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16 Dec 17:15

The Moral Calamity Of The Obama Administration

by By Charles P. Pierce
By Charles P. Pierce

(Optional Video Accompaniment To This Post)

As we continue to listen to the monsters among us discuss how fire-hosing hummus up a man's arse kept us all safe from another attack like the one that occurred partly through their own negligence, and as we here at the blog decline to move along to the next shiny object with everybody else, we discover that, beneath all the macho bluster, and the Jack Bauer fantasies, and the outright giggling sadism of our former leaders, there beat hearts of pure chickenshit. Dick Cheney has now spent a week bragging about his vicarious barbarism, and making sure as he does so that we are aware that one of the Senate report's great flaws is that it goes out of its way partially to exculpate the man once alleged to be Cheney's boss.

"The notion that we were not notified at the White House about what was going on is not true," Cheney said today on NBC's "Meet the Press" program. "This man knew what we were doing," Cheney said of Bush. "He authorized it. He approved it. A statement by the Senate Democrats for partisan purposes that the president didn't know what was going on is just a flat-out lie."

(Translated from the original Weaselspeak: partisan Democrats engaged in a partisan conspiracy to protect the good name of George W. Bush. I'll give you just a second for your mind to unboggle.)

Also amusing is the contention of Marc Thiessen, who writes the torture porn available in the downstairs parlor of Fred Hiatt's House Of 'Ho's, next to the piano being played by Michael Gerson, that supports Cheney's testimony about the complicity of C-Plus Augustus.

The report claims that President George W. Bush did not know about enhanced interrogations until 2006: "According to CIA records, no CIA officer, up to and including CIA Directors George Tenet and Porter Goss, briefed the president on the specific CIA enhanced interrogation techniques before April 2006. By that time, 38 of the 39 detainees identified as having been subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques had already been subjected to the techniques." If they had bothered to ask CIA officials about this, they would have learned, as Michael Hayden told Politico magazine this week, "The president personally approved the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah [in 2002]. It's in his book!" Further, Bush received regular updates from the CIA on the intelligence that detainees were providing during his Presidential Daily Brief.

It gets even better. John Yoo, the performing seal who wrote up the legal fictions with which the government's savagery sanctified itself, has gone public with the notion that, the hypothetical crushing of the hypotherical testicles of hypothetical children aside, what happened with the hummus and the hose was not what he had in mind when he composed his infamous briefs.

Looking at it now, I think of course you can do these things cumulatively or too much that it would cross the line of the anti-torture statute," Yoo said on C-SPAN. On CNN, Yoo said if the instances outlined in the report are accurate, "they were not supposed to be done. And the people who did those are at risk legally because they were acting outside their orders."

So, CIA torturers out there? You fcked up. You trusted them. It's getting awfully damn crowded under this bus.

It is axiomatic, or it certainly ought to be, that people who torture are fundamentally cowards, and that the people who order torture are more cowardly still since they subcontract their crimes to people to people they consider little more than hired hands, and who they will gladly serve up to maintain the fiction of the few bad apples that spoil the whole coffin-sized box. We are seeing this in real time now. Cheney makes sure we know Bush knew. Yoo says the CIA people went too far beyond the careful legal infrastructure he'd built. And this brings us, sadly, to the moral calamity at the heart of the Obama Administration, the final, tragic consequence of Looking Forward, Not Back. And the deepest tragedy about it is that it was inevitable.

It is clear from what we've heard from these creatures over the last week that, if they'd ever been tried for the crimes against humanity they committed, in any courtroom in the world, they'd have turned on each other in a New York minute. You wouldn't have to waterboard Cheney to get him to give you Bush. He'd do it for a steak. You wouldn't have to blow pasta up John Yoo's hindquarters to get him to roll on the people who relied on his instructions to carry out their orders. I'm willing to bet a considerable bag of nickels that there are a few dozen anonymous CIA operatives who are feeling very hung out to dry at the moment, and who would be willing, at the price of a reduction of their sentences, to sing a lovely aria. This might have been the easiest prosecution in the history of the world.

Alas, as we also have learned from the polling over the past week, it would not have been an easy prosecution to sell to a public that is more willing to trust a television show than it is to trust the Geneva Conventions. (This line of thinking, if should be noted, has as an adherent a sitting justice of the United States Supreme Court.) That is what made the moral calamity of the Obama Administration inevitable. The president is not an amoral man. Neither is he stupid. He knew full well, despite all his glowing rhetoric about the fundamental decency of the American people, that, for its own scurvy purposes, the previous administration unleashed the darkest collective human impulses that the country possesses, that the previous administration made good use of fear and ignorance, and the anger that is their monstrous stepchild, and that it profited politically and personally for having done so. He also knew that, somewhere, deep in the heart that he is sure the United State till possesses, a kind of national shame was building up to a level pretty close to critical mass and that, if it detonated in an uncontrolled explosion, the power of it could be terribly misused.

So the moral calamity of the Obama Administration is one that was forced upon it by the nature of the transformation of the country that was wrought in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, a transformation that never was going to be temporary, since an endless war requires a permanently transformed country. Reading the polls today makes a mockery of the notion that there ever has been a president elected to office who would have had the raw political courage to hand these gutless bastards over to the Hague to be tried for war crimes, or to prosecute them ourselves for criminal conspiracy. Hell, the political establishment of the United States only recently condescended to help the International Criminal Court, but not, of course, to join the thing, or to subject its citizens to the court's mandates. It would prefer that the court stick to prosecuting murderous African warlords, thank you very much. (Here are the comments of candidates Barack Obama and John McCain on the ICC from the 2008 election. See if you can make sense of them beyond, "We are beyond your law.") And that political establishment has resisted the court because it knows full well that the court has no constituency in the United States, an exceptional country that does not torture or commit war crimes, an exception country that has guaranteed that a moral calamity will be at the heart of every presidency for the next 100 years, because there is no constituency for law that is stronger than the constituency for vengeance.

Like dogs upon their masters.

Damn, it would've been an easy case to bring.

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14 Dec 23:30

The Depravity Of Dick Cheney

by Andrew Sullivan

Perhaps the only saving grace of this sociopath formerly in high office is that he understands that his legacy could well be as a war criminal unlike any in American history before him. That’s my only explanation for why he has to be out there day after day, year after year, attacking his successor, lambasting America’s return to civilization, and insisting that hanging people from shackles, freezing them to near-death, near-drowning them so that their abdomens are distended with water, anally raping them, breaking their limbs, and keeping them awake so long they hallucinated … is not somehow torture. Ask yourself: have you ever met someone who believes that? Outside the professional criminal classes, that is.

And in his response today to the voluminous and undisputed evidence supplied by the CIA’s own internal documents, he has nothing specific or factual to say that can undermine any of it. He just insists, like a dad lost on a car trip, that he alone knows he’s not lost, whatever the map or GPS says. His best talking point is that those who authorized and committed the torture were not interviewed by the committee – implying this was because of bias. But this is transparently false. Six months into the investigation, the attorney general announced his own study into CIA torture techniques. Here is Senator Feinstein’s account of what happened next:

The committee’s Vice Chairman Kit Bond withdrew the minority’s participation in the study, citing the attorney general’s expanded investigation as the reason. The Department of Justice refused to coordinate its investigation with the Intelligence Committee’s review. As a result, possible interviewees could be subject to additional liability if they were interviewed. The CIA, citing the attorney general’s investigation, would not instruct its employees to participate in our interviews. (Source: classified CIA internal memo, February 26, 2010).

In any case, there were plenty of previous interviews with CIA torturers, including from the CIA’s own internal investigation, there was a formal CIA response to all the charges (highly unpersuasive because they have to argue against their own records), and, so far as I know, interviewing them all over again is still possible. Come to think of it, why doesn’t the committee take that up again under GOP leadership, if their perspective will allegedly alter the conclusions?

But in the Cheney interview, there is nothing faintly that rational. He is behaving like a cornered man. On what possible grounds does he dismiss 6.3 million pages of documentation from the CIA’s own records as “full of crap”? The CIA had a chance to rebut every one of the conclusions with other documents and failed to. This is preposterous as well as slanderous to the extraordinary work behind this remarkable report. But the most revealing parts of the interview were the following, it seems to me. Todd asked Cheney at one point what he believed the meaning of torture is, after citing the rectal hydration issue (which seems to have upset more people than any other technique). And this is what Cheney said:

I’ll tell you what my definition of torture is: what nineteen guys armed with airline tickets and boxcutters did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11.

Later, when confronted with an example of a human being suspended by his wrists from shackles so he could barely touch the floor for 22 hours a day for two weeks, Cheney refused to say that that wasn’t torture. Instead he repeated:

Torture is what the al Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11

What I take from these statements is that the torture program was, for Cheney, partly an amateur thug’s idea of how you get intelligence, but partly also simply a means of revenge. Yes: revenge. This was a torture program set up in order to vent rage and inflict revenge. It was torture designed to be as brutal to terror suspects as 19 men on 9/11 were to Americans. Tit-for-tat. Our torture in return for their torture; their innocent victims in return for ours. It was a program that has no place in a civilized society.

He was then asked about the 26 people whom the CIA admits were tortured by mistake. One of them was even frozen to death. A sane and rational and decent human being, who presided over the program that did this, might say: “The decision to torture was an extremely agonizing one, but I still believe defensible. But of course the torture of innocent people is horrifying. I deeply regret the chaos and amateurism of the program in its early phases.”

So what did Cheney actually say? When confronted with the instance of Rahman Gul, the individual tortured to death, Todd asked what the US owed these torture victims. Cheney actually said this:

The problem I have is with all the folks we did release who ended up on the battlefield … I have no problem [with torturing innocent people] as long as we achieved our objective.

It doesn’t get any clearer than that. The man is a sociopath. He is a disgrace to his country. And he needs to be brought to justice.


10 Dec 14:35

John Brennan Must Go

by By Charles P. Pierce

Coming Soon To A Magazine Near You: many words arranged in a sentence-like structure on the topic of how this president is very unlikely to be the lame duck you might think he is. If he wants to make these words sound very smart, here's what he can do. Fire John Brennan from his job as head of the CIA. Today. This minute. Publicly. For cause. John Brennan should have arrived at Langley this morning to find his possessions boxed up, and a cleaning crew in his office, and his nameplate on the floor of the hall. I know all the reasons why not: Brennan was the president's choice to take the gig, the CIA would have its revenge, and the last thing the country needs right now is another day-laborer from the national-security state wandering the landscape, moaning about his mistreatment, and writing a book about how he and the strappado artists who came before him saved the world. But he should be given the gate anyway. It is time for him to decide to spend more time with his family.

The reason for this is simple. Either Brennan shares the administration's support of the report issued yesterday in the Senate regarding the international horror show the U.S. conducted around the world, or he is utterly insubordinate and deserves to be fired merely for that, and (I believe) Brennan has made that decision a very easy one.

By Charles P. Pierce

Coming Soon To A Magazine Near You: many words arranged in a sentence-like structure on the topic of how this president is very unlikely to be the lame duck you might think he is. If he wants to make these words sound very smart, here's what he can do. Fire John Brennan from his job as head of the CIA. Today. This minute. Publicly. For cause. John Brennan should have arrived at Langley this morning to find his possessions boxed up, and a cleaning crew in his office, and his nameplate on the floor of the hall. I know all the reasons why not: Brennan was the president's choice to take the gig, the CIA would have its revenge, and the last thing the country needs right now is another day-laborer from the national-security state wandering the landscape, moaning about his mistreatment, and writing a book about how he and the strappado artists who came before him saved the world. But he should be given the gate anyway. It is time for him to decide to spend more time with his family.

The reason for this is simple. Either Brennan shares the administration's support of the report issued yesterday in the Senate regarding the international horror show the U.S. conducted around the world, or he is utterly insubordinate and deserves to be fired merely for that, and (I believe) Brennan has made that decision a very easy one.

"As noted in CIA's response to the study, we acknowledge that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the Agency made mistakes," the statement said. "The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the Agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected al-Qa'ida and affiliated terrorists. In carrying out that program, we did not always live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves and that the American people expect of us. Brennan contended that the intelligence that resulted from those interrogations helped "save lives." "Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom EITs were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives," the statement said. "The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al-Qa'ida and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day."

Actually, John. Your agency did not "live up to the high standards" of the NKVD, but let's let that slide for the moment. You either stand with the president who appointed you -- and took some not inconsiderable heat for doing so -- or you stand with the torturers who shamed this country before the world. Either you work for the president or you work for your agency. If your choice is Column B there, then you own everything in the report and you are the current sin-eater on the CIA's behalf. You take on yourself, not merely the crimes that were committed in the black cells, but the ones that were committed in the sparkling offices of the executive branch and in the sanitized halls of the Congress. (By the way. the Washington Post does us all a great favor by naming the cooperative -- and, evidently, easily bribed -- countries that the Senate committee hid behind that Crayola box code, and I don't much care how much the revelation inconveniences the government of Romania.) These include obstruction of justice, lying to Congress, and outright perjury. And, it appears, you've clearly made your choice. There's the door.

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11 Dec 15:18

Today in America’s Internal Colony

by Erik Loomis

Taxation without Representation:

The developments capped a roller-coaster 24 hours in the worst possible way for advocates of the District’s marijuana measure.

Late Monday, congressional aides had floated the possibility that the spending deal would include a provision sought by conservative House Republicans to block the voter-approved measure.

By midday Tuesday, it appeared negotiators had found middle ground to legalize possession of marijuana but to allow no further action by D.C. officials to create a regulatry system for legal sales and taxation of the plant.

But many warned that the partial constraints might prove to be a worse outcome, potentially leading to chaos for lawmakers and police officers trying to rewrite and enforce city drug laws.

For conservatives, it’s always about keeping big government out of the lives of everyday people and allowing them to set their own decisions. Right? That’s what they say anyway and surely we should believe them.








12 Dec 16:37

The War Crimes The CIA Has Admitted

by Andrew Sullivan

US-TORTURE-INTELLIGENCE-POLITICS-BRENNAN

Yesterday, Brennan acknowledged that, “in a limited number of instances, agency officers used interrogation techniques that had not been authorized, were abhorrent, and rightly should be repudiated by all.” Friedersdorf asks why those officers are going unpunished:

If CIA officers did abhorrent things that even their waterboarding colleagues managed to avoid, exceeding the orders and legal strictures they were given, why haven’t they been prosecuted for torture as a duly ratified treaty compels the U.S. to do? Why hasn’t Brennan ever remedied the failure to hold those men accountable? Why has he allowed people even he regards as criminals to remain at the CIA?

The reason is that he does not believe the rule of law should apply to the CIA.

Dick Cheney, Michael Hayden, and Brennan make a big show of invoking the legal cover given by John Yoo and others, as if they respect the rule of law. But beneath the posturing, they oppose jailing CIA officers no matter what, perhaps because those officers know things that could put them in prison. Among torturers, there can be only one code: Stop Snitchin’. Do you think that I exaggerate? As The Week notes, the only person in jail over CIA torture is a man who tried to expose it.

The CIA is above the law. It can do anything because it can also hide anything. It took years of extraordinary hard work and political struggle to get the Senate Report out – and the CIA did all it could to derail it. It was delayed for two years as the CIA objected and objected and redacted and redacted. The president, through John Kerry, tried to kill it at the last minute. And when it is revealed that 26 human beings were tortured – because of mistaken identity – no one is disciplined. No one. When someone is tortured to death, the officer in charge of the torture camp is promoted. There is simply no other institution that exists that has this level of utter impunity under the law. And that puts the CIA in a more powerful position even than the president. If the president breaks the law, he can be prosecuted and even impeached. If the CIA does, it can hide that fact, and even if it is exposed, can escape any consequences.

What I simply don’t understand is how conservatives – those most skeptical of the power and reach of big government – are not appalled by this state of affairs. It is the biggest threat to our liberty and constitution around. And yet they defend it. And find excuses for it. And even celebrate it.

(Photo: CIA director John Brennan speaks during a press conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, December 11, 2014. By Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)


04 Dec 20:03

Fewer Voters Are Crossing Party Lines

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

Good. Individual names/personalities/whatever don't mean anything — coalitions are what get things done.

Straight Ticket

Straight-ticket voting has spiked:

Prior to 2010, 2002 was the only year in which the predictive power of past presidential results was over 40 percent. In other words, voters who favor Republican presidential candidates are now very likely to favor Republican Senate candidates. U.S. House and gubernatorial elections can be increasingly predicted by past presidential voting as well. The latter is especially interesting considering that governors are state, not federal, politicians.

The question going forward is whether the link between presidential and Senate results will increase, decrease or stay the same. If the straight-ticket effect doesn’t weaken, it could be bad news for Democrats, assuming we’re a 50-50 nation over the long haul. By our presidential vote metric, 54 Senate seats are in states that are more Republican-leaning than the nation on the presidential level, and 46 are in states that are more Democratic-leaning.


04 Dec 19:11

In Sight

by Erik Loomis
Brian Stouffer

"But just because this stuff is filmed doesn’t mean that it will necessarily lead to more convictions of murderous police officers. There’s a whole infrastructure set up to protect these cops. Unpeeling one layer of this onion brings us closer to justice but doesn’t guarantee it... But when the cameras bring us out to protest, express outrage, and demand justice, that places pressure on the police and their supporters to clean up their act"

A central argument of Out of Sight is that when people see horrible things, they are outraged, and thus corporations do everything possible to separate consumers from production so that they don’t see workers dying like at Triangle or rivers burnings like the Cuyahoga. Instead, when these things happen in Bangladesh, it might get the attention to people like me, but the general public basically doesn’t care and thus no sustained movement develops to force accountability on corporations.

Some of the same dynamics are at work with police cameras. I heard a lot of people last night express frustration that the murder of Eric Garner was filmed and the cop still got off scot free. And that’s really messed up. Police cameras are no panacea. But they are a tool. If Garner’s murder is not filmed, no one knows about it. The same dynamic worked with Rodney King’s beating over twenty years ago. The cameras open our eyes to the horrors of racist police violence. Requiring them is something we must do. But just because this stuff is filmed doesn’t mean that it will necessarily lead to more convictions of murderous police officers. There’s a whole infrastructure set up to protect these cops. Unpeeling one layer of this onion brings us closer to justice but doesn’t guarantee it, not when you have a justice system set up to let cops off and not when you have an overwhelming attitude among many white Americans that “these people” should just follow the cops’ orders. But when the cameras bring us out to protest, express outrage, and demand justice, that places pressure on the police and their supporters to clean up their act. If they react like jerks to this pressure, as so many have done in recent weeks, then we can build on that too.

So fight for the cameras. If it’s not for the cameras, people aren’t on the street last night and continuing to express outrage today. It’s just another dead black man otherwise, one of far too many, the vast majority of which die from police violence without any movement for justice arising out of it. Just don’t expect the cameras to lead to prosecutions of cops. Not yet. Even if that’s absolutely what should be demanded. There is much more pressure that needs to be applied at more pressure points first. But like the Triangle Fire and the Cuyahoga River Fire, or for that matter the Ray Rice video, the knowledge that comes from viewing horrible things leads to meaningful calls for change.

Meanwhile, a white cop in Phoenix murdered an unarmed black man last night. Just another case of racist police violence toward people of color.








02 Dec 22:47

Dressed To Diagnose

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

Yeah, we've got to bring back bird-mask doctors.

Anna Reisman explains why doctors’ clothing matters:

In days of yore, the doctor was clearly identifiable by the white lab coat over shirt and tie, his agreeable nurse counterpart unmistakable in white dress and cap (which, depending on one’s school, 1024px-Paul_Fürst,_Der_Doctor_Schnabel_von_Rom_(Holländer_version)might be shaped like a coffee filter, sailor’s cap, or a hamantaschen). But in the 21st century, especially in primary-care medicine, much has changed; with more categories of clinicians (nurse practitioners, physician assistants) in every sphere of medicine, the traditional clinical clothing boundaries have blurred.

The definition of what counts as professional clothing is also in flux, thanks to increasing knowledge of infectious risks. Earlier this year, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology Association (SHEA) published new guidelines for healthcare-personnel attire in hospital settings. Their goal was to balance the need for professional appearance with the obligation to minimize potential germ transmission via clothing and other doodads like ID badges and jewelry and neckties that might touch body parts or bodily fluids. The SHEA investigators’ take-home points regarding infection: White coats should be washed weekly, at the minimum; neckties should be clipped in place (70 percent of doctors in two studies admitted to having never had a tie cleaned); and institutions should strongly consider a “bare below the elbow” (BBE) policy, meaning short sleeves and no wristwatches or jewelry.

(Image via Wiki: “Paul Fürst, engraving, c. 1721, of a plague doctor of Marseilles. The plague doctor’s costume was the clothing worn by a plague doctor to protect him from airborne diseases. The costume consisted of an ankle length overcoat and a bird-like beak mask often filled with sweet or strong smelling substances (commonly lavender), along with gloves, boots, a brim hat, and an outer over-clothing garment.”)


30 Nov 01:11

Photo



30 Nov 18:21

Photo





01 Dec 19:10

Fly Air Gini

by Kieran Healy
Brian Stouffer

Someone should by a decommissioned plane and turn this into an actual museum, updated in real time.

The other day at OrgTheory, Beth Berman had a very nice discussion on “inequality in the skies” about how much of space on planes is given over to different classes of passenger. Using seating charts, she calculated some rough Gini coefficients of inequality on board. For example, on a transatlantic flight in a three-class configuration with fancy lie-flat beds up front,


if we look again at how the space is distributed, we now have 21% of the people using about 40% of the plane, 27% using another 20%, and the final 52% using the last 40%. The Gini index has now increased, to 25.

She also noted in passing that, as unequal as that is, it’s “still nowhere near the inequality of the U.S., or the world.” I found myself wondering what a plane with seating laid out on the basis of the U.S. income distribution would look like. So, following Beth’s lead, I decided to get into the aviation business and launch Air Gini, America’s most American airline.

To begin, for context, here’s a regular old Airbus A330-300 in a three class configuration often seen on international flights. It has First, Business, and Economy Class cabins.

A Regular Airline's Three Class System.



A Regular Airline's Three Class System.


A plane with this layout carries two hundred and twenty seven passengers. There are one hundred and seventy seven lucky duckies in Economy, forty two in Business, and eight in First Class. As Beth did, we can see that the seventy eight percent of passengers in Economy get about fifty eight percent of the seating space on the plane. Business Class passengers get just over thirty one percent of the room, and First Class passengers get about eleven percent of the space. Perhaps you’ve flown Economy on a flight like this. As you boarded, maybe you walked past the Business Class seats, and you might also have caught a quick glimpse of the First Class seats way up front. So you have a sense of how much space different passengers have.

How does Air Gini improve on this arrangement? Those eight First Class passengers are about three and a half percent of the plane’s population; the Business Class group is eighteen and a half percent; and the remaining seventy eight percent of this little society are in Economy. So, what if the space on the plane was allocated in proportion to the share of total income earned by each class? With a bit of help from the Census Bureau, Emmanuel Saez, and the Federal Aviation Authority, Air Gini is proud to bring you the future of air travel:

Air Gini: We Like to Fly the Way You Like to Live.



Air Gini: We Like to Fly the Way You Like to Live.


In Air Gini’s three-class layout, some things look familiar and some things are a bit different. Economy Class makes up just under eighty percent of the passengers. Passengers seated there correspond to everyone who makes less than about $97,000 a year. Their share of total income in the US is just below fifty percent, and thus so is their share of the seating space. On the regular airline it was about fifty eight percent, so for these working stiffs the new arrangement is even more cramped than on our ordinary international flight. Economy Class passengers on Air Gini should expect less overhead bin space and more passive-aggressive interactions with the guy in front of them who insists on reclining his seat.

Up with the managers, meanwhile, things have become more compressed, too. Business Class travelers are just over eighteen percent of passengers, but now they get only fifteen percent of the space. That’s obviously still much better than Economy class, but it’s down from the thirty percent or so they had in the original plane. These fliers are almost all in the top quintile: in real-life terms, they correspond to everyone from just below the 80th percentile of the US income distribution up to just above the 96th percentile. Roughly, that’s households making between $97,000 and $280,000 a year. Yet many of them feel a little angry about how little space they have. Strange though it seems, some of those in the seats closest to the front of their section even feel somewhat poor—at least by comparison to those a bit further up the plane. Air Gini understands their situation and compensates them with a complimentary in-flight snack.

What has happened to make Business Class more cramped? The answer is to be found in Ruling Class. Sorry, I mean, First Class. On Air Gini, those eight most-valued passengers—three and a half percent of those on board—get thirty five percent of the available seating space. That’s a lot of legroom. So much, in fact, that as First Class passengers have spread out to take up the first third of the plane, Air Gini has been forced to replace the luxurious Business Class seats in the real-life configuration with still-comfortable but noticeably smaller chairs.

Not to worry, though. Air Gini’s eight First Class passengers can really enjoy themselves, which is the important thing. And yet, even here at the head of the aircraft, Air Gini’s layout hints that inequality may extend all the way up to the flight deck. Two of the first class seats are close to the front of Business Class, and behind a bulkhead. Awkward. Those passengers make about $300,000 a year. The passenger in the very front row, meanwhile, makes a hell of a lot more than that and has even more room to relax in than his peers. All things considered, you have to wonder exactly who is flying this plane—and more importantly, perhaps, who owns it.

26 Nov 14:16

Organizing Fergusons

by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Nothing short of a mass movement will stop the police from killing black people.

peoplesword / Flickr

peoplesworld / Flickr

Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson spent more than one hundred days in hiding while a grand jury decided whether or not to indict him on any charge related to the killing of black teenager Mike Brown. After a long and blustering speech in defense of the indefensible, Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch announced Monday there would be no indictment.

The decision not to indict wasn’t surprising, but its predictability did very little to disperse the anger and frustration that has become part of the ritual of grieving the loss of another young African American at the hands of American law enforcement. There can be no question that black life is both cheap and expendable in the eyes of law enforcement and the criminal justice system of which it is a part.

And yet there is a stubborn refusal to have this conversation as the starting point for any meaningful change in the practice of law enforcement in this country. Instead, the mainstream media and even the president remain almost singularly focused on the potential of violence among anti-police brutality activists, particularly in Ferguson, Missouri.

Over the last several weeks, law enforcement and the media worked in tandem to whip up hysteria about violent demonstrations in the aftermath of the predictable decision not to indict.

For months, one thousand officers around St. Louis were preparing for these demonstrations. The FBI released a memo to local law enforcement agencies warning of “outside agitators” and violent Ferguson solidarity protests. The Boston Public Schools even did robocalls calling for “peaceful” demonstrations in the aftermath of a grand jury decision. In the media coverage of the reaction to the decision, reporters donned gas masks, trained their cameras on burning objects, and integrated themselves and their personal safety into the evening’s news.

But in all of the hysterical reporting about violent demonstrations, there was almost no discussion about what would prompt such an angry reaction to a grand jury decision. There was no discussion about the police violence, harassment, and yes, terrorism that pervades black and brown communities in every city and state in this country.

Instead, President Barack Obama offered the hollow observation, “We have made enormous progress in race relations over the course of the past several decades.” That progress is decidedly difficult to measure given the persistence of police murders of African Americans.

Just in the days prior to the grand jury decision, police in Cleveland killed an unarmed African-American woman, Tanisha Anderson, by smashing her head into the concrete. Then, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, also of Cleveland, was shot in the stomach twice by white cops and killed. He was holding an air pellet gun on a playground. African American Akai Gurley was murdered by New York City cops when he entered the stairwell of a public housing complex.

These cases only scratch the surface of the scope of racist policing in the US, but it is the subject of almost no discussion outside of radical circles.

White cops are twenty-one times more likely to shoot a black man than a white man. And more African-American police will not help. Black cops are involved in only 10 percent of police shootings, but 78 percent of the victims they shoot are African American.

The FBI calculated that from 2007 to 2012, white police killed at least two black men each week — roughly five hundred deaths in all. To put this in perspective, consider that in the five years prior to the introduction of federal anti-lynching legislation in 1922, there were 284 lynchings of African Americans. The epidemic of racism is raging through every institution connected to the American criminal justice system.

Police violence is only one aspect of a generally racist criminal justice system that feeds off the bodies of black people. Enormous numbers of African Americans have been victimized by the “war on drugs” that has resulted in the literal criminalization of African American communities. To take only one statistic illustrating the disparities, African Americans are 13 percent of drug users — roughly the same as their proportion in the population as a whole — but are 46 percent of those convicted for drug offenses.

The foot soldiers in the war on drugs are the cops on the beat, who target black communities to make the easy arrests increasingly demanded by municipal officials, who crave them as proof that they are fighting crime. And there is the other motive — in Ferguson, municipal court fines, mainly from vehicle violations, are the second largest source of income for the city.

Reading Darren Wilson’s testimony describing Mike Brown in the released grand jury transcripts, one can glean how entrenched police racism is.

It is, in fact, the racist dehumanization of Brown that holds Wilson’s story together. The only way to believe Darren Wilson is to suspend belief in Brown’s humanity, his literal humanness. In Wilson’s testimony, Brown becomes a wild animal — or a “demon,” as the officer refers to Brown — who tossed Wilson around like a rag doll, “grunted aggressively,” was impervious to gunshot wounds, and only stopped when he was shot in the head.

The universality of police racism has prompted thousands of people across the country to organize and attend rallies in solidarity with Mike Brown, his family, and Ferguson. There is a recognition that we owe a tremendous debt to the people of Ferguson, who have refused to stop organizing and kept the campaign against this injustice alive. In doing so, they have given new life to a growing movement against racist policing and the criminal injustice system.

The movement in Ferguson has built on a movement that has roots in the organizing to stop the execution of black death row prisoner Troy Davis in Georgia in the fall of 2011. It certainly grows out of the activism that helped get George Zimmerman arrested for the murder of Trayvon Martin, and that re-emerged after Zimmerman was acquitted.

The movement is represented by a core of young organizers from a variety of groups, including Hands Up United, Organization for Black Struggle, We Charge Genocide, Black Lives Matter, Don’t Shoot Coalition, Millennial Activists United, Black Youth Project, and beyond.

Through activism, this layer of developing leaders has helped to clarify that the much-discussed “divide” in black America is about politics much more than simply generation.

It will be lost on few people that the same mainstream black leaders, who earlier in November were lecturing African Americans about turning out to vote for Democratic candidates who have had precious little to say about the issues impacting black communities, now have little to say themselves about how to respond to Ferguson.

Not only did no prominent black elected official come out against the mobilization of the National Guard and obvious attempts to intimidate protestors in Ferguson, but very few called for concrete policies aimed at reigning in racist policing in black communities.

Of course, to do so would call into question many other practices in black communities right now. Racist policing isn’t happening in a vacuum — it has to be seen, at least in part, as the flip side of the economic gutting of those communities.

The local, state, and federal governments have slowly eroded black neighborhoods by shuttering public schools and public housing, closing public clinics and hospitals, and slashing funding for social programs. They have stood by while the foreclosure crisis gave way to an eviction crisis.

They advocated the destruction of public-sector jobs that have been a source of middle-level incomes for African Americans, and instead championed low-wage underemployment. Plus, the mass incarceration of hundreds of thousands of black men and women has left them unable to participate in the job market — or if so, only at its margins.

All told, these factors combine to make black communities vulnerable to policing that has already criminalized and impoverished African Americans. These policing practices have, in effect, become a form of public policy, which complicates what politicians suggest as remedies. In fact, they have very few remedies to offer beyond studies, investigations, and vague calls for justice.

But there are very clear demands our movement can put on the table to increase the pressure on equivocating political leaders who support law enforcement and subscribe to the idea that the problem is a “few bad apples,” rather than policing being systemically racist.

We should demand civilian review boards that reflect the composition of the communities where police are accused of wrongdoing. We can demand a federal law against racial profiling. We can demand that police accused of abuse and murder actually be arrested and put through a legal process, as any other person would be subjected to. Finally — and this is by no means an exhaustive list — we should demand that police forces across the country be disarmed.

There is an epidemic of police shooting unarmed African Americans, and it is intensifying. In Utah, police are responsible for a shocking 15 percent of all homicides in the state. The Ferguson grand jury decision to not indict Darren Wilson will give cover to police across the country to continue killing unarmed African Americans — unless we take the guns out of their hands.

The murder of Mike Brown has created a new urgency to build this movement. It’s clear that nothing other than a mass movement can stop the senseless murder of young African Americans at the hands of American police.

Adapted from Socialist Worker.

26 Nov 04:27

Ferguson

by John Holbo

Conservatives are wringing their hands. “There is no indication that the [grand jury] system worked otherwise than as it should. Nonetheless, almost immediately protesters — soon become looters — were throwing rocks at the police and then setting ablaze police cars and local businesses.”

This ‘nonetheless’ seems to indicate confusion. To review.

1) The law heavily tilts in favor of cop defendants in a case like this (by design). The law sides with cops. The law trusts cops.

2) In Ferguson, the police are (by design) an outside force imposed on the community, not really a community force. Citizens don’t trust the cops, and rightly not.

What follows is that, in a case like the Brown/Wilson tragedy, if the justice system works ‘as it should’, citizens’ already weak faith in the system will tend to be shattered.

Yet conservatives are very concerned that Darren Wilson not be indicted just to preserve or restore order.

Jonah Goldberg: “We don’t have trials of innocent men simply for appearances’ sake. Having a trial just for show is too close to a show trial as far as I’m concerned.”

Who will think of the sanctity of every individual citizen’s life and rights?

But, by the time you’ve got 1 & 2, that ship has sailed. Conservatives who want 1) and are passively ok with 2) – at least in places like Ferguson – but who want order, need a mechanism for restoring and maintaining trust. If you were planning for something like this (if it hadn’t been this young black man, it would have been the next one) it’s hard to see how you don’t get to this fork in the decision tree: EITHER go all-in with the warrior-cops-as-occupiers model OR be prepared to indict some cop, guilty or not, if only as a semi-ritual show of respect across tribal lines. It is barbaric to build a system in which the citizens are one ‘tribe’, the ‘justice system’ of cops-and-courts another, semi-antagonistic ‘tribe’. But if that’s how you play it, don’t be surprised when a certain amount of tribal, eye-for-an-eye thinking results. If it seems like protestors are out for payback … well, what were you expecting?

Maybe we could institute some sort of strict liability weregild system, in communities like Ferguson. The police chief would just give a big bag of gold coins to the victim’s family, in the wake of any awful killing, no questions asked, and speak ritual words of atonement, to keep the tribes from having to go to war. In especially horrific cases, the cop responsible would have to have his hand cut off, ritualistically. (And then the cop would get a fat pension from his own tribe, to compensate him for having made this sacrifice for the sake of peace between the tribes.) In the absence of a modern justice system, to mediate between the ‘modern justice system’ tribe and the tribe of citizens, such a proto-justice system is probably second-best, after all.

UPDATE: In comments, everyone seems eager to inform me that this was kind of a weird Grand Jury case. I’m not sure why people assume I don’t read the news before posting. Maybe because of this: “The law heavily tilts in favor of cop defendants in a case like this (by design).” I take this case to be the semi-exception that proves this rule. Normally, we wouldn’t get a Grand Jury at all for a cop shooting in the line of duty. We would get: nothing. In this case, we got a Grand Jury but, in deference to the norm that you don’t indict cops, the prosecutor did his best to damp down his own ham-sandwich-indicting-reality-distortion-field.

20 Nov 17:17

The Republican Health Care Pathology

by Scott Lemieux

Reihan Salam has a long Slate article explaining why Republicans generally want to repeal the ACA, conceding that have no actual alternative to the ACA with any possibility of generating consensus with the party, and…not really dealing with the implications of the latter. The article does serve one useful purpose in explaining why there’s nothing “conservative” about the ACA. The section on Paul Ryan wanting to end Medicare is particularly useful in illustrating why assertions that the ACA is “neoliberal” are so nonsensical. If the status quo ante had been single-payer, it might make sense, but in the actual context calling the ACA “neoliberal” makes about as much sense as calling the Clean Air Act or Civil Rights Act “neoliberal.”

The key to Republicans on health care lies in Salam’s assertion that “[c]onservatives tend not to be enthusiastic about redistribution.” Brian Butler has a good response, and DeLong really gets to the heart of the issue:

As I see it, there are three possibilities:

1. Poor people don’t get to go to the doctor–and die in ditches.
2. Poor people get to go to the doctor, but the doctors who don’t treat them don’t get paid and have to scramble to charge somebody else via various forms of cost-shifting.
3. The government subsidizes insurance coverage for people of modest means by raising taxes on people of less modest means.

In my view, Slate’s editors seriously fell down on the job in not requiring that Salam say whether he thinks it is better to go for (2)–imposes in-kind taxes on doctors–or (1) rather than (3). The view on the left and in the center is that (1) is a non-starter. As Margaret Thatcher said back in 1993 when she visited Washington, DC: “Of course we want to have universal health care! We aren’t barbarians!” The view on the left and in the center and on the not-insane right is that (2) is profoundly dysfunctional and would prove extraordinarily inefficient. If Salam prefers (1), he should explain why Margaret Thatcher was a squishy leftist. If Salam prefers (2), he should explain why he disagrees with every single technocrat who knows about the health-care financing system.

Exactly right. If you don’t believe that non-affluent people should simply be left to die needlessly from illnesses and injuries, you have have to believe in redistribution. The only question is whether it will be relatively efficient and equitable or grossly inefficient and inequitable. (Given that Salam implicitly favors the latter, his assertion that conservatives are “particularly skeptical about redistribution that isn’t transparent” can only be seen as black comedy.)

The other striking thing about Salam’s article is how blind all the hand-waving about “markets” is to both theoretical and empirical objections. The cliches about how markets will control health care costs seem to be unaware that Ken Arrow ever existed. And more importantly, you would think from Salam’s article that health care policy was uncharted territory, that the problems presented by the American health care system in 2009 had never been addressed anywhere. In fact, every other liberal democracy has addressed them in ways that provide universal coverage for less and often much less money per capita than the American system. The burden of proof evidently lies squarely on those who would “solve” the problems of American health care by taking us further away from systems that produce better outcomes for less money. For obvious reasons, Salam just omits the discussion entirely.








19 Nov 15:45

Senate Of Attention: Keystone XL Pipeline And NSA Bills Defeated

by By Charles P. Pierce

(Optional Musical Accompaniment To This Post)

So I watched in barely concealed glee on Tuesday evening as the Mary Landrieu Preservation Act of 2014 sank to the bottom of the oily muck in which it belongs. Give ol' Dead Career Walking her due, though. She went down in a towering blaze of pure bullshit. She cited the "40,000 jobs," which, once again, is accurate only if you count temporary workers and itinerant strippers. She made the case that the poisonous tar sands goop that will ride the death-funnel through the Great Plains is somehow not sufficiently different from other carbon fuels to warrant greater caution. (Bill McKibben just had a stroke.) She pointed out that the goop is going to be produced anyway, and that pipelines are safer than trains when it comes to transporting the goop. (This is the only thing she had that resembled a point, although Landrieu would carry the stuff in buckets from Alberta to Port Arthur if it meant 150 votes.) She tried to pitch the death-funnel as a boon to the embattled middle-class and not, as it truly is, as a way for a foreign country to make billions while swiping the land out from under middle-class farmers in Nebraska. And she insisted that TransCanada's oil would be refined exclusively for sale in American markets, which is transcendental hogwash. As Senator Ed Markey told Chris Matthews a little while after the vote, Markey tried several times when he was in the House to get a a vote on an amendment that would require TransCanada to sell the oil from the pipeline in this country. Markey was notably unsuccessful in this regard.

So this entire futile exercise will have to be undertaken again in the next Congress, which will include many more Republican senators, a new flock of bats for an already crowded belfry. My new friend Joni Ernst will vote on it next time, and so will Thom Tillis and James Lankford. I don't think they'll ever get 67 votes to override a presidential veto -- or, for that matter, the 292 they would need in the House -- and we must hope that the president can resist the blandishments from the Morning Squint Zoo Crew to try and bargain with the Republicans using the pipeline as a chip. He should know better by now.

By Charles P. Pierce

Optional Musical Accompaniment To This Post)

So I watched in barely concealed glee on Tuesday evening as the Mary Landrieu Preservation Act of 2014 sank to the bottom of the oily muck in which it belongs. Give ol' Dead Career Walking her due, though. She went down in a towering blaze of pure bullshit. She cited the "40,000 jobs," which, once again, is accurate only if you count temporary workers and itinerant strippers. She made the case that the poisonous tar sands goop that will ride the death-funnel through the Great Plains is somehow not sufficiently different from other carbon fuels to warrant greater caution. (Bill McKibben just had a stroke.) She pointed out that the goop is going to be produced anyway, and that pipelines are safer than trains when it comes to transporting the goop. (This is the only thing she had that resembled a point, although Landrieu would carry the stuff in buckets from Alberta to Port Arthur if it meant 150 votes.) She tried to pitch the death-funnel as a boon to the embattled middle-class and not, as it truly is, as a way for a foreign country to make billions while swiping the land out from under middle-class farmers in Nebraska. And she insisted that TransCanada's oil would be refined exclusively for sale in American markets, which is transcendental hogwash. As Senator Ed Markey told Chris Matthews a little while after the vote, Markey tried several times when he was in the House to get a a vote on an amendment that would require TransCanada to sell the oil from the pipeline in this country. Markey was notably unsuccessful in this regard.

So this entire futile exercise will have to be undertaken again in the next Congress, which will include many more Republican senators, a new flock of bats for an already crowded belfry. My new friend Joni Ernst will vote on it next time, and so will Thom Tillis and James Lankford. I don't think they'll ever get 67 votes to override a presidential veto -- or, for that matter, the 292 they would need in the House -- and we must hope that the president can resist the blandishments from the Morning Squint Zoo Crew to try and bargain with the Republicans using the pipeline as a chip. He should know better by now.

But let us pause for a moment and pay homage to the rank cowardice of the Democratic senators who voted for this incipient catastrophe. I expected nothing from Joe Manchin, or from Heidi Heitkamp, who represents the world's newest petro-state, North Dakota. (I give enormous credit to Jay Rockefeller, who essentially represents the same constituency as Manchin, but who voted against the death-funnel anyway. What the hell. What does he care? He's a Rockefeller, although I suspect several of his ancestors were moving at 70 rpm when he voted the way he did.) It's also nice to know that Jon Tester, who will head the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee going forward, is in favor of the project. I will remember this when the fundraising e-mails come in again. But let us pay special tribute to 2014's losers -- Kay Hagan, Mark Begich, and David Pryor -- all of whom had nothing to lose and promptly lost it by voting yes. (Mark Udall voted against it.) And with all that, the vote was saved by the decision of Angus King, the independent from Maine, who decided late in the game that Congress had no business acting like a glorified zoning board.

Landrieu suffered a significant setback mid-morning Tuesday when Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who some thought might provide the 60th vote, announced he would vote against the Keystone legislation, though he expressed frustration with the delay in getting a decision from the Obama administration. "Congress is not -- nor should it be -- in the business of legislating the approval or disapproval of a construction project," King said.

(Also, can I say that it was nice to see Senator Professor Warren in the president's chair for this vote? I especially liked the way she handled the chamber when things got raucous. I half-expected her to call the roll and start sending people to detention.)

I have no sympathy for Landrieu. She carried the ball for the greediest and most treacherous industry in the world for her entire career. She tried to save herself by selling out the party, the environmental movement, and the planet by pitching a project that doesn't have fk-all to do with Louisiana. Some people showed up at her house and yelled on Monday? Tough. That's life in the used-car business. She will be well taken care of by the people to whom she demonstrated her true allegiance on Tuesday. And that wasn't us.

Ah, but the day was not yet over in the World's Greatest Deliberative Body. A little while after the Keystone bill went down, the Senate took up a bill that would have severely reformed the way that the surveillance state in general, and the National Security Agency in particular, operated. This came out of the revelations by Edward Snowden, International Man Of Luggage who, as we know, is to be ignored because nobody will play with Glenn Greenwald at recess. Anyway, the bill was the brainchild of Vermont's Patrick Leahy. It would have denied the NSA the power to collect and store phone records and other data, leaving those to be archived by the various providers. It added new layers of oversight to the system, and it created an adversarial component to the secret FISA proceedings that was not there before. This bill also was defeated, 58-42. But there also was some lovely tap-dancing mendacity to behold on the part of brogressive man-crush Senator Aqua Buddha of Kentucky.

For some time, the people who have been fighting the NSA on these issues have expressed displeasure with what they saw as a watering-down of the original House bill. That gave Aqua Buddha the opening he needed to duck a tough vote that he might have to explain to the jumpy folks in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Mr. Paul also voted no, but because he believed it did not do enough to restrict the N.S.A. Supporters of the overhaul had worked all day to persuade him to switch his vote, to no avail. He said Tuesday he would prefer the entire Patriot Act be allowed to expire.

My lord, what a fake this man is. He knows full and goddamn well that the expiration of the entire Patriot Act is not now, nor will it ever be, on offer in any Congress of which he is a member. As the invaluable Charlie Savage points out, the new Senate, which likely will take up this bill, or something like it, is even less likely to pass it.

It is unknown how the 11 new Republicans who will join the Senate next year might alter the debate. For instance, Cory Gardner of Colorado, who will replace Senator Mark Udall, one of the Senate's staunchest advocates of N.S.A. changes, has been supportive of ending bulk record collection. Steve Daines, the incoming Republican senator from Montana, also voted yes with Mr. Gardner on a contentious proposal to strip funding for bulk collection when the House took up the issue last year. Other Republican members of the House who will join the Senate next year - Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and James Lankford of Oklahoma - voted no.

Cotton is a hawk who thinks that ISIS has merged with Mexican drug cartels to invade Arkansas. Call me Kreskin, but I don't see him voting to rein in the NSA. And I guarantee you that my new friend Joni Ernst is going to be one of the best friends the intelligence community ever had. Aqua Buddha might as well have argued that he voted against the bill on Tuesday because it did not provide a rotating cast of 12 mermaids to sit on his lap and feed him grapes. I have more respect for Mitch McConnell, who summoned up the old boogedy-boogedy-terrorists! argument as his reason for voting against the bill. And thus did an epic day of sausage-making end. As it happens, while the Keystone voting was going on, I happened to be e-mailing back and forth with my pal, Randy Thompson, who's been fighting the death-funnel on the ground for a few years now. I asked him how he was doing, watching the World's Greatest Deliberative Body handle the issue. This was his reply:

Such a thrill watching the skilled and dedicated representatives of the people practicing their craft!!! What a load of horse shit.

And who knows what delights await us today.

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18 Nov 17:25

“Or We Could Try To Appeal to a Broader Group of Voters.” [pause] “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

by Scott Lemieux

Simpsons 1

Just in case vote suppression isn’t enough, some Republicans are proposing to take the United States even further from democracy:

Last week, Michigan state Rep. Pete Lund (R) revealed a plan that would rig the Electoral College to ensure Republican victories in 2016 and beyond if it were enacted in a sufficient number of states. Like similar proposals from GOP lawmakers who proposed rigging the Electoral College in the past, Lund’s proposal takes advantage of the fact that there are several large states that tend to support Democrats in presidential election years but that are currently controlled by Republicans.

Right now, nearly every state allocates 100 percent of its electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state as a whole. Lund’s proposal would change that calculation in the blue state of Michigan, however, while continuing to award each red state’s full slate of electoral votes to the Republican candidate for president. If this plan had been in effect in 2012, for example, Mitt Romney would have won a quarter of Michigan’s electoral votes despite losing the state to President Obama by nearly 10 points…

The electoral college is a horrible, indefensible anachronism.  You can tell this not only because it has no international influence, but because the states that otherwise slavishly followed the federal model in designing their political institutions don’t use it.  But norms like electors following the will of the voters and winner-take-all allocation in almost every state have allowed it to work tolerably well in most cases.  For the electoral college to subvert the popular vote, you now generally need an unusual confluence of circumstances — a razor-close vote and voter purges and administrative incompetence and a mendaciously narcissistic vanity candidate and a nakedly partisan Supreme Court.  But the problem is that the electoral college and the fact that the states are given the discretion to unilaterally change the way they allocate the votes just lies around like a loaded weapon, waiting for a party to just say the hell with it, if it’s formally legal and might allow our candidate who gets drubbed in the popular vote to take office, let’s do it.  I suspect it will happen sooner rather than later.








13 Nov 06:44

Oranges and lemons – fairness intuitions and “best execution”

by Daniel

I’m just in the middle of writing an article on the technicalities of the foreign exchange market, and what went wrong, and this example came up. I think the fair solution is pretty intuitive, but maybe others will differ. Presume below that this is a one-time interaction, so nothing to do with reputations, repeat business etc.

“You are on your way to the fruit market, because you want to buy five oranges. Someone you’ve never met before accosts you on your way and says “Hey, you! Could you buy me five oranges please? I’ll give you the money when you come back and I’ll pay you ten pence for doing it”. You think what the hell, and say yes. You ask what’s the maximum he’s prepared to pay for them and he says “Don’t care – whatever the market price is”.

Down at the market, there is one stall which has five oranges for sale at 50p each, and another stall with five oranges for sale but charging 55p each. You buy five oranges from each stall and head back home.

Your customer is waiting back at your gate. He gives you your ten pence, and asks “How much did my oranges cost?” What do you tell him?

You have three choices really (I’d be interested to know if anyone could justify any other price).

a) Tell him “50p each” – ie, you filled his order first and then your own
b) Tell him “55p each” – ie, you bought yours first, and then his
c) Tell him “52 and a half pence” – ie, you give him the weighted average of what you managed to pick up

In case a) your good turn has cost you a pretty penny – you paid £2.75 for your oranges when you could have got them for £2.50, and your 10p wages doesn’t cover the difference. Even in case c) you are down on the deal – paying £2.625 for your oranges, less 10p for an “all in” cost of oranges of £2.525 which is 2.5p more expensive than if you’d never met the guy. A lot of people would say case b) is perfectly fair – this guy clearly doesn’t really care all that much about how much he pays for oranges, or he would have gone to market himself rather than grabbing a complete stranger to do so. It’s also the point at which your profit from the overall transaction (10p) equals the wage that he said he would pay you.

Why should you subsidise him? But on the other hand, isn’t there something a bit hinky about deciding that all the best-priced oranges were for you, and all the worst deals were for your client?

Of course, I think people’s intuitions about fairness might change if your customer was paying you £10 to go to market for him, or if you had explicitly promised him that you would get him the best price possible. But in the simplest case (and this does match up pretty well to the actual structure and pricing of the FX market), I think it’s not obvious at all that the most intuitive concept of fair dealing corresponds at all to the regulatory concept of “duty of best execution”. Anyway, what do you think?

Update the longer post is now up.

12 Nov 18:55

What Washington Refuses To Admit

by Andrew Sullivan

[Re-posted from earlier today]

Let me put this as baldly as I can. The US fought two long, brutal wars in its response to the atrocity of September 11, 2001. We lost both of them – revealing the biggest military machine in the history of the planet as essentially useless in advancing American objectives through war and occupation. Attempts to quash Islamist extremism through democracy were complete failures. The Taliban still has enormous sway in Afghanistan and the only way to prevent the entire Potemkin democracy from imploding is a permanent US troop presence. In Iraq, we are now confronting the very same Sunni insurgency the invasion created in 2003 – just even more murderous. The Jihadism there has only become more extreme under a democratic veneer. And in all this, the U.S. didn’t just lose the wars; it lost the moral high-ground as well. The president himself unleashed brutal torture across all theaters of war – effectively ending any moral authority the US has in international human rights.

These are difficult truths to handle. They reveal that so many brave men and women died for nothing. And so we have to construct myths or bury facts to ensure that we maintain face. But these myths and amnesia have a consequence: they only serve to encourage Washington to make exactly the same mistakes again. To protect its own self-regard, Washington’s elite is prepared to send young Americans to fight in a war they cannot win and indeed have already lost. You see the blinding myopia elsewhere: Washington’s refusal to release the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture merely proves that it cannot face the fact that some of the elite are war criminals tout simple, and that these horrific war crimes have changed America’s role in the world.

What infuriated me about the decision to re-start the Iraq War last August – by a president explicitly elected not to do any such thing – was its arrogance, its smugness, and its contempt for what this country, and especially its armed forces, went through for so many long years of quagmire and failure. Obama and his aides revealed that their commitment to realism and not to intervene in Syria could be up-ended on a dime – and a war initiated without any debate in Congress, let alone a war authorization. They actually believed they had the right to re-start the Iraq War – glibly tell us it’s no big deal – tell us about it afterwards, and then ramp up the numbers of combat forces on the ground to early Vietnam levels.

This is not just a Republican fixation. It’s a function of the hegemony reflexively sought by liberal internationalists as well. Just listen to Jon Stewart calling Samantha Power’s smug bluff last night:

It was one of Stewart’s best interviews in a long while. One telling moment comes when Stewart asks Power why, if the threat from ISIS is “existential”, the regional powers most threatened by it cannot take it on themselves. She had no answer – because there is none. The US is intervening – despite clear evidence that it can do no real good – simply to make sure that ISIS doesn’t actually take over the country and thereby make president Obama look bad. But the IS was never likely to take over Kurdistan or the Shiite areas of Iraq, without an almighty struggle. And our elevating ISIS into a global brand has only intensified its recruitment and appeal. We responded, in other words, in the worst way possible and for the worst reasons possible: without the force to alter the underlying dynamic, without a breakthrough in multi-sectarian governance in Baghdad, without the regional powers taking the lead, without any exit plan, and all to protect the president from being blamed for “losing Iraq” – even though “Iraq” was lost almost as soon as it was occupied in 2003.

My point is this: how can you behave this way after what so many service-members endured for so long? How can you simply re-start a war you were elected to end and for which you have no feasible means to achieve victory?

The reason, I fear, is that the leadership in both parties cannot help themselves when they have a big shiny military and see something they don’t like happening in the world. If they can actually decide to intervene in a civil war to suppress an insurgency they couldn’t fully defeat even with 100,000 troops in the country, without any direct threat to national security, they can do anything. Worse, our political culture asks no more of them. The Congress doesn’t want to take a stand, the public just wants beheadings-induced panic satiated by a pliant president (who is then blamed anyway), and the voices that need to be heard – the voices of those who fought and lost so much in Iraq – are largely absent.

That’s why I found this op-ed in yesterday’s NYT so refreshing. A former lieutenant general in Iraq reminds us of the facts McCain and Obama both want to deny:

The surge in Iraq did not “win” anything. It bought time. It allowed us to kill some more bad guys and feel better about ourselves. But in the end, shackled to a corrupt, sectarian government in Baghdad and hobbled by our fellow Americans’ unwillingness to commit to a fight lasting decades, the surge just forestalled today’s stalemate. Like a handful of aspirin gobbled by a fevered patient, the surge cooled the symptoms. But the underlying disease didn’t go away. The remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgents we battled for more than eight years simply re-emerged this year as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

To go back in and try to do again with no combat troops what we could not do with 100,000 is a definition of madness brought on by pride. It is to restart the entire war all over again. It makes no sense – except as political cover. I was chatting recently with an officer who served two tours of duty in Iraq, based in Mosul. I asked him how he felt about ISIS taking over a city he had risked his life to save. And I can’t forget his response (I paraphrase): “Anyone who was over there knew right then that as soon as we left, all this shit would happen again. I’m not surprised. The grunts on the ground knew this, and saw this, but the military leadership can’t admit their own failure and the troops cannot speak out because it’s seen as an insult to those who died. And so we keep making the same fucking mistakes over and over again.”

At what point will we listen to those men and women willing to tell the ugly, painful truth about our recent past – and follow the logical conclusion? When will Washington actually admit its catastrophic errors and crimes of the last decade – and try to reform its own compulsive-interventionist habits to reflect reality rather than myth? Not yet, it appears, not yet. Washington cannot bear very much reality.

(Photo: U.S. Army soldiers of the D-CO 2/325 AIR 82nd Airborne Division during a dismounted movement to conduct early morning raids on homes in Baghdad, Iraq on April 26, 2007. The soldiers are part of the United States military surge as they try to help control the violence plagued city. By Joe Raedle/Getty Images.)


05 Nov 00:00

Language Nerd

Not to go all sentence fragment on you.
31 Oct 12:47

Wolves In Creep's Clothing

by By Charles P. Pierce

Every now and again, we check in on No Labels, the mock-Centrist collection of political pickpockets whose primary purpose in our politics is to drop "bipartisan" camouflage netting over Republican policies so as to divorce said policies, which suck gallons of pond water on their own, from the flying monkey escadrille that makes up the rest of the Republican party. Many people are attached to this long con, most of whom are fairly dingy characters, low-rent magicians from a flea-bitten political burlesque parlor. Morning Squint is deeply attached to them, as is Jon (Third Place) Huntsman, who needed a gig after the Republican primary electorate stopped laughing at him. It's the brainchild of Mark McKinnon, a Texas grifter and a former acolyte of C-Plus Augustus in the latter's rise to power. Having enabled a catastrophic presidency in such a way that he should be kept out of political life for the same reasons we keep toddlers out of the hand grenades, McKinnon's made a sudden retreat into bipartisan "problem-solving," perhaps the least-convincing transformation since Vladimir Putin abandoned the KGB for elective office.

Anyway, there's this really tough U.S. Senate election out in Colorado. Incumbent Democratic senator Mark Udall -- son of Mo, of sainted memory -- is life-and-death with a fetus-fondling grab-bag of pure crazy named Cory Gardner, who's as far into the izonkosphere as Joni Ernst, but who doesn't have a second career of castrating hogs on which to fall back. In his career in the House of Representatives, Gardner supported that personhood amendment, and he fought to change the definition of "rape" to "forcible rape," a far-from-merely-semantic distinction that put Gardner in the same boat with Todd Akin as they rowed steadily away from the shores of sanity. He's a climate change denialist, a Steve King ally on immigration, and so anti-gay that Rick Santorum thinks he's just peachy, and have I mentioned recently what a colossal dick Rick Santorum is? Gardner has managed to soft-pedal his extremism to the point where he just might win, largely because the political press is willing to purchase all manner of swampland at a very reasonable cost. NPR's Mara Liasson turns out to have been the latest, and most predictable, mark.

By Charles P. Pierce

Every now and again, we check in on No Labels, the mock-Centrist collection of political pickpockets whose primary purpose in our politics is to drop "bipartisan" camouflage netting over Republican policies so as to divorce said policies, which suck gallons of pond water on their own, from the flying monkey escadrille that makes up the rest of the Republican party. Many people are attached to this long con, most of whom are fairly dingy characters, low-rent magicians from a flea-bitten political burlesque parlor. Morning Squint is deeply attached to them, as is Jon (Third Place) Huntsman, who needed a gig after the Republican primary electorate stopped laughing at him. It's the brainchild of Mark McKinnon, a Texas grifter and a former acolyte of C-Plus Augustus in the latter's rise to power. Having enabled a catastrophic presidency in such a way that he should be kept out of political life for the same reasons we keep toddlers out of the hand grenades, McKinnon's made a sudden retreat into bipartisan "problem-solving," perhaps the least-convincing transformation since Vladimir Putin abandoned the KGB for elective office.

Anyway, there's this really tough U.S. Senate election out in Colorado. Incumbent Democratic senator Mark Udall -- son of Mo, of sainted memory -- is life-and-death with a fetus-fondling grab-bag of pure crazy named Cory Gardner, who's as far into the izonkosphere as Joni Ernst, but who doesn't have a second career of castrating hogs on which to fall back. In his career in the House of Representatives, Gardner supported that personhood amendment, and he fought to change the definition of "rape" to "forcible rape," a far-from-merely-semantic distinction that put Gardner in the same boat with Todd Akin as they rowed steadily away from the shores of sanity. He's a climate change denialist, a Steve King ally on immigration, and so anti-gay that Rick Santorum thinks he's just peachy, and have I mentioned recently what a colossal dick Rick Santorum is? Gardner has managed to soft-pedal his extremism to the point where he just might win, largely because the political press is willing to purchase all manner of swampland at a very reasonable cost. NPR's Mara Liasson turns out to have been the latest, and most predictable, mark.

So you'll probably never guess who looked at Cory Gardner and saw, not a career extremist with a gift for rancid opportunism, but a man who can bring the nation together behind a National Strategic Agenda to Solve Our Problems the way President Jon Huntsman has over the past two years? I'm telling you, you'll never guess.

Dammit, how'd you guess? You guys are really smart.

No Labels' move to more aggressively back the Colorado Republican seems uncharacteristic, however, especially since controversy involving Gardner already consumed the nonpartisan group earlier this year. No Labels endorsed Gardner in April, angering Senate Democrats. The backlash led the organization to clarify that any candidate could earn its endorsement -- including Udall. The No Labels Seal of Approval is awarded to members of the Problem Solvers Caucus who have worked across the political aisle and support a national strategic agenda of shared goals for the country," said Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to George W. Bush and a No Labels co-founder. "We are happy to award the Seal to people running in the same race." 

"Uncharacteristic," my arse. This is entirely in keeping with the organization's real agenda, which is to Bring The Nation Together behind the Republican platform of 2000, before the nation went entirely to the dogs by electing the guy who ran on it. And, of course, a deep concern for "civility" is one of the important elements of the con. Udall has been inconveniently pointing out, over and over again, the fact that Gardner is perfectly willing to pitch the privacy rights of 51 percent of the population overboard, and that Gardner's doing his damndest to conceal that fact. (This sent the editorial board of the Denver Post to the fainting couch, from which it produces the single dumbest editorial endorsement in American political history.) Alleged Democratic senator Joe Manchin (D-Anthracite), who is a co-chair of this passel of political bunco artists, at least has had the decency to stand by Udall. Of course, in this case, as in so many others, we defer further comment on Manchin's decision to Mr. Rock of Brooklyn.

No Labels' decision to get behind Gardner should be the final straw for anyone to the left of the Green Room of MSNBC. Gardner is not a reasonable man. He is a fanatic. He wants to solve problems, all right. One of the problems he wants to solve is a woman's reproductive autonomy. Another problem he wants to solve is the country's pale effort to deal with the greatest environmental crisis of our time, which he does not believe really exists.The decision by No Labels is of a piece with that dog's breakfast of a column that David Brooks dropped on us the other day about "partyism," a word Brooks invented because it rhymes with "racism" and "sexism" and therefore sounds spookier than "partisanism," which is what politics are supposed to be about. Every time the country starts to notice the effects of the prion disease that has been afflicting the Republicans since it first ate the monkey brains back in the 1980's, and every time the Democratic party seeks to make a political point that the Republicans thereby have been driven mad, we get paragraphs like this from Brooks.

This mentality also ruins human interaction. There is a tremendous variety of human beings within each political party. To judge human beings on political labels is to deny and ignore what is most important about them. It is to profoundly devalue them. That is the core sin of prejudice, whether it is racism or partyism.

So, apparently, pointing out the positions that the likes of Cory Gardner have held for their entire political lives, until they decided they wanted a better gig, is roughly the same "core sin" that was present in American society under Jim Crow?

Yeah, right.

No Labels loved that column, by the way.

Even if it were honest, which No Labels now has demonstrated conclusively is beyond its poor abilities, the search for the Golden Mean remains largely a unicorn hunt because the true cause of our political dysfunction is deliberately misdiagnosed, time and time again. One of the two political parties that we allow ourselves has gone stark raving mad, largely through the efforts of the likes of Cory Gardner. Mr. Yeats lowballed it. Not only can the center not hold, it can't even be the center.

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29 Oct 12:36

A Disgrace Even By Roberts Court Standards

by Scott Lemieux

The effects of John Roberts re-writing the ACA’s Medicaid expansion are felt in Mississippi:

Even the law’s vaunted Medicaid expansion, meant to assist those too poor to qualify for subsidized private insurance, was no help after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could opt out. Bryant made it clear Mississippi would not participate, leaving 138,000 low-income residents, the majority of whom are black, with no insurance options at all. And while the politics of Obamacare became increasingly toxic, the state’s already financially strapped rural hospitals faced a new crisis from the law’s failure to take hold: They had been banking on newly insured patients to replace the federal support for hospitals serving the uninsured, which was set to taper off as people gained coverage. Now, instead of more people getting more care in Mississippi, in many cases, they would get less.

“We work hard at being last,” said Roy Mitchell, the beleaguered executive director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, when we met in Jackson. “Even a dog knows the difference between being tripped over and being kicked.”

This reflects an infliction of pain and suffering and death than was eminently avoidable. If you’ll forgive me for reiterating, it’s nearly impossible to overstate how terrible this decision was. It would be one thing if this denial of access of medical care to millions of people was enforcing some explicit constitutional provision, but it wasn’t. If this judicially invented limitation at least protected some meaningful individual liberty interest it might be a little more understandable, but it doesn’t. At best, the lives of millions of people have been made worse — with consequences up to and including death — in order to prioritize inferential states’ “rights” over human rights.

But here’s the kicker: Sebelius does not even provide any significant protection for state autonomy. Congress remains free to create a Medicaid program that requires everyone up to 138% of the federal poverty line to be covered and makes all Medicaid funding contingent on meeting these conditions.  It simply would have to structure it by formally repealing the previous Medicaid and replacing it with “Medicaid II: The Quest For Ron Paul’s GOLD,” thus evading the Supreme Court’s newly minted requirement that existing funding can sometimes be made contingent on accepting new conditions and sometimes can’t and we’ll let you know ex post facto whether this completely arbitrary line has been crossed. Congress can pursue identical means with identical ends; the ACA’s constitutional Medicaid expansion is not different in any substantive way whatsoever from the hypothetical constitutional Medicaid II. The state interest being protected here doesn’t even rise to the level of being trivial.

The fact that so much misery was created for so little should permanently shame the justices who voted for it. It’s judicial review at its least defensible.








28 Oct 10:41

This Day in Labor History: October 28, 1793

by Erik Loomis

On October 28, 1793, Eli Whitney submitted a patent for his invention known as the cotton gin. Perhaps more than any technology in American history, this invention profoundly revolutionized American labor. Creating the modern cotton industry meant the transition from agricultural to industrial labor in the North with the rise of the factory system and the rapid expansion and intensification of slavery in the South to produce the cotton. The cotton gin went far to create the 19th century American economy and sharpened the divides between work and labor between regions of the United States, problems that would eventually lead to the Civil War.

People had long known of the versatile uses of cotton. This plant produced fibers that could be used for many things, but most usefully clothing, which in the 18th century was often scratchy and uncomfortable for everyday people who could not afford finer fabrics, including cotton. The problem was the seed inside the cotton boll, to which the plant’s fibers stuck. Thus, the labor it took to process it made it a luxury good. The cotton gin solved that problem by mechanically separating the fibers from the seeds. This made cotton a universal product and the production of it an international business that would radically change the entire United States and transform work.

Whitney, from Massachusetts, became interested in the problems of cotton production while visiting a plantation in Georgia. Helping out the plantation’s owner (the widow of Revolutionary War general Nathaniel Greene), he created the cotton gin. On October 28, he send his patent application to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. He hoped to make a lot of money on it but American patent law was weak at the time and others copied him. Quickly the invention spread around the South.

49824_cotton_gin_lg

The cotton gin immediately transformed the South. By 1815, cotton became the nation’s leading export, tying the Southern elite to the factory owners and investors of Great Britain. By 1840, it was worth more than all other American exports combined. The system of chattel slavery that had under-girded the colonial tobacco economy had become heavily strained during the 18th century. Declining soil fertility and the expansion of tobacco production around the British empire meant that the plantation owners were not making the money off of slavery that they did 100 years earlier. The lack of an economic imperative for the institution went far toward the abolition of slavery in the North after the American Revolution. In the South, it combined with Enlightenment ideals to at least make plantation owners question the institution. Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry both admitted the institution was bad but could not imagine freeing their slaves because of the lives of luxury the system provided them. Others were slightly less selfish and either freed their slaves in the 1780s or freed them upon the master’s death, such as George Washington. The general assumption though was that slavery was going to disappear, even if Georgia and South Carolina wouldn’t like it much. As Oliver Ellsworth said at the Constitutional Convention, “Slavery in time will not be a speck in our country.”

The cotton gin ended this equivocation on slavery among the plantation elite and destroyed the myth of disappearing slavery in the North. Combined with the conquest of rich land in the hot climates of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana over the next few decades, the planters found new ways to make money using slaves. The southern discussion of slavery transformed from a “necessary evil” to a “positive good.” Thus we would enter the “classic” period of American chattel slavery, replete with the large plantation agriculture you probably think of when envisioning slavery. The lives for slaves were terrible under this system, with rape, beatings, whippings, murder, and the breaking up of families normal parts of life. Further advances in cotton farming created breeds that incentivized working slaves as close to death as possible while keeping them just alive to pick more. As the nation moved toward the Civil War, the southern labor system wrought by the cotton gin was becoming only more entrenched and more brutal for the laborers. Slaves would resist this in any number of ways–breaking tools, running away from masters, even revolt, such as Nat Turner’s revolt or Denmark Vesey’s supposed conspiracy. But by and large the system of racialized violence that kept the labor force in place doomed slaves to miserable lives. In 1787, there were 700,000 slaves in the United States. In 1860, there were 4 million and rising. Around 70 percent of those slaves were involved in cotton production.

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In the North, the revolution caused by the cotton gin was just as profound. Samuel Slater had opened the United States’ first modern factory, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, a couple of years earlier. The textile industry would explode in the next several decades with all the newly available cotton. By the 1820s, New England had already undergone a massive economic shift toward textile mills that moved this region from rural to urban, with courts and politicians serving the interests of the industrialists over workers, farmers, and fishers. At first, this transformation was along the region’s copious waterways–at Pawtucket, Lowell, and Manchester. But further technological advances would for steam power meant owners could build factories anywhere and they dotted the region after the Civil War.

The impact upon northern workers was truly revolutionary. The agricultural economy certainly did not disappear but it soon became secondary to the textile factories in much of the region. The wealth spawned by textiles created other industries and new transportation technologies like the steamship, canal, and railroad, and by 1860, the growing northern industrial might had reshaped the nation. It took workers out of the farms and small shops that defined 18th century work and into giant factories. Eventually, the Industrial Revolution that the cotton gin brought to the U.S. meant that workers would lose control over their own labor, the ability to set their own hours of work, the possibility of drinking on the job, and the artisanship of American craft labor. Replacing it would be the factory floor, the time clock, and the foreman. This is largely in the relatively distant future from 1793, but the transformations began soon after.

Cartoon or Sketch of Mill Woman_0

It also brought women into the economy in new ways. Supposedly because of their nimble fingers but really because employers could pay them less, women became desirable workers in the cotton factories. This upended gender roles and when American women resisted the treatment they faced in the factories, spurred the migration of immigrants from Ireland and then eastern and southern Europe to fill these low-paid jobs. In the early factories, work was hot, stuffy, and exhausting, with 14-16 hours days not uncommon. The creation of textile work as women’s work and thus highly exploitative never ended and continues today in the sweatshops of Bangladesh, Honduras, and many other nations. The fight to tame the conditions of industrial labor wrought, in part, by the cotton gin, remains underway today.

This is the 123rd post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.








21 Oct 05:22

The Principles of John Roberts

by Scott Lemieux

You might think that the fact that the Supreme Court is willing to allow Texas to conduct an election with a racially discriminatory poll tax reflects a complete disinterest unwillingness* to intervene in the electoral process. Of course, this is not exactly true:

There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in April.

Roberts spoke then for the court’s conservative majority in striking down part of a federal election law so as to allow a wealthy Republican businessman from Alabama to give more money to candidates across the country.

The contribution limit restricted the donor’s free speech, Roberts concluded, and the Constitution requires the court to err on the side of safeguarding that cherished 1st Amendment protection.

But the right to vote, which is the way most Americans participate in a democracy, has gotten far less protection from the Supreme Court under Roberts.

There is no starker example than the high court’s order early Saturday allowing Texas to enforce a new photo identification law that a federal judge had blocked earlier this month after deciding the law would prevent as many as 5% of the state’s registered voters, or 600,000 people in all, from casting a ballot.

Fortunately, the law in its majestic equality permits rich and poor alike to donate great sums of money to political campaigns, which will surely be a consolation to the disenfranchised.

*As Jacob Levy noted on the tweeter, this is a misuse of the word, a misusage I particularly regret in the context of discussing the Roberts Court and voting rights.








20 Oct 14:10

Houston as Urban Ideal?

by Erik Loomis

OK, no one would really say that Houston is an urban utopia. But this op-ed in the Houston Chronicle actually does make some good points, even if it can be read as a defense of low-density, auto-intensive sprawl that many of us, myself included, reject. Because if you look at the dense urban centers exploding in the last twenty years, they are not livable for the working and even the middle classes:

The luxury paradigm has worked for some in some cities, but has failed, critically, in providing ample opportunities for the middle and working classes, much less the poor. Indeed, many of the cities most closely identified with luxury urbanism tend to suffer the most extreme disparities of both class and race. If Manhattan were a country, it would rank sixth-highest in income inequality in the world out of more than 130 countries for which the World Bank reports data. New York’s wealthiest 1 percent earn one-third of the entire municipality’s personal income – almost twice the proportion for the rest of the country.

Indeed, increasingly, New York, as well as San Francisco, London, Paris and other cities where the cost of living has skyrocketed, are no longer places of opportunity for those who lack financial resources or the most elite educations. Instead, they thrive largely by attracting people who are already successful or are living on inherited largesse.

They are becoming, as journalist Simon Kuper puts it, “the vast gated communities where the 1 percent reproduces itself.”

Not surprisingly, the middle class is shrinking rapidly in most luxury cities. A recent analysis of 2010 Census data by the Brookings Institution found that the percentage of middle incomes in metro regions such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago has been in a precipitous decline for the last 30 years, due in part to high housing and business costs.

A more recent 2014 Brookings study found that these generally high-cost luxury cities – with the exception of Atlanta-tend to suffer the most pronounced inequality: San Francisco, Miami, Boston, Washington DC, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. In recent years, income inequality has risen most rapidly in the very mecca of luxury progressivism, San Francisco, where the wages of the poorest 20 percent of all households have actually declined amid the dot com billions.

Say what you will about the ideology behind some of this language, the point is something we need to take seriously. Even in cities like Denver, costs are rising so rapidly as to squeeze people out. Are our cities to become places only for the 1%? Where do the poor go who work in New York, Washington, or San Francisco? When good public transportation is built, will it just push out the poor so that the wealthy can take it? And this is hardly just an American problem, as we see here in Barcelona.

This hardly means I think we should all be Houston, Dallas, or Charlotte. But I do think we have to develop housing policies that actually allow everyday people to stay in urban centers. For instance, one way to stop the uber-wealthy from owning 10 luxury apartments in 10 leading cities would be extremely high taxes on second homes, undermining the incentive for extreme luxury apartment building making Manhattan the home of the global elite and no one else. And maybe this isn’t a good idea, I don’t know. But we do need a significantly more robust plan to keep cities livable for everyday people if we want a) to create some level of equity in our urban areas and b) if we want environmentally sustainable urban centers that actually make a difference, as oppose to provide amenities to the 1%.

But don’t tell any of this to the real estate section of the Times, which believes a $1 million apartment is within reach for average buyers.








14 Oct 13:45

Pulling Up The Ladder

by By Charles P. Pierce
Brian Stouffer

"This is not "hypocrisy." That is too mild a word. This is the regulatory capture of the government for personal benefit"

Tout le Beltway is a'twitter about this commercial that Wendy Davis ran in her race for governor of Texas. The commercial makes the point that Greg Abbott, her Republican opponent and the state's attorney general, who is confined to a wheelchair after being paralyzed in a freak accident for which he sued and won a massive, $10 million settlement, has spent his whole career in office advocating against the kinds of lawsuits that made Abbott rich. (Here's Abbott suing to overturn the Americans With Disabilities Act, which was signed by that RINO bastard from Texas, George H.W. Bush.) It has been a tough campaign down there, but, for some reason, the Davis ad has allowed Abbott to gin up a firestorm in the mainstream media about what a terrible injustice has been done to him, Greg Abbott. Outside of the wingnut blogosphere, Aaron Blake of The Washington Post got the ball rolling, and Ben Dreyfuss in Mother Jones turned in the mother of all misinterpretations, missing the point of the ad by a mere half-a-continent or so. There's barely any room on the fainting couch, what with all this bipartisanship.

We will set aside all discussion of whether the commercial was worth the candle politically; Davis has been less of a candidate than people thought she would be, and remains likely to lose the election. And we will set aside the simple argument about whether Abbott's actions in office make him a hypocrite. The Davis ad is an important one because it strikes at the heart of what movement conservatism has made of the Republican party, which once was the party of the Pure Food and Drug Act, trust-busting, the Interstate Highway System, the Clean Water Act, and the EPA. Over the past three decades, however, beginning with that epochal moment when Ronald Reagan said, in his first inaugural, that government was the problem -- not if you were a defense contractor, one thinks, or a mullah who wanted missiles -- the Republican party has profited uniquely from a massive internal contradiction that would have given a less well-funded institution the blind staggers. And the party has doubled down on that contradiction year after year, decade after decade. Simply put, the Republican party deliberately has transformed itself from the Party of Lincoln to the Party of I've Got Mine, Jack. And it rarely, if ever, gets called to account for that. As a result, and without substantial notice or paying a substantial price, and on many issues, individual Republicans have been able to justify the benefits they've received from government activity that they now oppose in theory and in practice. This is not "hypocrisy." That is too mild a word. This is the regulatory capture of the government for personal benefit. That it makes a lie, again and again, of the basic principles of modern conservatism -- indeed, that it shows those principles to be a sham -- is certainly worthy of notice and debate. It is certainly worthy of notice and debate that the conservative idea of the benefits of a political commonwealth means those benefits run only one way. Modern conservatism is not about making the government smaller. It's about making the government exclusive. It's not about streamlining the benefits of the political commonwealth. It's about making sure those benefits flow only to those people who have proven through their ability to work all the other levers of power that they deserve those benefits.

By Charles P. Pierce

Tout le Beltway is a'twitter about this commercial that Wendy Davis ran in her race for governor of Texas. The commercial makes the point that Greg Abbott, her Republican opponent and the state's attorney general, who is confined to a wheelchair after being paralyzed in a freak accident for which he sued and won a massive, $10 million settlement, has spent his whole career in office advocating against the kinds of lawsuits that made Abbott rich. (Here's Abbott suing to overturn the Americans With Disabilities Act, which was signed by that RINO bastard from Texas, George H.W. Bush.) It has been a tough campaign down there, but, for some reason, the Davis ad has allowed Abbott to gin up a firestorm in the mainstream media about what a terrible injustice has been done to him, Greg Abbott. Outside of the wingnut blogosphere, Aaron Blake of The Washington Post got the ball rolling, and Ben Dreyfuss in Mother Jones turned in the mother of all misinterpretations, missing the point of the ad by a mere half-a-continent or so. There's barely any room on the fainting couch, what with all this bipartisanship.

We will set aside all discussion of whether the commercial was worth the candle politically; Davis has been less of a candidate than people thought she would be, and remains likely to lose the election. And we will set aside the simple argument about whether Abbott's actions in office make him a hypocrite. The Davis ad is an important one because it strikes at the heart of what movement conservatism has made of the Republican party, which once was the party of the Pure Food and Drug Act, trust-busting, the Interstate Highway System, the Clean Water Act, and the EPA. Over the past three decades, however, beginning with that epochal moment when Ronald Reagan said, in his first inaugural, that government was the problem -- not if you were a defense contractor, one thinks, or a mullah who wanted missiles -- the Republican party has profited uniquely from a massive internal contradiction that would have given a less well-funded institution the blind staggers. And the party has doubled down on that contradiction year after year, decade after decade. Simply put, the Republican party deliberately has transformed itself from the Party of Lincoln to the Party of I've Got Mine, Jack. And it rarely, if ever, gets called to account for that. As a result, and without substantial notice or paying a substantial price, and on many issues, individual Republicans have been able to justify the benefits they've received from government activity that they now oppose in theory and in practice. This is not "hypocrisy." That is too mild a word. This is the regulatory capture of the government for personal benefit. That it makes a lie, again and again, of the basic principles of modern conservatism -- indeed, that it shows those principles to be a sham -- is certainly worthy of notice and debate. It is certainly worthy of notice and debate that the conservative idea of the benefits of a political commonwealth means those benefits run only one way. Modern conservatism is not about making the government smaller. It's about making the government exclusive. It's not about streamlining the benefits of the political commonwealth. It's about making sure those benefits flow only to those people who have proven through their ability to work all the other levers of power that they deserve those benefits.

One of the clearest demonstrations of the contradiction came during the Republican National Convention in 2012, when the party gave one night of speeches over to the theme, "We did build that," a deliberate misinterpretation of something the president had said. Speaker after speaker spoke of how they pulled themselves up and built their success without interference from "government." By the end of the night, the bootstraps has been pulled up so hard and so long that they must've extended from Tampa halfway through Alabama. But there was a curious thing about these speeches. A great many of them began with, "When my Dad got out of the Army..." There was the guy who built his business who never mentioned the small-business loans he'd obtained. There was Chris Christie, railing against the dead hand of big government while nearly sobbing over how important the GI Bill had been to his Dad. There was Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma who, against all history and logic, explained how her state had been built only through the sweat of Oklahomans. It was a night of organized bullshit so epic that it stands alone in my memory. It should have been all anybody talked about for a month. It should have defined the Republican party for a generation. Hell, if it weren't for the New Deal, Ronald Reagan's father would have been the town drunk. Government wasn't The Problem then. Instead, it passed without conspicuous notice. If a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged, then a liberal is a conservative who was stupid enough to buy a Pinto. My son's industrial accident must be avenged. Oh, and we should do away with OSHA as soon as that happens. Greg Abbott deserved that $10 million, but all the people taking advantage of the Americans With Disabilities Act don't deserve wheelchair ramps or curb cuts. It's monstrous.

The contradiction never should have been allowed to grow this way. Clarence Thomas should have been defined by his hysterical opposition to the affirmative action programs that helped him get out of Georgia and into Holy Cross, and not by what he may or may not have said to Anita Hill, as egregious as those comments may have been. Paul Ryan should have had the Social Security survivors benefits that got him through high school and college hung around his entire political career and draped like an iron shroud over every dystopian "budget" he ever proposed. (And, no, his sudden tenderness towards the generosity of his fellow citizens doesn't count. You're welcome, dickhead.) Every Republican congressman who begged for money from the stimulus package he otherwise condemned -- like Paul Ryan, now that I think about it -- should have had that request become a liability, and not an asset. And, since the elite political press pretty much has chickened out on its job of highlighting how the entire modern conservative ideology is built on this kind of slippery manure, it's up to the Democratic party to do it, and the Democratic party has been terrible at the job, too. This is why Wendy Davis's commercial is not only fair, it's an important moment that needs to be replicated where applicable all over the country until the message sinks in. Either government is the problem or it is not. If it's a problem for the country as a whole, then it's also a problem in Greg Abbott's personal life, and he should have been more concerned than he was about those personal injury lawsuits that are clogging up the courts. After all, they're the real job-killers.

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10 Oct 07:22

Legal reasoning

by John Quiggin

Not surprisingly, the US Supreme Court’s non-decision on equal marriage has caused plenty of debate, including John H’s smackdown of NR’s Matthew Franck.

The discussion got me thinking about the broader problem of legal reasoning, at least in its originalist and textualist forms, and also in precedent-based applications of common law. The assumption in all of these approaches is that by examining (according to some system of rules) what was legislated or decided in the past, lawyers and judges can determine the law as it applies to the case at hand. There are all sorts of well-known difficulties here, such as how words written a century ago should apply to technologies and social structures that did not exist at the time. And it often happens that these approaches produce results that seem unacceptable to most people but for which a legislative or constitutional fix is impossible for some reason.

It’s always seemed to me, though, that there is a much bigger problem with this approach, namely the implicit assumption that “the law” actually exists. That is, it is assumed that, if the appropriate procedure is used to interpret the inherited text, and applied to the problem at hand, it will produce a determinate answer. But why should this be true? The same law might contain contradictory clauses, supported by contradictory arguments, voted in by different majorities, and understood at the time of its passage in contradictory ways. Most notably, the same constitution might grant universal freedoms in one place, while recognising slavery in another.

At a minimum, such contradictions mean that there is no determinate law on the particular points of difference. But the problem is worse than this. The law rarely prescribes an exact answer in a specific case. The standard view of legal reasoning is the principles can be extracted from case law, then applied to new cases. But contradictory laws and contradictory cases produce contradictory principles. The ultimate stopping point is the paradox of entailment: a contradiction implies anything and everything.

I don’t have a fully worked out answer to this problem but I think it underlies a lot of the disquiet so many people feel about legal reasoning (apart from the ordinary disappointment when the answer it produces isn’t the one we want).

08 Oct 13:30

A Good Faith Mistake

by By Charles P. Pierce
Brian Stouffer

"We want to feel safe. Anonymous and reckless deadly force used by law enforcement is the price we're willing to have other people pay."

By Charles P. Pierce

Apparently, another Teachable Moment has come and gone without anybody learning a damn thing. After Michael Brown got iced in Missouri for the crime of being big, black, and in the street, there was a lot of talk that the dreaded National Conversation was about to break out regarding the militarization of our police forces and the swaggering, Wild West attitude with which said militarization has imbued local cops around the country. The National Conversation came to the conclusion that, perhaps, maybe, things had swung a little too far in the direction of the late Argentinian junta than is wise in a democracy. As it turns out, again, the National Conversation has had as much impact on actual reality as two elderly fishermen chatting in folding chairs on the beach has on the morning tides.

Remember that case in Georgia where a SWAT team serving a warrant broke into the wrong house, threw a flash-bang grenade blindly into the room, and blew the nose clean off a toddler's face? Just an honest error by the boys in blue.

According to an incident report obtained from the Habersham sheriff’s office, deputies were told to anticipate a cache of weapons and armed guards at the home. A search inside turned up neither guns nor drugs. Wanis Thonetheva, who didn't even live at the house, was arrested later that day without incident and charged only with possession of methamphetamine.

The grand jury's presentment makes for interesting reading, especially for fans of the passive voice, in which unfortunate mistakes are always made. The grand jury wants to make sure that the procedures are fine-tuned so that no more noses are blown off the faces of toddlers who have committed no crimes. More training is suggested so that every precaution can be taken to keep the noses of small children where they belong. Also, parents? Make sure that nobody the police might come looking for is anywhere near your child, or else police acting on a bullshit warrant may well be forced to blow the nose off your toddler's face.

It is hard not to conclude that, for the past 30 years, in the "war" on drugs -- and in the "war" on terror that learned its basic law enforcement principles from the existing "war" on drugs -- has resulted in a culture of armed impunity within police departments, and a culture within the general community that accepts this situation, as long as it doesn't break down their front doors. No-knock warrants are inherently dangerous, especially if special tactical units are encouraged to treat every raid as though they were landing on Omaha Beach. But, as long as it Their children getting their noses blown across the room, and not Our children, that's just the way things go. Sure, there's a civil suit to be made here, and the federal government is looking into the case, but the underlying causes remain the same, no matter how carefully we reform the tactics. We want to feel safe. Anonymous and reckless deadly force used by law enforcement is the price we're willing to have other people pay.

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07 Oct 13:27

Reading, Writing, Ransacking

by By Charles P. Pierce
By Charles P. Pierce

These are tough times for education "reformers," those well-meaning, usually wealthy dilettantes who are only making their comfortable living working "for the kids." Michelle Rhee, their warrior queen, has been exposed as an intellectual three-card monte dealer, and has been forced to hand over her sword and buckler to Campbell Brown, a forgettable former CNN anchor Muppet whose dedication to democracy and "transparency" is, well, eccentric at best, as she crusades against teacher tenure so that local school boards -- like the one presently embarrassing itself in Colorado -- can make sure no inconvenient thinking manages to leach into the subject population being experimented upon by the people who pay Brown her salary. Whoever they are. The charter school movement increasingly looks like a Trojan Horse for the corporate education complex -- demanding a complete lack of accountability and ending up, in many cases, as the pedagogical equivalent of a Texas fertilizer plant. This barely concealed strain of authoritarianism -- the lack of accountability, the delicately eliminationist rhetoric aimed at public school teachers, the shadowy donors whom people like Brown decline to reveal, the kleptocratic reliance on corporate money -- is more than sufficiently similar to the way corporations generally have looted the commonwealth to make you wonder if public education isn't headed the way of the country's manufacturing base. But you won't see a clearer example of all of this than the shenanigans that went on in Philadelphia yesterday.

In a closed-door session that lasted 17 minutes and that included a single public comment, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission -- more about them later -- unilaterally blew up the contract under which the Philadelphia teachers union had been operating. In addition to socking the city's teachers for their own health care, the commission also cut off the benefits being paid to retired teachers, most of them elderly, and all of them having worked for years to earn these benefits that yesterday vanished without even the pretense of debate. If this reminds you of what happened to the pensions of firemen in New Jersey, and public workers in Wisconsin, and manufacturing grunts almost everywhere in the private sector, you are unusually sharp this morning and do not need that second cup of coffee. Anyway, the estimable Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News has gone into orbit, and rightly so. As he points out, the SRC has been after doing this kind of thing for a long while.

There are some major work rule changes, too - the one that jumped out at me was teachers no longer being able to use reasonable force to defend themselves. The district would no longer be required to provide copy machines, or "a sufficient number of instructional materials and textbooks." The district would no longer have to provide a teachers' lounge, water fountains, parking facilities, desks for teachers, a designated room for speech and language staff and psychologists or "accommodation rooms" for students with special needs.  Counselors would no longer be guaranteed to have rooms with privacy and confidentiality, a telephone, a locked filing cabinet and a door.

No water fountains? Seriously?

The politics of the move are as simple as they are grotesque. Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has the approval rating of malaria right now and, if nothing changes, he's on his way to an historic drubbing in November. Picking this fight may be Corbett's last chance. However, he has picked the fight right in the middle of an ongoing scandal regarding the state's system of charter schools which, because of the same lack of transparency that surrounds Campbell Brown's financial angels and that surrounded the meeting in Philadelphia yesterday, have become a target-rich environment for the accountability-free grifters of the "reform" movement.

For reasons that aren't clear, millions of dollars have moved between the network of charter schools, their parent nonprofit and two property-management entities. The School District is charged with overseeing city charters, but "does not have the power or access to the financial records of the parent organization," according to District spokesperson Fernando Gallard. "We cannot conduct even limited financial audits of the parent organization." That's despite the fact that charters account for 30 percent of the District's 2013-'14 budget. Aspira declined to comment. The $3.3 million that the four brick-and-mortar charters apparently have loaned to Aspira are in addition to $1.5 million in lease payments to Aspira and Aspira-controlled property-management entities ACE and ACE/Dougherty, and $6.3 million in administrative fees paid to Aspira in 2012. 

So that's what the charter school movement has come to in Philadelphia -- a "flip this school" real-estate scheme. Lovely. And that's not even to get into the scandal around the state's "Cyber Charter," an Internet-based school the founder of which is currently on trial for funnelling millions of dollars away from the school and into his pockets,  with which he allegedly bought himself a plane, and condos for his mother and girlfriend.

According to court documents unsealed Thursday by federal officials, Trombetta told one of his former associates, "I can no longer accept cash in bags in a Pizza Hut parking lot." After that, regular payments from Avanti Management Group were sent to One2One, according to the affidavit. The bags of cash, a private plane bough by Avanti but used mostly by Trombetta, a Florida vacation home and a home in Mingo Junction, Ohio, for Trombetta's former girlfriend all were described as perks enjoyed by Trombetta as part of a scheme to siphon money from taxpayers' funds sent to PA Cyber for more than four years.

Yeah, but the real tragedy was that some 75-year old retired Math teacher might have had to get her teeth fixed. Won't somebody think of the children?

They all have so very much to answer for, the people who have decided to enrich themselves by bashing public school teachers and, in doing so, putting the entire philosophy of public education, one of the lasting contributions to society of the American political commonwealth, at serious risk. No wonder they operate secretly, and in the shadows, and beyond the reach of public accountability. They are burglarizing the future for their own profit.


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18 Sep 22:31

Organized Labor and Police Militarization

by Erik Loomis

The AFL-CIO has come out pretty strongly against police militarization. Most of the unions seem fine with this. There is of course one major exception: The International Union of Police Associations. The IUPA is bickering a bit with AFL-CIO leadership over it.

And you know what? That’s fine. It’s the job of the IUPA to defend the interests of its members. In this case, that’s probably to have ridiculous armor and weapons. But it is the interest of the AFL-CIO to defend the American working class. Many of its unions are made up of the African-Americans and Latinos victimized by police violence. But the IUPA is doing its job here. We can choose to ignore it or oppose their position. I certainly am. But it’s OK that it holds that position. It is representing its members.








17 Aug 04:00

August 17, 2014


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