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Saying the Quiet Parts Loud

[ 48 ] January 26, 2015 |

Well, they’re being honest, you have to give them that:

Senate Republicans revealed this week that they have eliminated the phrase “civil rights and human rights” from the title of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee charged with overseeing those issues.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee this month and announced the members of the six subcommittees this week. With Grassley’s announcement, the subcommittee formerly known as the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights suddenly became the Subcommittee on the Constitution.

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Austerity Cannot Fail, and Can Only Be Failed

[ 53 ] January 26, 2015 |

Greece edition:

You see, the economic projections that accompanied the standby arrangement assumed that Greece could impose harsh austerity with little effect on growth and employment. Greece was already in recession when the deal was reached, but the projections assumed that this downturn would end soon — that there would be only a small contraction in 2011, and that by 2012 Greece would be recovering. Unemployment, the projections conceded, would rise substantially, from 9.4 percent in 2009 to almost 15 percent in 2012, but would then begin coming down fairly quickly.

What actually transpired was an economic and human nightmare. Far from ending in 2011, the Greek recession gathered momentum. Greece didn’t hit the bottom until 2014, and by that point it had experienced a full-fledged depression, with overall unemployment rising to 28 percent and youth unemployment rising to almost 60 percent. And the recovery now underway, such as it is, is barely visible, offering no prospect of returning to precrisis living standards for the foreseeable future.

What went wrong? I fairly often encounter assertions to the effect that Greece didn’t carry through on its promises, that it failed to deliver the promised spending cuts. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, Greece imposed savage cuts in public services, wages of government workers and social benefits. Thanks to repeated further waves of austerity, public spending was cut much more than the original program envisaged, and it’s currently about 20 percent lower than it was in 2010.

Yet Greek debt troubles are if anything worse than before the program started. One reason is that the economic plunge has reduced revenues: The Greek government is collecting a substantially higher share of G.D.P. in taxes than it used to, but G.D.P. has fallen so quickly that the overall tax take is down. Furthermore, the plunge in G.D.P. has caused a key fiscal indicator, the ratio of debt to G.D.P., to keep rising even though debt growth has slowed and Greece received some modest debt relief in 2012.

 

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Historical Places Obama Should Protect Through the Antiquities Act

[ 12 ] January 26, 2015 |

In December, Congress passed and President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act. Included in the bill was a bunch of new national parks. A couple of them were the traditional big nature parks that come to mind when you think of national parks, such as the Valles Caldera in New Mexico. There were some new historical parks as well. Here in Rhode Island, along with neighboring Massachusetts, the Blackstone Valley, site of the Industrial Revolution reaching the U.S., will be a national park. Slater Mill in Pawtucket, the first factory in America, is already run in conjunction with the National Park Service, including ranger-led tours, so this isn’t too new. Harriet Tubman’s home in upstate New York will now be a national park, as well the Colt gun factory in Hartford, another key site of early industrialization. The long-planned Manhattan Project sites park will also be realized, with spots in Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Hanford available for public viewing, albeit probably only a couple of times a year and with some sort of security screening required (I did some historic preservation work at Los Alamos when I was writing my dissertation and this was already in planning at that time).

The U.S. government probably does a better job than any other nation in the world in protecting historical sites and interpreting them for the public. How many World War I or World War II battlefields are protected parks in Europe compared to Civil War or Revolutionary War battle sites in the U.S.? Of course, Republicans have drastically underfunded the NPS ever since the Gingrich takeover of the House, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to interpret our past in this way. These parks can also be great examples of small-scale stimulus programs. If you don’t think Pawtucket businesses could use a little extra money from tourists stopping by the new park, well, you’ve never been to Pawtucket then.

So what other sites should Obama prioritize in protecting during his last two years. Here’s a list of eight sites I think would be great inclusions to the national parks. I don’t know that we will see another bill that passes a Republican Congress, but Obama can also use the Antiquities Act to create National Monuments and then give authority over them to the NPS. So he doesn’t need Congress.

1. Pullman

Recent years have seen a significant improvement in protecting sites of early industrial history. There’s Lowell, which is great. The newish Paterson Great Falls site in New Jersey added to this, and now there’s the Blackstone and Colt sites. But our labor history is horribly remembered, whether inside or outside the NPS. Homestead is a mall. The Everett Massacre site seems to be some fenced off area of the port (or at least I couldn’t find it at all when I tried to). Even the Triangle Fire is just marked with a small plaque. So the first three of these are going to be about remembering labor history.

There is not a more obvious site in the nation for the NPS to interpret than Pullman. The site of the legendary 1894 strike is basically a fenced off ruin. A few of the key buildings still remain and could be restored. The company housing is still occupied. There are so many stories to tell here–the strike. Eugene Debs. African-American work on the railroad. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The growth of Chicago, which lacks a park site at all. It’s a clear call and one I hope happens soon.

2. Blair Mountain

If Obama is declaring a war on coal, he might as well go all the way and save the site of the largest insurrection since the Civil War from being subject to mountaintop removal. So much to interpret here.

3. Ludlow

Right now, all there is at the Ludlow Massacre site is a small monument run by the United Mine Workers of America and the chamber where the women and children suffocated to death when the company thugs burned the camp down. Otherwise, it’s a big open space with plenty of possibilities for a cool museum. There’s a lot in southern Colorado that could also be included. I think the prison where Mother Jones was placed in Walsenburg still stands. There’s also the Colorado Fuel & Iron facility in Pueblo. So many stories here too. Not only the massacre, but the immigrant miners (and the NPS really doesn’t do enough to tell Mexican-American stories), the coal industry, and the rise of company unionism with John D. Rockefeller’s response to the criticism he faced after Ludlow.

4. Auto Industry

I’m not sure precisely which building in Detroit or Flint the government should make a national park to talk about the auto industry, but it is so central to our history and there are so many empty factories that it needs to do something like it did with Lowell and do some interpretation. Maybe the Fisher Body Plant where the Flint Sit-Down Strike took place. Maybe part of the River Rouge plant where Ford busted unions. Doesn’t even have to be a place where a major union struggle took place. But the auto industry is so important to our history and to the regional identity of Michigan that something is needed.

The second area I’d like to see more interpretation on is Asian-American history. So here’s three good sites for this.

5. Wintersburg, California

This site, which is threatened by demolition, would be a great way for the National Park Service to tell the story of the Japanese that focused on something other than the tragedy of the concentration camps.

6. Angel Island

How is Angel Island not already a national park? The Ellis Island of the West Coast and the site where Chinese attempting to get into the U.S. after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882 is such an obvious site. I know it is a California State Park and receives some protection but this should be a federal operation.

7. Rancho Cucamonga Chinatown House

The NPS has done a great job integrating African-American history into its interpretation, but outside of Japanese internment, has not done so well with Asian-Americans. Turning this old store into a park would save one of an increasingly few buildings from that era and significantly resolve the Asian-American issue.

8. Marias Massacre. I talked about the Marias Massacre site in Montana here. This clearly needs to be brought into public interpretation since there is basically nothing out there.

There are lots of other worthy places as well. The aggressive expansion of the national parks is the kind of thing we should all be able to get behind.

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Reports: Emperor Still Wholly Devoid of Clothing

[ 102 ] January 26, 2015 |

Area conservatives discover that Sarah Palin’s speeches are randomly assembled collections of resentful non-sequiturs, and are shocked that Matt Drudge takes possibility of lazy grifter running for president seriously.

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“A Lethal Gap”

[ 31 ] January 26, 2015 |

Under existing practices, it takes four votes for the Supreme Court to grant cert, but five to issue a stay. For Charles Warner, this procedural issue turned out to be highly significant: he was executed under a death penalty protocol whose constitutionality the Supreme Court has now agreed to consider. Liptak has very valuable background on the decline of the “courtesy stay.”

The practical effects of this are potentially just a question of timing; the unwillingness of Kennedy to vote to grant the stay seems a pretty strong indication that when it comes to torture-by-lethal-injection he remains indifferent.  But it’s still an outcome that’s hard to defend.

Adding another item to her increasingly impressive civil liberties record, Sotomayor’s dissent from the decline of a stay is very much worth reading:

Petitioners’ likelihood of success on the merits turns primarily, then, on the contention that midazolam cannotbe expected to maintain a condemned inmate in an unconscious state. I find the District Court’s conclusion that midazolam will in fact work as intended difficult to accept given recent experience with the use of this drug. Lockett was able to regain consciousness even after having received a dose of midazolam—confirmed by a blood test—supposedly sufficient to knock him out entirely. Likewise, in Arizona’s July 23, 2014, execution of Joseph Wood, the condemned inmate allegedly gasped for nearly two hours before dying, notwithstanding having been injected with the drug hydromorphone and 750 milligrams of midazolam—that is, 50% more of the drug than Oklahoma intends to use. Moreover, since the District Court denied the request for a preliminary injunction in this case, Ohioannounced that it would no longer employ a similar two-drug cocktail involving midazolam and hydromorphone, which it used in a January 2014 execution during which the condemned inmate reportedly gasped and snorted for more than 20 minutes.

[…]

I am deeply troubled by this evidence suggesting that midazolam cannot constitutionally be used as the first drug in a three-drug lethal injection protocol. It is true that we give deference to the district courts. But at some point we must question their findings of fact, unless we are to abdicate our role of ensuring that no clear error has been committed. We should review such findings with added care when what is at issue is the risk of the needless infliction of severe pain. Here, given the evidence before the District Court, I struggle to see how its decision to credit the testimony of a single purported expert can be supported given the substantial body of conflicting empirical and anecdotal evidence.

I believe that we should have granted petitioners’ application for stay. The questions before us are especially important now, given States’ increasing reliance on new and scientifically untested methods of execution. Petitioners have committed horrific crimes, and should be punished. But the Eighth Amendment guarantees that no one should be subjected to an execution that causes searing, unnecessary pain before death. I hope that our failure to act today does not portend our unwillingness to consider these questions.

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GoT at ISA

[ 3 ] January 25, 2015 |

This, by LGM alumna Charli Carpenter, is very well done:

Tragically, Alex and I won’t make the panel because of unforeseen new commitments. Nevertheless, if you’re at the ISA conference I can’t imagine a more interesting Wednesday afternoon panel.

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Could the Fast Food Industry Pay $15 an Hour?

[ 126 ] January 25, 2015 |

Of course it could pay $15 an hour. It just prefers its workers living in poverty. At least it provides helpful advice on how to live on the minimum wage. From the report:

This paper considers the extent to which U.S. fast-food businesses could adjust to an increase in the federal minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 per hour to $15 an hour without having to resort to reducing their workforces. We consider this issue through a set of simple illustrative exercises, whereby the U.S. raises the federal minimum wage in two steps over four years, first to $10.50 within one year, then to $15 after three more years. We conclude that the fast-food industry could absorb the increase in its overall wage bill without resorting to cuts in their employment levels at any point over this four-year adjustment period. Rather, we find that the fast-food industry could fully absorb these wage bill increases through a combination of turnover reductions; trend increases in sales growth; and modest annual price increases over the four-year period. Working from the relevant existing literature, our results are based on a set of reasonable assumptions on fast-food turnover rates; the price elasticity of demand within the fast -food industry; and the underlying trend for sales growth in the industry. We also show that fast-food firms would not need to lower their average profit rate during this adjustment period. Nor would the fast-food firms need to reallocate funds generated by revenues away from any other area of their overall operations, such as marketing.

I also found this amazing:

This is true, despite the fact that, after correcting for inflation, today’s $7.25 federal minimum is about 33 percent lower than the $10.85 figure as of 1968—46 years ago. This long-term deterioration in the real value of the minimum wage is even more dramatic after we recognize that average labor productivity has risen by roughly 135 percent since 1968. This means that, if the federal minimum wage had risen in step with both inflation and average labor productivity since 1968, the federal minimum today would be $25.50 an hour.

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Noam Scheiber: The Left Must Never Walk *and* Chew Gum!

[ 63 ] January 25, 2015 |

There hasn’t exactly been a dearth of terrible argumentation today, but here’s one more example for the case files – and it’s a doozy. According to Noam Scheiber, author of The Escape Artists, Bill DeBlasio has erred:

instead of transcending the Obama coalition, Mr. de Blasio has become its prisoner…from the get-go, Mr. de Blasio’s campaign fused two distinct strands of progressivism. The first was economic populism. The second was what some have called “identity group” liberalism, which appealed to black and Latino voters as blacks and Latinos, not on the basis of economic interests they shared with whites…The problem for Mr. de Blasio is that only the first approach has widespread appeal.

In other words, we’re back to the old fight between class-based vs. identity politics on the left, because apparently it’s impossible to do both at the same time.

Let’s examine this argument, shall we?

Read more…

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Kill the Poor

[ 112 ] January 25, 2015 |

If I wrote an op-ed that said my ideology created policy preferences that might lead to the execution of the rich but, hey, we have to make trade-offs, I would not only not get that op-ed published, but I’d probably be reported to the FBI.

If I wrote an op-ed that said my ideology created policy preferences that might lead to the death of the poor, but, hey, we have to make trade-offs, I’d be Fred Hiatt’s new best friend. Such as Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute:

Say conservatives have their way with Obamacare, and the Supreme Court deals it a death blow or a Republican president repeals it in 2017. Some people who got health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act may lose it. In which case, liberals like to say, some of Obamacare’s beneficiaries may die.

During the health-care debates of 2009, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) brought a poster on the House floor: “The Republican Health Care Plan: Die Quickly.” In the summer of 2012, when Obamacare was threatened by a presidential election, writer Jonathan Alter argued that “repeal equals death. People will die in the United States if Obamacare is repealed.” Columnist Jonathan Chait wrote recently that those who may die are victims of ideology — “collateral damage” incurred in conservatives’ pursuit “of a larger goal.” If these are the stakes, many liberals argue, then ending Obamacare is immoral.

Except, it’s not.

In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals — including more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor; less government coercion and more individual liberty; more health-care choice for consumers, allowing them to find plans that better fit their needs; more money for taxpayers to spend themselves; and less federal health-care spending. This opinion is not immoral. Such choices are inevitable. They are made all the time.

Saying of the ending of Obamacare, even if it leads to the deaths of thousands of poor, “it clearly would not be immoral,” Strain goes on into absurd comparison country, throwing out the type of arguments by brother did when he was 10. It swings from “we let people drive cars and sometimes people die in them so why bother with a good healthcare system” to “oh yeah libs, well what would you say to spending 3/4 of our GDP on health care,” i.e., arguments no one is making except in American Enterprise Institute drinking parties.

I mean, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that “kill the poor” is now something you can say in the op-ed section of the Washington Post. I look forward to this argument becoming a central tenet of the 2016 Republican primaries.

[SL] Shorter:

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Syriza Wins Big in Greece

[ 88 ] January 25, 2015 |

So Greece had an election today, and the results are pretty impressive:

A giant screen shows an exit poll in Athens suggesting the far left Syriza party is on course to form the next government in Greece.

Most exit polls are looking like Syriza will have an absolute majority, which is pretty damn rare in Greek politics. Going to be very interesting to see what comes out of this…

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Takes on the Trans-Pacific Partnership

[ 11 ] January 25, 2015 |

With the Trans-Pacific Partnership likely headed our way in the next few months, journalists and pundits are already weighing in. There are some smart takes. Not surprisingly, one of those comes from Lydia DePillis. Examining an Ohio fire truck company that sells to China, she notes that there is room for high-value exports from the United States that trade deals might help, but that despite how much politicians like to talk about companies like this, they are few and far between. Plus most leading exports, like agriculture, employ very few people while other industries have rushed to replace people with robots in order to compete globally. So expanding on this free trade regimen really is not going to help most Americans because good manufacturing jobs will continue to disappear.

There are also some dumb takes. Also not surprisingly, one of those comes from Joe Nocera, who is shocked to discover that opponents of the TPP are using NAFTA as an euphemism for an entire series of trade deals and export policies. I know, I have never heard anything more outrageous. Writing the most condescending article I’ve read in some time, Nocera takes such defenders of working Americans in Congress as Louise Slaughter and Rosa DeLauro to task for saying NAFTA was bad, basically saying they don’t understand the glories of globalization. He uses Kodak, a company whose closure decimated Slaughter’s upstate New York district, as an example, saying Kodak closed because the company didn’t adjust to the end of film products. There may be some truth to that, but of course even if everyone used film every day, Kodak would have still closed that plant and moved it to Mexico or China. Nocera knows this of course. Nocera also actually believes that meaningful labor and environmental provisions will be in the TPP, which is laughable. But Nocera is a true believer in trade agreements and outsourcing, so there you go.

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Where Fighting Police Violence = “Flawed Liberalism”

[ 74 ] January 25, 2015 |

Unlike Noam Scheiber, I don’t have a problem with Bill DeBlasio emphasizing police violence against people of color. Scheiber would rather see DeBlasio become an economic populist and unite the poor of all races. Well, I’d like to see that too, but that doesn’t mean DeBlasio was wrong in emphasizing police violence. What Scheiber seems to struggle with is that the only question is not the politically smart move. It’s also what is right. This is an issue of justice and racism and it deserves attention even if the mayor’s popularity ratings decline. I can’t believe he doesn’t see this.

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