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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.

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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


Only 5 days left to submit for BAHFest!
11 Aug 00:00

Universal Converter Box

Brian Stouffer

No XLR cable with +48V switch? Pass.

Comes with a 50-lb sack of gender changers, and also an add-on device with a voltage selector and a zillion circular center pin DC adapter tips so you can power any of those devices from the 90s.
11 Aug 08:17

Calvin and Hobbes for August 11, 2014

08 Aug 13:02

Tumblr Of The Day

by Andrew Sullivan
06 Aug 21:00

Quote For The Day

by Andrew Sullivan

“There we were, just enjoying a nice quiet Saturday night at the movies. A slow mover, Linklater’s “Boyhood.” Some popcorn. A few sodas. Nothing really happens in the film, we found. For about 90 minutes or so we stare listlessly at the screen. It’s a thinking man’s film, I say. Beautifully shot. It’s about life, and death and relationships and things of that nature. Just then, at a brief, carefully-timed cinematic pause in dialogue, an enormous fart from somewhere in the back pierces an otherwise silent movie theatre. It had the impact of a baseball bat hitting a leather couch, or George Foreman working the heavy bag. Whack. Loud, deep and masculine.The seat cushion heroically absorbed most of the blow, but not enough that each and every person in the movie theatre instantly burst into nervous laughter. The laughter continued for what felt like a good 5 minutes, until tears streamed down our faces.

Even well after the blast, we quietly chuckled to ourselves with a ‘remember the time that guy farted in the movie theatre’ gleam in our eyes. And just like that, with a soft chuckle and a deep breath, we were back into the film. Things happened, people drove around Texas, relationships came and went, there was crying, there was hope. It was as if we had all forgotten about the fart that had brought us together that night. As the sun began to set on screen, the teenage boy, no longer a boy, transitions into an adult, before our very eyes, and looks, intently, lustfully into a young girls eyes, as if to lean in for a kiss, and braaaaaaap. Another fart from the back row, like two giant hands clapping together, and the screen goes dark, roll credits. We decided, after laughing our way out of the theatre, and all the way home, that this was the best movie that we had ever seen. I imagine the lone fartist sauntering off into the sunset. His work here done.

If only I could say thank you, kind sir. You are truly a master of your craft,” – a Craigslist poster on a memorable day at the movie theater.

07 Aug 04:00

August 07, 2014


Hey geeks! The Augie pre-order page will be open for just a little while longer.
06 Aug 16:55

Who The Fck Is Campbell Brown?

by By Charles P. Pierce

To paraphrase from my grandmother, the former shepherd lass from the hills and hollows of north Kerry, who the fck is Campbell Brown when she's at home?

Well, on the basics, she's from Ferriday, Louisiana, the hometown of Jerry Lee Lewis, and she graduated from Regis University in Denver -- after a brief stop at LSU -- with a B.A. in political science. She is married to Baghdad Dan Senor, one of the most conspicuous prevaricators in the employ of the late Avignon Presidency. (This will become important later on, as we shall see.) She also spent a year teaching English in Czechoslovakia, which I guess qualifies her for her current job, being a public spokesperson for the latest attempt to privatize American public education, Michelle (Big Grift) Rhee having apparently run her course as the rake in this long con, what with the cheating scandal and the big salary and all that sweet corporate sugar. The make-education-a-business scamsters needed a new face for the operation. Enter Campbell Brown, B.A. in political science, and professional communicator.

(It's important now to mention that Senor Senor, the spousal unit in this lash-up, has been closely allied with Peter Singer, the vulture capitalist who has thrown a big piece of his ill-gotten booty into the school "reform" movement. Brown comes by her current job fairly directly.)

So Brown is now out there shilling for the latest "reform" scheme -- using the courts to bust the teacher's unions and to deny public school teachers the freely-bargained rights to due process that ensure that they will not be altogether subject to the whims of local school board fanatics. She had a bit of a time of it with Stephen Colbert the other night, declining to name the people funding the crusade for which she is the mouthpiece. (It's nice to see she's transcended that nasty transparency tic so common to the members of her former profession. Senor Senor must be very thrilled.) The answer about her donors was rendered in fluent weaselspeak...

By Charles P. Pierce

To paraphrase from my grandmother, the former shepherd lass from the hills and hollows of north Kerry, who the fck is Campbell Brown when she's at home?

Well, on the basics, she's from Ferriday, Louisiana, the hometown of Jerry Lee Lewis, and she graduated from Regis University in Denver -- after a brief stop at LSU -- with a B.A. in political science. She is married to Baghdad Dan Senor, one of the most conspicuous prevaricators in the employ of the late Avignon Presidency. (This will become important later on, as we shall see.) She also spent a year teaching English in Czechoslovakia, which I guess qualifies her for her current job, being a public spokesperson for the latest attempt to privatize American public education, Michelle (Big Grift) Rhee having apparently run her course as the rake in this long con, what with the cheating scandal and the big salary and all that sweet corporate sugar. The make-education-a-business scamsters needed a new face for the operation. Enter Campbell Brown, B.A. in political science, and professional communicator.

(It's important now to mention that Senor Senor, the spousal unit in this lash-up, has been closely allied with Paul Singer, the vulture capitalist who has thrown a big piece of his ill-gotten booty into the school "reform" movement. Brown comes by her current job fairly directly.)

So Brown is now out there shilling for the latest "reform" scheme -- using the courts to bust the teacher's unions and to deny public school teachers the freely-bargained rights to due process that ensure that they will not be altogether subject to the whims of local school board fanatics. She had a bit of a time of it with Stephen Colbert the other night, declining to name the people funding the crusade for which she is the mouthpiece. (It's nice to see she's transcended that nasty transparency tic so common to the members of her former profession. Senor Senor must be very thrilled.) The answer about her donors was rendered in fluent weaselspeak.

When Colbert asked Brown who is funding her new Partnership for Educational Justice, she said she wouldn't reveal her donors. Why? Because, she said, she thought it was important to give anonymity to donors so that they wouldn't become "a target" of people who were protesting her appearance outside the studios before the show. "They are going to go after people who are funding us," she said.

Oh, my stars. Its it possible that many people who will lose their jobs cannot see the wisdom of Campbell Brown's position and may take steps to argue their own? Won't somebody please think of the children?

Quite simply, Campbell Brown is not in this for the kids. She's running a con on behalf of some pretty shady people. (Singer, for one, has a disreputable history of looting entire impoverished countries for his own benefit.) Because of this, she doesn't really have to know what the fck she's talking about, which is good, because she pretty plainly doesn't.

Those teachers unions she's blaming? Guess who makes up the membership of those unions? That's right: teachers. There is no way around it. Whether she wants to admit or not, because she knows the bad press that would result, Ms. Brown is clearly blaming teachers. Also, not "everyone" thinks teacher tenure laws are outdated. Clearly, the protestors outside The Colbert Report do not, as they held signs saying, "Campbell doesn't speak for me." Those tweeting #questionsforcampbell before the show aired were also obviously in disagreement. In other interviews, Ms. Brown has said "tenure is permanent lifetime employment." This is an incorrect definition of teacher tenure, and both anecdotal and research evidence demonstrates that teachers with tenure are still terminated. Tenure has little to do with protecting "bad" teachers. As educational historian Diane D'Amico writes about the history of teacher tenure, "teacher tenure never really protected teachers and nor was it supposed to." Should a teacher who has been found to be incompetent work with children? Of course not. That is not what Ms. Brown's opponents are arguing. It is, despite Ms. Brown's claims to the contrary, really about due process. Job security means that teachers are entitled to a fair trial if they are wrongfully terminated, say for standing up for students' rights or whistleblowing about inequitable treatment of themselves and others.

As long as, against all logic and evidence, we continue to insist on financing our public schools through local property taxes, teachers are going to be caught between the hammer of inconsistent budgets and the anvil of local politics. What Brown and her merry band of plutocrats call "tenure" is really a safeguard to guarantee due process for teachers who suddenly find that their school board wants them to teach Genesis in biology class. (Please see Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board for details.) But that doesn't matter because what Brown is fronting for has nothing to do with improving education and everything to do with busting one of the last remaining public-sector unions that people like Scott Walker haven't yet blown up.

Here's the Board of Directors. I see a powerhouse lawyer, a private equity cowboy, and three people who are already experienced in the school "reform" movement, one of whom once worked the beat for all-around union-buster Chris Christie. (And Howard Fuller's institute at my alma mater is heavily financed by the Bradley and Walton Foundations, both huge reservoirs of wingnut welfare.) I do not see any actual teachers, unless you count Brown's year of teaching English to the Czechs. One can extrapolate from this that the corporate backers of this latest scheme are even less connected to actual education.

And, as Diane Ravitch points out, Brown has been working the system on behalf of this con for a long time. Ravitch sends us to this investigation by Mother Jones, which reveals that, in 2013, Brown went after public schools because, she said, there were "sexual predators" lurking in the halls and protected by, yes, teacher tenure.

Brown was there to plug her new venture, the Parents' Transparency Project, a nonprofit "watchdog group" that "favors no party, candidate, or incumbent." Though its larger aim is to "bring transparency" to how contracts are negotiated with teachers' unions, PTP's most prominent campaign is to fix how New York City handles cases of sexual misconduct involving teachers and school employees-namely by giving the city's schools chancellor, a political appointee, ultimate authority in the process. Shortly after it was launched in June, PTP trained its sights on the New York mayoral race, asking the candidates to pledge to change the firing process for school employees accused of sexual misconduct. When several Democratic candidates declined, perhaps fearing they'd upset organized labor, PTP spent $100,000 on a television attack ad questioning whether six candidates, including Republican Joe Lhota and Democrats Bill de Blasio and Anthony Weiner, had "the guts to stand up to the teachers' unions." The spot stated that there had been 128 cases of sexual misconduct by school employees in the past five years, suggesting that nothing had been done in response. "It's a scandal," the ad's narrator intoned. "And the candidates are silent."

So that was the thin edge of the wedge -- scare people about perverts to get your union-busting off to a fast start. The Parents Transparency Project begat the Partners For Educational Justice, and neither one of them was ever about anything except busting teachers unions.  But Mother Jones does tease out one quote from Brown that's hilarious in the context of her stonewalling of Colbert.

"If you live in the overlapping world of politics and media, as I am learning, anything less than full transparency can potentially do you in." She still managed to get in a few digs at the unions. "I failed to disclose," she wrote, "because I stupidly did not connect the teachers' unions' opposition to charter schools to their support for a system that protects teachers who engage in sexual misconduct."

(Because sexual predation is not a problem in private schools. Thank god there was no such problem in, say, Roman Catholic parochial schools down through the decades.)

Brown and her shadowy network of supporters got a big win out in California with the Vergara decision. (Scott Lemieux explained how bizarre that decision really was.) Now, they've brought their carnival of magic tricks and misdirection to New York. Remarkably, or not so remarkably, she's managed to find some disgracefully triangulating Democratic operatives to shill for the con, searching undoubtedly for their own "Sister Souljah moment." Former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs is on board, as is, as we have seen, super-lawyer David Boies. In fact, working through Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the administration has shown a deplorable level of enthusiasm for the snake-oil that is being sold here. (Duncan, who may be a worse cabinet appointee than Tim Geithner, was fulsome in his praise of the Vergara decision.) Now that the playing field has moved east, expect to hear more from Campbell Brown about how she and her unnamed benefactors are really only in it for the kids, and about how they can barely leave their homes for fear of mobs of angry math teachers, who have protractors, dammit, and they know how to use them, and enough well-funded cries of imaginary martyrdom to gag a hundred Nixons. This is about political power, and that is all it's about, and Campbell Brown is the spokesperson for grifters and mountebanks, and that's all she is. Not that it matters, because Campbell Brown is Good On TV, and that's what's most important. The only thing her Partners For Educational Justice care less about than education, is justice.

UPDATE-- thanks to the self-correcting blogosphere and apologies to Peter Singer.

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31 Jul 16:50

Words Matter

by By Charles P. Pierce

In 1776, in order to support his claims that all men were created equal, and that they were endowed with inalienable rights, and that only to secure these rights were governments established, Thomas Jefferson needed to file a brief on behalf of the notion that, in terms of his behavior toward his North American colonies, King George III had acted like a tyrant, as Jefferson and most of the rest of the Second Continental Congress understood the term, which understanding came from John Locke's opinion in his Second Treatise On Government that defined a tyrant as a "magistrate" who, in his authority, exceeds the law. This man is perforce a tyrant, and the people cease to owe him allegiance. On this definition, Jefferson knew, his whole case depended. So he laid it on pretty thickly.

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world. He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands. He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers...

By Charles P. Pierce

In 1776, in order to support his claims that all men were created equal, and that they were endowed with inalienable rights, and that only to secure these rights were governments established, Thomas Jefferson needed to file a brief on behalf of the notion that, in terms of his behavior toward his North American colonies, King George III had acted like a tyrant, as Jefferson and most of the rest of the Second Continental Congress understood the term, which understanding came from John Locke's opinion in his Second Treatise On Government that defined a tyrant as a "magistrate" who, in his authority, exceeds the law. This man is perforce a tyrant, and the people cease to owe him allegiance. On this definition, Jefferson knew, his whole case depended. So he laid it on pretty thickly.

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world. He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands. He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers. He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries. He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance. He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature. He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation: For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states: For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world: For imposing taxes on us without our consent: For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses: For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies: For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments: For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

This is quite a bill of particulars. We go on.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation. He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

He was a tyrant not only because of what he did before, but because of what he had done in reaction against the protests that had erupted over what he'd done before.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

But even then, there was debate among the delegates over whether or not the Declaration of Independence was too intemperate in calling George III a tyrant. These were educated men who knew the gravity of what they were doing, and who knew the gravity of each word they were using to say it. As is put in a collection of letters and documents from the Second Continental Congress regarding the seriousness of the deliberations, "Facing a fundamental dilemma, the delegates were immediately at odds among themselves over how vigorously to push military preparations and how completely they should place their trust in petitions and British good will."

That is the way Americans used to speak about tyrants. Once the United States was established, and political parties formed, tyrants were defined more loosely, and the charge flung about without the same deep reservoir of evidence that Jefferson mustered up against George III. Andrew Jackson was a tyrant because John Calhoun said he was. Abraham Lincoln was a tyrant because the South picked a fight it couldn't win. (John Wilkes Booth legendarily launched that very charge from the stage at Ford's Theater, shortly after launching a bullet into Lincoln's head.) FDR was a tyrant because of the New Deal. John Kennedy was a tyrant because of integration. Lyndon Johnson was a tyrant because of Vietnam. Richard Nixon did some tyrannical things, but he didn't really have the size to be an actual tyrant. Ronald Reagan was a bit too dim, as was George W. Bush. The job of tyrant is not one you can completely delegate to your National Security Council or to your vice-president. To be found to be a tyrant is a specific charge against a specific person.

Yesterday, on a party line vote, the House of Representatives, John Boehner presiding, determined that it would sue the president of the United States. The cause of action was that the president overstepped his authority by delaying the individual mandate required by the Affordable Care Act, a course of action which Republicans in this same House previously begged him to follow in the enactment of a law this same House has voted futilely to repeal over 50 times. In doing so, the members of the House majority argued that the president had become a tyrant for doing what Republicans wanted him to do in the first place. Thus are both Jefferson and Locke transformed into characters in a rhetorical Punch and Judy show. And thus is the most important question of the founding period of the country turned into a pop quiz for lightweights and fools.

Thus said Tom Rice, Republican of South Carolina: "At the end of the bloody revolution, the last thing that they wanted was another king; they wanted freedom...My friends across the aisle worry about the price of a lawsuit to protect our freedom. Our forefathers paid dearly for that freedom...We cannot stand by and watch the president shred our Constitution."

Thus said Jeff Duncan, Republican of South Carolina: "Our Constitution does not say that the president gets to write his own laws. Our Founders knew that was a bad idea. They had seen kings wield that kind of power and they knew they didn't want that for the new nation. They knew that too much power in the hands of one person, or one group of people, inevitably would lead to tyranny."

Thus said Candace Miller, Republican of Michigan: ""The founders in their genius put in place this system of checks and balances for a very important purpose, which is to make certain that no one person could both impose and enforce the law, because that type of action amounts to tyranny.  In short, we have no king in this nation."

Thus said John Boehner, Speaker of The House and Republican of Ohio: "No member of this body needs to be reminded about what the Constitution states about the president's obligation to faithfully execute the laws of our nation..Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change? Are you willing to let anyone tear apart what our founders have built?"

Recall Jefferson's bill of particulars for a tyrant: elimination of trial by jury, piracy, incitement to massacre, quartering of soldiers, elimination of entire systems of local government. Now look at the bill of particulars for a tyrant in 2014: he used what he perceived to be his executive authority to do something that the people who now call him a tyrant begged him to do for two years. Old man Marx was right: "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."

There are things that are just as bad as encasing the Founders on marble and marveling at their omniscience. For example, we cheapen our heritage when we cheapen its origins. Ever since the ongoing prion disease emerged full-blown during the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections, and ever since its symptoms became so garishly manifest thereafter, one of our political parties has chosen to cheapen our heritage, and to create a buffoon's history in which they claim to be heirs to people whose intellect and courage as far outdistances their own as a 747 outdistances a carriage as a means to get from Boston to Philadelphia.

Jefferson knew that calling the king a tyrant was an irrevocable step toward confrontation with the greatest military power on earth by a confederation of states that barely had an army worthy of the name. He knew that simply using the word was enough to get his neck stretched if things went badly. Yesterday, the House of Representatives, in one way or another, called a twice-elected president a tyrant. It said, in one way or another, that he had violated his oath of office. If either or both of those is true, then there is only one remedy under the Constitution these people claim to so revere, and it is not a frivolous lawsuit. It is to bring articles of impeachment against the president.

You don't take tyrants to court, goddammit. You risk everything to overthrow them. But the House of Representatives, and the Speaker who presides over it, knows that doing their constitutional duty is a political risk, so they don't have the sand to fulfill it. Jefferson was willing to break with a king he called a tyrant even if it meant facing down the British army. John Boehner is not willing to risk impeaching a president his House called a tyrant if it means a four-point drop in a CNN poll. When cowards try to make history, history is mocked.

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29 Jul 00:43

Inflation OCD

by By PAUL KRUGMAN

Brad DeLong does yeoman work in tracking down a veritable host of right-wing proclamations over the past five years that high inflation is just around the corner, or maybe has already landed but the feds are hiding it in Area 51. But I think he falls short in analyzing the phenomenon, trying to attribute it to bad models or just finding it incomprehensible.

Clearly, there’s something deeper at work here. After all, clinging to beliefs that have been wrong, wrong, wrong for so long — beliefs that would have cost you money if you acted on them — and remember, Eric Cantor, the lost white knight of the reformicons, did in fact do just that — shows that there is some underlying reason those beliefs are a necessary part of the right-wing identity.

What has to be going on is that the general hatred of government activism, the constant complaint that bureaucrats are taking away your hard-earned wealth and giving it to moochers and looters, carries with it an overwhelming need to see fiat money as theft. Even alleged moderate Republicans do it. It’s a form of obsessive-compulsive political disorder, and not susceptible to rational argument.

And this in turn means that the market monetarists have a hopeless task. James Pethokoukis writes about the weird obsession of his political teammates with inflation; he needs to ask why that obsession persists, in fact has gotten stronger, after five years of utter empirical failure.

As I’ve said before, there are two topics on which, in my experience, conservatives become completely unhinged, red-in-the-face angry and screaming. One is health care, where the possibility of a successful government-backed program is unacceptable despite the fact that everyone, even America for its seniors, does it, and the other is monetary policy. It’s time to stop pretending that these are rational discussions, and start looking for the roots of the compulsion.

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26 Jul 04:00

July 26, 2014


26 Jul 23:37

Hangover Helper

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

"His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum."

Morning-after alcohol misery isn’t so bad, according to Tom Vanderbilt. In a 1995 issue of The Baffler – which opened its archives to the public this week – he reviewed the then-new Skyy vodka “hangover free” advertizing campaign. For him, he says, “the hangover, that much-maligned malady of the engorging classes, [is] the clearest window onto my inner self, the one device through which all my pretensions in the material world are brought to a crashing halt”:

The hangover is a rich but undervalued element in our culture. In the literature of every age it provides a handy narrative device for slowing down the action and bringing the most elevated characters to a place we’ve all been. In Lucky Jim, for example, Kingsley Amis expertly captures the moment as the novel’s cheerfully bumbling protagonist awakens after a sordid escapade:

The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.

Amis, the poet laureate of the hangover, was one of the few to fathom its intricacies and divine its transcendent qualities—to find, if you will, the spiritual in the spirits. The hangover, he wrote once, is no mere physical affliction, but a “unique route to self-knowledge and self-realization.”

This is usually lost on sufferers of the “physical hangover,” obsessed as they are with feeling fresh again. But as they spend the morning shuffling through the Sunday supplements, unable to finish the simplest articles, drinking tomato juice as the sunlight stalks the living room floor, on come those colossal feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and shame—the metaphysical hangover. The best, and really the only, cure for this condition is to simply acknowledge your physical hangover for what it is, rather than attributing these unsettling thoughts to your job or to your relationship. As Amis puts it, “He who truly believes he has a hangover has no hangover.”

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28 Jul 00:00

D.B. Cooper

'Why on Earth would someone commit air piracy just to finance a terrible movie decades later?' 'People are very strange these days.'
25 Jul 15:05

Zombie-Eyed Granny Starving, 2.0

by By Charles P. Pierce
Brian Stouffer

"[T]he man who brought sharecropping to the welfare state"

Between 1750 and 1860, the British Parliament passed a series of laws called The Inclosure Acts. The point of these laws was to repurpose open fields that had heretofore been treated as part of the Commons by the British peasantry. Traditionally, the peasants were able to farm these large areas and graze what animals they had there. They were also allowed to range freely over what were called "wastes," which were swampy, unproductive places in which the rural poor could fish, or gather firewood, or do whatever they needed to do to keep body and soul together.

(In an informal way, this had been going on for years, as had ineffective attempts by the peasantry to assert their traditional rights. Kett's Rebellion of 1549 was a protest against the enclosure of common land by the gentry and it was centered in the unfortunately named town of Mousehold. The Midland Revolt in 1607 also had the enclosure of common land as its casus belli.)

The Inclosure Laws ended all that, destroying part of the idea of the Commons along the way. The fields were fenced in, and the most productive of them parceled off to wealthy landowners and to those with serious political connections. This was great for agriculture and a lousy deal for the peasants, who were left with a series of unpleasant options. These included emigration, or internal migration to cities that were rapidly becoming hopelessly overcrowded and in which the luckier ones among the displaced would find work in the dark, Satanic mills that were just then accelerating toward the Industrial Revolution, or, finally, grubbing out a life as a tenant farmer for the rich people to whom what previously had been common land had been parceled off. Among other things, this set in stone a grotesquely unbalanced landlord-tenant system throughout the agricultural economy of the United Kingdom. This, as we know from our history, worked out splendidly in Ireland. The basic philosophy of the Inclosure Acts was applied generally throughout the British Empire. The effect on indigenous populations was not a good one.

(A lot of the peasants who emigrated came to America, to which they brought a deep distrust of distant autocratic power. This came in handy in 1776.)

If the peasant wanted to continue to farm any land at all, he often had to sign a contract with one of the wealthy landowners to do so. This pretty much made him a serf. (In fact, some historians have likened the Inclosure system to a rudimentary experiment in what Stalin eventually would do with his collective farms.) His livelihood, and that of his family, depended on the landlord's whims. The peasant essentially was paid (poorly) in the crops he grew, and not in actual money. In 1770, Oliver Goldsmith wrote the epic poem, The Deserted Village, in which he described the effect of enclosure on the people who had lived off the land.

Amidst thy desert walks the lapwing flies,/And tires their echoes with unvaried cries./Sunk are thy bowers, in shapeless ruin all,/And the long grass o'ertops the mouldering wall;/And, trembling, shrinking from the spoiler's hand,/Far, far away, thy children leave the land...

By Charles P. Pierce

Between 1750 and 1860, the British Parliament passed a series of laws called The Inclosure Acts. The point of these laws was to repurpose open fields that had heretofore been treated as part of the Commons by the British peasantry. Traditionally, the peasants were able to farm these large areas and graze what animals they had there. They were also allowed to range freely over what were called "wastes," which were swampy, unproductive places in which the rural poor could fish, or gather firewood, or do whatever they needed to do to keep body and soul together.

(In an informal way, this had been going on for years, as had ineffective attempts by the peasantry to assert their traditional rights. Kett's Rebellion of 1549 was a protest against the enclosure of common land by the gentry and it was centered in the unfortunately named town of Mousehold. The Midland Revolt in 1607 also had the enclosure of common land as its casus belli.)

The Inclosure Laws ended all that, destroying part of the idea of the Commons along the way. The fields were fenced in, and the most productive of them parceled off to wealthy landowners and to those with serious political connections. This was great for agriculture and a lousy deal for the peasants, who were left with a series of unpleasant options. These included emigration, or internal migration to cities that were rapidly becoming hopelessly overcrowded and in which the luckier ones among the displaced would find work in the dark, Satanic mills that were just then accelerating toward the Industrial Revolution, or, finally, grubbing out a life as a tenant farmer for the rich people to whom what previously had been common land had been parceled off. Among other things, this set in stone a grotesquely unbalanced landlord-tenant system throughout the agricultural economy of the United Kingdom. This, as we know from our history, worked out splendidly in Ireland. The basic philosophy of the Inclosure Acts was applied generally throughout the British Empire. The effect on indigenous populations was not a good one.

(A lot of the peasants who emigrated came to America, to which they brought a deep distrust of distant autocratic power. This came in handy in 1776.)

If the peasant wanted to continue to farm any land at all, he often had to sign a contract with one of the wealthy landowners to do so. This pretty much made him a serf. (In fact, some historians have likened the Inclosure system to a rudimentary experiment in what Stalin eventually would do with his collective farms.) His livelihood, and that of his family, depended on the landlord's whims. The peasant essentially was paid (poorly) in the crops he grew, and not in actual money. In 1770, Oliver Goldsmith wrote the epic poem, The Deserted Village, in which he described the effect of enclosure on the people who had lived off the land.

Amidst thy desert walks the lapwing flies,/And tires their echoes with unvaried cries./Sunk are thy bowers, in shapeless ruin all,/And the long grass o'ertops the mouldering wall;/And, trembling, shrinking from the spoiler's hand,/Far, far away, thy children leave the land.

In the American South, in the aftermath of the Civil War, partly as a vehicle to re-establish a system of white supremacy over the freed slaves, there developed a distinctly American form of the enforced tenant farming that had resulted in England from the Inclosure Acts. It was called "sharecropping." The tenant was allowed to farm some land at the behest of a landlord, and his compensation was that he got to keep some of what he grew. The sharecropper bought everything he needed to grow the crops from the landlord, who extended him credit. What he borrowed was deducted from his payment at harvest time. The sharecropper rarely got ahead, which was the whole point.

As part of the sharecropping system, the sharecropper had to sign a contract with his landlord, just as the British peasants did. (The fact that many sharecroppers were illiterate was considered to be irrelevant.) The landlord would sign his name. The sharecropper would sign with an X. "His mark," the contract would say. A sharecropping contract from 1867 gives you a good idea of what the system was like.

The said parties of the second part, have agreed and do by these presents agree and bind themselves to work for the said party of the first past during the year 1867, on the farm belonging to said party of the first part near Early Grove on said County upon the following terms and conditions to Wit the said Cooper Hughs Freedman with his wife and one other woman, and the said Charles Roberts with his wife Hannah and one boy are to work on said farm and to cultivate forty acres in corn and twenty acres in cotton, to assist in putting the fences on said farm in good order and to keep them so and to do all other work on said farm necessary to be done to keep the same in good order and to raise a good crop and to be under the control and directions of said IG Bailey and to receive for their said services one half of the cotton and one third of the corn and fodder raised by them on said farm in said year 1867 and the said Charles Roberts Freedman with his wife Hannah further agrees and binds themselves to do the washing and Ironing, and all other [2] necessary house work for said IG Bailey and his family during said year 1867 and to receive for their said services fifty dollars in money at the expiration of said year 1867 and the said Cooper Hughs Freedman further agrees and binds himself to give the necessary attention of feeding the Stock of cattle and milking the cows twice daily belong to said IG Bailey, and do the churning when ever necessary during the said year.

Both in England and here, the systems described had as their basic political assumption what we now have come to know as the maker-taker attitude toward our fellow members of the human race. The systems were about control as much as they were about agriculture, and they were about the control of people as much as they were about the control of crops. Which brings us up through the mists of history to...Paul Ryan's latest scam.

On Thursday, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin went to the American Enterprise Institute -- and there's one of your tells right there -- to reboot his public image as a serious man of serious ideas. This image took quite a beating over the past decades as he produced budget after budget that were economically illiterate and politically suicidal. Then he ran for vice-president with G.I. Luvmoney at the top of the ticket, and Joe Biden laughed at him, and that was pretty much that. Since then, Ryan has been fashioning an entirely new persona for himself as the Republican who cares about the poor. On Thursday, he announced his new anti-poverty initiative. It has been received fairly well. Ezra Klein has at least one foot back on the Paul Ryan Is A Serious Thinker bandwagon.

Ryan is, at heart, more interested in reforming government programs than in simply cutting them. When deficits exploded after the financial crisis he used deficit-reducing budgets as the vehicle for far-reaching reforms. Now that deficits are lower and poverty is more salient, he's using poverty as a vehicle for far-reaching reforms. The constant thread in Ryan's career isn't his concern for budgets but his efforts to overhaul the safety net.

And I am the Tsar of all the Russias.

On his electric teevee show, Lawrence O'Donnell found 101 different ways to talk about what "a good start" this plan is. (Ryan himself is hedging, calling the plan a "discussion draft." Guess who's leading the discussion?) There are ideas within the stated plan to which I have no objection: the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, prison reform, etc. There is also one major and insurmountable flaw in the plan, and that is that Paul Ryan is a consummate charlatan, the fact that he has discovered a new formula for snake oil notwithstanding.

One must never forget when discussing anything Paul Ryan says about economics that he fundamentally does not believe that the care of the poor and the sick is a legitimate function of government. This belief is theological. It is the basis for his entire political career. And it has not changed. This is a philosophy he developed while going to high school and college on my dime and yours through Social Security survivor benefits, and you're welcome again, dickhead. Anybody who thinks Paul Ryan has "changed" in any substantive way should not be allowed out in public without a minder. In this recent scam, the tells are scattered everywhere, and they are obvious, and you don't even have to know that the more "compassionate" of his proposals don't have fk all chance of getting through the monkeyhouse Congress in which he is a leader. He knows that, too.

For example, let us look at the tinpot re-branding of block grants as "opportunity grants." (And here we once again must refer to the words of Mr. S. Spade of San Francisco: "The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.") Ryan says, yes, block grants sucked before, when Saint Ronnie used them as a means to destroy programs he didn't like, but they will work now because - Paul Ryan.

"This isn't really exactly a block grant, where you cut a check to the state and call it a day." Funds would have to be spent on the poor - "no funny business. It would be budget neutral, and not a penny less."

No funny business!

Ezra Klein believes that these might work, if properly structured,

Similarly, Ryan's "Opportunity Grants", though missing key details, might have merit if thoughtfully constructed: few think the government's dizzying array of poverty programs are perfectly structured, and in an age where Washington is deeply gridlocked, handing a set of pilot states more flexibility to experiment more rapidly makes sense. The hard questions here are how to manage the growth of the grants when the economy turns down, how to define the kinds of limits and evaluations that need to be followed (i.e., can a governor force grant recipients to submit to a weekly drug test and home inspection?), and whether Ryan is really committed to the intensely paternalistic life plan model.

First of all, block grants to the states suck. They always have and they always will, and Paul Ryan knows this, which is why he gave them a pretty new name in the first place. And, with the spectacularly cruel example of how governors turned down FREE MONEY! rather than insure the health of their poorer citizens, what pilot states would Klein suggest? Rick Scott's Florida? Paul LePage's Maine? Bobby Jindal's Louisiana? Mississippi? But it is that last part that gives the game away. Ryan suggests that, in return for the shrinking benefits available to them through the "opportunity grants," poor Americans bind themselves to a "contract" regarding how they live their lives: "a contract outlining specific and measurable benchmarks for success...sanctions for breaking the terms of the contract."

Paternalism doesn't change through the ages. It just dresses differently. And there, ultimately, is Paul Ryan's new political persona. He's the poor person's landlord, enclosing the fields. He's the man who brought sharecropping to the welfare state.

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23 Jul 22:02

Best Cover Song Ever?

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

Pointless to have a contest. This is the best cover song ever. Anyone who disagrees is clinically insane.

A reader throws down the gauntlet in our new contest (guidelines here): “For me, Johnny Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” takes the cake.” He has a point:

Songwriter Trent Reznor’s quote is worth reading:

I pop the video in, and wow… Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure

It really builds and builds …