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18 May 16:50

Target Institutions, Not Politicians

by Erik Loomis


One thing I have discussed over and over again here is how progressives focus so strongly on politicians as part of a moral universe that must be adhered to in order to be supported. In other words, if politician X sells us out on one issue then that person is dead to me and thus Nader ’16! Part of this is related to the politics of authenticity that people so crave. Among its many problems is that ignores the fundamental rule of politics which is that it is about power and power alone. So how to leverage that power? The answer is clear–focus on institutions. That’s the theme of this really smart Jacobin essay by Michael Schwartz and Kevin Young, who show that again and again, when progressives target institutions, whether corporations or parts of government, they can win. The politicians follow the display of power.

Contrary to many analysts’ assumption that putting Democrats into office is the best way to substantially increase the minimum wage, workplace actions and protests targeting low-wage employers could be the best strategy. These actions focus public attention on low wages and help pave the way for local and state ballot referenda to raise the minimum wage.

More importantly, direct pressure — through boycotts, protests, labor strikes, or supply chain interruptions — on McDonald’s, Walmart, and other powerful firms can “adversely affect” their bottom line, especially given “increasing public focus on matters of income inequality,” as McDonald’s company documents recently warned. This pressure can simultaneously yield direct concessions: some fast-food and retail chains have reacted to recent protests by granting raises to unruly workers, and a few have promised company-wide increases.

But beyond this immediate impact, the changes wrought by direct protest can also neutralize the affected firms’ opposition to raising the minimum wage to the level they are (now) paying their workers. Some may even lobby the government for such an increase to reduce their competitive disadvantage. This logic motivated certain US businesses to support the 1891 Meat Inspection Act, the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, and other landmark regulatory laws, because they saw the laws as forcing their competitors to honor standards they were already being forced to meet.

Targeting corporations can even make sense when corporations aren’t the most visible enemies of reform, as in the immigrant rights struggle. In March 2011, dozens of Arizona-based corporate executives wrote a letter to state legislators asking that they refrain from passing further anti-immigrant bills like the infamous SB 1070, which was in 2010.

The problem, they explained, was that “boycotts were called against [the] state’s business community” in response to the law. The boycotts were so “harmful to [their] image” that “Arizona-based businesses saw contracts cancelled or were turned away from bidding,” and “sales outside of the state declined” (the boycotts also led many Mexican companies to stop trading with Arizona businesses).

The threat to their profits led them to insist on a change in public policy. The result? Within a week, the Republican-controlled legislature rejected five bills designed to further criminalize immigrants.

This is all why it really doesn’t matter if Hillary Clinton supports the Trans Pacific Partnership or Keystone XL Pipeline. What matters is if she is scared to support it because it would cost her real political capital to do so. Ultimately putting Democrats into office makes the process of change much, much easier, but it isn’t enough and is certainly not a final point. Elections are merely the consolidation of power over the past election cycle, not the end of the game. Those were disappointed with Obama should largely be disappointed with themselves because they misunderstood how politics work in the United States. Hopefully, they learn the right lessons from that disappointment.

12 May 13:45

Let’s Get Back to the Good Olde Days, When White Men Were Chosen Entirely on Merit

by Scott Lemieux


You may remember Joseph Epstein as the purveyor of right-wing identity politics for people who consider Roger Kimball too nuanced and unrepetitive. You may also be aware of the conservative idea that there is only one objective standpoint, that of the white heterosexual straight male. So it may not surprise you to know that Epstein is the man to distill the latter idea into 180-proof self-parody:

Now have we come to the point where we elect presidents of the United States not on their intrinsic qualities but because of the accidents of their birth: because they are black, or women, or, one day doubtless, gay, or disabled—not, in other words, for themselves but for the causes they seem to embody or represent, for their status as members of a victim group?

This is the kind of thing that doesn’t really require refutation. Ditto his whining about the fact that people have the temerity to criticize an essay in which he wrote that “I have said that I think homosexuals curse, and I am afraid I mean this quite literally, in the medieval sense of having been struck by an unexplained injury, an extreme piece of evil luck, whose origin is so unclear as to be, finally, a mystery.” (It should go without saying that the essay is also larded with sub-Allan Bloom complaints about relativism on college campuses that Epstein, like so many others, has already written innumerable times.) But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate Chait stepping up to the pinata:

Yes, that’s right. America used to elect presidents on “intrinsic qualities” rather than “accidents of their birth.” And this process resulted in the election of forty-three consecutive white men, an outcome Epstein must regard as an extreme coincidence. The last president to be elected on the basis of intrinsic qualities rather than accidents of birth was George W. Bush, whose birth circumstances, Epstein apparently believes, had no bearing upon his career trajectory.


In a larger sense, of course, the very existence of Epstein’s piece serves to disprove its thesis. If it is still possible for a white man to write an incoherent farrago of self-pity whose only shred of evidence directly undercuts its thesis, and have such drivel thrown onto the cover of a national magazine, then white men are probably still doing okay.

03 May 19:06

The Democrats We Need

by Erik Loomis

Bernie Sanders

When Bernie Sanders announced his presidential bid, I saw several comments from people who may have supported the third party campaigns of people like Ralph Nader in the past respond by asking when the people who supposedly prefer primary challenges to third parties would start criticizing Sanders for challenging Hillary Clinton. The upshot of these statements is that those who oppose third party bids are actually Democratic Party hacks who just want to protect their beloved Al Gore or John Kerry or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or whoever the party centrists select.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but for myself, who is a very strong critic of anything to do with third parties on the left, this is absolutely not true. I think Sanders’ run is great. Here’s the thing about Bernie Sanders as opposed to say Ralph Nader–he is neither consumed with his own ego nor an idiot who doesn’t understand American politics. Rather, he is challenging Hillary Clinton in a way that is going to force her to move to the left on real issues, through the primary process. That matters a lot.

Relatedly, I strongly endorse almost everything in this Bhaskar Sunkara piece on Bernie Sanders.* Sanders is no revolutionary socialist. He’s really pretty comparable to a good Great Society liberal like Hubert Humphrey or Ed Muskie. But by running for president within the Democratic Party instead of a pointless, quixotic third party campaign, he gives voice to the Democratic Party base that may be OK with Hillary Clinton as the nominee but would sure like her to be significantly farther to the left. By making socialism not a dirty word but rather an appealing option to DLC corporatism, Sanders represents a threat. It’s not that I think Hillary Clinton believes in her soul that her husband’s policies of mass incarceration need to be reversed or that the Trans Pacific Partnership is really flawed. I don’t care what she feels. I don’t look to politicians for sincerity. I care what she feels she has to do in order to motivate the base to vote for her and support her in her presidency. Bernie Sanders is making her do more work there. And she won’t be able to completely repudiate those positions once in office.

The Bernie Sanders campaign has its limitations. It’s not bringing socialism to the United States. But if we recognize what it is doing, it has real significance and should be wholly supported by the entire Democratic base. In an increasingly polarized nation, the centrist voters the Clintons were made to appeal to are almost nonexistent, Beltway writers notwithstanding. She should have to work to win over a Democratic base that is moving to the left. The more work she has to do, the more likely she will govern to the left.

In the end, politics is not about which candidate you want to have a beer with or the left-wing version of this, which is about which candidate seems to hold your feelings deepest in their heart. It’s about the expression of power. A legitimate run by Sanders finally shows the Democratic Party that the party left not only wants change but actually understands how politics work and how to enforce discipline. It shows that the left has organized enough to pull the party left. And that would be a big win for progressive forces.

Of course, we know from real leftists like Jane Hamsher that Bernie Sanders is an unacceptable corporate sellout who needs to be primaried himself so…..

* I don’t agree with the whole “transcend the Democratic Party” point because replacing it with a Socialist Party isn’t ever going to happen and to try and do so would suck out the energy to create concrete gains for working people. But understanding that right now the way to do that it effectively to infiltrate the Democratic Party nomination process is good enough. Plus he’s a socialist editor of a major leftist journal so what is he supposed to say?

27 Mar 17:16

The Amateurism Fallacy

by Scott Lemieux


When you boil them down, defenses of the NCAA cartel boil down to a “if things were different, they wouldn’t be the same” argument.  Allegedly, the mystique of the NCAA comes down to players being forbidden from receiving anything but scrip as direct compensation, and also having extraordinary, unique bans on third party compensation that don’t apply to any other students imposed on them.  People are not offended by everyone else in the NCAA raking in as much cash as they possibly can, but end the exploitation of players in high-revenue sports and the edifice would crumble.

The most important response to this argument, of course, is “who cares?”  If the popularity of NCAA sports depends on gross exploitation and egregious double standards, then it’s not worth saving.  Sentimentality and trivial aesthetic preferences are pathetically weak justifications for denying the people taking the most risk and generating the most value fair compensation.

But here’s the thing: I don’t believe that the argument is correct on its own terms.  Owners asserted, after all, that free agency would destroy the popularity of pro sports, when in fact the popularity of pro sports exploded after free agency.  What fans will rant about to talk radio hosts has little connection with their future behavior.  In comments in the last thread, I think djw put the point brilliantly:

What’s particularly absurd about the first complaint is that at big-time sports schools, Football and Basketball resemble a professional team already in all the relevant ways: some of the best athletes in the world who treat athletics like more than a full time job, extremely high level of competition and performance, tons of money, marketing, and TV contracts, lots of people making obscene amounts of money, world class facilities, etc. The only real difference is that the people who do the most important and risky labor don’t get paid/get paid in dubious company script. It’s enormously popular.

On the other hand, there are hundreds of DII and DIII schools where the same sports teams resemble the amateur ideal a great deal more–no compensation, HS+ level facilities, part-time coaches, practice and travel schedules that let athletes be students in a meaningful sense, etc. Nobody cared. I attended one of those schools, I only heard my team was playing for a national title by watching sportscenter. (But I did watch UW on TV every week).

Bitter scribe’s assumption is that even though every single step toward professionalism so far has made college sports more popular, that one last step will someone how ruin everything. Let’s just say he’s got a substantial unmet burden of proof here.

The fact that the popularity of college sports is inversely correlated with how closely they embody the Noble Ideals of Amateurism makes claims that compensating players fairly will destroy college sports implausible in the extreme.

02 Apr 17:50

The Weaponization of Religious Exemptions

by djw

Some musings inspired by the Indiana backlash and the backlash to the backlash:

Some “meta” preliminaries: obviously, freedom of religion at its core is a non-negotiable requirement for any society wishing to plausibly call itself a liberal democracy. What is the core? The right to join and form religious organizations, worship freely, and speak openly about one’s religion in the larger society, regardless of the degree of overlap between the content of these religious views and the mainstream of official state ideologies. Of course, there’s a lot more to how states support freedom of religion as a matter of practice; from tax-exempt status to cooperative educational and charitable projects to the possibility of exemptions from general religious law. By saying such things are not the ‘core’ of freedom of religion, I don’t mean to suggest they are inappropriate or wrong, or even unnecessary. But unlike the religious freedom’s core, they should be understood as negotiable—that is, they’re the proper subject for democratic deliberation and contestation, and there ought be to no particular expectation there’s a universal proper liberal-democratic answer to these kinds of questions. Which are most appropriate for a particular political society is based, to a significant degree, on local circumstances. Any democratic society that finds itself debating whether to honor the core of religious freedom has badly gone off the rails, but a democratic society debating the non-core scope of religious freedom is just doing what democracies do.

On a less meta level, my own views on religious exemptions are quite fluid. I find myself shifting between being mostly (but never entirely) comfortable with the pre-Smith status quo balancing tests and original RFRA framework, and mostly (but never entirely) resigned to a Smith-like restrictive approach. I teach a seminar on multicultural policy in every Spring, so it’s not like I haven’t thought about it much; I just seem prone to change dramatically the relative weighting of different goals and values.

If there’s a pattern to shifts in my uncertainty, though, it’s probably that I find myself drifting toward a more restrictive approach. In watching the politics of the Indiana law and its backlash, I think I’m getting a better sense of why that’s the case. What’s currently underway is what I’ll call the weaponization of religious exemptions. To explain what I mean by this, here are some classic examples of requests for religious exemptions: permission to use otherwise illegal substances for religious ceremonies, such as the Smith plaintiffs and Peyote, Catholics and sacramental wine during prohibition, Rastafari and marijuana);exemptions from zoning laws for the construction of Sukkahs and rules regarding the religious use of public property for the constructions of eruvs; exemption from mandatory military service, schooling requirements, or vaccinations; exemptions from incest laws (regarding Uncle/Niece marriages for some communities of Moroccan Jews); Native American religious groups seeking privileged access to sacred spaces on federally owned land;exemptions to Sunday closing laws for seventh-day Sabbatarians. I find some of these easy to support and others profoundly problematic, but they collectively share a common feature: they are fundamentally defensive in character. Their primary objective is to protect a practice or tradition or community, and little more. These exemptions are political but not in the sense that their exercise is directed toward the larger community in any concrete, meaningful sense. In these cases, the end sought in pursuing the exemption is, more or less, the exemption itself.

The requested accommodation in City of Boerne is a kind of transitional case. The exemption sought was to modify a church in a Historical District where such modifications were not permitted. While the exemption was clearly sought for the purpose of the exercise of religious activity, it wasn’t really a religious exemption per se—they wanted a bigger, more modern facility for more or less the general kind of reasons a private business or homeowner might have liked an exemption—accommodate more people, better amenities, etc. There was no connection between their status as a religious group and the nature of the particular exemption they were seeking; in essence they were arguing that the RFRA gives them license to avoid a law they found inconvenient. (Hypothetically, if a religious organization sought an exemption to historic zoning on grounds that their religion prohibited worshiping in buildings over a certain age for ceremonies, this case would have more merit.) Turning religious exemptions into a license for religious groups to evade general laws when inconvenient seems entirely deserving of pushback.

But this is only a partially weaponized use of religious exemptions; they’re being used as a weapon to advance the Church’s goals, but not striking against their political enemies. The quintessential case of a weaponized religious exemption is, of course, Hobby Lobby; Obamacare was to be the subject of a blitzkrieg, to be hit with any and every weapon imaginable, and that’s what the RFRA provided. Their efforts to make the claim appear credible could hardly be lazier or more half-assed. One possible check on weaponization, in a better and more decent society, could conceivably be a sense of embarrassment or shame; exposing one’s religious convictions as a cynical political tool to be wielded against one’s political enemies might be hoped to invoke enough embarrassment that it might be avoided, but we were well past that point. A remarkable document of this trend is this post from Patrick Deneen–fully, openly aware of the fundamental absurdity of Hobby Lobby’s case, cheering them on nonetheless. I mean, you’d think they’d at least have found a company owned by Catholics.

In light of that case, the transparent push for a super-RFRA deployable in private torts is not quite as egregious. It’s passing a bill that is by no means guaranteed to get them the results they want (my understanding is that no attempt to defend discriminatory behavior under any RFRA has yet been successful), and has plenty of other potential applications, some of which may be salutary. But the politics of it are undeniable; as in Kansas, Arizona and elsewhere, it’s plainly the case that this is simply the latest effort in the longstanding war on full social equality for gay and lesbian people. (If not having an RFRA at the books on the state level is such a grave threat to religious liberty, why haven’t we been hearing more about this since 1997, seeing as most states have no such law?) That this is a considerably less ambitious project in denying social equality than most previous battles fought in this war merely reflects the ground they’ve lost recently.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have confident or strongly held views about the ideal and proper scope of religious exemptions, although I’ve probably been drifting further from the RFRA framework and closer to Smith. The backlash against the Indiana bill—a bill that, private torts provision aside, isn’t that different from something that once passed the house unanimously and the senate with 97 votes—not to mention even conservative Republicans vetoing similar legislation in Arizona and Arkansas–suggests something very real has changed. The assumption on the right is that it’s liberals who’ve changed; we don’t support religious freedom like we did back in the 90’s. They’re not entirely wrong about that, but it’s an incomplete view about what has changed. Insofar as liberals changed their minds about the proper scope of religious exemptions, they didn’t do so in a vacuum, they changed their mind about it because the context we’re now in—facing an utterly shameless political movement that treats any conceivable political tool as fair game to achieve its political ends—is just simply not the kind of environment that fits well with an expansive approach to religious exemptions. The personal, faith-based nature of religious conviction makes it clearly inappropriate for the state to question the sincerity of the professed belief, even when that insincerity is obvious and barely concealed; which in turn makes exemptions easier to support in an environment where there’s some degree of trust that this process won’t be routinely abused. As noted earlier, which approach to exemptions best serves the interests of justice and freedom depends to a significant degree on the details of the society in question. We may have been something closer to that kind of society suited for expansive religious exemptions in the past, and we may someday be that kind of society at some point in the future, but it’s becoming difficult to deny we’re not such a society now.

23 Mar 23:53

Charlatans, Cranks, and Cooling

by By Paul Krugman

Branko Milanovic notes Lee Kwan Yew’s explanation of the success of Singapore and other Asian economies; partly Confucian culture, partly air conditioning. If you’ve ever tried to walk around Singapore, you know whereof he speaks.

The same factor plays a major role in explaining differential US regional growth, and thereby hangs a tale.

The rise of the US sunbelt can be understood largely as a response to the emergence of widespread air conditioning, which made places that are warm in the winter attractive despite humid, muggy summers. It’s a gradual, long-drawn-out response, because location decisions have a lot of inertia; few people would choose de novo to live in the old industrial towns of upstate New York, but the existing housing stock and the fact that people have family and social networks prevent quick abandonment. So to this day temperature is a good predictor of state population growth. I’ve taken the NOAA data and divided states into three groups by average temperature: Group I is colder than Rhode Island, Group III warmer than California:


Who’s in Group III? The full list:

South Carolina

These are places where summer would be really oppressive without air conditioning. (Actually, I find it oppressive with — in Texas, in particular, indoor spaces are freezing. But that’s another story.)

Now, these states have several things in common besides high temperatures. They’re all very conservative. And all of them that were states before the Civil War were slave states. These commonalities are, of course, all interrelated. Hot states had slaves because they were suitable for planation agriculture; and today’s red states are, pretty much, the slave states of 150 years ago.

Now, all of this raises some interesting problems for the assessment of economic policy. Because they’re politically conservative, hot states tend to have low minimum wages and low taxes on rich people. And someone who is careless, cynical, or both, could easily take the faster growth of these states as evidence that conservative economic policies work. That is, charlatans and cranks can, all too easily, end up claiming credit for economic and demographic trends that are actually the result of air conditioning.

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14 Mar 02:21

The US government didn’t lose the War on Poverty: it changed sides

by John Quiggin

I made this observation in comments on Chris’ ideal theory post, and got some pushback, so I thought I’d take a look back at the data
US Households in Poverty, 1959-2013

Both the number and the percentage of families in poverty dropped sharply during the 1960s when the “War on Poverty” was being waged actively, and remained near their all-time lows through the Nixon and Carter years until 1979, when the Volcker recession hit, followed by the election of Ronald Reagan. These events can reasonably be said to mark the point at which the government unequivocally changed sides.

The number of households in poverty has risen steadily since then and is now higher than in 1959, the year for which the poverty level was first defined by Mollie Orshansky. The poverty rate has remained consistently higher than in the 1970s, except for a brief deep at the peak of the late-1990s boom.

A quick note on the data: Unlike most other countries, the US uses an absolute poverty line, rather than a measure set relative to median income. Orshansky estimated a food budget that was adequate but austere by the standards of 1960, then multiplied the cost by 3 on the basis that the food share of a poor families budget should be 1/3. It’s been adjusted for inflation since then, but not increased in real terms. It might be argued that the CPI overstates inflation somewhat. But much the same point applies to measures of GDP per person which has increased dramatically over the 35 years since the US government stopped fighting poverty and started fighting the poor.

The measure includes cash transfers, but not some non-cash benefits, notably including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) the Earned Income Tax Credit introduced in 1975 . The result is to understate the progress made on poverty reduction since the 1960s, but not to change the basic story. Food stamps have been under attack from the right since the early years of the Reagan Administration. EITC had bipartisan support until the 1990s, but is also now under attack.

10 Mar 14:35

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - The Bank Ghost

Brian Stouffer

This is everything

New comic!
Today's News:


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05 Mar 16:05

Strict Deconstructionism: Republican Legal and Political Values in 2015

by Scott Lemieux


My take on yesterday’s oral argument is up.

The first main point is that unlike many smart observers I’m not really much more optimistic than I was yesterday.  And second, it’s like how much more hackish could Scalia be?  And the answer is none.  None more hackish:

Particularly remarkable, however, was this exchange:

SCALIA: What about Congress? You really think Congress is just going to sit there while all of these disastrous consequences ensue? I mean, how often have we come out with a decision such as the ­­ you know, the bankruptcy court decision? Congress adjusts, enacts a statute that takes care of the problem. It happens all the time. Why is that not going to happen here?

VERRILLI: Well, this Congress? [laughter]

VERRILLI: You know, I mean, of course, theoretically — of course, theoretically they could.

SCALIA: I don’t care what Congress you’re talking about. If the consequences are as disastrous as you say, so many million people ­­ without insurance and whatnot — yes, I think this Congress would act.

Scalia’s argument, of course, came straight from a land of willful fantasy. It’s tempting to dismiss Scalia’s comments as politically naïve, but I think it’s more pernicious than that. Scalia has long shown an affinity for the most witless Fox News talking points. Republicans have been making a conscious effort to reassure the court that they have a plan should the court gut the ACA. Needless to say, they don’t actually have any plan — pretending to have a plan is their only plan. Indeed, Republicans in Congress are so dysfunctional that they can barely even pretend to have a serious alternative, and any attempt to fix the law would assuredly be stillborn.

The Republican alternative should the court willfully misread the law and ruin the federally established exchanges is a con somewhat less sophisticated than selling oceanfront property in Wyoming — but it’s good enough for Scalia! That tells you all you need to know about the extent of his fidelity to judicial ideals.

There are two additional examples of hackery and cynicism I didn’t have space to get to but are also relevant:

  • There is an additional element of disingenuousness in Carvin citing the relatively low number of states that have undergone the “thankless task” of creating their own exchanges after the IRS ruled that subsidies would be universally available. One reason so many states declined to establish exchanges is that Michael Cannon spent a great deal of time flying around the country and urging states not to do so.  The architects of the suit obviously thought that even with the subsidies offered through federal changes many states would establish their own exchanges – and, indeed, even with this organized campaign 17 did. States had a reasonable opportunity to create their own exchanges and that’s all Congress wanted.  But it’s yet another new level of bad faith for the troofers to actively thwart the creation of state exchanges and then use this as a reason to wreck the federal exchanges after projecting their own views about federal power onto legislators who don’t share them.
  • Let’s consider another of Scalia’s talk radio soundbites: “This is not the most elegantly drafted statute.  It was ­­ it was pushed through on expedited procedures and didn’t have the kind of consideration by a conference committee, for example, that ­­ that statutes usually do.”  The “expedited procedures” claim is just erroneous; both the Senate and then the House passed the ACA using ordinary procedures, and then there was a set of amendments passed through reconciliation.  The implicit claim that the ACA was passed in unseemly haste is a joke to anyone who actually remembers the interminable process.   It is true that the bill did not have the usual benefit of being harmonized through a conference committee. But the reason that this didn’t happen is that the Republican minority in the Senate would not have permitted a vote on a new bill.  It’s a neat scam: A Republican minority prevents Congress from functioning properly, and then their political allies on the Supreme Court use this as an excuse to willfully misread the resulting statute, with disastrous consequences for many people.  When the same Supreme Court justice to then assert that congressional Republicans would never, ever dream of seeing large numbers of people go without health insurance it just completes the shameless hack cycle.

The grand theory of Republican politics and constitutionalism in 2015 would seem to be “stop hitting yourself.”  Stripping health insurance from millions of people based on a legal theory that would be laughed out of any courtroom not dominated by partisan Republicans is a logical endpoint.

05 Mar 16:03

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Thinning the Herd


New comic!
Today's News:

 Sorry about the RSS bug. Should be fixed now.

27 Feb 14:51

Anarchy, State, and Dread Pirate Roberts

by By Paul Krugman

Henry Farrell has a truly brilliant essay on how the evolution of Silk Road, the dark-web trading platform for forbidden transactions, can be viewed as an experiment in political philosophy. I can’t do better than his own blurb:

The Silk Road might have started as a libertarian experiment, but it was doomed to end as a fiefdom run by pirate kings.

It’s an awesome read.

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01 Mar 17:11

Is the NCAA Cartel Defensible? (SPOILER: No.)

by Scott Lemieux

Paul’s thread yesterday contained some defenses of the exploitation of athletes by NCAA rules.  These defenses were, of course, rife with factual errors, non-sequiturs, and transparent illogic because all defenses of the NCAA cartel are. 

But there are also a lot of good comments, and I think this point by Pseudonym is particularly important:

The real question at issue isn’t whether they should be compensated but whether they should be barred from being compensated, and by a national cartel with a monopoly on the path to professional status.

Apologists for the NCAA cartel tend to assume that they’re advocating for athletes being treated like other students. But this is completely untrue. What they’re defending is in fact a set of unique and extraordinary burdens being placed on athletes. Virtually no other students are banned from receiving compensation from voluntary third parties, and this is because it won’t make a lick of sense. Why on earth shouldn’t a music student be able to take a paying gig or a journalism student sell a story? Similarly, we don’t claim that scholarship students working as RAs or in the bookstore can’t be compensated, or that staff and faculty who get tuition vouchers for family members don’t need to be additionally compensated for their work. These rules aren’t about ensuring that athletes are “really” students or whatever; they’re about attempting to preserve competitive balance. And this isn’t a good reason to allow athletes to be exploited, even before we get to the fact that the NCAA doesn’t have anything remotely resembling competitive balance even with these rules.

Like most NCAA critics, I’m not arguing that student-athletes are employees subject to minimum wage laws solely for being members of teams. I’m saying that if either colleges or third parties want to pay them market value for their services, they should not forbidden from making the deals. This allows us to quickly dispense with non-sequiturs about the cross-country team or (even sillier) the Dungeons&Dragons club. Most athletic events and intramural activities don’t produce any revenue, so there’s not going to be any money for the participants beyond scholarship money, and that’s fine with me. There might be some cases in which a rich donor really wants an alma mater to have a great cross-country team and offers recruits cash on the barrelhead. And that’s fine with me — I don’t see why donors can give money to universities that enable them to hire a new Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Under Dean For Proactive Strategic Dynamism but should be prohibited from giving money to athletes directly.

Finally, defenses of the NCAA tend to be rife with a rhetorical technique we’ve discussed recently: someone with an indefensible position changing the subject to an allegedly superior alternative that isn’t actually on offer. The obvious problem for NCAA apologists that Paul’s post raises is why athletes should be forbidden cash compensation — not only by universities but by third parties — because of the Noble Ideals of Amateurism and the Sanctity of the Groves of Academe while everybody else involved with the NCAA is allowed to fill up wheelbarrows full of cash and deposit them in university-provided cars and drive off to get a university-provided oil change. One answer is to say that all of the other NCAA-related profit-taking should be stopped. The obvious problem is that it’s not going to be, and in the meantime we have to treat athletes based on the system as it is. If coaches start getting paid like associate professors of English and the NCAA gives its games to networks for free while banning advertising and ticket prices are capped at $10, we can talk about whether scholarships are adequate compensation. (We still don’t need to talk about bans on third party compensation, because these are just terrible policy under any possible system of college athletics.) Until then, players should not be forbidden from getting any compensation they’re able to negotiate.

18 Feb 19:52

Taking on Rahm

by Alec Hudson

When Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis announced in October that she wasn’t entering the mayoral race, incumbent Rahm Emanuel must have breathed a sigh of relief. Lewis, the leader of the 2012 CTU strike, was widely expected to challenge Emanuel in the February 24 election as an anti-austerity, pro-labor Democrat. Some polls even showed her with more support among likely voters than the deep-pocketed mayor.

From privatizing city services to closing mental health facilities that served the city’s most vulnerable residents to shuttering forty-nine public schools in predominately poor black communities in favor of charter schools, Emanuel’s record has provided plenty of grist for left candidates of varying stripes. While his most formidable opponent has stepped aside, a number of insurgent opposition candidates are still opposing Emanuel and other neoliberal incumbents.

With Lewis out of the race, the CTU endorsed Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. A member of the predominately Latino community of Pilsen in the city’s Lower South Side, Garcia first gained prominence by winning a seat for alderman in 1987 during the administration of Harold Washington, an anti-machine politician and Chicago’s first black mayor. Despite his experience working as a community and political leader, Garcia hasn’t attracted an outpouring of support: many still view him as an insider, even if he is decidedly more progressive than Emanuel.

But opposition to Emanuel is also coming from more militant quarters. In the 25th Ward, an area that covers much of the Lower West Side, including Pilsen and parts of Chinatown, Jorge Mújica, a Mexican-born immigrant and labor rights activist, is challenging alderman Danny Solis as an open socialist.

His bid comes out of the Chicago Socialist Campaign, an umbrella coalition of independent left-wing parties and organizations, including the International Socialist Organization, Democratic Socialists of America, the Socialist Party, Solidarity, and others. Although Mújica isn’t the favorite, he has picked up endorsements from several unions, including AFSCME Local 31.

Chicago-based activist Alec Hudson recently spoke with Mújica about the role of alders in improving the lives of workers, socialist strategies for electoral politics, and the future of the immigrant rights movement. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

You moved to Chicago and the United States for the first time in 1987. How would you say the city has changed politically since you arrived?

Well I came to Chicago right after the death of Harold Washington. There were four Latino wards at that time, the first four new aldermen who were all supportive of Harold Washington. I think they went through the Council Wars, and then after Washington through the election of Richard Daley.

So the city has changed a lot, neighborhood by neighborhood they’re not the same as they were when I first came. The Loop’s transformation — it was skid row, and nobody wanted to go to the Loop or the South Loop after 5 PM. Now it’s a thriving deluxe condo hub.

How did you come to get involved in the labor movement? And if you’re elected as an alderman, how can you help workers?

Well, it’s been my life. I organized my first labor union at a printer shop, the editorial house where I was working in Mexico City when I was about twenty-two. It was the largest editorial house in Latin America, Fondo de Cultura Económica, and I organized it because we were paid less than minimum wage.

I organized workers there and then participated in several labor union efforts in Mexico, and when I came here to the US my first job was translating collective-bargaining agreements into Spanish for Latino members of — at that moment, it was International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, which became UNITE, and then UNITE-HERE.

So I’ve been involved with labor for a long time. I’ve been the president of the general press unit of the Chicago Newspaper Guild, I organized Univision with NABET Local 41. And now with Arise Chicago, my particular job is to work with groups and try to organize them, maybe into associations but if possible into labor unions.

I have been an organizer of two sections, two groups of labor unions, one with Workers United and one with Teamsters Local 705, the latter of which after seven months of striking were able to get their first collective bargaining agreement — which is a big success because less than 50 percent of all workers who organize and vote in favor of a labor union get a first contract. So that’s a double success.

But it’s what I do, and that’s what we propose to do with the aldermanic office. I have put it sometimes like: if you can imagine the Department of Labor for the City of Chicago, that’s what we would like the aldermanic office to be, an active office that helps workers and works with them to organize and get better working conditions. Not a service office in the sense that you become a client and I do the work for you, but an organizing office to work with workers, to organize workers and support them. That’s what we would like to do with that office.

With so much opposition to Rahm from various social and labor organizations around the city, and with even some of your opponents coming from some of those social and labor organizations as well, why did you decide to run in this election cycle? What about your socialist campaign is different from these other anti-Rahm progressive candidates?

Well, first of all I was drafted to the campaign, because it was a decision that there should be a socialist campaign. There was a lot of research put into where to run a socialist campaign, and then when the decision was made that the 25th Ward was a possibility, the Chicago Socialist Campaign offered me to run, and I said, “Yeah, why not?”

I said, “Okay, let’s do it, let’s openly talk about socialism” and the different platforms and ideas that socialism can bring — let’s open up a space for socialism in the public electoral movement. But we need a third party. I’m tired of people talking about the lesser evil, there is no lesser evil in this case. Now we have a real choice, now we can vote for a socialist.

What was the background to forming the Chicago Socialist Campaign?

Kshama Sawant. The victory she won in Seattle surprised everybody and prompted everybody to try to do similar campaigns. There was a good deal of discussion to see if it was reasonable, if it was doable, and if it was worth it to do in Chicago. And the conclusion was, “Yes, let’s do it, as long as we have a chance.”

Some of the people in the Chicago Socialist Campaign are not participating in this particular campaign because they live all over Chicago and they are participating in local elections, but it was a collective effort supported by all of these various organizations.

What role do you think electoral campaigns like yours play in revitalizing an independent socialist left? Why an electoral campaign, and do you think the Chicago Socialist Campaign will go beyond this election?

I think it should. Since the 1940s the US hasn’t seen a strong Left participating publicly in an electoral campaign, and it’s hard since it’s been years since we’ve seen a candidate. But I think we have to do it. Having seen a third party of sorts coming from the Right — with the Tea Party becoming its own party and with the libertarians forming their own parties — we need to see a leftist party coming as a third option.

This is not just for this election. This campaign is to give more spirit to many people in places trying to do the same thing. A win in the city of Chicago is going to be a huge victory. We’re the third largest city in the US, and a socialist alderman would be a huge success. So that’s what we feel I’ve got to do. Let’s get together afterwards, analyze, review, and discuss — we love discussing — but let’s see what we can do in other places so it won’t just be Sawant, it will be Sawant, Mújica, and other people.

What made you decide to run with an independent organization when there is still so much power in the two-party system on a national level?

That’s one of the biggest discussions we have to have. We have a situation in Chicago right now where you have Chuy Garcia, who’s supposed to be an independent Democrat, running against the Democratic Party machine. So there is a Democratic Party “machine,” and there’s the rest of the Democratic Party, which to me is just an umbrella name for many people.

If you wanted to do politics in the city of Chicago, for the past fifty years you had to be a member of the Democratic Party. I am familiar with that because in Mexico, if you wanted to do something in politics you had to be a member of the PRI. There wasn’t any other way to do politics. If you were in the opposition or in another party, you went nowhere, you didn’t get elected.

So what we live under here is the dictatorship of one party. The mayor, all aldermen, all commissioners — well, there may be a few Republican Cook County commissioners — but basically you have to be part of that umbrella with the Democratic Party.

What happens with Garcia? At one point he was very close to the Communist Party back in the 1970s with Harold Washington and all of that stuff. Since he is in the Democratic Party, do we have to criticize him for it? I say we skip it — it’s not a problem, it’s not the Democratic Party as a well-oiled machine.

There are contradictions between different groups within the Democratic Party, we stay away from it, let’s not criticize people who honestly believe they are to the left of the machine. We won’t support them but let’s not pound on them, let’s pound on Rahm Emanuel. That’s the point.

So it’s a big discussion, I think, because we have our differences. We aren’t supporting Chuy, and we aren’t being endorsed by him. I think he’s actually afraid of us in some way — he doesn’t want to be identified with any socialists. But let’s have that discussion. 

Do you think the CTU’s role in this election has been diminished because Karen Lewis is not running?

They are playing a major role of course: they are bankrolling several candidates, they think they can win several aldermanic offices. Good, excellent! But it would have been the same discussion because Karen Lewis would have said she is a Democrat anyway. We had a discussion there in the campaign; where would we be if it was Karen Lewis instead of Chuy Garcia, with Lewis saying she is a Democrat? What would we have done?

That’s part of the discussion we need to have still. Are some parts of the Democratic Party okay because they’re backed by a very powerful union, in the sense that it’s a fighting union? Is that good enough? But if she says, “I’m a Democrat,” does it mean total rejection on our part?

Those are some of the discussions we have to have, and I think that for further reference, whenever we have campaigns we have to discuss that first and launch the campaign later, because in the middle of the campaign you start discussing and debating those things and you debate a lot and you don’t do enough on the ground. If you are trying to win a campaign, you have to be doing things on the ground.

So we had a contradiction here. It was well worth the discussion, we all learned a lot, and I think those are things we have to have clear before we participate in the bourgeois electoral process.

You were one of the lead organizers behind the 2006 immigrant rights march in Chicago. What are some of your reflections on the state of immigration in Chicago, and how do you see yourself utilizing your position as alderman to help protect immigrant rights in the city?

One of the obvious measures for the city would be to have a municipal ID. New York City has one, San Francisco has one, and Chicago should have one. Going beyond that, I think we should try to push for the right to vote for everyone who pays taxes. I don’t care about “citizenship” in that sense. Up until the 1920s, in several states you could vote simply because you paid taxes.

What happened to this so-called immigration movement was that it wasn’t a movement. It was a broad coalition of a lot of organizations which each represented some particular interest, and in the end these organizations sold out to the Democratic Party, instead of marching, instead of using public pressure, instead of civil disobedience. All of which was part of the line they pushed before these organizations — you know, nonprofit corporations — decided to go the electoral way: elect enough Democrats, and we will have a majority in both houses, and then we will have immigration reform.

Of course that didn’t happen, and nine years later we know it. We knew it from the beginning, that’s why we opposed it. But many people didn’t know it, so it was an experience for them. Many of them are disenchanted right now and saying, “We supported Democrats a whole lot and see how they pay us!” Half a million people deported, families divided, etc.

I think the Chicago Office for New Americans that Rahm Emanuel instituted has to be transformed into an office for all immigrants, not just “new citizens”; his plan is only a plan of integration, learn English, become “American,” still with the melting pot theory that when you become a citizen you have to forget everything else and become “American.” I don’t like that, so I think that office should be dedicated to all immigrants, not just undocumented or new citizens.

And again, just going back to the first question, undocumented workers are very vulnerable, but they do have rights, and they have to know that they have rights. So the aldermanic office and the potential office for all immigrants in Chicago should help them to enforce those rights. It should help them whether they are discriminated against or their wages are stolen — that’s what the aldermanic office should be.

Do you have any final thoughts?

Support a socialist! It sounds very weird, but we need money, we need volunteers, we have thousands of pieces of propaganda, and putting pieces in the mail is very expensive, but we have to do it and we have done it. And help us on February 24, help us nationwide. It’s not just a tiny ward in the city of Chicago — this is a socialist campaign on a national level.

23 Feb 14:26

The education dodge

by Paul Campos

Paul Krugman points out how arguments that claim not enough Americans have college degrees work as smokescreens to obscure the real drivers of social and economic inequality:

[M]y sense is that there’s a new form of issue-dodging packaged as seriousness on the rise. This time, the evasion involves trying to divert our national discourse about inequality into a discussion of alleged problems with education.

And the reason this is an evasion is that whatever serious people may want to believe, soaring inequality isn’t about education; it’s about power. . .

The education-centric story of our problems runs like this: We live in a period of unprecedented technological change, and too many American workers lack the skills to cope with that change. This “skills gap” is holding back growth, because businesses can’t find the workers they need. It also feeds inequality, as wages soar for workers with the right skills but stagnate or decline for the less educated. So what we need is more and better education.

My guess is that this sounds familiar — it’s what you hear from the talking heads on Sunday morning TV, in opinion articles from business leaders like Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, in “framing papers” from the Brookings Institution’s centrist Hamilton Project. It’s repeated so widely that many people probably assume it’s unquestionably true. But it isn’t. . .

[T]here’s no evidence that a skills gap is holding back employment. After all, if businesses were desperate for workers with certain skills, they would presumably be offering premium wages to attract such workers. So where are these fortunate professions? . . .

While the education/inequality story may once have seemed plausible, it hasn’t tracked reality for a long time. “The wages of the highest-skilled and highest-paid individuals have continued to increase steadily,” the Hamilton Project says. Actually, the inflation-adjusted earnings of highly educated Americans have gone nowhere since the late 1990s.

So what is really going on? Corporate profits have soared as a share of national income, but there is no sign of a rise in the rate of return on investment. How is that possible? Well, it’s what you would expect if rising profits reflect monopoly power rather than returns to capital.

As for wages and salaries, never mind college degrees — all the big gains are going to a tiny group of individuals holding strategic positions in corporate suites or astride the crossroads of finance. Rising inequality isn’t about who has the knowledge; it’s about who has the power.

It’s always suspicious when “everyone” is in favor of something. For a couple of generations now, almost all opinion-makers across the ideological spectrum have held the view that more formal education is an almost magical panacea for fundamental social and economic problems. On the glibertarian/corporatist right, this view dovetails nicely with a commitment to individual achievement as opposed to structural changes: as long as there’s a poor black kid going to Princeton (there probably is at least one) then Land of Opportunity, Shining City on a Hill, Bootstraps — you know the drill.

In other words, as long as the educational system helps make the class structure something less than completely rigid, then it’s A-OK for the top .01% percenters to pay a lower effective tax rate than the average American, while unions are wrecked and median wages fall, corporate profits soar, etc., because after all this poor black kid got a full ride to Princeton, got into HBS, and now he’s got Jamie Dimon’s job. (OK this didn’t actually happen, but the point is that it could happen, which is all that counts in glibertarian land).

On the liberal left, the commitment to higher ed as a magic bullet is based on a less morally obnoxious but even more economically dubious belief, to wit the theory that sending more people to college ameliorates structural unemployment via enhancement of human capital. As Krugman points out, the problem with this theory is that it doesn’t appear to be true, or at least not any more.

Who benefits from the ubiquity of these beliefs among all right-thinking people? One obvious group of beneficiaries consists, as Krugman notes, of the current Lords of Capital. There’s another group he doesn’t mention, which includes those atop our ever-growing Educational Industrial Complex, who benefit from a system that has quasi-socialized of the cost of higher ed (in the form of more than $1.2 trillion in educational loans, only 37% of which are currently in timely repayment), and quasi-privatized the immense profits it generates.

06 Feb 17:08

A New European Narrative

by Catarina Príncipe

On Thursday, Germany refused any negotiations with Greece, and the European Central Bank (ECB) refused to accept Greek bonds as collateral (since there are no guarantees that the Greek government will carry out the “adjustment” plan). Although this does not amount to an immediate push to kick Greece out of the eurozone, it is certainly a threat in that direction.

In order to understand the motivations behind this recalcitrance, and the competing interests at work, Germany’s special relationship with the euro must be understood. The eurozone’s stated goal was to create a currency strong enough to build a unified European financial bloc that could compete with the US and China.

However, this was never the full truth. This “unified” bloc has always been composed of competing nation states, and the big, industrialized countries at the center have been keen on making the peripheral economies dependent on the core.

With the introduction of the single currency, there was a devaluation of Germany’s deutsche mark in comparison to the other national currencies. This meant not only that labor value was diminished, but also that the country’s manufactured products became cheaper and more competitive in the world market.

The resulting overvaluation of the southern countries’ national currencies solidified them as peripheral economies and established export markets for German products. Their productive sectors destroyed, the peripheral economies became dependent on imports, especially from Germany.

Germany, then, clearly benefits from Greece’s presence in the eurozone; a Grexit is not in its economic interest. Nonetheless, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is sending a veiled threat that this is what might happen. Why?

Syriza’s victory and Podemos’s rise have presented Germany with a conundrum. If Germany accepts the anti-austerity demands, writes off a significant part of the Greek debt, and reformulates the way in which the loans and interest rates are set, it would not only risk the economic stability of the German finance system, but would be an admission that its austerity policies have been a complete failure.

This could cause a domino effect in Europe, bolstering left forces that seek to profoundly reshape the structures and dynamics of the European Union (EU). A Grexit in these conditions would likely mean a more severe economic crisis in Germany and, therefore, the polarization of society. Situated in this position, Merkel knows that the only way to stop a rising left is to augment the Right. In France, England, and Germany, conservative forces have the upper hand, while in Greece, the Left hasn’t won hegemony in what’s still a heavily polarized society.

Across the Atlantic, President Obama has indicated some support for the Greek government, saying that the time for austerity in Europe is over and the time for growth must begin. But what is Obama’s motivation, if any, in backing a government of the Left?

The US has no interest in a European financial crisis triggered by the failure of Greece’s banking system. This would imperil the aims of the TTIP trade agreement, which is intended to strengthen the economic position of the US and the EU.

Obama also knows that Russian President Vladimir Putin is available to finance Greece if all other financial options fail. Such a move would not be out of benevolence, but realpolitik. After Ukraine, Obama does not want Russia to have another ally in the European continent, much less one belonging to the EU (exiting the euro, of course, does not mean exiting the EU).

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has accepted Putin’s invitation to meet in May. This is leverage that the Greek government can use to try to force Germany to accept its demands. At the same time, Merkel has been summoned to the White House for an emergency meeting on February 9.

It would be politically naive to suppose that Obama would accept a government of the Left that has the ability to provoke a political hurricane across Europe. Even if Obama is prioritizing US domination, he is aware of the dangers that Syriza poses to the political and economic hegemony of European capitalism.

The question that remains open is if Obama and Merkel can find a way to prevent the growth and success of the Left, while at the same time keeping Russia out of the picture. This is where the political dispute starts: how to prevent the rise of the (semi-moderate) right in Europe, which would be a much better solution for all the parties involved — with the exception, of course, of the people of Greece and Europe.

As I have argued before, Syriza’s position to not build their electoral program around the currency question and exiting the EU is not a weakness, but a strength: if Greece is forced back to its national currency — and wages drop as a result — the blame will be placed on European elites, not on Syriza.

On Thursday, 15,000 rallied in Athens to back the government and its position in negotiations. Syriza will need this kind of strong, mobilized support — and more — from the Greek people to prevent it from backtracking. Greek society remains very split, and this victory of the Left could easily be turned upside down if Syriza fails to fulfill its electoral program.

There are more pro-government demonstrations in the works. Some have floated the idea of a referendum on whether the government should continue the negotiations. Other actions of support and solidarity must occur in the upcoming weeks and months to revitalize the movement and strengthen the government’s hand against its creditors. Concrete acts of  international solidarity are also necessary, including demonstrations, strikes, and donations to solidarity organizations.

Finally, there is a very clear challenge for the German left. Active resistance to Merkel’s impoverishing policies is urgently needed, as is avoiding the trap of defending the national economy against Greece’s demands out of a fear of Grexit-induced crisis in Germany. This resistance must occur at all levels: the political and economic, across social movements, in both the trade unions and Die Linke. Only an organized left can change the public narrative around the euro and beat back an ascendant far right.

09 Feb 11:43

Greece: The Tie That Doesn’t Bind

by By Paul Krugman

Relations between Greece and its creditors are not improving. Was this bad diplomacy on the part of Tsipras/Varoufakis? Maybe, but my guess is that there was nothing they could do to avoid a bitter confrontation short of immediate betrayal of the voters who put them in office. And creditor-country officials are acting as if they still expect that to happen, just as it has repeatedly over the past five years.

But they’re almost surely wrong. The dynamics are very different this time, and failing to understand them could all too easily lead to unnecessary disaster.

Actually, let me stress the “unnecessary” aspect. What Greece is asking for — although German voters probably don’t know this — is not a fresh infusion of money. All that’s on the table is a reduction in the primary surplus — that is, a reduction in Greek payments on existing debt. And we have often been told that everyone understands that the official target surplus, 4.5 percent of GDP, is unreasonable and unattainable. So Greece is, in effect, only asking that it get to recognize the reality everyone supposedly already understands.

Why, then, are things boiling over? Partly because what “everyone knows” has never been explained to northern European electorates, so that the time to recognize reality is always at some future date. Partly also, I suspect, because creditors have come to expect the symbolism of debtor governments abjectly abandoning their campaign promises in the name of responsibility, and are waiting for the new Greek government to pay the usual tribute of humiliation.

But as I said, the dynamic is very different this time.

I’ve long believed that Matthew Yglesias hit on something really important when he noted that small-country politicians generally have personal incentives to go along with troika demands even if they are against their nation’s interests:

Normally you would think that a national prime minister’s best option is to try to do the stuff that’s likely to get him re-elected. No matter how bleak the outlook, this is your dominant strategy. But in the era of globalization and EU-ification, I think the leaders of small countries are actually in a somewhat different situation. If you leave office held in high esteem by the Davos set, there are any number of European Commission or IMF or whatnot gigs that you might be eligible for even if you’re absolutely despised by your fellow countrymen. Indeed, in some ways being absolutely despised would be a plus. The ultimate demonstration of solidarity to the “international community” would be to do what the international community wants even in the face of massive resistance from your domestic political constituency.

But a genuine government of the left, as opposed to the center-left, is very different — not because its policy ideas are wild and crazy, which they aren’t, but because its officials are never going to be held in high esteem by the Davos set. Alexis Tsipras is not going to be on bank boards of directors, president of the BIS, or, probably, an EU commissioner. Varoufakis doesn’t even like wearing ties — which, consciously or not, is a way of declaring visually that he is not going to play the usual game. The new Greek leaders will succeed or fail, personally, based on what happens to Greece; there will be no consolation prizes for failing conventionally.

Do Berlin and Brussels understand this? If not, they are operating under a dangerous misconception.

Recommended article: Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.
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02 Feb 20:19

The GOP And The Anti-Vaxxers

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

That Florina quote is crazy. "I mean, I got measles as a kid. We used to all get measles". I assume the next sentence was "Yeah, sure, 1 - 2 percent of us died, but who cares, it's just human life."

Chris Christie’s endorsement of parental choice over public health while we have a measles epidemic strikes me as yet another disqualifying aspect of his judgment, character and personality in his bid for the presidency. Here’s some important context for his remarks – Christie:

Michael, what I said was that there has to be a balance and it depends on what the vaccine is, what the disease type is and all the rest. And so I didn’t say I’m leaving people the option. What I’m saying is that you have to have that balance in considering parental concerns because no parent cares about anything more than they care about protecting their own child’s health and so we have to have that conversation, but that has to move and shift in my view from disease type. Not every vaccine is created equal and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others. So that’s what I mean by that so that I’m not misunderstood.

His office is now qualifying even more:

To be clear: The Governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated. At the same time different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why he was calling for balance in which ones government should mandate.

That’s a relief. And, of course, parents always have the ultimate say over their children. But a public official should not, in my view, be messing around with basic concepts of public health, and giving any credence to anti-vaxxers. So why the equivocation when we need more public support for childhood vaccination?

My best answer is that any potential GOP candidate has to cater to the Christianist right, and the critical HPV vaccine is not exactly popular with that section of the population. Lo and behold, Carly Fiorina is saying something similar as well:

I think there’s a big difference between — just in terms of the mountains of evidence we have — a vaccination for measles and a vaccination when a girl is 10 or 11 or 12 for cervical cancer just in case she’s sexually active at 11. So, I think it’s hard to make a blanket statement about it. I certainly can understand a mother’s concerns about vaccinating a 10-year-old … I think vaccinating for measles makes a lot of sense. But that’s me. I do think parents have to make those choices. I mean, I got measles as a kid. We used to all get measles … I got chicken pox, I got measles, I got mumps.

An alternative explanation may, of course, be that president Obama has strongly endorsed childhood vaccinations and therefore any GOP candidate has to disagree. I’m not sure which interpretation is accurate, but neither is exactly encouraging.

26 Jan 17:20

Money Talks

by Nathan J. Robinson

When protesters disrupted the Supreme Court on the anniversary of the Citizens United opinion last week, they trumpeted a familiar slogan: “money isn’t speech.” In the four years since the ruling, this phrase has been the linchpin of the liberal critique of American campaign-finance jurisprudence, the idiom of the movement to get “money out of politics.”

Yet there are profound limitations to a politics that attempts to distinguish between money and speech. While attempts to curtail corporate expenditures in elections are important, the Citizens United court inadvertently recognized a profound truth about the way wealth structures society. Money is speech, which is precisely why its distribution matters.

The Citizens United case, which struck down prohibitions on corporate (and union) campaign spending, was never so much a change in First Amendment case law as its logical endpoint. American courts have long conceptualized free speech as a wholly negative liberty, their sole concern the degree to which the government can explicitly intervene in the activities of citizens.

But this idea of free speech has always suffered from a contradiction, namely that the exercise of speech is always shaped by the economic situation of the speaker. As the Court put it in its landmark 1976 case Buckley v. Valeo:

Virtually every means of communicating ideas in today’s mass society requires the expenditure of money. The distribution of the humblest handbill or leaflet entails printing, paper, and circulation costs. Speeches and rallies generally necessitate hiring a hall and publicizing the event. The electorate’s increasing dependence on television, radio, and other mass media for news and information has made these expensive modes of communication indispensable instruments of effective political speech.

The Buckley opinion arose from a challenge to post-Watergate provisions in the Federal Election Campaign Act. Congress attempted to place strict limits on both individual contributions and candidate expenditures, but the Court rejected the latter, laying the foundation for Citizens United. Each verdict reasons that to see the First Amendment as solely protecting speaking is an absurdity. In the Court’s view, since one’s ability to speak is so tied to one’s wallet, the argument that money isn’t speech collapses.

And they’re right. Liberals — content to tinker at the edges of the economic base, simultaneously supportive of democracy and capitalism — must resist such conclusions. Radicals face no such strictures. Rather, this realization should lead us to a far more sweeping and critical verdict: when there are class differences and maldistributed wealth, democracy can only exist in a stunted form.

The possession of money determines one’s positive ability to act. To invert an aphorism from Anatole France, rich and poor alike have the equal right to hire high-priced lobbyists.

In this way, money not only buys political power, it is political power. Its possession confers godlike capability, and its deprivation creates servitude. With money one can manipulate public taste, ruin one’s enemies, and build, destroy, and conquer.

It’s the reason the film industry can secure massive, budget-depleting tax refunds and Walmart can single-handedly block attempts at wage regulation; where the flight of capital is a sufficient threat to people’s lives, direct corruption of the political process is unnecessary. Without it, one cannot eat, create, or even choose one’s everyday movements.

All of this is rather obvious. Yet as economists Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis note, while the observation that capital confers power “may evoke the same degree of astonishment as the observation that dogs bark,” this truism is utterly unaccounted for by liberal political philosophy’s negative-liberty framework. Adding campaign expenditure restrictions, as American liberals propose, does little to alter this fundamentally naive assumption. Capitalism’s predation of democracy won’t let up because of a well-placed restriction on campaign giving.

If money shapes the contours of our life choices, and is the prime determinant of our possible acts, then one person possessing more money than another is no different from his having more votes. And if rights are only meaningful to the extent they can be exercised, granting an equal right to free speech would demand a massive redistribution of wealth.

Naturally, the Citizens United decision, though the inevitable progeny of a long line of cases, is an affront to democracy. It helped entrench corporate power, and the resulting tidal wave of new election spending shouldn’t be trivialized. Yet this is far more a product of economics than law. The excessive influence of the wealthy on government did not begin with , but with the founding of the country. It is a function of an inegalitarian economic system, not anticorruption statutes.

The theory behind progressive opposition to Citizens United thus clouds our understanding of freedom. In September, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested Citizens United was one the Court’s worst mistakes, saying that “the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be.”

But just two weeks later, Ginsburg signed onto the Court’s judgment in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, which limited the reach of the Fair Labor Standards Act. In that case, the Court ruled that employers do not need to compensate employees for the time they spend standing in line for a mandatory security screening.

The Court held that because the workers had been hired to pack boxes rather than stand in line, they didn’t need to be paid for the parts of their job that did not involve packing boxes. All four liberal justices concurred. (So did the Obama administration, which had filed a brief in support of the temp agency.)

For Ginsburg, there is no contradiction in opposing Citizens United and supporting Integrity Staffing Solutions, even if both ultimately reduce ordinary people’s agency. Jesse Busk, the temp worker who sued over the denial of wages, reported that he wished to be paid the $6.25 for his screening because “the job was exhausting — we would sometimes walk twenty miles a night — and I was eager to go home and get some sleep.”

But when Ginsburg speaks of “what our democracy is supposed to be,” she thinks only of an individual’s relationship with the state; economic democracy is a foreign concept, and Jesse Busk’s twelve-hour shift has no relevance. An employer’s power over an employee may decimate the usefulness of the rights Ginsburg values, but apparently because money isn’t speech, one has no right to it.

Liberal election reform efforts have taken many shapes, from matching funds schemes to proposals to distribute $50 vouchers to voters, each attempting to overlay a fair political process onto an unequal economy. Many of these policies would make a substantive difference in the level to which government power is purchasable, even if nearly all of them are likely to be declared unconstitutional by a conservative-majority Supreme Court.

But all progressive plans suffer from the same core weakness: they address only a tiny fraction of the ways in which wealth is politically important. When US Steel unilaterally laid off 545 workers last week, none had any input into this decision; when 95 percent of the “post-recession” economic gains went to the top 1 percent, the political power of the non-wealthy was stamped out even more.

By attempting to forge a superficially fair political sphere while leaving the inegalitarian core of capitalism untouched, liberals are therefore ensuring that the most pernicious antidemocratic forces in American life are untouched.

If Citizens United eroded American democracy, the central proposition of the ruling was correct. And as soon as money is recognized as speech, the incompatibility of political equality and capitalism is revealed. There can never be such a thing as free speech until economic resources are distributed equally.

A political process that limits corporate influence is to be striven for. But a politics in which capital doesn’t dominate requires an economy without a class system.

17 Jan 05:00

January 17, 2015

Realizing I hardly ever post anything in this blog. Probably nobody checks it much any more. Penguins penguins penguins penguins penguins.
25 Jan 13:14

This Day in Labor History: January 25, 1984

by Erik Loomis
Brian Stouffer

Stay away from Stoufffers.

This is a guest post by Paul Adler, lecturer at the Harvard History and Literature program. He received his PhD in history from Georgetown University in 2014. Paul’s dissertation, Planetary Citizens: U.S. NGOs and the Politics of International Development in the Late Twentieth Century examines efforts by U.S. groups like INFACT and the Sierra Club to influence international institutions like Nestle and the World Bank during the 1970s and 1980s. Previous to graduate school, Paul worked for several years on global justice issues at Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

On January 25, 1984, William Thompson, a leader with the International Nestle Boycott Committee (INBC) met with Nestlé executive Carl Angst in New York City. There, the two men announced a surprise: after seven years of a global boycott of Nestlé, U.S. organizers were suspending this effort in light of new Nestlé initiatives intended to address activists’ critiques. Ending ten months later, the Nestlé boycott set important precedents for liberal and left-wing activists in challenging multinational corporate power. However, the memory of the campaign as a great success does not stand well against close scrutiny.

The controversy that prompted the campaign concerned the marketing practices employed by multinational companies selling breast milk substitutes throughout the Global South. Given living conditions often characterized by lack of access to clean water, the use of products such as infant formula heightened the possibility of newborns contracting any number of dire, even deadly diseases.

Multinational companies advertised breast milk substitutes as embodying a “modern” lifestyle. To spread this message, they used an array of aggressive marketing practices. Among other techniques, companies produced booklets on infant feeding that accentuated the difficulties of breastfeeding and hired nurses to serve as salespeople in newborn wards.


Example of Nestlé advertising, Malaysia, 1978

During the 1960s and early 1970s public health experts labored to publicize the dangers associated with breast milk substitutes. They met with little success however, causing one doctor to muse in 1974 that some “group may have to take a more aggressive, Nader-like stance.” Fortunately for him, that same year, activists in the United Kingdom released a pamphlet on the crisis called The Baby Killer followed soon after by activists in Switzerland becoming embroiled in a lengthy lawsuit with Nestlé.

In the United States, the key figure who transformed the breast feeding controversy into an activist campaign was Leah Margulies. The daughter of a staffer at the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (her parents met through the Young People’s Socialist League), Margulies was, by the early 1970s, a veteran of the civil rights and radical feminist movements. In 1974, working as an organizer for the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Margulies began devising ways to make the breast milk substitutes scandal into a campaign.

To Margulies, this controversy appeared a perfect issue to use in energizing activists to engage with questions of economic inequality and multinational corporate power. As she explained to Mother Jones in 1977, “it is very difficult to make graphic that the world is starving, not because of drought or floods, but because of economic dependency.” From 1974 to 1977, Margulies worked with church groups to spread awareness, launch several shareholder resolutions, and mount a lawsuit against Bristol-Myers. However, these efforts produced few tangible results. Looking to escalate her efforts, Margulies reached out to fellow anti-poverty activists with the intention of starting a boycott of Nestlé. The Swiss multinational offered a promising target: not only was it the world’s largest purveyor of breast milk substitutes, but it also sold household products (such as coffee) around which a consumer boycott could easily be organized.

Teaming with activists in Minneapolis, in early 1977 Margulies helped to found the Infant Formula Action Coalition (INFACT). On July 4, 1977, INFACT commenced a nationwide boycott of Nestlé. Organizing through a broad array of organizations (from public health associations to churches to left-wing solidarity groups), INFACT rapidly assembled local boycotts in towns and cities across the country.


A Nestlé Boycott Picket Line

One constituency the boycott’s organizers sought out was organized labor. Activists tried to enlist labor in part by portraying the boycott as an experiment in corporate campaigning. Writing to a number of union presidents in 1982, Americans for Democratic Action president Robert Drinan illuminated this point, describing the boycott as “an act of international solidarity with working people in the Third World” and arguing that “organized labor has long recognized the need to develop an international capability to deal with the problems presented by multinational corporations. The leaders of the infant formula campaign have shown that it is not only necessary, but possible.”

Even as they built the boycott coalition, the leaders at INFACT searched for other avenues to influence. After months of organizing focused on the U.S. Senate, on May 23, 1978 activists descended on Washington, D.C. to participate in a hearing chaired by Ted Kennedy. While activists effectively presented their case, the representative sent from Nestlé delivered a calamitous performance. He accused church groups of being part of a “world-wide church organization” conspiring to “undermin[e] the free enterprise system,” while also arguing that Nestlé bore no responsibility for ensuring that consumers safely used its products.

Excerpt from the Kennedy hearing

Feeling humiliated after the hearing, Nestlé and the other multinationals searched for a way to end the boycott. Negotiating among the activists and the companies, Kennedy helped to steer both sides towards finding a solution under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO). In October 1979, a meeting cosponsored by the WHO and UNICEF in Geneva ended with the WHO agreeing to draft a global code of conduct for the marketing and promotion of breast milk substitutes. For the next year and a half, lobbyists from activist groups and multinationals each tried to influence the code’s language, while activists also intensified and internationalized the boycott.

In the end, companies (backed by the U.S. government) succeeded in ensuring that the code would take form as a voluntary “recommendation,” as opposed to a legally-binding regulation. However, the code’s strictures significantly constricted corporate advertising, causing the companies to condemn the code (while activists offered critical support). When the code was voted on at the WHO in May 1981, the only nation to oppose it was the United States, acting at the behest of the Reagan administration. Following the May 1981 vote at the WHO to create the code, activists and Nestlé spent the next two and a half years battling over the company’s implementation of the code, leading to the January suspension and then the October announcement by Nestlé that it would fully abide by the WHO code.

The Nestlé boycott was an early example of a coordinated, international effort targeting a multinational industry. During the early 1980s INFACT coordinated closely with boycott efforts in Western Europe, as well as in Australia. Even more significantly, NGO activists from the Global North and Global South came together to work under the auspices of a single organization, International Baby Food Action Network. The connections forged in this era continued through the 1990s anti-WTO fights and remain significant to the present. While the boycott did terminate with a seemingly monumental victory in October 1984, subsequent events have been more dispiriting. Four years after this triumph, activists relaunched the Nestlé boycott, accusing the company of not abiding by its commitments to the code. The boycott, while mostly dormant in the U.S., is active abroad to this day, in part reflecting the difficulty of monitoring the code (given the ease with which improper advertising can occur) and in part the vast power of multinationals like Nestlé.

This is the 130th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

30 Dec 14:35

Strom Warning

by By Charles P. Pierce

On September 16, 1964, in the city of Greenville in South Carolina, the American political status quo that had held since Appomattox ended with a crash the echoes of which, like the residual noise of the Big Bang that created the universe, are still detectable, if you know where to look for them. On that day, Strom Thurmond, a powerful United States senator representing the Home Office of American Sedition, and representing it in the fullest sense of the word, up to and including an unacknowledged act of what his most fervent constituents would call miscegenation that produced a daughter, announced that he was leaving the Democratic party, becoming a Republican, and supporting the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater.

By Charles P. Pierce

On September 16, 1964, in the city of Greenville in South Carolina, the American political status quo that had held since Appomattox ended with a crash the echoes of which, like the residual noise of the Big Bang that created the universe, are still detectable, if you know where to look for them. On that day, Strom Thurmond, a powerful United States senator representing the Home Office of American Sedition, and representing it in the fullest sense of the word, up to and including an unacknowledged act of what his most fervent constituents would call miscegenation that produced a daughter, announced that he was leaving the Democratic party, becoming a Republican, and supporting the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater.

Thurmond's statement was thickly coded, but its message was unmistakable. Because, by fits and starts, the Democratic party had aligned itself with the Civil Rights Movement, and because the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson showed every intention of codifying that alignment into federal law, the South saw itself as besieged by what amounted to a second Reconstruction. Among the elements of the bill of particulars cited that day by Thurmond, who'd long before presaged his political apostasy by walking out of the 1948 Democratic national convention when the party adopted a water-logged plank supporting civil rights, and by his authorship of the "Southern Manifesto" opposing the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, was this charge, for which you didn't need Alan Turing to decode.

The Democratic party has encouraged, supported, and ptotected the Supreme Court in a reign of judicial tyranny, and in the Court's effort to wipe out local self-government, effect law enforcement, internal security, the rights of the people and the states, and even the structure of state government.

This was the final act in a conservative miracle play concocted by two brilliant—if stunningly amoral—political strategists named Harry Dent and J. Fred Buzhardt, who saw a golden opportunity for the Republican party to capitalize on the backlash among Southern white people against the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, thereby breaking the "Solid South" that had been the Democratic party's national bulwark ever since the days in which Abraham Lincoln put the newly formed Republican party behind emancipation.Later, the heirs to Dent and Buzhardt—most notably Patrick Buchanan and the late Lee Atwater—noticed that white backlash was far from a regional phenomenon. Thus was born the triumph of the modern conservatism, sprung full-grown from the pale, pasty brow of Strom Thurmond and hundreds of others like him, shot through with neo-Confederate ideas, and with some Confederate ideas that were far from neo-, and every Republican who wanted to succeed acknowledged this fact iin one way or another.

(Even that Machiavellian yard waste Richard Nixon, who occasionally is cited by the sadly misinformed as having been some kind of Establishment antidote to the poison that Goldwater unleashed into the Republican party, realized where the power had come to reside. When it all hit the fan in 1973, on his way to impeachment, and  with vice-president Spiro Agnew caught taking home-state bribes in his office, Nixon hired none other than J. Fred Buzhardt to come in and troubleshoot the whole rat's nest. Buzhardt conducted his own investigation of John Dean, the former White House counsel who'd turned whistleblower, and it was Buzhardt who inadvertently revealed the White House taping system to the staff of the Senate committee investigating Watergate, which was chaired, in a nice irony, by Thurmond's old running buddy from the other Carolina, Sam Ervin.)

This is the plain history that modern conservatism not only fails to acknowledge, but actively tries to erase from the common memory. You see this every time we are reminded that Robert Byrd once belonged to the KKK, or every time a conservative pundit reminds us how vital Republican votes were to the passage of landmark civil-rights legislation. But, as I said, the echoes are as clear as the faint, residual clamor of the Big Bang, if you know where to look for them. Which brings us to the curious case of Congressman Steve Scalise, the third-ranking member of the Republican leadership in the House Of Representatives, and a man with his ass caught in a considerable crack at the moment because he made the mistake of acknowledging this history in public, following the trail blazed by ol' Strom Thurmond, one too many times.

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke said late Monday that his longtime political adviser, Kenny Knight, was "friendly" with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) in 2002, and cited that relationship as the reason Scalise accepted an invitation that year to speak at a gathering of white supremacists. "Scalise would communicate a lot with my campaign manager, Kenny Knight," Duke said in a phone interview. "That is why he was invited and why he would come. Kenny knew Scalise, Scalise knew Kenny. They were friendly." Scalise, then a state lawmaker, spoke in May 2002 at a convention of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, or EURO, at a hotel in a New Orleans suburb.

We can dismiss Scalise's primary alibi out of hand, because we are not required to be the idiots he and his staff believe us to be.

"I detest any kind of hate group," Scalise said. "I don't support any of the things I have read about this group, but I spoke to a lot of groups during that period. I went all throughout south Louisiana. I spoke to the League of Women Voters, a pretty liberal group... I still went and spoke to them. I spoke to any group that called, and there were a lot of groups calling." Scalise's press secretary reinforced that line of logic in a statement, saying: "Throughout his career in public service, Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints. In every case, he was building support for his policies, not the other way around... He has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question. The hate-fueled ignorance and intolerance that group projects is in stark contradiction to what Mr. Scalise believes and practices as a father, a husband, and a devoted Catholic."

It is impossible to believe that, in 2002, a career politician from Louisiana did not know who David Duke was, or what David Duke represented. David Duke was the most nationally famous white-supremacist since the death of George Lincoln Rockwell, and Louisiana spared itself his presence in the governor's office only by electing the opulently corrupt Edwin Edwards. ("Vote For The Crook," said the bumper stickers. "It's Important.") So, no, there's no reason to get lost in the ink cloud with which Scalise's office is attempting to cover his flight from accountability. In 2002, the same year that Scalise was slow-dancing with the white pride crowd, Trent Lott was being stripped of his Senate leadership position for having appeared before another white-supremacist outfit and having praised in his remarks the 1948 Dixiecrat presidential campaign of...wait for it...Strom Thurmond. Are you sensing a theme here?

I don't know what the pushback will be—although I'm betting that  we will be hearing a lot about Al Sharpton's visits to the White House. John Boehner is not having the transition of his dreams at the moment, what with this, and with  Congressman Michael Grimm's resigning his seat, perhaps in anticipation of a stretch in the federal sneezer. Even Erick Erickson—who is currently the subject of a strangely hagiographic account in The Atlantic by the talented, and usually reliable, Molly Ball, even though Erickson is a creature of Thurmondized Republicanism, no better than the rest of them—has gone up the wall. I suspect Scalise may not be doing much Minority Whipping when the new Congress begins next week.

But the Republican party—and the Movement conservatism that is its only life force—once again faces the same choice it has faced since that day in 1964, when Strom Thurmond blew the trumpet and led his supporters out of the bondage of the party of equal rights. It can look at Steve Scalise and see that its success is that of the Political Party Of Dorian Grey. Steve Scalise is the public face. But, up in the corner of the attic, there's a portrait of the rotting, decomposing corpse of Strom Thurmond, the decay deepening with every election won by the tactics he so completely pioneered. The Republican party can admit the truth of its history, and it can begin to reconcile itself with the sins that made it successful. Or, it can throw Steve Scalise overboard and wait for the next Steve Scalise to reappear. In either case, yes, I despair of the rebranding.

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30 Dec 20:04

The Anti-Police Violence Movement and the Haymarket Riot

by Erik Loomis

Bill Fletcher has a great essay about the need to learn from the violence used by the state after Haymarket against the labor movement if the anti-police violence movement is going to survive:

The Haymarket Massacre is still the paradigmatic case of the state using a violent act to justify repression. In 1886, at the height of the movement for an eight-hour workday, a bomb was set off at a worker rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. The rally was called to both protest police killings of worker protesters and to support striking workers fighting for the eight-hour day. When police attacked the demonstration, a bomb was thrown. To this day no one knows who set off the explosive, including whether it was an agent provocateur or an activist.

What is known, however, is that the government used the bombing as a pretext to discredit the protests and the workers movement, suggesting that the entire movement was comprised of supposedly violent anarchists. Charges were brought against key leaders of the movement and in a kangaroo trial, eight individuals were convicted for their alleged involvement in the bombing. Four were subsequently hanged.

The reaction by police unions, the Right and much of the mainstream media today is eerily reminiscent of the aftermath of the Haymarket massacre. In this moment it is critical that progressives forcefully counter these arguments. They are cynical and disingenuous efforts to discredit and derail one of the most important movements of the recent past. Let us be clear about what has transpired.

We must learn critical lessons from the Haymarket massacre and its aftermath. Public opinion can be quickly, and rather easily, manipulated against progressive mass movements in the aftermath of egregious acts. If the movement does not stand strong and pay attention to segments of the population that appear to be wavering in their support for the objectives of the movement, there can be major setbacks.

At the same time, there is nothing inevitable about what happens next. This is why good leadership, organization, and a sophisticated approach to strategy and tactics is so necessary.

I have absolute confidence in the young activists leading today’s movement. I hope that they pay attention to the lessons of history as they continue to battle for justice. They have refocused the attention of much of this country on something that was all but ignored. Now they must press on.

The movement must appreciate that efforts will always be made to discredit it, and to blame the actions of a few on the many. It cannot afford to remain silent or agnostic regarding activities or actions that alienate our base and key supporters and, potentially, isolate the movement itself.

A related point: in making a movement successful, we must pay attention to those in the middle, that is, those who are not as committed to the long-term aims of the movement, but are susceptible to persuasion. The aim is to effectively surround our opponents in such a way that their voice becomes the voice of the discredited minority. When we win over the middle, we have that opportunity.

The need to win the “middle,” however you want to define it, on issues like is what I was getting at in this post, with one deranged person committing violence providing the state with the tools to not only repress a social movement, but to convince that middle that the protestors are a danger to order and the state. Of course, like with Alexander Berkman and the Homestead strikers, there’s nothing those in the anti-police violence movement could do about one violent person committing a single crime. So a solid strategy on how to overcome an incident like this is really important for it going forward.

30 Dec 06:40

Consequentialist arguments for deontological claims

by John Quiggin

Thinking about various interchanges on the Internetz, a great many have the frustrating property that, while they appear to be couched in consequentialist terms, some or all of the participants are defending claims that they actually hold for deontological reasons[^1]. For example, a follower of Pythagoras (who, apocryphally, forbade the eating of beans) might appear in a discussion about beans and claim that we shouldn’t eat beans because

  • they cause flatulence
  • bean production is environmentally destructive
  • the bean industry is dominated by exploitative multinationals
    The problem for someone seeking to counter these arguments is that, even if they are all refuted, the Pythagorean will not agree that it is OK to eat beans.

I don’t think the position of the deontologist in a debate of this kind is necessarily dishonest. It seems perfectly OK to say “I believe rule p because Pythagoras said it, but I also believe that the consequences of acting on the basis of p are good, and therefore you should do so even if you disregard Pythagoras. Conversely, you may be able to convince me that acting on the basis of rule p, while morally obligatory for me, has bad consequences.”

But, in my experience, such clarity is the exception rather than the rule. Most of the time, the deontologist will keep on coming up with new consequentialist arguments as the old ones are knocked down. Worse still is the case when the deontological commitment is not acknowledged at all. So, the entire argument is undertaken on shifting ground.

Admittedly, the problem is not confined to deontological beliefs. I support social democracy because I think social democratic policies in general produce the best and most socially just outcomes. But in any particular case, that may or may not be correct. Nevertheless, I will naturally be inclined to favor the social democratic side of the debate.

Any thoughts appreciated.

[^1]: Apologies for the (mis)use of fancy philosophical terminology. I originally had “faith-based”, but that seems unfairly dismissive.

16 Dec 17:15

The Moral Calamity Of The Obama Administration

by By Charles P. Pierce
By Charles P. Pierce

(Optional Video Accompaniment To This Post)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like dogs upon their masters.

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

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14 Dec 23:30

The Depravity Of Dick Cheney

by Andrew Sullivan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Dec 14:35

John Brennan Must Go

by By Charles P. Pierce

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

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

By Charles P. Pierce

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

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

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

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

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11 Dec 15:18

Today in America’s Internal Colony

by Erik Loomis

Taxation without Representation:

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

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

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

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

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

12 Dec 16:37

The War Crimes The CIA Has Admitted

by Andrew Sullivan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

04 Dec 20:03

Fewer Voters Are Crossing Party Lines

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

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

Straight Ticket

Straight-ticket voting has spiked:

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

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

04 Dec 19:11

In Sight

by Erik Loomis
Brian Stouffer

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

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

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

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

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