Friday Reads: American Oligarchy, South Korean Tragedy, and Hillary Under the Microscope

 

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Good Morning!!

 

Yesterday Dakinikat quoted from a WaPo article by Larry Bartels on the Republican Party’s increasing identification as white and anti-every other ethnic group. (Of course he failed to mention that Republicans also focus almost exclusively on the needs of men who identify as Christians, but I’ll let that go for now.)

Bartels, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, is the author of  Unequal Democracy:The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. In the WaPo article, Bartels argues based on his research that, despite its seeming choice to ignore the needs of the majority of Americans and the growing ethnic diversity in the U.S. population, the demise of the GOP may not be immanent.  Bartels writes:

Even momentous demographic changes occur slowly; non-Hispanic whites will remain a majority of the U.S. population for the next 30 years, and (allowing for differences in age profiles, citizenship status and turnout) a majority of the electorate even longer. (According to Census Bureau tabulations, non-Hispanic whites were 65 percent of the U.S. population in 2012, but 74 percent of the electorate.) Thus, if white voters “continue to migrate toward the Republican Party” in response to demographic change, “it will be a long time before it finds itself unable to win elections.”

Just look at demographically diverse but stubbornly Republican Texas, always just about to turn blue. The changing American polity may come to look more like Texas than like the multicultural Democratic stronghold of California. In an increasingly diverse America, identity politics will continue to cut both ways.

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Take a look at the illustration at the top of this post and you’ll see why Bartels is probably right. According to a recently released study (pdf) by Martin Gilins and Benjamin I. Page of Princeton and Northwestern Universities respectively, we are no longer living in a democracy. The U.S. has already become an oligarchy. Sure we knew that already, but now we have confirmation from a scientific study. From BBC News:

[T]he two professors have conducted exhaustive research to try to present data-driven support for this conclusion. Here’s how they explain it:

“Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

In English: the wealthy few move policy, while the average American has little power.

The two professors came to this conclusion after reviewing answers to 1,779 survey questions asked between 1981 and 2002 on public policy issues. They broke the responses down by income level, and then determined how often certain income levels and organised interest groups saw their policy preferences enacted.

“A proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favour) is adopted only about 18% of the time,” they write, “while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favour) is adopted about 45% of the time.”

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On the other hand, Gilins and Page conclude:

because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.

Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

These study’s results reinforce Larry Bartels’ findings about the tendency of white Americans to support the goals of the super rich even when it is not in their own best interest. Another quote from the study via Gawker:

The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism…

Recent research by Larry Bartels and by one of the present authors (Gilens), which explicitly brings the preferences of “affluent” Americans into the analysis along with the preferences of those lower in the income distribution, indicates that the apparent connection between public policy and the preferences of the average citizen may indeed be largely or entirely spurious.

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Hamilton Nolan at Gawker:

The theory of Economic Elite Domination is fairly self-explanatory. The theory of Biased Pluralism holds that policy outcomes “tend to tilt towards the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations.” In essence, the researchers found that government policy changes are correlated with the wishes of the wealthy and with interest groups, but not with the wishes of the average American—even though the whole idea of “Democracy” is to ensure that the wishes of the majority tend to carry the day.

The study notes that the position of the median American and the position of the affluent American are often the same; therefore, regular people tend to think that their political interests are being represented when they see the triumph of some political position that they agree with. In fact, the researchers say, this is a mere coincidence. Yes, the average American will see their interests represented—as long as their interests align with the interests of the wealthy.

Yes, it’s extremely depressing, but we have long sensed this and now science has confirmed our intuitions. Now we have to figure out how to change it.

In other news . . .

Ferry sinking off South Korea with 450 people on board...epa0416

We haven’t talked much about the disastrous sinking of a ferry loaded with South Korean students and their families. So far 28 people are known to be dead and 268 are still missing–including 246 students. From the Wall Street Journal:

On Monday night, Kim Si-yeon and her family took her mother out for a late birthday dinner. Ms. Kim pushed for a cheap Korean barbecue restaurant and family members say they reluctantly obliged because the young musician and actress was leaving the next day for a four-day high school trip.

The next morning, the father of Cho Eun-jung, another student at the same school, didn’t want to wake his daughter before he left for work. So he cuddled her in his arms and kissed her forehead, he said in an interview.

Student Lee Hye-gyeong later that morning said a quick goodbye to her boyfriend as she left for the bus ride to the ferry port where the three students and more than 300 of their classmates would set sail for a 13-hour journey to Jeju Island, a popular South Korean vacation spot.

An annual trip for high-school juniors from Danwon High School in Ansan, a suburb of Seoul, the trip was designed as a break before the students began intense preparations for college entrance exams next year. Last year’s class was the first to take the boat; in the past, student groups had flown.

What happened next, not long after sunrise on Wednesday morning, has become a national tragedy in South Korea. The students had just finished a breakfast of bulgogi, a Korean beef dish, rice and kimchi when the ferry capsized and sank.

So heartbreaking. From NBC News: South Korea Ferry: 30-Minute Evacuation Delay Trapped Dozens.

A half-hour delay in evacuation orders may have trapped hundreds on board the doomed South Korea ferry, according to new details which emerged Friday about how the disaster unfolded.

A transcript of a ship-to-shore exchange, and interviews with surviving crew members, reveal that the vessel was listing too heavily for passengers to escape by the time the captain issued orders to abandon ship….

Oh Yong-seok, a helmsman on the ferry with 10 years of shipping experience, told The Associated Press that when the crew gathered on the bridge and sent a distress call, the ship was already listing more than five degrees, the critical angle at which a vessel can be brought back to even keel.

The first instructions from the captain were for passengers to put on life jackets and stay where they were, Oh said. A third mate reported that the ship could not be righted, and the captain ordered another attempt, which also failed, Oh said.

 A crew member then tried to reach a lifeboat but fell because the vessel was tilting, prompting the first mate to suggest to the captain that he order an evacuation, Oh said.
About 30 minutes after passengers were told to stay in place, the captain finally gave the order to evacuate, Oh said, adding that he wasn’t sure in the confusion and chaos on the bridge if the order was relayed to the passengers.

“We couldn’t even move one step. The slope was too big,” said Oh, who escaped with about a dozen others, including the captain.

I guess the old saying that the captain must go down with the ship no longer holds true. There is an arrest warrant out for the captain though. From the WSJ again:

SEOUL—Arrest warrants were issued for the captain and two crew members of the sunken South Korean ferry on Friday, as a crew member confirmed accounts that the captain was among the first to abandon the sinking ship.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, crew member Oh Yong-seok, who isn’t a target of an arrest warrant, re-created the chaotic final moments before the ship capsized on Wednesday morning. He said that while members of the crew did abandon the boat, they did everything they could to first evacuate the vessel’s passengers.

The focus on the crew members’ final actions came during a third day of frustration, confusion and tragedy that offered no new breakthroughs in attempts to rescue the nearly 300 passengers who remain missing.

Investigators also didn’t appear to be any closer to understanding why the ship made what it called a “radical right turn” shortly before it began to sink.

In another tragedy, a vice principal who escaped the sinking ferry has committed suicide. First Coast News:

SEOUL – The vice principal rescued from the doomed South Korean ferry has been found hanged, Korean police said Friday.

Out of the ferry’s 475 passengers, 325 had been second year high school students from Danwon High School in Ansan, about 20 miles south of Seoul. They were on a four-day trip to the island of Jeju, a popular South Korean tourist destination.

The vice principal was identified only by his surname, Kang. He was on the island of Jindo, where rescued passengers had taken shelter. A police officer said he was hanging from a tree.

Read more details at the link.

Prepare yourself for another outbreak of Clinton Derangement Syndrome.

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The New York Times reports: New Batch of Clinton Documents to Be Released.

The National Archives on Friday was preparing to release its largest batch yet of previously withheld documents from the Clinton administration, with topics to include the conflicts in Somalia and Rwanda, Middle East peace negotiations, the Oklahoma City bombing and public figures like Richard M. Nixon, Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey.

The bundle that is likely to receive the most attention, though, is one that covers Hillary Rodham Clinton’s ill-fated attempt as first lady to overhaul the health care system. Mrs. Clinton, who ran for president in 2008, is considering a second attempt in 2016.

The roughly 7,500 documents — consisting of memos, transcripts, speeches and emails — were to be posted by the Clinton Presidential Library at 1 p.m.

Also from the NYT, the claim that Hillary Clinton Struggles to Define a Legacy in Progress.

It was a simple question to someone accustomed to much tougher ones: What was her proudest achievement as secretary of state? But for a moment, Hillary Rodham Clinton, appearing recently before a friendly audience at a women’s forum in Manhattan, seemed flustered.

Mrs. Clinton played an energetic role in virtually every foreign policy issue of President Obama’s first term, advocating generally hawkish views internally while using her celebrity to try to restore America’s global standing after the hit it took during the George W. Bush administration.

But her halting answer suggests a problem that Mrs. Clinton could confront as she recounts her record in Mr. Obama’s cabinet before a possible run for president in 2016: Much of what she labored over so conscientiously is either unfinished business or has gone awry in his second term.

From Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the grinding civil war in Syria to the latest impasse in the Middle East peace process, the turbulent world has frustrated Mr. Obama, and is now defying Mrs. Clinton’s attempts to articulate a tangible diplomatic legacy.

Horrors! I guess Hillary should just drop out then (“Why won’t that nasty bitch quit?”). And now that she’s going to be a grandma, she probably should give up all her ambitions and become a babysitter. From The Christian Science Monitor: Chelsea Clinton baby: Will Hillary Clinton be less likely to run in 2016? Would anyone ask that about a man running for president?

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There are tons of Hillary headlines today, so I’ll give you a sampling:

NPR: Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Chess Board.

WaPo: Poll: Hillary Clinton’s numbers worst since 2008, as GOP brand surges (Sigh . . . Whatever. 2016 is a long way down the road.)

WaPo: Hillary Clinton says she’s ‘a huge supporter’ of immigration reform.

Bloomberg: Hillary Clinton’s Diplomacy Memoir Will Be Called ‘Hard Choices’

Snarky commentary on the upcoming book by Joe Coscarelli at New York Magazine: Hillary Clinton Wants You to Know That She Faces Very ‘Hard Choices,’ Like, For Instance, Running for President in 2016

So . . . what else is happening out there in the world? Please share your links in the comment thread and have a fantastic Friday!!


Ted Cruz and the Future of the Republican Party

Ted Cruz questions Chuck Hagel at Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Ted Cruz questions Chuck Hagel at Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

The Republican Party has a new star, whether they want him or not. And, despite the Time Magazine cover, the new GOP star is not Florida’s Marco Rubio. It’s brand new Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Ted Cruz is, quite frankly, a real jerk. He knows he’s a jerk, and he appears to like it when people notice. Reuters reported last Tuesday on an appearance by Cruz in Texas:

“Washington has a long tradition of trying to hurl insults to silence those who they don’t like what they’re saying,” Cruz told reporters on a visit to a Texas gun manufacturer. “I have to admit I find it amusing that those in Washington are puzzled when someone actually does what they said they would do.”

Employees at LaRue Tactical near Austin cheered the senator enthusiastically during his appearance.

Cruz, 42, raised eyebrows in Washington by aggressively criticizing former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s nominee for defense secretary, during a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing.

Cruz angered lawmakers in both parties by suggesting, without giving evidence, that Hagel might have taken money from countries such as communist North Korea.

Since his aggressive cross-examination of Hagel at the confirmation hearing, both politicians and jouranlists have been comparing Cruz to the late, disgraced commie-hunter Joseph McCarthy–and Cruz revels in the criticism, regardless of whether it comes from the “liberal media,” Democrats, or moderate Republicans whom he deems cowardly and less than pure in their willingness to defend “conservative principles.”

I’m sure you’ve either read or heard about Jane Mayer’s recent New Yorker feature: Is Ted Cruz Our New McCarthy? Mayer wrote:

Last week, Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s prosecutorial style of questioning Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for Defense Secretary, came so close to innuendo that it raised eyebrows in Congress, even among his Republican colleagues. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, called Cruz’s inquiry into Hagel’s past associations “out of bounds, quite frankly.” The Times reported that Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, rebuked Cruz for insinuating, without evidence, that Hagel may have collected speaking fees from North Korea. Some Democrats went so far as to liken Cruz, who is a newcomer to the Senate, to a darkly divisive predecessor, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, whose anti-Communist crusades devolved into infamous witch hunts. Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, stopped short of invoking McCarthy’s name, but there was no mistaking her allusion when she talked about being reminded of “a different time and place, when you said, ‘I have here in my pocket a speech you made on such-and-such a date,’ and of course there was nothing in the pocket.”

The hubbub triggered a memory for Mayer–a speech by Cruz that she had covered “two and a half years ago.”

Cruz gave a stem-winder of a speech at a Fourth of July weekend political rally in Austin, Texas, in which he accused the Harvard Law School of harboring a dozen Communists on its faculty when he studied there. Cruz attended Harvard Law School from 1992 until 1995. His spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request to discuss the speech.

Cruz made the accusation while speaking to a rapt ballroom audience during a luncheon at a conference called “Defending the American Dream,” sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a non-profit political organization founded and funded in part by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch. Cruz greeted the audience jovially, but soon launched an impassioned attack on President Obama, whom he described as “the most radical” President “ever to occupy the Oval Office.” (I was covering the conference and kept the notes.)

He then went on to assert that Obama, who attended Harvard Law School four years ahead of him, “would have made a perfect president of Harvard Law School.” The reason, said Cruz, was that, “There were fewer declared Republicans in the faculty when we were there than Communists! There was one Republican. But there were twelve who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”

Mayer then reports on her interviews with people who were at Harvard when Cruz was in law school–all of whom are flummoxed by Cruz’s accusations. Mayer suggests that Cruz may have been referring to

a group of left-leaning law professors who supported what they called Critical Legal Studies, a method of critiquing the political impact of the American legal system. Professor Duncan Kennedy, for instance, a leader of the faction, who declined to comment on Cruz’s accusation, counts himself as influenced by the writings of Karl Marx. But he regards himself as a social democrat, not a Communist, and has never advocated the overthrow of the U.S. government by Communists. Rather, he advocated widening admissions at the law school to under-served populations, hiring more minorities and women on the faculty, and paying all law professors equally.

Mayer’s article set off reactions all over the internet. Rachel Maddow interviewed Mayer last week; here’s the video, in case you missed it.

Cruz responded to Mayer’s piece the next day after it appeared on-line:

Senator Ted Cruz has responded to The New Yorker’s report that he accused Harvard Law School of having had “twelve” Communists who “believed in the overthrow of the U.S. Government” on its faculty when he attended in the early nineties. Cruz doesn’t deny that he said this; instead, through his spokesman, he says he was right: Harvard Law was full of Communists.

His spokeswoman Catherine Frazier told The Blaze website that the “substantive point” in Cruz’s charge, made in a speech in 2010, was “was absolutely correct.”

She went on to explain that “the Harvard Law School faculty included numerous self-described proponents of ‘critical legal studies’—a school of thought explicitly derived from Marxism—and they far outnumbered Republicans.” As my story noted, the Critical Legal Studies group consisted of left-leaning professors like Duncan Kennedy, who is a social democrat, not a Communist, and has never “believed in the overthrow of the U.S. Government.”

Frazier also said she found it “‘curious’ that The New Yorker would cover Cruz’s speech ‘three years’ after he gave it. She didn’t seem to notice the irony that Cruz had demanded detail information from Hagel on speeches he had given as long ago as 2000.

Back home in Texas the reaction to Cruz’s recent behavior has been very different from that of the villagers and the mainstream media generally. From The Austin Statesman:

Six weeks after being sworn in, Ted Cruz returned to Texas a commanding figure, the center of attention in the Senate and the national media, loathed by the Washington establishment and, for that, all the more celebrated by conservatives nationally who found in him a champion both very smart and, it seemed, utterly fearless.

He had emerged from his baptism by fire more powerful for it, not only in national conservative circles but, by leveraging his new-found status, perhaps also in the Capitol he had so unsettled.
And all, Cruz said in an appearance this week at a Leander gun manufacturer, because he had done just what he told Texas voters he was going to do….

“I haven’t seen anyone that good,” said Tripp Baird, director of Senate relations for Heritage Action for America. “The guy literally day one was talking about guns, immigration and literally dismantling Chuck Hagel, all in one day.”

“The movement worked their tails off to get him elected, and I think he has met their expectations big time,” said Baird.

What Cruz understands, said Baird, is that the way to win in Washington is “take the fight to the other side. If you’re not willing to throw a punch, you’re just preparing for a fight you never end up getting in engaged in. What good are you? Go home.”

How will the dramatic emergence of Ted Cruz effect the current internecine struggle for control of the GOP? Will he throw the power back to the ultra-right? Or will be be marginalized by the villagers?

Steve Kornacki calls it “The GOP’s Ted Cruz Problem.”

We’ve seen senators like Ted Cruz before. The historical comparison most commonly invoked involves Joe McCarthy, whose scurrilous red-baiting crusade in the early 1950s shattered the careers of innocent public servants and alienated McCarthy from his fellow senators, but also made him a folk hero on the right. Jesse Helms comes to mind too. The far-right North Carolinian was generally seen as more trouble than he was worth by his party’s establishment (there were those in the Reagan White House who not-so-secretly rooted for his defeat in a close 1984 campaign against Democrat Jim Hunt), but the intense animosity Helms stirred among liberals only enhanced his status among the conservative masses….

For Republicans who believe their party’s post-2008 direction has been self-destructive, Cruz’s rapid rise is a troubling development, because it really has nothing to do with policy and everything to do with the outrage he provokes from Democrats and the media. The thorough beating they took at the polls last fall perhaps should have prompted rethinking on the right. But conservatives’ appetite for Cruz shows that the GOP base’s animating spirit still hasn’t changed: Loud, aggressive and reflexive hostility to President Obama, the Democratic Party and any Republican who would dare contemplate compromise is still how “conservatism” is defined.

What makes Cruz and Cruz-ism a particular problem for his party is the demographic conundrum Republicans now face. Obama’s reelection (and Democrats’ unexpected gains in the Senate) was testament to the rising clout of the “coalition of the ascendant” – African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women (particularly single women), Millennials. As Joan Walsh pointed out last week, Cruz’s Cuban-American background by itself won’t improve his or his party’s standing with Hispanics or other minorities. Instead, he’s appealing to the aging, overwhelmingly white core of the Republican base – voters whose grievances against the government in the 1970s and 1980s turned them against the Democratic Party and attracted them to Ronald Reagan and his ideological descendants.

The Tea Party know-nothings have already pushed formerly “moderate” Senators McCain and Graham further to the right; why should we believe they’ll stand up to Cruz if he gains popular support around the country? Texas senior senator John Cornyn is reportedly already intimidated by Cruz’s popularity. According to Politico’s Mike Allen, Cruz now gets two votes in the Senate–his own and Cornyn’s.

On the other hand, Paul Waldman at The American Prospect thinks Cruz’s career is already dead and that he’s “the next Jim DeMint.”

A year or two ago, if you asked Republicans to list their next generation of stars Ted Cruz’s name would inevitably have come up. Young (he’s only 42), Latino (his father emigrated from Cuba), smart (Princeton, Harvard Law) and articulate (he was a champion debater), he looked like someone with an unlimited future. But then he got to Washington and started acting like the reincarnation of Joe McCarthy, and now, barely a month into his Senate career, we can say with a fair degree of certainty that Ted Cruz is not going to be the national superstar many predicted he’d be. If things go well, he might be the next Jim DeMint—the hard-line leader of the extremist Republicans in the Senate, someone who helps the Tea Party and aids some right-wing candidates win primaries over more mainstream Republicans. But I’m guessing that like DeMint, he won’t ever write a single piece of meaningful legislation and he’ll give the Republican party nothing but headaches as it struggles to look less like a party of haters and nutballs.

I hope Waldman’s right, but Cruz is a hell of a lot more dynamic than DeMint and probably a lot smarter (how many Tea Party candidates have “authored more than 80 United States Supreme Court briefs and presented 43 oral arguments, including nine before the United States Supreme Court”?). Cruz is an experienced debater and has become a very good speaker who can really rile up a right wing crowd, as Jane Mayer noted in her interview (above) with Rachel Maddow.

As Dave Weigel points out, Cruz is loving the condemnation he’s getting from Democrats, the media, and even fellow Republicans.

I doubt very much that Cruz go away quietly with his tail between his legs. The only question is what will he do to the Republican Party?


Send in the Clowns

For decades, the GOP has been courting racists, anti-women’s rights activists
, anti-gay bigots, and fundamentalist christian extremists, in an effort to become the majority party in the U.S. At this point, they may have succeeded, but at what cost?

As Dakinikat has said frequently, this isn’t the Republican Party of Eisenhower, Nixon, or even Reagan. Today’s GOP has become a job without a punch line. Anyone with any basic intelligence is laughing at the party’s presidential candidates! Even Karl Rove has been arguing that most of them are too far right to win a national election. From Fox News on August 15, 2011:

This is the guy who famously encouraged the christian right to believe the Bush administration would fight to enact their most extreme policies, while calling them “nuts” behind their backs.

But it just doesn’t work to invite crazy, intolerant people into your inner circle and then try to remain apart from them. An organization takes on the character of its members. In the years since Nixon’s won the presidency in 1968 with the Southern Strategy, the GOP has consciously chosen to welcome the most hateful, bigoted, and even demented people into the party power structure and now they are reaping what they sowed.

Today Rove lamented the “debate” that Donald Trump is supposedly organizing. (So far the only candidate who has confirmed he’ll attend is Newt Gingrich). Rove wants the RNC to discourage GOP candidates from attending the debate.

Veteran GOP strategist Karl Rove said Monday that the head of the Republican National Committee (RNC) should step in to “discourage” presidential candidates from attending the upcoming debate moderated by Donald Trump.

“Here’s a guy who is saying, ‘I’m going to endorse one of you,’ ” Rove said, criticizing the choice on “Fox & Friends.”

“More importantly, what the heck are the Republican candidates doing showing up at a debate [whose moderator] says, ‘I may run for president next year as an Independent’? I think the Republican National [Committee] chairman [Reince Priebus] should step in and say, ‘We strongly discourage every candidate from appearing in a debate moderated by somebody who’s gonna run for president,’ ” he said.

Trump, promoting his new book, released this week, confirmed earlier on the show that he is planning to endorse and that if the candidate he prefers does not win the GOP nomination, he might consider an Independent bid following the conclusion of his reality TV show, “The Apprentice.”

But’s it’s too late. If Karl Rove wants to get back in control of the Republican Party, he’ll have to start over from scratch. The party of Bush has already moved so far to the right that Bush now looks like a moderate, semi-reasonable guy.

Donald Trump as powerbroker? Today a new poll was released showing that New Hampshire voters would be less likely to vote for any candidate endorsed by Trump. Trump was on MSNBC this morning to talk about the poll.

Yesterday, I was rereading Chris Hedges terrific book about the christian right, American Fascists; and I came across this famous quote by Karl Popper:

“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them… We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”

That seems very relevant not only to the GOP, but also to today’s Democratic Party, which is once again welcoming in misogynists, anti-choicers, supporters of torture and anti-constitutional uses of executive power. When you “tolerate the intolerant,” you head down a slippy slope toward a hateful and uncivilized society. It’s seems to me that we are already quite a way down that slippery slope. Send in the clowns indeed.


Don’t welcome the Neoconfederate Overlords

I used to be a Republican.  I registered as a Democrat when I moved to Louisiana 15 years ago. The Clinton Presidency was a beacon of hope for what I considered a party so co-opted by crazies that I couldn’t take it any more.  As some of you know, I ran for state office in Nebraska and was completely stalked and harassed by right to life true believers and looney bin church members.  I used to work for Republican candidates during my high school years.  I attended many state and county conventions. During the 80s there was a distinct change.  The conventions were packed with people recruited from church pews that were sent with directions on who to vote for and which principles to remove from the party platform. They removed the ERA and support for abortion rights with some of the most specious reasons I’d ever heard.  I really thought if I heard any one mention unisex bathrooms one more time that I was going to slap some one silly.

All I ever got for nearly everything I said was some absolutely insane diatribe that wasn’t grounded in reality let alone science or economics or sound principles of governance.  You can’t really debate any one who insists the earth is less than 10,000 years old and that scientists lie. The minute you run for office to start a policy discussion, you become labelled a politician and branded as part of the problem.  They hate you for your education and call you an elite.  You are screamed down for attending celebrations of women’s suffrage for ‘marching with lesbians in the street’ as if that was some kind of craven and criminal act.  I’ve seen rabid dogs with less crazed eyes than the looks I’ve seen on anti-choice zealots.  I completely understand why people always say they never knew they had a mass murderer burying bodies in yards right next to theirs.  They choose not to see what’s going on.  So many people avoid being truly awake.  No amount of evidence seems to wake people who really want to be uninformed.

I totally self-identify as an Independent now because I think it’s pretty obvious that both parties are only interested in self-sustenance and not the country.  I will not ever get involved with party politics again but I  occasionally will work for a candidate. The last campaign I volunteered for was Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic nomination.   I watch the new Republican party machinations with complete horror.  An article in TruthOut has brought back all my angst felt while I was trying to help wrest the party from religious and John Birch-style extremists in the 80s and 90s.  Its headline is this: “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult”.  The author is Mike Lofgren who served as a Republican staffer–mostly in a budget analyst position for the House and Senate–for 30 years and has now quit.  You should read the article and be very afraid. It’s an insider’s guide to the rebirth of the confederacy where quoting the Bible justifies any form of slavery and violence as a state’s right.

To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.

It was this cast of characters and the pernicious ideas they represent that impelled me to end a nearly 30-year career as a professional staff member on Capitol Hill. A couple of months ago, I retired; but I could see as early as last November that the Republican Party would use the debt limit vote, an otherwise routine legislative procedure that has been used 87 times since the end of World War II, in order to concoct an entirely artificial fiscal crisis. Then, they would use that fiscal crisis to get what they wanted, by literally holding the US and global economies as hostages.

The debt ceiling extension is not the only example of this sort of political terrorism. Republicans were willing to lay off 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees, 70,000 private construction workers and let FAA safety inspectors work without pay, in fact, forcing them to pay for their own work-related travel – how prudent is that? – in order to strong arm some union-busting provisions into the FAA reauthorization.

Everyone knows that in a hostage situation, the reckless and amoral actor has the negotiating upper hand over the cautious and responsible actor because the latter is actually concerned about the life of the hostage, while the former does not care. This fact, which ought to be obvious, has nevertheless caused confusion among the professional pundit class, which is mostly still stuck in the Bob Dole era in terms of its orientation. For instance, Ezra Klein wrote of his puzzlement over the fact that while House Republicans essentially won the debt ceiling fight, enough of them were sufficiently dissatisfied that they might still scuttle the deal. Of course they might – the attitude of many freshman Republicans to national default was “bring it on!”

It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe. This trend has several implications, none of them pleasant.

He continues to write about how the media has not really awakened to the true nature of the party’s activists as well as a list of the current lunatic ideology that has captured the Republican political machinery.   I’ve often written about the way the press never seems to hold any one to account for lying.  They are complicit in the destruction of political discourse.  They refuse to call out obvious lies.

The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since the bifurcation of electronic media into a more or less respectable “hard news” segment and a rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda arm, the “respectable” media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias. Hence, they hew to the practice of false evenhandedness. Paul Krugman has skewered this tactic as being the “centrist cop-out.” “I joked long ago,” he says, “that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read ‘Views Differ on Shape of Planet.'”

Lofgren cites a fairly recent article from The New Republic worth reading. Its’ written by John B Judis and titled ” If Obama Likes Lincoln So Much, He Should Start Acting Like Him”. 

Over the last four decades, the Republican Party has transformed from a loyal opposition into an insurrectionary party that flouts the law when it is in the majority and threatens disorder when it is the minority. It is the party of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but also of the government shutdown in 1995 and the impeachment trial of 1999. If there is an earlier American precedent for today’s Republican Party, it is the antebellum Southern Democrats of John Calhoun who threatened to nullify, or disregard, federal legislation they objected to, and who later led the fight to secede from the union over slavery.

Today, Republicans are threatening a government shutdown and an international monetary crisis over raising the debt ceiling. They have demanded a set of ruinous concessions as a condition for raising the ceiling. These conditions would include draconian budget cuts at a time when economic growth has virtually stalled—it grew a mere 0.9 percent the first half of this year—because of the exhaustion of the 2009-10 government stimulus. To gain Tea Party votes, House Speaker John Boehner set another condition for raising the debt ceiling again in six months: the passage by the House and Senate of a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. An amendment of this kind would make it impossible for the federal government to reverse economic downturns. The Republicans are, in effect, demanding a major constitutional change in return for not shutting down the government and undermining the American economy. That’s insurrectionary behavior.

I am not an expert on Lincoln, but I have a pretty good idea what he would say if he were to suddenly appear on the scene. He would reject the Republican majority’s attempt to blackmail the rest of the government and the nation. If, because of Republican intransigence, the Congress were unable to raise the debt ceiling by August 2nd, I suspect he would follow Bill Clinton’s advice and raise the debt ceiling unilaterally on the grounds of the fourteenth amendment, which says that “the validity of the public debt … shall not be questioned.” That’s certainly a risky move. If Obama were to do it, he could eventually face a hostile Supreme Court majority, just as Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus aroused the ire of Chief Justice Roger Taney in 1861. But, given the dangerous game that the Republican Party is playing, that’s a risk worth taking.

I am completely baffled by the inability of people that like Ron Paul to listen to him and not hear the same confederate language that framed the civil rights era.  He uses the same language I heard in the 60s and 70s when people in the south were trying to justify all their Jim Crow Laws and their monumental laws supporting voter disenfranchisement.  We’re seeing today’s Republican Governors pass legislation to restrict access to votes.  We’re seeing Republican Governors and legislation restrict access to a constitutionally protected medical procedure. Still, there seems to be a distinct lack of outrage by people who supposedly support limited government on these actions.  This is the same group of people that are now screaming about the size of federal debt while they were more than willing to spend incredible amounts of money on unnecessary military actions and items during the Reagan years and the Bush 43 years.  The hypocrisy is just maddening. The complicity of the press in presenting this insanity as simply another view point is virtually treasonous.

Back to Lofgren who demonstrates point-by-point that the Republican party is obsessed with protecting its rich constituents, promoting war and military industry, and has a religious bent now based on the view of the inevitability of apocalypse.   This alliance of neoconfederates, crony capitalists, religious fanatics, and war mongers has been 40 years in the making.

It is my view that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism (which is a subset of the decline of rational problem solving in America) may have been the key ingredient of the takeover of the Republican Party. For politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes – at least in the minds of followers – all three of the GOP’s main tenets.

Televangelists have long espoused the health-and-wealth/name-it-and-claim it gospel. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God’s favor. If not, too bad! But don’t forget to tithe in any case. This rationale may explain why some economically downscale whites defend the prerogatives of billionaires.

The GOP’s fascination with war is also connected with the fundamentalist mindset. The Old Testament abounds in tales of slaughter – God ordering the killing of the Midianite male infants and enslavement of the balance of the population, the divinely-inspired genocide of the Canaanites, the slaying of various miscreants with the jawbone of an ass – and since American religious fundamentalist seem to prefer the Old Testament to the New (particularly that portion of the New Testament known as the Sermon on the Mount), it is but a short step to approving war as a divinely inspired mission. This sort of thinking has led, inexorably, to such phenomena as Jerry Falwell once writing that God is Pro-War.

It is the apocalyptic frame of reference of fundamentalists, their belief in an imminent Armageddon, that psychologically conditions them to steer this country into conflict, not only on foreign fields (some evangelicals thought Saddam was the Antichrist and therefore a suitable target for cruise missiles), but also in the realm of domestic political controversy. It is hardly surprising that the most adamant proponent of the view that there was no debt ceiling problem was Michele Bachmann, the darling of the fundamentalist right. What does it matter, anyway, if the country defaults? – we shall presently abide in the bosom of the Lord.

I frequently lament that not enough people really pay attention to candidates when they exercise their voting rights. However, unless you are willing to do your homework and embrace the idea that politicians may not be who they say they are, you will wind up as one of those low information voters that’s easy prey to the likes of Rick Perry. Back to Lofgren.

It is this broad and ever-widening gulf between the traditional Republicanism of an Eisenhower and the quasi-totalitarian cult of a Michele Bachmann that impelled my departure from Capitol Hill. It is not in my pragmatic nature to make a heroic gesture of self-immolation, or to make lurid revelations of personal martyrdom in the manner of David Brock. And I will leave a more detailed dissection of failed Republican economic policies to my fellow apostate Bruce Bartlett.

I left because I was appalled at the headlong rush of Republicans, like Gadarene swine, to embrace policies that are deeply damaging to this country’s future; and contemptuous of the feckless, craven incompetence of Democrats in their half-hearted attempts to stop them. And, in truth, I left as an act of rational self-interest. Having gutted private-sector pensions and health benefits as a result of their embrace of outsourcing, union busting and “shareholder value,” the GOP now thinks it is only fair that public-sector workers give up their pensions and benefits, too. Hence the intensification of the GOP’s decades-long campaign of scorn against government workers. Under the circumstances, it is simply safer to be a current retiree rather than a prospective one.

If you think Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand-worshipping colleagues aren’t after your Social Security and Medicare, I am here to disabuse you of your naiveté. They will move heaven and earth to force through tax cuts that will so starve the government of revenue that they will be “forced” to make “hard choices” – and that doesn’t mean repealing those very same tax cuts, it means cutting the benefits for which you worked.

The lessons of the last year could not be clearer.  If you live in a state with a governor and a legislature sympathetic to these views, you’re watching the country descend into a locus of neoconfederate states where the state serves the plantation masters and the rest of us are slaves to ideology, servitude, debt and old tyme religion.  We are all share croppers now.   Take some time to think about this on a weekend that celebrates the struggles that our grandparents endured to bring us in to the modern age.  Think about this as we descend in to Civil-War era politics and mindsets. Also, be very aware that the absolute ineptitude and corruption of the Democratic party and their inability to stop this insanity is as treasonous as the ‘fair-minded’ press.  We the People need to do something quickly.


An act of Economic Sabotage

Over at The Washington Monthly, there’s a new hypothesis in town. Steven Benen thinks the Republican Party is working hard to ensure that joblessness remains high and that the economy doesn’t recover.  It is because this would be their certain path back to power.    Evidently there are other liberal/progressive columnists that are floating around the hypothesis so I think it’s worth examining and discussing.

Is there a Republican plot to tank the economy or are they just stuck in VooDoo economics fantasy land?  Is this possibly a new meme for Democratic partisans that’s come from some Journolist replacement?

Benen points first to several other sources, so let’s begin there.  Stan Collender writes at a blog called capital gains and games. Collender mention the idea was while writing on the seemingly endless attacks on the Federal Reserve by the GOP.  The GOP is notoriously filled with gold bugs and with folks that scream communism at any thing they think looks like big government overreach. (Say, fluoridating the water or giving children polio shots, or initiating an income tax to pay for war.) They go through cycles of screaming about the Fed ever so often.  However, this set of attacks is gaining some footing with the populace for some reason.  This is a quote from something Collender wrote last August.

It’s not at all clear, however, whether Bernanke realizes that the same political pressure that has brought fiscal policy to a standstill in Washington is very likely to be applied to the Fed if it decides to move forward. With Republican policymakers seeing economic hardship as the path to election glory this November, there is every reason to expect that the GOP will be equally as opposed to any actions taken by the Federal Reserve that would make the economy better, and that Republicans will openly and virulently criticize the Fed for even thinking about it. The criticism is likely to come both before any action is taken to try to stop it from happening and afterwards to make the Fed think twice about doing more.

Matt Yglesias echoed a similar sentiment which is where Benen comes up with the hypothesis.  They appear to have a mutual admiration society.  He says that every one knows that the path to re-election for President Obama is improvement on the economic front.  Mitch McConnell has made it very clear his goal is to see that Obama is a one term president. Therefore, is it possible that the Republicans are prepared to sabotage anything that improves the economy that might improve Obama’s chance at re-election?

Which is just to say that specifically the White House needs to be prepared not just for rough political tactics from the opposition (what else is new?) but for a true worst case scenario of deliberate economic sabotage.

The next cite is from Paul Krugman who echos a similar theme in his op-ed ‘The Axis of Depression’ in last week’s NYT.

What do the government of China, the government of Germany and the Republican Party have in common? They’re all trying to bully the Federal Reserve into calling off its efforts to create jobs.

Indeed, we’re seeing all kinds of weird things coming from Republicans these days including that infamous WSJ letter where they all are in a panic about inflation.  This teeth-gnashing occurs despite that October’s core consumer price index rose by a meager .6% .  That is the lowest it has risen since records have been taken;  starting in 1957.  Then, we have that ridiculous little cartoon that ramps up the same kind of fallacy-based nonsense with those two cute little bears using some strange form of English.   In all my years of teaching economics, I have never seen so much misinformation get spread around by so many.  We’ve got plenty of data now that completely debunks the anti-Keynsians, the Austrians, and the Reagan worshipers.  The facts recruited infamous supply sider Bruce Bartlett to the truth. What more proof do they need?

So, what is Benen implying, no make that stating?  He’s saying that the data, the proof, and the fact that people are suffering from joblessness has nothing to do with the agenda here.  The agenda is that the folks that want to deregulate us into Somalia status simply want to regain their power.

One of the interesting things Benen does is actually give some thought to  the idea that the Republicans are just misguided ideologues.  He gives the thought a test drive by looking at a column by Jon Chait in the TNR called “It’s Not a Lie if You Believe It” that ascribes less motive and more ignorance.  Benen dismisses it.

That seems largely fair. Under this line of thought, Republicans have simply lied to themselves, convincing one another that worthwhile ideas should be rejected because they’re not actually worthwhile anymore.

But Jon’s benefit-of-the-doubt approach would be more persuasive if (a) the same Republicans weren’t rejecting ideas they used to support; and (b) GOP leaders weren’t boasting publicly about prioritizing Obama’s destruction above all else, including the health of the country.

Indeed, we can even go a little further with this and note that apparent sabotage isn’t limited to economic policy. Why would Republican senators, without reason or explanation, oppose a nuclear arms treaty that advances U.S. national security interests? When the treaty enjoys support from the GOP elder statesmen and the Pentagon, and is only opposed by Iran, North Korea, and Senate Republicans, it leads to questions about the party’s intentions that give one pause.

So, that seems a little paranoid.  It also  seems like there would be some conversations some place outside of left blogosphere that would shun a group of office holders that show such naked hatred of their own country and the people they represent; even if the naked hatred extends mostly to those that don’t vote for them.  Benen says that the that assumes a vigilant press.  I think we can all agree these days that what we do not have is a vigilant and intellectually vigorous set of journalists.

Historically, lawmakers from both parties have resisted any kind of temptations along these lines for one simple reason: they didn’t think they’d get away with it. If members of Congress set out to undermine the strength of the country, deliberately, just to weaken an elected president, they risked a brutal backlash — the media would excoriate them, and the punishment from voters would be severe.

But I get the sense Republicans no longer have any such fears. The media tends to avoid holding congressional parties accountable, and voters aren’t really paying attention anyway. The Boehner/McConnell GOP appears willing to gamble: if they can hold the country back, voters will just blame the president in the end. And that’s quite possibly a safe assumption.

If that’s the case, though, then it’s time for a very public, albeit uncomfortable, conversation. If a major, powerful political party is making a conscious decision about sabotage, the political world should probably take the time to consider whether this is acceptable, whether it meets the bare minimum standards for patriotism, and whether it’s a healthy development in our system of government.

This gets me to another interesting thing that popped up in my mail this week.  It’s an announcement for one of those debate topics that you get if you’re a subscriber to The Economist. The motion this week is “This house believes that America’s political system is broken.” Right now, 76% of the folks voting agree with the motion. Interestingly enough, Matthew Yglesias is the one defending it.

So,  I’m not willing to draw any conclusion at this point, but I am willing to entertain the idea that the Republicans are willing to sabotage the President no matter what he chooses to do.  I am not willing to see it as a take down of the nation’s first ‘black president’.  I am willing to see it as a continuation of the job they wished they’d done on Bill Clinton. The hate all ‘liberals’. Plus, Republicans have felt entitled to power for as long as I can remember.  I do know–from experience–that they will do and say anything to get their agenda through.  Does this now include leaving incredibly large numbers of their own citizens suffering in poverty and without a job to do so?

My guess is that any means justifies any ends if you think some universal power broker is on your side.   Just read about the C Street group if you think that’s an outrageous hypothesis.  Then, tell me what you think.