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Another Republican Miracle

[ 52 ] April 24, 2015 |

A couple of people on Twitter thought when they read the description that my article about Kansas would be about Louisiana.  And, certainly, Republican governance has been a disaster in the Pelican State as well:

Louisiana’s flagship university began putting together the paperwork for declaring financial exigency this week when the Legislature appeared to make little progress on finding a state budget solution, according to F. King Alexander, president and chancellor of LSU.

“We don’t say that to scare people,” he said. “Basically, it is how we are going to survive.”

Moody’s Investors Service also announced this month that it was lowering LSU’s credit outlook from positive to stable based on concerns about the university’s overall financial support. The lowering of LSU’s credit rating makes it more likely the university will have to pay more for its building projects in the future.

Being in a state of financial exigency means a university’s funding situation is so difficult that the viability of the entire institution is threatened. The status makes it easier for public colleges to shut down programs and lay off tenured faculty, but it also tarnishes the school’s reputation, making it harder to recruit faculty and students.

“You’ll never get any more faculty,” said Alexander, if LSU pursues financial exigency.

The Louisiana Legislature is closing out its meetings this week without having made much progress in finding more funding for universities, colleges and others. Louisiana’s higher education community is facing an 82 percent funding cut if no extra state money is found.

The change would bring state funding for LSU from around $3,500 per undergraduate student to $660 per undergraduate student next year.

Have the tax cuts that devastated Lousiania’s public services led to more economic growth? Haha no.

Needless to say, aggressively promoting anti-LBGT public policy is the next step.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Democratic Party

[ 57 ] April 24, 2015 |


Since Obama conned enough Democrats in the Senate to work with the capitalists for fast track authority on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the debate over the TPP within the Democratic Party has been interesting because other than Obama and senators who are not particularly influential to the public debate like Ron Wyden, there has been almost no support for it. Of course there are very good reasons why most Democrats oppose fast track. Eric Schneiderman, attorney general of New York, discusses one of them in detail, which is the TPP’s potential to undermine state and national laws through the Investor State Dispute Settlement provision.

One provision of TPP would create an entirely separate system of justice: special tribunals to hear and decide claims by foreign investors that their corporate interests are being harmed by a nation that is part of the agreement. This Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision would allow large multinational corporations to sue a signatory country for actions taken by its federal, state or local elected or appointed officials that the foreign corporation claims hurt its bottom line.

This should give pause to all members of Congress, who will soon be asked to vote on fast-track negotiating authority to close the agreement. But it is particularly worrisome to those of us in states, such as New York, with robust laws that protect the public welfare — laws that could be undermined by the TPP and its dispute settlement provision.

To put this in real terms, consider a foreign corporation, located in a country that has signed on to TPP, and which has an investment interest in the Indian Point nuclear power facility in New York’s Westchester County. Under TPP, that corporate investor could seek damages from the United States, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars or more, for actions by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Westchester Country Board of Legislators or even the local Village Board that lead to a delay in the relicensing or an increase in the operating costs of the facility.

The very threat of having to face such a suit in the uncharted waters of an international tribunal could have a chilling effect on government policymakers and regulators.

This simply cannot stand. Given how aggressive corporations are increasingly becoming in going after nations who restrict their profits, it’s very much something to worry about. Elizabeth Warren:

Those justifications don’t make sense anymore, if they ever did. Countries in the TPP are hardly emerging economies with weak legal systems. Australia and Japan have well-developed, well-respected legal systems, and multinational corporations navigate those systems every day, but ISDS would preempt their courts too. And to the extent there are countries that are riskier politically, market competition can solve the problem. Countries that respect property rights and the rule of law — such as the United States — should be more competitive, and if a company wants to invest in a country with a weak legal system, then it should buy political-risk insurance.

The use of ISDS is on the rise around the globe. From 1959 to 2002, there were fewer than 100 ISDS claims worldwide. But in 2012 alone, there were 58 cases. Recent cases include a French company that sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company that sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, and a Dutch company that sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bail out a bank that the company partially owned. U.S. corporations have also gotten in on the action: Philip Morris is trying to use ISDS to stop Uruguay from implementing new tobacco regulations intended to cut smoking rates.

ISDS advocates point out that, so far, this process hasn’t harmed the United States. And our negotiators, who refuse to share the text of the TPP publicly, assure us that it will include a bigger, better version of ISDS that will protect our ability to regulate in the public interest. But with the number of ISDS cases exploding and more and more multinational corporations headquartered abroad, it is only a matter of time before such a challenge does serious damage here. Replacing the U.S. legal system with a complex and unnecessary alternative — on the assumption that nothing could possibly go wrong — seems like a really bad idea

If you like corporate control over the world, you’ll LOVE the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The pushback among the Democratic base has some really interesting facets to it because of the question of what Hillary Clinton is going to do here. There is no realistic wedge issue in the primary because there is no meaningful primary regardless of how much Martin O’Malley hopes this can be a wedge issue. But there really could be a real battle within the party over the TPP. Even people such as Matthew Yglesias are noting that all the arguments the administration is making for the agreement don’t really make sense (as for the unions’ opposition which he also says doesn’t make sense, it’s certainly true that there’s nothing keeping the remnant industrial jobs in the U.S. at this point anyway, but unions have to try and stop the bleeding somehow. What else are they going to do? Plus the ISDS provisions could theoretically be used against labor agreements nationally and internationally). So one question worth asking is whether it makes political sense for Hillary Clinton to come out against the deal instead of trying not to provide any meaningful answers about her positions? Certainly doing so would enamor her to the base and really put a stake in any potential primary difficulties. On the other hand, she almost certainly supports the deal and doesn’t want to make Wall Street mad. So I think she’ll probably keep doing what she’s doing. But there is a real risk here because leading senators with national consistencies like Warren and Sanders are going to keep the attack going.

So just from a political perspective this is going to be interesting. As for Obama, he is now engaging in a full attack on his own party over the TPP. The White House blog has been nothing but hatchet jobs in favor of the TPP for a long time, but who really reads that anyway. Obama is now calling up favored reporters to attack Elizabeth Warren and other leading Democrats who oppose the bill. To no small extent, he is wrapping a major part of his legacy up in this bill and he is simply out of touch with working class Americans and the people who elected him president. Obama hasn’t done anything in this agreement to protect everyday Americans. And he deserves the criticism he is getting.

I borrowed the image above from the petition against the TPP which you can sign here.

The $70,000 Capitalist

[ 130 ] April 24, 2015 |


The credit card processing executive who decided he would raise the minimum wage for his company to $70,000 a year got a lot of attention this week. It’s certainly an interesting experiment at the very least. Got to give it to the guy–he probably made a really smart long-term business decision because all of a sudden he’s famous and that may well attract a lot of new clients. The exchange of short-term personal profit for long-term growth is pretty unorthodox in this era of the quarterly profit report. Of course this could never ever happen in a publicly traded company. The long-term significance of this experiment is probably not all that great, but at least it’s a sign that income inequality and CEO pay are real issues that at least someone is taking seriously.

What’s more interesting to me is the total right-wing freakout.

Sandi Krakowski, an author and Facebook marketing expert, posted on Twitter: “His mind-set will hurt everyone in the end. He’s young. He has a good intent, but wrong method.”

Patrick R. Rogers, an associate professor of strategic management at the School of Business and Economics at North Carolina A&T State University, wrote in an email: “The sad thing is that Mr. Price probably thinks happy workers are productive workers. However, there’s just no evidence that this is true. So he’ll improve happiness, only in the short term, and will not improve productivity. Which doesn’t bode well for his long-term viability as a firm.”

Perhaps the most prominent attacker was Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing radio host, who labeled the move “pure, unadulterated socialism, which has never worked.”

He added: “That’s why I hope this company is a case study in M.B.A. programs on how socialism does not work, because it’s going to fail.”

Most critics were not as ideological as Mr. Limbaugh but were nevertheless put off by Mr. Price’s deviation from trusting in the market, both to set wages (his own as chief executive and that of his employees) and to maximize his own profits. Overpaying workers may make them lazy and is likely to inspire resentment among colleagues who once sat on the higher end of the pay divide, they warned.

During an interview with Mr. Price on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” the co-host Mika Brzezinski noted that people would probably say “you’re a terrible manager.”

Another guest, Sam Stein, an editor at The Huffington Post, was simply flummoxed. “Are you crazy?” he asked.

Three things come to mind reading these responses. First, is the religious belief in “the market,” which is presented as this natural force like gravity but which of course is nothing but a serious of decisions made by humans about how to organize their economy. The idea that one would interfere with this natural force that tells you to make as much money as possible and screw everyone else is an apostasy that must be ridiculed and crushed. Second is the lies that well-compensated workers aren’t productive. There is of course an enormous literature suggesting that happy workers are indeed productive workers. Here is just one piece of that literature. The upshot of Patrick Rogers position is that corporations should treat workers as poorly as they can since there is no connection between happy workers and productive workers. So we might as well drive them like slaves. Which is basically the economic ideology of the New Gilded Age. Third, is the idea that this guy is committing class suicide, betraying the world of executives and giving credence to those who think that the government might need to do more to regulate income inequality and CEO pay. Limbaugh blathering about socialism once again shows that he doesn’t actually know what socialism is, but also demonstrates just what a threat this move is for the vast majority of American capitalists and their lackeys.

Oh, So That’s What’s the Matter With Kansas

[ 6 ] April 24, 2015 |


So you’ve wrecked your state with a disastrous experiment in crackpot supply-side economics. What are you going to do now? Why, target the poor, women, and gays and lesbians with gratuitous, discriminatory, and irrational legal disabilities of course.

With respect to the recent Kansas ban on dilation and evacuation abortions, what Justice Stevens said about bans on D&X abortions applies equally to this statute:

Although much ink is spilled today describing the gruesome nature of late-term abortion procedures, that rhetoric does not provide me a reason to believe that the procedure Nebraska here claims it seeks to ban is more brutal, more gruesome, or less respectful of “potential life” than the equally gruesome procedure Nebraska claims it still allows. Justice Ginsburg and Judge Posner have, I believe, correctly diagnosed the underlying reason for the enactment of this legislation–a reason that also explains much of the Court’s rhetoric directed at an objective that extends well beyond the narrow issue that this case presents. The rhetoric is almost, but not quite, loud enough to obscure the quiet fact that during the past 27 years, the central holding of Roe v. Wade has been endorsed by all but 4 of the 17 Justices who have addressed the issue. That holding–that the word “liberty” in the Fourteenth Amendment includes a woman’s right to make this difficult and extremely personal decision–makes it impossible for me to understand how a State has any legitimate interest in requiring a doctor to follow any procedure other than the one that he or she reasonably believes will best protect the woman in her exercise of this constitutional liberty. But one need not even approach this view today to conclude that Nebraska’s law must fall. For the notion that either of these two equally gruesome procedures performed at this late stage of gestation is more akin to infanticide than the other, or that the State furthers any legitimate interest by banning one but not the other, is simply irrational. See U.S. Const., Amdt. 14.

Alas, majority of the Supreme Court thinks that regulations that negatively burden the health and fundamental rights of women without any rational justification whatsoever is perfectly OK, because women are kind of irrational themselves — ask this scientician!

Black Widow

[ 37 ] April 24, 2015 |

Here are Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner talking about how much of a slut Black Widow is:

And here is my five year old daughter in her Black Widow costume, from last Halloween:

And so yes, Mr. Evans and Mr. Renner; I acknowledge that your apology was necessary.  It would surely be helpful if Marvel, and the actors associated with Marvel, recognized the possibility that young women might enjoy their product as much as young men. It would also be nice if the people associated with Marvel would come to grasp that there are many interesting things to say about female superheroes beyond their ability to sexually service male superheroes. Let’s hope that some kid in a Captain American costume doesn’t see this and think it’s appropriate to refer to a girl in a Black Widow costume as a slut.

Homophobia, Racism and Misogyny–3 Crappy Tastes that Taste Crappy Together

[ 33 ] April 24, 2015 |

Often we like to think that when it comes to LGBT rights we’ve come a long way and done so relatively quickly. But these links should remind us that we have to stay vigilant in fighting for those rights.


Ryan T. Anderson has that not-so-fresh feeling.

Acquaintance Cards

[ 27 ] April 24, 2015 |


It seems that if hipsters really want to be all steampunk, they might as well bring back acquaintance cards and other routines of 19th century versions of courting. Surely someone has done this. Think of the ironic courting statements a good hipster could write on one of these!!!

Louie, you disappoint me

[ 40 ] April 24, 2015 |


I can’t think of a better way to win friends on social than to write an article in which I bag on Louie and defend beat cops:

As any television critic will tell you, there are two constants when it comes to televised drama, “cops” and “doctors,” and the current moment is no exception. For example, you have a wide selection of police procedurals to choose from: old hats like “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”; more family-oriented fare like “Blue Bloods”; shows that are only tangentially about cops, but are still police procedurals, like “Elementary” or “Person of Interest” or “Bones”; and you even have comedies that work within the trappings of the police procedural, like “Brooklyn 99.”

Except none of those are actually “cop shows,” because they’re all about detectives. (Which is, yes, technically a rank, but is conventionally depicted as entirely different profession.) In fact, the majority of shows aren’t about cops at all — they’re about individuals too intelligent or talented to be lowly patrol officers, who have transcended the beat and work in the rarefied world of investigation. That is not to say that uniformed officers don’t make an appearance on these series, because they do, but when they’re not relegated to bit players at crime scenes — the blue drones in the background collecting evidence or being asked to canvas a neighborhood — they’re inevitably fucking up.

This dynamic was neatly encapsulated on a recent episode of “Elementary” — CBS’ loose adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes– in which Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) is asked by the daughter of the New York Police Department’s Captain Thomas Gregson (Aidan Quinn) to assist her in breaking up a ring of thieves hitting up local drug stores. Hannah Gregson (Liza Bennett) is just a lowly uniformed officer, so she seeks out Watson’s help — and Watson isn’t even an actual detective, she’s an assistant “consulting detective” — in order to discover the identity of the thieves, a problem that’s been vexing Officer Gregson for weeks.

Two scenes later, Watson has not only discovered who the thieves are, but how to use them to infiltrate a much larger prescription drug smuggling operation. She hands Officer Gregson a file containing everything she needs to initiate what could be a career-making bust, and what does the beat cop do? She immediately arrests the low-level operators, thereby allowing those running the criminal enterprise to go to ground. Why does she do this? According to her own father, Captain Gregson, it’s because she’s not that bright — she settled for the small score because her beat-cop-brain isn’t capable of conceptualizing the abstract connections required to take down a smuggling ring.

“She is what she is,” Captain Gregson tells Watson. “I love her, but I love this job too, the people who can actually do it.” And on that note, the episode fades to black, as if it’s a fact of precinct life that current uniformed officers just don’t have what it takes to make detective. There is a reason that television prefers its “cop shows” to follow detectives, and that’s because there’s an inherent narrative to the life of a detective, especially when they work in homicide — a life is taken, an investigation into who took that life ensues, discoveries of varying relevance are made and, if everything works out, a criminal or criminals with their own tales to tell is sussed out…

Believe it or not, that is just the beginning.

More Cosby Victims

[ 11 ] April 24, 2015 |

I’m beginning to think there might be a pattern here.

No depression

[ 106 ] April 23, 2015 |


Over the years, Bill and Hillary Clinton have been subjected to accusations regarding so many fake “scandals” that it’s easy to dismiss further claims of impropriety and corruption as just more of the same. But as Jon Chait points out, it’s becoming evident that some of the things the Clintons have been doing over the past few years actually smell pretty bad:

The news today about the Clintons all fleshes out, in one way or another, their lack of interest in policing serious conflict-of-interest problems that arise in their overlapping roles:

The New York Times has a report about the State Department’s decision to approve the sale of Uranium mines to a Russian company that donated $2.35 million to the Clinton Global Initiative, and that a Russian investment bank promoting the deal paid Bill $500,000 for a speech in Moscow.

The Washington Post reports that Bill Clinton has received $26 million in speaking fees from entities that also donated to the Clinton Global Initiative.

The Washington Examiner reports, “Twenty-two of the 37 corporations nominated for a prestigious State Department award — and six of the eight ultimate winners — while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State were also donors to the Clinton family foundation.”

And Reuters reports, “Hillary Clinton’s family’s charities are refiling at least five annual tax returns after a Reuters review found errors in how they reported donations from governments, and said they may audit other Clinton Foundation returns in case of other errors.”

The Clinton campaign is batting down the darkest and most conspiratorial interpretation of these stories, and where this all leads remains to be seen. But the most positive interpretation is not exactly good.

Chait notes the most positive interpretation is that, in the post-Clinton presidency years, and especially in the years when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, the Clintons were sloppy about details, greedy about money, and remarkably cavalier about potential conflicts of interest. And you don’t have to be the RNC’s media apparatus, i.e., FOX News et. al., to find more dire interpretations plausible.

For progressives, all this is, to put it mildly, depressing. Working to get someone with Hillary Clinton’s political views elected would require a certain amount of nose-holding even if she and her husband were above reproach, ethically speaking.

Under the circumstances, a race between Clinton and, say, Scott Walker is going to be akin to trying to acquire a sprained ankle instead of a major heart attack.

How Mandates Can Matter

[ 19 ] April 23, 2015 |


Julia Azari — who has written a very valuable recent book on the subject — has a useful corrective to my too-glib dismissal of the concept of mandates:

Mandates are essentially stories that tie the practice of political power to the processes that constrain it – namely, the will of the electorate and the rule of law. The content of these stories, and the extent to which they are invoked to justify governance, vary a lot based on the circumstances. And like a lot of stories, much of what we tell ourselves about mandates is owed to invention rather than fact. That doesn’t make the idea of electoral mandates any less important. If anything, it gives us more reason to pay attention.

This is fair. The fact that “mandates” don’t mean what pundits think they mean doesn’t mean that the concept is devoid of value.

With respect to both the point of how perception (as Gordon Gekko would say) becomes reality and the broader point of the centrist pundit view of politics that includes things like the more vulgar understanding of mandates, I’ve been thinking about a point that occurred to me when writing my review of Julian Zelizer’s new book. In a sense, the idea that informed voters pay attention to procedural details and punish obstructionism could function as a sort of noble lie that allowed the presidential system to function. Everett Dirksen both thought that it was his professional obligation to work with the president and the Democratic congressional leadership to pass legislation and thought it was in his political self-interest to do so after Goldwater got clobbered.  This mattered. Mitch McConnell’s analysis of the politics — i.e. that the public doesn’t pay attention to procedural details or in most cases understand how to assign responsibility, so it’s always in the interest of the opposition to obstruct the president’s agenda — is more accurate, but the norms he has created make the government much less functional.

As the data Azari collected and analyzed in Delivering the People’s Message shows, the increasing use of “mandate” rhetoric from presidents in response to polarization is a reflection of weakness more than strength. I would add that a crucial aspect of presidential systems that complicates and potentially confounds electoral accountability — the fact that both legislators and presidents can claim mandates — means that the dysfunction of divided government under current norms is likely to get worse before it gets better.

The Political Origins of Judicial Power

[ 50 ] April 23, 2015 |


An error in this article about Steve King’s discriminatory jurisdiction-stripping bill allows me to explain something about the foundations of judicial power in the U.S. that many people aren’t aware of:

King’s bill strips way Article III of the Constitution, which gives federal courts the jurisdiction to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, any type of marriage.

Although this is counterintiutive, King’s bill “doesn’t strip away Article III.” It actually seeks to exercise powers given to Congress by Article III:

In all the other cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make.

The Court repeatedly held in the 19th century that the exceptions clause permitted Congress to strip jurisdiction from federal courts, even in cases involving rights as fundamental as habeas corpus. As some of you know, Congess used these powers in 1932 to stop federal courts from issuing injunctions in most labor disputes.

This is not to say that King’s proposed bill is constitutional. Stripping jurisdiction to target a particular class of people raises obvious 5th Amendment problems, and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld at the very least undermines the logic of Ex Parte McCardle. And, evidently, King’s bill is a disgrace on the merits. But judicial authority rests much less on fixed Article III powers than most people imagine: the size of the Supreme Court, not only the size but the existence of lower federal courts, and the appellate jurisdiction of federal courts are all subject to control by Congress. Judicial authority has grown because members of Congress generally support judicial authority (which is one reason why King’s bill will be DOA even though a majority of members of the House presumably agree with its substantive ends.) Statutes like the Judiciary Act of 1789 are infinitely more important to the establishment of judicial power than Marbury v. Madison was.

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