Friday, November 30, 2012


You probably know about the new California law that restricts so-called "reparative therapy" intended to convert gay people to heterosexuality; the law forbids would-be converters from practicing this "therapy" on minors. Religious rightists are challenging the law in court; the lead spokesman for a group spearheading the challenge, Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel, has a rather remarkable way of describing laws of this kind.

He calls them "Sandusky Laws."

Hunh? Allow him to explain:

In recent months, "progressive" lawmakers, activist attorneys and militant homosexual pressure groups have launched a fierce campaign to ban therapeutic help for child victims of monsters like homosexual pedophile Jerry Sandusky. California has already passed such a law (SB 1172)....

SB 1172 would make illegal any counseling to diminish or eliminate same-sex sexual attractions or high-risk behaviors, even when, as is often the case, those attractions and behaviors derive from sexual abuse....

Despite intense, politically motivated denials from many on the left, research has established the astonishing frequency to which a "gay identity" or "sexual orientation" stems from childhood sexual abuse.

Sandusky Laws abuse these children all over again.

...the highly liberal American Psychological Association (APA) supports these Sandusky Laws for political reasons....
Good grief. When you read stories like Gabriel Arana's about the intense pressure put on gay young people and the self-hate that "reparative therapy" engenders, when you realize that the psychiatrist whose work set the conversion movement in motion, Dr. Robert Spitzer, has since apologized and declared that it's absurd to try to convert gay people, you realize which way the abuse really goes -- and yet here are the Liberty Counsel guys frantically trying to generate a meme by branding anti-conversion laws "Sandusky Laws" and claiming that young people denied this treatmant are the real victims.

I don't know how many people still pay attention to menaces like this; fewer and fewer, it seems, even on the right. They're stuck in a time warp, still believing that homosexuality is typically the result of trauma, and expressing contempt for predators like Sandusky as much because their attraction is same-sex as because it's pedophilic.

What wasted lives these people lead. I hope their influence is fading to insignificance. But they're menaces nevertheless.

The New Republic's Noam Scheiber gained access to some of the Romney campaign's internal polls, which gave Team Romney a wildly unrealistic sense that Mitt was going to win. How bad was the polling? This bad:
The first thing you notice is that New Hampshire and Colorado are pretty far off the mark. In New Hampshire, the final internal polling average has Romney up 3.5 points, whereas he lost by 5.6. In Colorado, the final internal polling average has Romney up 2.5 points; he lost by 5.4.
Jonathan Bernstein agrees that this doesn't speak well of the Romneyites:
... these polls do not justify the type of confidence that Team Romney was reported to have on election day.
But, he adds,
... it's very hard to see any harm in it. Every campaign needs to act as though it believes it will win.... I see nothing in this story, and generally I've seen nothing in any of the post-election coverage, to indicate that Romney's campaign erred in any way based on their apparent wishful thinking about the polls.
Well, maybe this didn't lead the Romneyites to do anything stupid in terms of campaigning -- but I'm sorry, I don't agree with the statement "Every campaign needs to act as though it believes it will win." Maybe every campaign needs to act as though it believes it can win. But believe that a win is guaranteed? It's appropriate to believe that?

Remember, Romney and his crew were talking as if there was no chance whatsoever that he'd lose. Romney crowed on Election Day that he'd written a victory speech but no concession speech. And remember how confident his financiers were, according to journalist Chrystia Freeland:
I found the absolute confidence that it would work astonishing. On that Tuesday, the big Romney backers I was talking to were sure he was going to win. They were all flying into Logan Airport for the victory party. There's this stunned feeling of how could we be so wrong, and a feeling of alienation.
The Romney people were not just ignoring the Nate Silvers of the world, who were nearly certain that Obama would win -- they were ignoring the Joe Scarboroughs of the world, who said that Romney might win but the race was a toss-up. And they were doing this even though their cockeyed-optimist numbers didn't point to a sure win, as Scheiber notes:
Together, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Iowa go most of the way toward explaining why the Romney campaign believed it was so well-positioned. When combined with North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia -- the trio of states the Romney campaign assumed were largely in the bag -- Romney would bank 267 electoral votes, only three shy of the magic number.
They were 100% certain they'd win because they were "only three shy"! Close, I guess, counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and GOP campaigns.

I think I've said this before, but this is the kind of hubris that leads to Iraq-style quagmires: you believe everything that confirms your worldview and disbelieve everything that doesn't; you get pleasing data stovepiped to yourself, draw conclusions you like, then bump those conclusions even more in your own deluded head.

Can you imagine Romney and his crew in a situation that affected us rather than themselves? What would they have done to America, given the chance, with this kind of power-of-positive-thinking nonsense driving their decision-making?

Romney was supposed to be the data-driven business genius -- but maybe the business in which he made his fortune is so rigged in favor of the dealmakers that you don't have to be particularly good at it to get stinking rich. Maybe he's just not that bright, even in the area that's supposedly his strength.

I know I'm supposed to be thrilled because President Obama and the Democrats are, for once negotiating as if they have a strong hand:
... Republicans are frustrated at the new Obama they're facing: The Obama who refuses to negotiate with himself.

...Previously, Obama's pattern had been to offer plans that roughly tracked where he thought the compromise should end up. The White House's belief was that by being solicitous in their policy proposals, they would win goodwill on the other side, and even if they didn't, the media would side with them, realizing they'd sought compromise and been rebuffed. They don't believe that anymore.

Perhaps the key lesson the White House took from the last couple of years is this: Don't negotiate with yourself. If Republicans want to cut Medicare, let them propose the cuts. If they want to raise revenue through tax reform, let them identify the deductions. If they want deeper cuts in discretionary spending, let them settle on a number. And, above all, if they don’t like the White House's preferred policies, let them propose their own.
I applaud this new approach. But there's one problem with it: toughness is not the Democrats' brand. Reasonableness is the Democrats' brand. The GOP base votes for Republicans knowing that they're stubborn, intransigent, my-way-or-the-highway sons of bitches. The base likes that about Republicans. And even swing voters seem to tolerate that about Republicans, probably because Republicans are good at persuading swing voters that intransigence is sometimes necessary -- particularly on economic issues, because Democrats love taxing and spending so much.

By contrast, Democratic voters -- apart from the small percentage of us who are strongly left-leaning -- like Democrats in part because they seem willing to work with the other side. (And remember, polls consistently show that self-described conservatives vastly outnumber self-described liberals, which means that, if Democrats are winning elections, they're winning by gaining the votes of the big chunk of self-styled moderates.)

So, right now we have the GOP leaking the president's opening bid on averting the "fiscal cliff." And the Republicans have the "liberal media" eating out of their hand. Here's how The New York Times describes the current Obama proposal:
The proposal, loaded with Democratic priorities and short on detailed spending cuts, met strong Republican resistance. In exchange for locking in the $1.6 trillion in added revenues, President Obama embraced the goal of finding $400 billion in savings from Medicare and other social programs to be worked out next year, with no guarantees.

He did propose some upfront cuts in programs like farm price supports, but did not specify an amount or any details. And senior Republican aides familiar with the offer said those initial spending cuts might be outweighed by spending increases, including at least $50 billion in infrastructure spending, mortgage relief, an extension of unemployment insurance and a deferral of automatic cuts to physician reimbursements under Medicare.

"The Democrats have yet to get serious about real spending cuts," Mr. Boehner said after the meeting. "No substantive progress has been made in the talks between the White House and the House over the last two weeks."
Those three paragraphs could have come straight out of a GOP press release.

This is a snapshot of one moment, of course -- perceptions will change. But right now, we shouldn't think the president is winning the spin war. He's losing it. Yes, the public supports tax hikes on the rich, and, yes, the public knows Republicans are being intransigent on that, but it's likely that the public wants Democrats to make concessions because the public always wants Democrats to make concessions.

Of course, if Democrats win the negotiations, it probably won't matter who won the spin war. But the spin war is likely to influence how the negotiations go. And the Republicans are winning on spin.


I'll add that Republicans are actually doing a good job of faking reasonableness themselves. Sending out a few folks, such as Representative Tom Cole, to concede the Democrats' tax-the-rich point is brilliant -- the public won't notice that the party has no intention of actually doing that. Charlie Pierce notes the Kabuki nature of this:
Cole's limited appeal to reason was so profoundly ignored that nobody even got mad at him for having proposed it. Boehner still likes him....
Of course Boehner still likes him, as does the rest of the GOP. He's not out there trying to move the discussion. He's out there to put a falsely reasonable face on an unreasonable party.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


A teacher from Michigan apparently upset one of her students this week:
It was like any other day at South Lyon's Centennial Middle School. Inside [Susan] Johnson's eighth grade performing arts class. Last Wednesday, a student asked if he could play a song....

The song is called "Same Love" written in support of same sex marriage.... As Johnson listened to the song, she said she thought to herself this was something her students could learn from....

However, another student in class didn't agree with the lyrics, went to the office and complained....
The song includes these lyrics:
"When I was in the third grade I thought that I was gay / 'Cause I could draw, and my uncle was, and I kept my room straight," the song explains. "The right wing conservatives think it's a decision / And you can be cured with some treatment and religion."

... "We turn our back on the cause / Till the day that my uncles can be united by law,” Macklemore's song concludes. "When kids are walking 'round the hallway plagued by pain in their heart / A world so hateful some would rather die than be who they are / And a certificate on paper isn't gonna solve it all / But it's a damn good place to start."
That upset the student.

Now, here's the story of another teacher. This one's from Kentucky:
The mother of a Laurel County high school student has filed a complaint against a teacher who wrote "You can't be a Democrat & go to heaven" on her classroom whiteboard.

The teacher, Kendra Baker, wrote the statement denigrating Democrats in her room at South Laurel High School the week after the Nov. 6 election, said Mary Gilbert.

Gilbert's daughter, Chelsea, 17, was in Baker's psychology class....

During the classroom discussion, Baker made remarks in class against same-sex marriage, Gilbert said.

Chelsea Gilbert, an admirer of Obama, told Baker she was offending people, Mary Gilbert said.

There are gay students in the class, Mary Gilbert said.

She said Baker responded by telling Chelsea she would someday have to take her parents to the emergency room and watch them die because of the president's health care reform law, commonly called Obamacare.

The exchange upset Chelsea, who came home crying, Gilbert said....

The following Tuesday, Nov. 13, is when Baker wrote the line about Democrats on her board.

Baker said she had heard the line from a student, and that it was one of her new favorite quotes, Gilbert said.

"My daughter was very offended by it," Gilbert said.
The teacher in Michigan who played a pro-gay song was suspended without pay.

And the teacher in Kentucky?
Gilbert said she called the superintendent's office the next day, and school officials looked into her complaint.

School officials later told her Baker had apologized to Chelsea, but said she had thought Chelsea would be able to take a joke, Gilbert said.

Gilbert said Baker apologized to her as well, saying she considered the statement about Democrats a joke and that she put it on her board to share with a colleague and forgot to erase it.
An apology -- accompanied by "Can't you take a joke?" from the school. No disciplinary action was deemed necessary -- not even a suspension with pay.

Not much I can add to that. It's just not right.

(Kentucky story via Yellow Dog.)


Well, we should have seen this coming:
Republicans Say They Expect Spending Offsets for Sandy Disaster Aid

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, signaling that Republicans may revive last year’s battles over offsets to disaster aid relief, says he expects any package to help Northeast states hit by the superstorm Sandy will have to including matching cuts in spending elsewhere in the federal budget.

"We always help communities during disasters," he said Wednesday after having met earlier in the day with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is pushing for quick passage of an aid package. "The difference you have got now is that it is going to have to be offset." ...
Republicans, led by Eric Cantor, pulled this stunt in the spring of 2011, after a tornado cut through Joplin, Missouri, and then a couple of months later, after Hurricane Irene and an East Coast earthquake (which damaged Cantor's home state of Virginia). This was wildly unpopular, even with Virginia's Republican governor, but when has being unpopular ever prevented Republicans from posturing as obnoxious hard-asses?

Hurricane Sandy hit two states particularly hard. One was New York. New York State has a Democratic governor who's a possible 2016 presidential candidate, and New York City has an independent mayor who, after the storm, gave a last-minute endorsement to Barack Obama. So, for the GOP, threatening to screw New York is a no-brainer.

The other devastated state, however, is New Jersey, which has a governor who is seen -- or who used to be seen -- as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016. But Chris Christie cozied up to Obama after Sandy, which made him extraordinarily popular in his blue state a year before he's up for reelection, but cast him, in Republican circles, as the Judas who literally lost the election for Mitt Romney.

The old Chris Christie, the one who was a GOP love object, liked to be a fiscal scold -- but now, if his fellow Republicans in Washington try to hold up this aid, is he going to blame Democrats for not cutting spending enough? Or is he going to lash out at his the members of his own party who are holding aid up? While we wait to see, should we cook up some popcorn?

Raw Story reports:
Country music star Trace Adkins on Wednesday wore a tiny Confederate battle flag while singing on on NBC’s nationally-televised Christmas tree-lighting special.

During his “Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire” performance, close-ups of Adkins clearly showed that his earpiece was covered with the flag of the Confederacy....
(Click photo to enlarge. Video clip at the Raw Story link.)

Adkins was a prominent backer of Mitt Romney. Here he is performing at a Romney rally in Virginia on October 4:

Here he is performing at this year's Republican convention (and slipping the word "shit" into his song introduction, something I thought only those foul-mouthed Obama-backing rappers would do):

Not sure if he wore that Stars 'n' Bars earpiece on the trail with Mitt, but hey -- according to Romney advisers, it wouldn't offend the voters who really matter, would it?

Billionaire CEOs and right-wing pundits tell us that the soul-crushing nature of Barack Obama's relentless socialism is destroying individual initiative. Americans, however, apparently haven't gotten the memo:
Entrepreneurial activity is up 60 percent in the United States over last year, reaching its highest level since 2005, according to a new report.

About 12.3 percent of U.S. adults -- around 29 million -- are involved in entrepreneurial activity, the 2011 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor issued by Babson College and Baruch College reported.

This rise marks the the first uptick in Americans starting or running new businesses since 2008. The rate had been steadily falling for the past three years....

Fewer adults reported starting businesses out of necessity this year than last, signaling a shift in entrepreneurial motivation. "In the depths of the recession, we saw a tremendous increase in people starting businesses out of necessity. In 2011, the entre­pre­neur­ship rate was pulled up primarily by those starting businesses to pursue promising opportunities," Donna J. Kelley, Babson associate professor of entre­pre­neur­ship and lead researcher said....
I have mixed feelings about this -- while survey respondents may say they're not starting businesses out of a desperate sense of "necessity," surely they're doing it because they can see that the economy still isn't creating enough jobs. And a lot of these businesses are going to fail (as many start-ups do in good and bad times).

But still: Fox-addled plutocrats may whine about the detrimental effects of Obama policies on their precious animal spirits, and Mitt Romney and his right-wing echo chamber may insist that Democratic policies are turning America into a country where everyone just wants free stuff, and yet here are all these people believing that the economy is getting somewhat better and actually practicing capitalism. Despite Obamacare! Despite subsidized birth control! Despite all that cradle-to-grave cosseting in the "Life of Julia" slideshow! (Which, by the way, depicts Julia at age 42 getting a small business loan.)

Don't these new entrepreneurs realize that capitalism is a delicate flower that wilts at the first contact with government spending? Don't they realize that the correct response to Obama policies by heroic capitalists is whining?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Romney strategist Stuart Stevens published an op-ed in The Washington Post today defending the campaign's efforts. What Stevens wrote is getting a lot of attention, mostly because he cites the fact that Romney lost non-white voters and voters making less than $50,000 a year as if that's a good thing.

But BooMan focuses on one passage in particular in Stuart's piece, a passage that reads in part:
There was a time not so long ago when the problems of the Democratic Party revolved around being too liberal and too dependent on minorities. Obama turned those problems into advantages and rode that strategy to victory.
In response, BooMan writes:
... after eight years of having a black family in the White House, there has been some reshuffling of the two parties' brands. The GOP is whiter than ever and the Democratic Party is more identified with the changing demographics of the country. Both changes are alienating people and growing the polarization between the parties. It may be that a 2016 campaign by Hillary Clinton will discover that Arkansas doesn't love her family anymore, and that West Virginia and Missouri are not going to come back into the fold. On the other hand, it could be that Obama's race is disguising the true weakness of the Republican Party. It could be that a 2016 Democratic candidate who is seen as a sound bet to continue Obama's policies and solidify his legacy will have no trouble holding onto his coalition, but will also find a much bigger pool of white working class voters willing to give their candidacy a look. Honestly, I suspect that the GOP is only hanging on as well as it is by fueling itself on the fumes of racial fear and resentment.
I think he has a point -- though I think an inspiring white candidate can keep Obama's coalition and win back some lost white voters. But what BooMan writes reminds me that nominating Obama in '08, rather than Hillary Clinton, helped push the Democratic Party to become the party of the new America, and inspired the GOP to become even more the party of the past than it already was.

I don't think things would have happened in quite the same way if Obama had never challenged Hillary, or if she'd beaten him in '08. Hillary went into primary season with strong support among non-white voters, but it's really unlikely that she'd have worked to build the coalition Obama built -- focusing especially on non-whites and young voters -- if she'd won the nomination. I think she'd have tried to run a New Democrat campaign aimed at the kinds of voters who liked the V-chip and school uniforms in the '90s. Non-white voters would have been a significant part of her coalition, but not as much as they are Obama's.

And Obama's coalition -- built on non-whites and on young whites who accept the rainbow-hued nature of the future America -- has made the GOP even more insularly white and suburban/exurban/rural than it already was. The GOP would have demonized Hillary as a bitch and a boomer commie; the attacks on her as a woman would have backfired and broadened the gender gap, but there wouldn't have been the dog-whistle racial line of attack (birtherism, intimations of crypto-Muslim beliefs) that helped drive growing non-white groups into the Democratic camp.

So Obama helped make the GOP less competitive for the future, and made the Democrats more competitive. He pushed the party to embrace the future the way it embraced white ethnic groups a century ago. He made his party stronger. He made the other guys weaker.

I don't really buy this theory about the Republicans' war on Susan Rice:
... last night. Rachel Maddow came up with a more interesting theory about the relentless attacks on Rice.... They want Scott Brown back. Maybe not 100% Scott Brown himself, but a Republican senator from Massachusetts. It's less about hating Elizabeth Warren (jeez, these intrusive women!) than it is about rearming their filibuster in the Senate by making sure John Kerry is the choice for Secretary of State.
That's more or less what Maddow says here:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I accept that Republicans will seek out any win they can get -- but how much will they gain if the Senate goes from 55-45 Democrat to 54-46?

And would Brown inevitably win? He'd be a strong candidate, I suppose -- but I wonder if President Obama dined at the White House with Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick on the Friday after Election Day not because he wants to put Patrick in his Cabinet, but because he wanted to work out the possible angles if he picks Kerry for State (or Defense). Patrick could appoint himself the interim senator, or could pick someone else and then run himself (he says he's not interested, but who knows if that's true). His favorable/unfavorable rating in an October Public Policy Polling Survey was 48%/38%, vs. Brown's 49%/42%, so they seem evenly matched. Or maybe Patrick has a better idea for a candidate.

The point is that the return of Brown is in no way guaranteed if Kerry gets a Cabinet appointment, and it wouldn't help Republicans in the Senate all that much even if it happened.

I think the anti-Rice vendetta is mostly just Republicans falling into their usual mode of saying that Democrats damage the country with everything they do in the foreign policy realm -- that's been the Republicans' line since McGovern, and forty-year habits are hard to break. What's more, they really think they own the patent on foreign policy toughness, and it kills them that Obama got bin Laden when their cowboy president failed to do so, and John McCain himself never got the chance to try. They have a desperate need to believe that the White House was concocting a narrative that didn't contradict the "Al Qaeda's on the run" narrative -- never mind the fact that Republicans yelled and screamed about Benghazi for weeks, and the White House did quickly begin to describe Benghazi as a terror attack, and yet Obama won reelection comfortably. I just think Republicans can't believe that the treason card isn't working -- it's worked so well for them for so many years. Painting Democrats as patchouli-soaked traitors has been a reliable go-to strategy. It isn't anymore, but they can't quit this stuff.


Over at Human Events, Pat Buchanan warns Republican waverers that they need to stand firm on the Grover Norquist pledge and never, ever raise the tax rates of the wealthy:
Like the Panama Canal debate that made Ronald Reagan a hero, this is a defining moment. No GOP senator who agreed to the Carter-Torrijos treaty ever made it onto a national ticket.
There you have it in a nutshell: Sticking with the pledge is as important as ... vowing never to accept the Panama Canal Treaty. You remember the Panama Canal Treaty, right? It was signed in the 1970s. It went into effect in 1999. After 1999, Panama, not the U.S., controlled the canal. And yet the Earth didn't tilt off its axis and the zombie apocalypse never happened. America didn't collapse. Our enemies didn't overrun us or crush us. The treaty went through -- and nothing terrible happened. I think even Pat Buchanan would acknowledge that.

And that's the analogy Buchanan gives us to explain why it's absolutely necessary for Republicans to stop a tax increase on the rich.

See, for Republicans, it's not about preventing harm to the nation, or doing what's right. It's about drawing lines in the sand for the sake of drawing lines in the sand. It's about defining "toughness" -- in foreign policy, on the economy, on crime, on immigration -- and then defending the turf that's been staked out.

Buchanan isn't embarrassed to offer that Panama analogy, even though treaty opposition was a phony issue that amounted to nothing. Toughness is all. (Well, toughness and lining rich people's pockets.) Toughness is the GOP brand. That's more important than reaching a compromise with a president who just won reelection. That's more important than responding to public opinion. That's more important than doing what's right for the country.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Dana Milbank alerts us to Rick Santorum's latest mission in life:
President-unelect Rick Santorum made his triumphant return to the Capitol on Monday afternoon and took up a brave new cause: He is opposing disabled people.

Specifically, Santorum, joined by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), declared his wish that the Senate reject the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities -- a human rights treaty negotiated during George W. Bush's administration and ratified by 126 nations, including China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

The former presidential candidate pronounced his "grave concerns" about the treaty, which forbids discrimination against people with AIDS, who are blind, who use wheelchairs and the like. "This is a direct assault on us," he declared at a news conference.

Lee, a tea party favorite, said he, too, has "grave concerns" about the document's threat to American sovereignty....

Their concerns ... came from the dark world of U.N. conspiracy theories. The opponents argue that the treaty, like most everything the United Nations does, undermines American sovereignty -- in this case via a plot to keep Americans from home-schooling their children and making other decisions about their well-being....
Well, yes -- that's pretty much what the site of Santorum's organization Patriot Voices, claims. Homeschoolers think it will restrict them. Abortion opponents think the treaty's promise of access to reproductive rights is pro-abortion -- hard to see how that could be the case if the signatories include nations that ban abortion, but it's a worry expressed by both and the Heritage Foundation. And, of course, Phyllis Schlafly opposes it, because, to her, everything the UN does is fascistic and evil.

But I just want to remind you that one of the treaty's opponents is a Republican who's frequently mentioned as a 2016 presidential candidate -- Marco Rubio. Before the treaty was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he tried to attach an anti-abortion amendment. When that failed, he voted against the treaty. And he's one of 36 Senate signers of a letter opposing the treaty.

Remember, I'm not talking about nutty Rick Santorum now -- I'm talking about Marco Rubio, who's widely seen as a serious, credible, non-crazy guy who could lead the GOP out of the wilderness in 2016.

Milbank says of the treaty,
... if it had such sinister aims, it surely wouldn't have the support of disabilities and veterans groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Republican senators such as John McCain (Ariz.) and John Barrasso (Wyo.), and conservative legal minds such as Boyden Gray and Dick Thornburgh.
But no -- it's too extreme for Senator Dreamboat.

During the 2012 campaign, Joe Scarborough tried to play the role of the Last Reasonable Republican. He denounced Rush Limbaugh and other Republicans who set out to wage a culture war over contraception. He chided Todd Akin for his remarks about rape. He distanced himself from the things Mitt Romney said about the "47%." He tut-tutted after the election, when Romney said that the voters who chose Barack Obama did so because they liked "gifts."

So now that Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge is coming under fire, where does Reasonable Joe Scarborough stand?

He stands with Norquist:
... Scarborough said, "Grover's power doesn't come from Grover." He's selling an idea that people have already bought into, he argued....

"The only reason why Grover has any power is because he chose an issue that guys like me believe in anyway," Scarborough said....

At the end of the segment, he answered the question that led the discussion: Is Grover over?

"Grover is over when Americans think they aren't taxed enough," Scarborough said. “That's when Grover's over."
There you have it: According to Joe Scarborough, Grover Norquist's insistence that it would be unconscionable to raise the tax rate of hedge-fund billionaires, the Walmart heirs, Paris Hilton, and Mitt Romney is popular, mainstream, and centrist. Who cares that the polls say Americans don't agree? Joe Scarborough, the Last Reasonable Man, the man who's the self-appointed arbiter of when his fellow Republicans have crossed the line, says that this plutocrat/scion protection plan doesn't cross the line. It's moderate! It's centrist!

This is why Republicans won't back away from the pledge. Some of them know that the culture-war stuff and the birtherism and the creationism are a bit too much. But they think this isn't too much. They think this is where they need to retreat to, not from, if they want to win back the public. They still don't get it.

(Scarborough on Norquist via Memeorandum.)

On Moochers and Looters, Producers and Makers

Before Social Security and before SSI people had to pay for their own family member's retirement, they had to take care of their own mentally ill family members, they had to house their own disabled children and adults or those people became homeless, were institutionalized, and died.  People who rented and lived paycheck to paycheck struggled to handle these problem family members. People with homes struggled to hang onto their homes, pay the mortgage, and generally had to sell up to provide some kind of income stream to their disabled adult children.  This is an invisible fact of life in a modern society in which the elderly aren't picked off by epidemics and disabled children aren't killed off by poor medical treatment at birth or the neglect of institutions for the "feeble minded" or orphanages used as dumping grounds by families overwhelmed by the responsibility for non productive members.

We've really forgotten about this, as a society, just as we've forgotten that Social Security is what pulled 60 percent of the elderly out of poverty and dependency in the first place.  I object to the very phrase "entitlement" when it is applied to SS or Medicare since, of course, people pay for them in advance and wishing to receive back what one has paid for isn't an "entitlement" in any sense but rather a natural expectation that one owns what one has purchased--whether that is an object on the open market or peace of mind through buying into a defined benefit insurance plan (which both SS and Medicare are).

However, there is something which needs to be said about the mass amnesia and the willfull blindness of the American people as to how and why the milk got into the coconut.  A huge swathe of the American people think that society is, in fact, split between makers and takers, between producers and moochers--but they all think that the line is set just one notch below themselves.  Steve M. has a nice post below this one about how shocked the various right wing commenters are that someone (else) can get foodstamps, or government assistance, while still having a pot to piss in--an apartment, a refrigerator, a cel phone, or a car.  What underlies that outrage is not mere miserliness of spirit but an assumption that government assistance should only be offered to people who are, basically, already entirely immiserated.  Anything else is subsidizing someone who doesn't need it.  In the case of the woman who "left" her children's "real father" the person who is getting the subsidy is, of course the biological father of the children--not the mother.  (I'd like to point out that under law the biological father's financial responsibility for his own children does not end at the point that he stops getting free sex from the biological mother. That's a straight up men's rights argument.  Marriage or divorce shoudl not have made the children dependent on the kindness of the mother's new partner).  In the case of the apocryphal man with the six cylinder car the person getting the subsidy is  the car owner not the family he is feeding.

This isn't, exactly, wrong--when the government/taxpayers step in to pay for health care or elder care the families of those people who are getting subsidized are actually getting a benefit. its not just the person who gets the benefit directly who is being subsidized--its the entire social circle (the family, the neighborhood, the city) who is being given a break because it is these people who would otherwise have to pay to make sure the children are fed, the elderly are housed, the sick are cared for.

I have a lovely friend--she's voted Democratic in every election since FDR. She's 95.  She lives in the house her family built on the same street where she was born. She and her husband inherited the house, probably even free and clear of a mortgage, from her older brother who died without children.  They both had various jobs and paid taxes for probably fifty years but she probably hasn't paid any federal income taxes for at least 25 years.  Her husband had a stroke and was paralyzed for six years and she nursed him, largely at home.  She has been on Medicare for a very long time.  Recently she had a stroke, was in the hospital for 3 days without speech and movement and then in a Rehab hospital for about ten days.  The entire street turned out to be present with her in both places--driving the nursing staff crazy--because she has only one child, a woman in her 70's, who is selfish and incompetent.

My friend was brought home to her own home, to her second floor apartment, and installed back there where she is (essentially) a prisoner with full time in home care.  I'm not sure who is paying for the round the clock care.  I'm pretty sure it isn't Medicare or Medicaid.  What really makes sense for her would be to sell the house, which is easily worth a million dollars in this market, and move to an assisted living facility.  The income from the house would pay for the next ten years of assisted living easily.  But she wants to hang onto the house to leave as an asset to her daughter.  My friend and her daughter are very angry that "the law" would claw back the house from the daughter if they tried to strip the mother of her assets in order to put her in a home on Medicaid.  They are angry that the public nursing homes aren't all that nice. My friend actually volunteered for 40 years at a then public local home which had a couple of "scholarships" for a few indigent elderly and she resents the fact that she wouldn't qualify for one of those scholarships--because she's not indigent.

 They are under the impression that the "safety net" for the elderly should be extended upwards so that the elderly can leave their assets to their children--transferring wealth down within the family while transferring the cost of elder care and health care to the taxpayer.  (This strategy, by the way, is necessitated by the fact that the daughter never married and never had children and was a teacher in an age of declining pay and retirement benefits so she never formed her own stable middle class household and does not have children to support her in her old age.)

What strikes me most in talking to both of them is the illusion they have that they already paid for an incredibly high level of care "with their taxes" over the years as though their tax money didn't go for a lot of other shit they weren't thinking about like wars or roads.  They also don't seem to grasp that there's not some office of government benefits out there that is aimed at keeping the middle class middle class but a hard fought system of begrudged aid for the poorest and most problematic of society.  They've sat through years of public debate about "the poverty level" or "benefits offered to people at 150 percent of poverty level" and it never occurred to them that those regulations would apply to them and that they might be rated on that ungenerous scale when they needed help themselves.

It used to be said that a conservative was a liberal who got mugged and I used to assume that when a right wing guy lost his job and had to depend on food stamps and/or unemployment you would see a similar conversion from right to left. Now I'm not so sure.  Looking at these discussions I've had with my friend and her daughter I think people are very well defended against grasping just how fragile their physical health and their social position really are.  The first and last reaction seems to be anger that society and government aren't structured to protect "the good people"--not to look around and realize that we have all been buggered by Reagonomics and the rich for a very, very, long time.


On the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, William McGurn is almost ready to acknowledge that users of the social safety net are human beings deserving of empathy as well as fellow Americans -- at least under certain circumstances:
Several months ago, while flipping channels with the remote, I stopped on an MTV show about a working mom whose whole life was upended when her partner announced that he was splitting. It caught my attention because this mother lived in a nice apartment that looked like one in my suburban New Jersey town, and she was applying for food stamps.

This wasn't your caricature "taker" -- the woman had a real job.
Wow -- they're not all shiftless bums using your money to buy T-bone steaks! Some of them actually live in houses! In the suburbs!
With her partner leaving, however, she could no longer afford the rent, and she would have trouble providing for her two young boys alone. As she walked up to an office to sign up for food stamps, she said something like, "I can't believe I am applying for public assistance."
Ahhh, but not to worry -- this apparent angel of the gutter may not be a parasite, but she's had parasitism thrust upon her:
As it turned out, the reason her partner could abandon those two young boys is because they weren't his. He'd been supporting another man's children, and apparently decided he'd had enough.
So there's really no reason for right-wingers to rethink their unswerving antipathy to government social programs, or at least the ones that aren't plutocrat-targeted. The Republican Party doesn't have to change its message -- it just has to persuade moms on food stamps that they'd be better off if their kids didn't have enough food to eat:
The conservative might feel vindicated here: Had the mom been married to and living with her children's father, chances are she and her boys would not find themselves so vulnerable.

Being correct, however, isn't the same thing as being persuasive....

Conservatives' top priority should be promoting an alternative -- that in a highly competitive, global economy, the only real economic security for ordinary Americans is the security of opportunity....

It can be done. Three decades ago, Milton and Rose Friedman illustrated the benefits of capitalism to millions of ordinary citizens through their television series and book, "Free to Choose." We need a similar popular effort today, to bring home the benefits of the free market to Americans who think it works only for the kind of folks who work at Bain Capital -- or write columns for The Wall Street Journal.
That's what you need, ma'am! A shelf of libertarian-leaning books, not food for your kids' table! Feed your kids on Randian dreams!

That seems to be the principal lesson right-wingers have learned from the 2012 elections: their message was flawless and inerrant -- only the delivery was flawed. Will Republicans change? Nahhh. They still don't think they need to.


Victor Davis Hanson doesn't think there was anything wrong in 2012 with the message or the messenger -- especially the messenger:
Mitt Romney was a glittering Sir Galahad who, given his impressive horse, armor, and lance, along with his decency and piety, assumed that he could win a joust in a fair charge against the other team's knight. Instead he waded into a sudden fray where he was swarmed, mobbed, cut off, pulled off his magnificent steed, had his matchless armor yanked away by a mob of foot soldiers, and then, once stripped clean, was clubbed and maced beyond recognition.
Poor noble fellow! Politics -- he was led to believe it would be beanbag! Can you fault him if he was tragically mistaken?

Glittering Mitt of the Impressive Lance was brought low by, of course, the Evil Media:
The fact is that the liberal press is insidious. The worst network news anchors still have larger ratings on most nights than does The O'Reilly Factor. NPR, with 900 stations, draws more listeners than most right-wing talk hosts. It does not matter much that no one watches MSNBC if they watch NBC.... When you tally together the cultural influence of the NY Times, Washington Post, NPR, PBS, CBS, ABC, and NBC, and then consider the slant of a USA Today or People magazine, it all adds up.
The secret weapon of liberal fascism: People magazine!

And even book tours have a potentially election-tipping liberal bias!
When an author appears on Fox, he is dismissed as rank book plugger; when he goes on NPR's Talk of the Nation, he is a literary figure.
That alone must have been worth half a million votes in Ohio!

Hanson differs from McGurn because he doesn't experience even a hint of fellow-feeling when he sees people on public assistance. They must be brutally crushed -- if only the liberal media would allow it. They are The Other, particularly the filthy Messkins in his home state of California:
"Family values" where I live means a sort of patron/client La Familia relationship in which the government becomes the patron and we are the clients who vote for it in exchange for state health care, food, housing, education, and legal help -- all means of addressing the injustice that "they" (rich people) have done to those arriving from Mexico. If anyone thinks the divorce, illegitimacy, or crime rates are lower here in Selma or Fresno and tens of thousands of Latino Catholics are just waiting for a nice word to vote for Rick Santorum, they need to have their heads examined. If anyone thinks Latinos in California just want the Dream Act and then, presto, will favor closed borders and a merit-based, ethnically blind system in which education, capital, and skills adjudicate who is let in the legal immigration line, they need doubly to have their heads examined.
Don't hold back, Victor. Tell us how you really feel about non-whites who make less money than you.
Last night I went late into the local drug store. The guy ahead of me carefully separated his groceries: in one small pile was baby formula and milk that he paid with a California food card; in the other pile was a huge heap of regular Mountain Dew, three snack packs of Snickers, expensive Beef Jerky packs, and jumbo bags of M&M's. He held up the line for 10 minutes while he went through the two piles and checked out twice. But he did apologize for the delay. I offered to pay cash for his milk and formula to expedite his cash purchase of 20,000 calories. I don't think he voted for Mitt Romney.

Nor did the other guy at the Selma Save Mart the day before who got into a new Honda Accord (6-cylinder, no less) after buying 2 cartloads of subsidized food. It may be callous and rude to say that lots more Americans look to government after 2008, but it happens to be true. What Romney said before and after the election may have seemed insensitive and in some details inexact, but his basic drift was correct.
So we're literally back to parasites buying T-bone steaks with food stamps. That's a GOP message for 2016? Well, I guess it worked for Reagan.

Monday, November 26, 2012


If even an American Enterprise Institute blogger thinks Grover Norquist might lose the battle over tax increases, then maybe I ought to believe it's going to happen. I have my doubts, though -- certainly about this:
[A] CNN poll found that 45% of Americans would blame congressional Republicans for a failure to avert the fiscal cliff while only 34% would blame President Obama. A Pew poll taken right after the election found an even worse result for Republicans, with 53% saying they would blame Republicans in Congress and only 29% President Obama.... being blamed for it is not something Republicans want to deal with.
Yeah, I've seen that CNN poll -- and to me it's disheartening: only 45% would blame Republicans, while 34% would blame Obama, and 15% would blame both? In a country where, as a result of carefully drawn partisan districts, Republicans could lose the total vote for the House of Representatives in 2012 and still retain a 33-seat majority, 45%-34% doesn't seem like enough to worry House Republicans. Hell, Pew's 53%-29% doesn't even seem lopsided enough to be worrisome to the GOP.

Sincere as the few anti-Norquist heretics in the GOP may be, I think their primary purpose is misdirection -- they're out there to make it unclear, especially to less attentive citizens, which party is actually compromising and which is refusing to budge. The fact that they don't speak for their party, and that most of the heretics are in the Senate (where there are enough votes already for the president's approach) is something low-info voters aren't supposed to notice -- they're just supposed to see a few Republicans being very, very publicly conciliatory and think that, gosh, those Republicans do seem like decent, reasonable folks after all. There's little more to it than that.

What do you do after a spectacular public screw-up? If you're a Republican, you wear the screw-up as a badge of honor:
Karen Handel, the former Susan G. Komen for the Cure executive who drove the charity's attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, is considering running for U.S. Senate in Georgia, according to one of her former aides.

"She's considering it," Rob Simms, a Republican campaign consultant who worked on Handel's unsuccessful run for governor in 2010, told the Weekly Standard.

If she ran, she would be going up against Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), whom Roll Call reported may be vulnerable to a primary challenge from the right, given his "willingness to reach across the aisle and his comfort with the idea of compromise."

... As a top executive at Susan G. Komen, the largest breast cancer charity in the country, Handel spearheaded the effort to stop sending breast cancer screening grants to Planned Parenthood. After a public uproar, Komen reversed its decision and Handel resigned....
Now, if you were a rational person, you might think that -- after an election in which a massive gender gap opened up, much of it driven by outrage at GOP assaults on Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights -- the last person who'd want to run for office is a high-profile Planned Parenthood hater, one who's called members of the organization "a bunch of schoolyard thugs." You'd think that just being forced to resign in disgrace from your last high-profile job would be a difficult resume line to explain away.

But this is the Republican Party we're talking about.

Republicans love candidates they see as martyrs to the right-wing Cause. Remember who posed the most serious challenges to Mitt Romney down the 2012 primary homestretch: Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Both had flamed out spectacularly years earlier, and seemed to be deluding themselves when they decided to run for president. But they could both portray themselves as having been crushed by the evil liberal juggernaut. (As I've said many times, I expect Allen West to be 2016's Santorum in the GOP primaries.)

The Weekly Standard suggests that Saxby Chambliss could face several primary challengers apart from Handel, all because of those sinister hints of bipartisanship, among them his recently announced willingness to buck Grover Norquist on the no-tax pledge (for which he's being referred to as #Taxby on Twitter). Georgia's a Deep South state, but Barack Obama suffered a single-digit loss there, so you'd think perhaps a little moderation might go over well with the overall voting public. But that's not how the GOP rolls, at least up to now. I bet every GOP Grover-bucker who's up for reelection in 2014 is toast, Chambliss included. And Handel seems like the just the kind of replacement the party's base would adore.

Right-leaners are feeling existentially threatened again -- though when aren't they?

From an NPR story about libertarians from the Free State Project who try to do charity work in New Hampshire according to their political principles:
On a recent day, about 50 people gathered in a converted office space with $6,000 worth of food and a list of needy families....

[Mike] Ruff, a 40-year-old mediator and blacksmith, helped organize the event. He carries an M1911 pistol strapped to his waist because he says he doesn't trust tax-funded policemen to protect him. For all the same reasons, he doesn't trust the government to help the needy either....

Like Ruff, [Amanda] Bouldin moved to New Hampshire to join the Free State Project. She says she doesn't blame anyone who uses food stamps or public housing, and she knows her $6,000 is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to ending hunger. But, she says, forcing the public to pay taxes to solve social problems is immoral.

"If you stick a gun to somebody's head and say, 'Give me $20 to feed this guy that's dying of starvation on the street right now, or I'll kill you,' have you done something charitable? No," she says. "You've committed a crime." ...
From a post at National Review's Corner titled "On Not Cooperating with Obamacare":
The Hill has an interesting story reporting on Republican governors refusing to set up state exchanges under Obamacare....

... it does seem now that utter legal non cooperation is the only way remaining to impede the Leviathan. Here’s another suggestion: Senate Republicans should filibuster confirmation of the soon-to-be-nominated members of the Independent Payment Advisory Board. No board, no IPAB autocracy. Of course, the president might then make a non-recess recess appointment, but that opens any action taken by IPAB to legal attack.

So, stalwart Obamacare opponents, time for some good old fashioned passive resistance. Go limp.
From a story at Rupert Murdoch's Daily about churches that are offering concealed weapons training: (link now dead for non-subscribers, cached article here):
In Texas, where it's legal to carry guns into any church without a specific no-firearms policy, Heights Baptist in remote San Angelo began offering concealed carry classes in June. The class was a response to security concerns among congregants.

"We're about 150 miles from the border with Mexico and we're very unsure about our insecure borders -- about what's coming into our cities," Pastor James Miller told NRA News. "Personally, I feel more secure that should our worship time be interrupted by a life-threatening intrusion, that we would at least stand some kind of a chance in stopping either a mass killing or terrorizing experience."
To me, the common thread here is the perception that, if you lean right, pretty much everything in life that doesn't seem to be going your way politically or culturally -- the existence of illegal immigration, say, or the existence of government -- is an existential threat justifying a Red Dawn response, or at least a lot of self-important swagger, preferably with a gun on your hip.

The gun-on-your-hip thing hasn't migrated to the realm of pure politics quite yet -- yes, Republicans in the U.S. Senate are implying that filibuster reform by the Democratic majority might lead to a shutdown of the Senate, but they don't seem to be talking about pulling weapons on Harry Reid -- but isn't that the logical next step? Armed resistance to Obamacare? The gunfight in the well of the Senate?

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Ross Douthat says the payroll tax is "our enemy." He says it "deserves to be pared away into extinction." Why exactly? I keep going back to his column and I'm still not sure.

He thinks its origins are sinister:
Payroll taxes are a relic of New Deal Machiavellianism: by taking a bite of every worker's paycheck and promising postretirement returns, Franklin Roosevelt effectively disguised Social Security as a pay-as-you-go system, even though the program actually redistributes from rich to poor and young to old.
I don't know how programs that openly and avowedly collect money from mostly younger people in the workforce and give the money to the elderly, particularly the retired elderly, can be said to have a disguised purpose of wealth transfer from "young to old," but maybe I'm just too naive a liberal to see the sinister goings-on.

And, um, the payroll tax transfers wealth "from rich to poor"? Because of the cap on income subject to the Social Security (FICA) tax (for 2013, wages above $113,700 are not subject to FICA tax), and because capital gains and carried interest aren't subject to payroll taxes at all, those in the top 1% pay 1.7% of their income in payroll taxes, as opposed to 7% for the rest of us. (High earners will pay increased Medicare taxes starting this year, as a result of the health care law, but not enough to make up the difference.)

So how do payroll taxes transfer wealth "from rich to poor"? Perhaps Douthat defines "rich" as "employed" and "poor" as "unemployed," whether as a result of job loss or retirement. Or perhaps he's feeling sorry for the sainted wealthy who are "job creators," and who thus pay the employer share of the payroll tax.

So what does Douthat see as a solution? Well, he says this:
All of the components of a sensible Social Security reform -- means-testing for wealthier beneficiaries, changing the way benefits adjust for inflation, a slow increase in the retirement age -- become easier if the program is treated as normal safety-net spending rather than an untouchable entitlement with a dedicated funding stream.
First thought: If you're complaining that Social Security and Medicare transfer money from "rich to poor," why are you rooting for "means-testing for wealthier beneficiaries"? Wouldn't that make the programs even more of a transfer from rich )or at least non-poor) to poor?

But the rest of what Douthat says here explains why he doesn't like the payroll tax. He doesn't like the payroll tax because it helps create public support for Social Security and Medicare (in his words, it helps makes them "untouchable"). People are willing to have these big-government programs because they see a dedicated tax and thus perceive a connection between taxes paid and benefits received. We can't have that! This is America! The citizenry has to believe that all tax money is poured down a rathole!

I'm not an economist, so maybe Douthat really makes a solid, well-reasoned economic or policy argument for getting rid of the payroll tax, and I just don't grasp it. But I don't know what that argument is.

Hi -- I'm back. Thank you to everyone who took time to post over the holiday while I was swanning off with the family.

I don't really have anything profound to say about this, except on a peripheral issue it raises:
Facing the possibility that President Obama might not win a second term, his administration accelerated work in the weeks before the election to develop explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones, so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures, according to two administration officials....

The attempt to write a formal rule book for targeted killing began last summer.... Though national security officials insist that the process is meticulous and lawful, the president and top aides believe it should be institutionalized, a course of action that seemed particularly urgent when it appeared that Mitt Romney might win the presidency.

... Mr. Obama did not want to leave an "amorphous" program to his successor, the official said. The effort, which would have been rushed to completion by January had Mr. Romney won, will now be finished at a more leisurely pace, the official said....
So Team Obama, at least, acknowledged the possibility that the president could lose. Did Team Romney feel the same way about its candidate? Not in the last month, from everything we've read.

I'm dancing around the issue of the drone attacks themselves because I have mixed feelings about them -- I think they're doing more harm than good, and yet I feel the problem isn't drones, it's war itself, which in the modern world invariably kills an extraordinary number of civilians. What we would need is the political will to withdraw from post-9/11, post-Bush combat altogether; maybe we're ready for that, but both left-wing war opposition and Paulite anti-militarism still seem like boutique tastes in American politics, rather than ideas that can command mass support. It's hard to make that case when America and other Western countries still seem to have violent enemies, and drones are inevitably going to seem more low-cost to most Americans than a full-scale commitment of troops. So, to me, hat's needed is a rethinking of fighting altogether. And I don't know what it would take to get us there.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


A hearty “well done and well said” to Yellow Dog, (post below this one) who points out that American business can’t find skilled labor because American business doesn’t want to pay for skilled labor.

An equally large hurrah to Victor, who commented on the same post that once upon a time companies trained their workers, but these days want the training done at public expense in junior colleges. (To which I’ll add that not so many years ago, the companies with the best training programs were generally well-known, and attracted the best job applicants.)

But you won’t have much time to resent American serfdom. Slave labor is next on the horizon, and it may take its inspiration from the East Germany in the days before “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.”

Seems that back in the 1980s, Ikea, the cheap furniture company, was using political as well as criminal prisoners in East Germany as slave labor to build some of its assemble-it-yourself stuff.

Swedish guilt? Maybe a little.

Of course, Ikea is a Swedish company. It has done the right thing and ‘fessed up. Well, actually it waffled on its guilt a little. “Even though Ikea Group took steps to secure that prisoners were not used in production, it is now clear that these measures were not effective enough,” said a company statement, reported in the New York Times.

So okay, East Germany is history, political prisoners in that part of the world are presumably also history, and by now you’ve probably trashed the assemble-it-yourself chest of drawers that you used for storing your underwear in your college dorm room, or whatever it was they had the slaves making. So what’s the big deal?

Well, first of all, Ikea is still making stuff so shoddy that you almost have to assume they made it God-knows-where using God-knows-who. I went to Ikea’s website to see if I could find evidence that all their stuff is now being manufactured by Swedish craftsmen who get coffee breaks in heated workshops (hah!). Or better yet, that the stuff they sell in America is made by American craftsmen earning forty bucks an hour or better. But before I had a chance to look very far, I started finding, way down near the bottom of the page, Ikea recalls. And I quote:

Uh oh! Did you buy any
of this junk?

IKEA Recalls IKEA 365+ SÄNDA track due to risk of electric shock
IKEA recalls PAX AURLAND glass mirror door
IKEA Recalls to Repair High Chair Due to Fall Hazard

By the time you get to Ikea’s website to check it out, the recalls may have been removed. Or new ones may have taken their place. Anyway, don't sweat it. My point has to do with American companies.

Porn, pay and Walmart

Back in the sixties, friends of mine who made a better living then writing porn in a furnished room somewhere than Walmart’s workers earn today … hey that’s turning into a very long sentence. Anyway, back in the day, one pornographer complained that he couldn’t make anything up. “I don’t care what it is. Sex a greasepit. Sex with electric shocks. Sex on a pile of bagels. If I can think of it, somebody else is already doing it, and then writing to me about it, and telling me I described it wrong.”

So with downward-spiraling costs of labor replacing sex pornography as the new American scandal, I can bet you that at this very moment, some MBA somewhere is equating the growing prison population (nearly 2.5 million in 2006) with an uptapped opportunity to get things built and serviced at even lower prices than we can get from little kids in Southeast Asia.

Heck, we’ve already had chain gangs building roads and prison populations stamping license plates. Why not just extend the opportunities to enterprises ranging from Walmart the Waste Management? (Hey guys, I’m not making accusations here. I’m just alliterating.)

Slave labor in the name
of national defense

Heck, we don’t even have to use dangerous criminals. Thanks to the National Defense Appropriations Act, Amendment 1031, any American citizen can be held without warrant and held without due process. Neither the Congress (hah!) nor, to my dismay, President Obama has done diddley-squat to repeal this horrible law, enacted in hysterical reaction to the horrors of 9-11.

While the intention of the bill was simply to detain terrorists, you know what they say about good intentions and the road to hell. Come a future President like Romney, in as little as four years, the company chairman of, say, Crudpipe International will be able to ring up the White House and kvetch, “Hey Prez, my PAC gave you half a billion bucks during the last election. Now I need some workers to process raw sewage.

Kidnap ‘em yourself labor

And the President might say, “Hey, bigger companies than yours have already emptied out the prisons, and your guys in Congress cut my resources so badly, I can’t afford the U.S. Marshals to grab people off the street. Tell you what, I’ll deputize Crudpipe International to do it. Send your own private cops up to New York and grab a few hundred people off the street on charges of, I dunno what, maybe conspiracy or something. Just don’t seize anybody from the silk stocking zip codes.”

You say it can’t happen here? Who’d have thought Ikea in a nice country like Sweden would be using slaves, or that Americans would grant a Federal bureaucracy authority to grab anybody off the street without a warrant and incarcerate them without trial?

My advice to you is to buy a shovel and start practicing with it. You might have to tunnel your way out of prison, all the way to Canada.

Cross-posted to The New York Crank
How To Create Serfs

A member of my family was laid off this year, one of those highly-skilled workers companies are whining about not being able to find.  My relative was making close to six figures, has more than 30 years of high-level experience, and was liked and appreciated at his job.

Yet when the government contracts slowed and then stopped with the end of the stimulus, they couldn't avoid a layoff.

My relative has been searching diligently for another job, but the only ones available demand the same or higher level of skill at one-third the pay. Accept that kind of pay cut, even temporarily, and you'll end up still working at age 80, having never gotten a raise.

bmz at the Center for Economic and Policy Research
News stories have been filled with reports of managers of manufacturing companies insisting that they have jobs open that they can't fill because there are no qualified workers. Adam Davidson at the NYT looked at this more closely and found that the real problem is that the managers don't seem to be interested in paying for the high level of skills that they claim they need.

Many of the positions that are going unfilled pay in the range of $15-$20 an hour. This is not a pay level that would be associated with a job that requires a high degree of skill. As Davidson points out, low level managers at a fast-food restaurant can make comparable pay.

It should not be surprising that the workers who have these skills expect higher pay and workers without the skills will not invest the time and money to acquire them for such a small reward. If these factories want to get highly skilled workers, they will have to offer a wage that is in line with the skill level that they expect.
This is the real reason corporations and their pet repugs in Congress so frantically oppose creating the 10 million government infrastructure jobs that would restore the economy and eliminate the deficit in one fell swoop: because those would be good jobs at good pay with good benefits, and corporations would actually have to compete for high-skill employees.

Friday, November 23, 2012

They call it Black Friday

For me, it's like driving past a bad wreck on the highway. Don't really want to look, but can't help myself. So every year I watch the black, rotting heart of American consumerism further subsume the better natures of humankind.

Thankfully, no reports of Black Friday deaths or tramplings that I've seen, though of course there were some disturbing incidents of Christmas shopper conflicts. I especially loved the guy in Texas who pulled a gun on a line cutter. He wasn't arrested because he had a concealed carry permit. Assume threatening to kill someone for trying to get between you and your new flat screen teevee is justifiable under the castle doctrine. Or something. Are state's rights great or what?

I've rubbernecked at way too much of the coverage today. This was the seminal video. Fair warning, it's dubbed with an awful heavy metal track. Sadly, it fits the footage too well.

On the bright side, the internets tell me this only reflects about 18% of our population. So there's that.

Beshear Buys Off Fired Whistleblower

No surprise,  but as it is and has been for decades unwritten-but-practically-official Commonwealth of Kentucky policy to obey Big Coal in the matter of mine inspections, it would have been nice, for once, to get the facts out in open court.
The Steve Beshear administration has settled for $270,000 a lawsuit brought by its former director of mine permits who claimed he was fired three years ago for blocking illegal permits sought by coal giant Alliance Resources.

The state Energy and Environment Cabinet released the five-page settlement with Ron Mills Wednesday morning.

It calls for the state to pay Mills $270,000 in exchange for dropping a lawsuit he brought in Franklin Circuit Court claiming he was fired for blowing the whistle on what he said was an illegal state policy.

The agreement states that the settlement is not an admission of “any liability, violation or wrongdoing” by the state.

And the agreement includes a confidentiality provision prohibiting the parties from discussing settlement negotiations.
Yeah, exactly. And $270,000 is far less than what Kentucky taxpayers have already paid to protect Beshear's ass with delaying tactics over the past three years.

Everybody knows what goes on between Big Coal and Frankfort. But it's never been put on the record, and it needs to be.  Until it is, we'll never be able to change it.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Reasons to Be Cheerful (Part 2)

We didn't have much time to celebrate before that stupid sordid sex scandal sucked the oxygen out of the room. Wingnut Captains of Industry with delusions of grandeur are trying to sabotage the economy. Republicans in Congress are still going to obstruct everything, and are already laying the groundwork for impeachment (and even the Gaza cease fire, cause for genuine happiness, is an excuse for them to attack the President).

But today is Thanksgiving, so today I'll focus on what we can be thankful for.

And there's a lot:
  • The old spells didn't work this time. For decades, Republicans held a (mostly) winning hand: social wedge issues; race-baiting (the Southern Strategy); and a perception that they were "strong" (and Democrats "weak") on defense. They played them all this time, and they lost.

    Introducing dozens of anti-abortion bills in Congress may have brought out the crazy Jeebus vote, but it also motivated people who value choice. Attacking access to contraceptives may have seemed like a canny play for Catholic voters, but it underscored how extreme and out of step the Republicans really are. The wedge was on the wrong side for them.

    Coded appeals to white resentment from the Romney campaign (their welfare ad) and surrogates (Sununu, Trump, etc.) didn't work either--partly because Mr. Let Detroit Die didn't have a lot of credibility with working-class white people in Ohio, but mostly because the electorate just wasn't as white as it used to be. Again, when your strategy is division, you need to make sure you're on the wrong side of the divide.

    When Benghazi happened they thought it was 1980 and the President was Jimmy Carter, and this was the moment of hopeless weakness that would make the country turn to a Big Strong Daddy, Willard Romney. But it isn't 1980. Whatever you think of his national security policies (I have mixed feelings), President Obama has at least temporarily erased the (always unfair) image of Democrats as weak and incompetent on foreign policy.

  • We made huge steps toward equality. After 32 defeats, one win for marriage equality would have been worth celebrating. We got 3 1/2 (the Minnesota vote didn't advance the state, but kept it from going backwards). We also got our first openly gay Senator. And the first President ever to endorse marriage equality--it didn't hurt him at all, and probably helped.
  • Voter suppression backfired spectacularly. It turns out that fear of losing one's vote is a powerful motivation to get out and exercise it.
  • Big money didn't win. They poured billions of dollars into defeating the President (and every down-ballot Democrat) and it didn't work. That's a hell of a return on investment for supposedly savvy businessmen like the Kochs and Adelson. In part, this was because outside money is inherently inefficient: they couldn't coordinate on the ground game, and they were paying higher media rates than the campaign itself. But the main reason, I think, is that we finally reached a point of diminishing returns for campaign spending.

That's my list. What are you all thankful for?

Update: Amanda Marcotte has a great piece on why feminists have reason to be thankful.
Be Thankful You're Not One of the These Workers

But don't think they're not languishing in a slave-labor hellhole very near you.

Charlie Pierce:
Lost in all the Gentle Fiscal Incline palaver, and the warm-up to the holidays, is the story that another oil rig blew up in the Gulf Of Mexico, killing some people who don't really count in the calculations of the Very Serious People who are handling the great issues of the day, and once again giving us another unpleasant look into the corporate culture that we, through our politics, have allowed to flourish.

Grand Isle Shipyard Inc., the company whose workers were aboard the West Delta Block 32 platform Friday morning when an explosion and fire killed one worker, left another missing and injured 11 more, is facing charges of abusive and exploitative working conditions akin to slavery in a federal lawsuit filed by former workers from the Philippines. The allegations surfaced as the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which regulates the oil and gas industry, began its investigation into Grand Isle Shipyard and Black Elk, the Houston-based owner of the oil platform that caught fire 18 miles southeast of Grand Isle.
The lawsuit itself is a cornucopia of horrors.


I guarantee you that, somewhere in a boardroom, people are slapping themselves high-fives for how profitable this inhumanity was. Somewhere, business consultants are congratulating themselves for devising such a clever strategy, and they are giving seminars on how to apply these principles to other businesses. Some day soon, it will be taught in our finest business schools to the sleek children of people who never will know the people on whom it is practiced. We are inculcating in our lives an acceptance of serfdom. We are investing in our economy a foundation of outright sociopathy. This seems like it should be a matter of some concern.
I apologize for all the times I accused repugs of trying to create a lords-n-serfs economy in this country. They aren't trying to create one.  They're trying to protect and expand the one we've already got.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


From Divine Irony: