The editors and journalists involved want to deny their agency precisely because these choices cannot possibly be defended, and the consequences of the malpractice will be horrific in many respects (not least for the free press.)

Trumpology meets Kremlinology

[ 19 ] November 28, 2016 |

Despite showing some questionable judgment about whom to cite, Paul Musgrave has a nice piece in the Washington Post on Russian propaganda and the US election. The whole thing does a good job of synthesizing the current state of play. But it’s real ‘added value’ lies in providing some context for the success of such endeavors.

The big question is what effects such meddling could have. There are two reasons to think that Putin’s gambit might backfire.

First, as political scientists Alexander Downes and Lindsey O’Rourke argue in a new study, installing friendly regimes in other countries often backfires. They write that “once in power, the new leader is focused on ensuring his or her own political survival, a task that is often undermined by implementing the intervener’s agenda.” Given the difficulties U.S. officials faced in exerting leverage over Afghan and Iraqi leaders after establishing those governments, this should not be surprising to Americans.

Russian interference in the U.S. campaign is hardly tantamount to “foreign-imposed regime change,” but a similar logic still applies. As president, Trump’s reputation will depend on promoting U.S. interests, which will remain opposed to Russia’s in many areas. Furthermore, Trump will have many reasons to demonstrate that he can stand up to someone he has described as a tough leader. And nothing in Trump’s past suggests that loyalty or gratitude will temper his pursuit of his private interest.

Indeed, much also depends on whether the balance of power among factions. In Michael Flynn’s world, the west is locked in a generational struggle with radical Islam; the Russians—who, I imagine, show an ‘appropriate’ lack of restraint in fighting the long war—are key allies in this grand conflict. On the other hand, Mike Pence’s rhetoric on Russia matches the more traditional GOP template: the Obama Administration wasn’t hardline enough. That is, if the GOP foreign-policy establishment wins out, Moscow will wind up facing a more, not less, hostile United States.

The second risk of blowback comes from the long-term risks of eroding Americans’ and foreigners’ trust in U.S. institutions. As Russian analyst Fyodor Lukyanov writes, Trump himself represents a wild card. Other countries will find it hard to predict Trump’s actions or to distinguish between genuine policy statements and off-the-cuff exaggerations. That’s bad enough: As political scientist Phil Arena explains, uncertainty can itself be a cause of war.

More profoundly, as international relations scholar Daniel Nexon [see the lack of judgment that I noted above?] writes, the global political order requires a U.S. government accepted as legitimate at home and abroad to maintain peace and prosperity. If Washington lacks the legitimacy to act, the entire international order may be undermined.

That might work to Moscow’s advantage in the very short term in such areas as Syria or Crimea. But if ending U.S. hegemony results in a prolonged period of global disorder, Russia too would soon find itself impoverished and endangered.

At least one commentator asked me if I still believe that Russia is in a weak position. The answer is “yes,” Despite some signs of economic life, Russia still significantly lags across almost every indicator of power—except nuclear weapons. It’s current asymmetric ability to exploit political cleavages within and among democratic states doesn’t really change such fundamentals.

And the problem, as Paul notes, is that while Trump’s victory presents great opportunities for Moscow—both in terms of the bilateral relationship and increasing the likelihood of Washington committing multiple unforced errors —the downside risks are also potentially quite high.

Anyway, read the whole thing. Each clickthrough takes us one more step toward reconstituting the ‘good’ online public sphere.

On the Extremely Limited Value of Campaign Tactics Tautologies

[ 330 ] November 28, 2016 |


After every remotely close election campaign, there are almost as many just-so stories about how there was one perfect campaign tactic that could have changed the outcome as there are pundits. And the problem is that the vast majority are just unfalsifiable tautologies with no retrospective or prospective value:

Like most pundits, I have my theories about how the Clinton campaign might have screwed up. In retrospect, for example, it seems like the campaign made a mistake in making so much of its advertising negative attacks on Donald Trump’s character. Given that Trump always had high personal negatives these attacks had diminishing returns, and Clinton missed an opportunity to highlight economic policy differences where public opinion favored her position. While it was not unreasonable to think Trump’s particular unfitness for office created an opportunity to peel off suburban Republicans, it didn’t work.

This is a plausible story, but to be frank it’s just that: a story. Would Clinton using a more positive, policy-focused advertising campaign in the last month have allowed her to hold enough of the Rust Belt states that handed Trump the Electoral College? I have no idea, and there’s no meaningful way to address the question.

Consider an example from the last election involving the popular vote winner failing to take office in January. For 16 years, I have been hearing people assert with the most sublime confidence that Al Gore’s decision to distance himself from Bill Clinton cost him the 2000 election. There’s no way of testing this theory directly, of course. But 2016 presented us with an indirect one. Hillary Clinton had a popular incumbent, one of the greatest political talents the Democratic Party has ever produced and without the scandal baggage and reputation for dishonesty that made deploying Bill Clinton a much more complicated question than Gore’s critics will acknowledge, stumping hard for her. And, as a bonus, the incumbent’s extremely popular and charismatic wife was also out on the campaign trail for the first major-party woman to be nominated for president. What was that worth?

Well, apparently, not much. Either the Obamas failed to move the needle, or they had an impact but it was swamped by other factors which can’t be meaningfully measured. When it comes to campaign tactics, for the most part, nobody really knows anything. Be wary of assertions that there was One Magic Trick a candidate could have used to win an election, and be doubly wary when this magic bullet is an argument that the candidate advancing the policy ideas the pundit agrees with is also by remarkable coincidence always the best political strategy as well.

A huge percentage of campaign analysis consists of two basic and related categories:

  • “The losing candidate had worse messaging, which we can tell because he/she lost.”
  • “The losing candidate would have won had she emphasized issues x/y/z in exactly this way, which entirely coincidentally aligns perfectly with my own ex ante policy views.”

Both of these arguments are abjectly useless the vast majority of the time.

But even when the arguments are a little more concrete, there’s an obvious danger in relying to heavily on the mistakes of the past:

One rejoinder might be that while Michigan and Wisconsin ended up not being decisive, they could have been. Had Clinton carried Pennsylvania or Florida — both roughly within a point — then the decision to largely ignore Michigan and Wisconsin while investing in Ohio and Iowa, both of which Clinton lost by more than 8 points, would look really bad. It’s a fair point. But the blunder the Clinton campaign made was to fight the last war, to be too slow to pick up on the particular threat that Trump posed in the Rust Belt.

This isn’t to say that Democrats shouldn’t analyze and try to learn from the defeat. But it’s crucial to remember that the 2016 election is never going to be run again. We’ve learned for sure that Hillary Clinton should not be the Democratic nominee again, but I don’t think that’s something to worry about. Trump will presumably be on the ballot again, but as an incumbent with a record. What message and strategy the Democratic candidate should use will depend on who wins the nomination, what Trump’s record looks like, and what the salient issues are. The 2020 election will be its own thing and should be treated as such. As Hillary Clinton now knows all too well, what we think we know about politics can be turned on its head very quickly.

What messaging and resource allocation will be optimal in 2020 will depend on the candidate — the opportunities and limitations presented by, say, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris and Sherrod Brown would be different. There will presumably be an incumbent on the ballot and depending on how that goes the Democratic candidate could be a mortal lock, drawing dead or somewhere in between. Which, of course, brings us to a crucial point: the ability of congressional Democrats to drive down Trump’s approval ratings by obstructing and refusing to give bipartisan cover to what they can’t stop is far more important than the campaign tactics adopted by the 2020 nominee.

American Unions: An Extinction Level Event

[ 92 ] November 27, 2016 |


Above: The federal response to a strike in 2018.

Harold Meyerson’s election post-mortem for organized labor is exactly as grim as it should be.

As Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin – states that once were the stronghold of the nation’s industrial union movement – dropped into Donald Trump’s column on election night, one longtime union staff member told me that Trump’s victory was “an extinction-level event for American labor.”

He may be right.

A half-century ago, more than a third of those Rust Belt workers were unionized, and their unions had the clout to win them a decent wage, benefits and pensions. Their unions also had the power to turn out the vote. They did — for Democrats. White workers who belonged to unions voted Democratic at a rate 20 percent higher than their non-union counterparts, and there were enough such workers to make a difference on Election Day.

That’s not the case today. Nationally, about 7 percent of private-sector workers are union members, which gives unions a lot less bargaining power than they once had, and a lot fewer members to turn out to vote. The unions’ political operations certainly did what they could: An AFL-CIO-sponsored Election Day poll of union members showed 56 percent had voted for Hillary Clinton and 37 percent for Trump, while the TV networks’ exit poll showed that voters with a union member in their household went 51 percent to 43 percent for Clinton, as well. In states where unions have more racially diverse memberships, Clinton’s union vote was higher (she won 66 percent of the union household vote in California).

In states where union membership is predominantly white, Trump did better – actually winning the Ohio union household vote with 54 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 42 percent The very economic and social wreckage the unions had warned against when they had opposed NAFTA and permanent trade relations with China ended up diminishing their own numbers and that of Democratic voters, and helped spur Trump to victory.

Of course, the very combination of real economic anxiety and racism that sent white union members into the Trump camp is going to just cause more economic anxiety for them. But hey, it will cause terrible things for black people too so win! I guess. But it’s not like Trump is going to craft policy that will pay off that union support. He hasn’t named his Secretary of Labor yet, but given the rest of this nightmare fascist plutocratic Cabinet, there is no reason to think of this as anything but nightmarish. That doesn’t mean that the history of struggle among the American working class will end. Workers will always fight for a better life for themselves, even if they get killed by the military for doing so. But it may well mean that 80 years of progress are repealed in the next 4 years. Unfortunately, in this case, Democrats hold plenty of blame too for not taking the impact of globalization and automation particularly seriously for the last 50 years, assuming that other gains in the economy would make up for these hard-hit communities. Well, these hard-hit communities have hit back hard. Even if it ends up a self-punch too.

This Day in Labor History: November 27, 1937

[ 14 ] November 27, 2016 |


On November 27, 1937, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) debuted its play “Pins and Needles,” which would become the longest running musical of the 1930s. This cultural form of labor feminism at a time when organized labor was dominated by male workers is a vital and important moment both in the cultural history of work but also in the history of women and work.

The ILG was founded in 1900 and despite conservative leadership, became the union that New York garment workers organized in during the Uprising of the 20,000 in 1909 and the aftermath of the Triangle Fire in 1911. During the 1920s and early 1930s, like many New York based unions, it was riven with strife between radicals and anti-radicals, leading to labyrinthine power struggles not worth revisiting here except to say that the constantly shifting ideology of the Communist Party ultimately hurt the radical cause. Eventually David Dubinsky rose to lead the ILG in 1932. Dubinsky consolidated control quickly, ruling the union with an iron fist, which was ultimately undemocratic but also turned it into a functional organization instead of one constantly in turmoil from infighting among political factions. The union also was dominated by male leadership despite the fact that the large majority of its membership was women. Labor feminism would struggle to develop internally in such a structure.

The ILG’s Educational Department sought to create cultural productions and artistic outlets for its members that included art, dance, and theater. In 1934, the Educational Department reorganized and created a theater troupe made up of union members. These weren’t professional actors. The were just everyday women working in the garment industry whose union thought it would be useful to enhance their creativity, an idea that is far away from unionism of recent decades. Louis Schaffer led this effort and he had a vision to bring the labor movement to the extremely popular cultural form of Broadway productions. ILG president David Dubinsky thought this was a great idea. Schaffer recruited professionals to write the play and train the actors. A cast of 55 mostly female garment workers were trained to become actors. This took time to accomplish. He could have brought in professionals, but in his determination to make this a truly working-class production, he had to bring the workers up to standard in their acting ability. This would ultimately delay the production’s opening by about 18 months. It finally opened to the public on November 27, 1937, after several practice performances.

The production was written and directed by men, but centered women operating in the larger political struggles of the time. Schaffer wanted Pins and Needles to entertain working class people by focusing on working class issues. In order to accomplish this mission, Pins and Needles did not have a set script. The workers themselves constantly reworked the songs, making them about themselves. There were anti-Mussolini songs and other songs about the international anti-fascist struggle, but as the play developed over its many performances, it ultimately became much more about the women and their lives. Labor feminism became the play’s central theme.

The critics largely loved the show. It had good tunes, catchy lyrics, and everything that the public would want in a popular production. At first, it only played on the weekends because the workers were still full-time employees in garment factories. Eventually, they were able to obtain leaves from their jobs to perform full time. The cast also expanded into a second set for late afternoon shows that could reach workers who could not attend in the evenings.

As the labor politics of the 1930s often went, there was a lot of talk about racial equality within the ILG and with the cast of Pins and Needles, but not much actual racial equality in practice. The first black cast member was Olive Pearman, who had only a small supporting role as a seamstress. Black unionists sharply criticized Schaffer for ignoring black voices and he later did add a couple of black cast members, but no Latino cast members were ever hired on the production. Other cast members were pressured to suppress their Jewish identities and even change their names. And of course when the production was on the road, it was subject to local segregationist laws, which it did not try to challenge. The cast itself was quite leftist, although Schaffer himself was anti-communist and some fired cast members claimed they were redbaited out of the production. Dorothy Tucker, one of the actors, remembered, “there were a few socialists and a few communists among us.”

In March 1938, the cast went to Washington DC to play at the White House for Franklin Roosevelt. The first road show began in April 1938 with shows in Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, among other cities. As demand grew, more workers joined the production, but Schaffer also brought more professional and semi-professional actors into the production, causing tensions behind the scenes. The first road show ended in January 1939, after 319 performances in 34 cities. The cast and show continued to change and professionalize, as most of the workers did eventually have to head back to their jobs in the garment factories. New versions of the production formed until finally, after 1104 performances, the show closed in New York in June 1940. It then went on the road for one last tour, closing for good in Los Angeles in May 1941.

As World War II began and the left-leaning unions moved toward supporting the war effort, Popular Front cultural productions began to fade, collapsing completely in the Cold War backlash after the war. No labor plays ever followed up on Pins and Needles. I can’t really argue that the failure to center working class cultural productions really made much difference in terms of shaping the future of the labor movement, the end of a creative labor movement seeking the broader production of a specific working class culture is ultimately something lost.

For more on Pins and Needles in the broader context of the Popular Front, see Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century.

This is the 201st post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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