Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

A Senate nominee I wish I could vote for

April 12, 2014

 Shenna Bellows, the Democratic nominee for Senator from Maine, is outstanding on the most important issues of our time.  She wants to break up the big banks, bring the National Security Agency under control and end the so-called war on drugs, which has resulted in so many poor young black men going to prison for actions that are tolerated among the elite.

SBellowsphotoI thank my friend Bill Elwell, for calling her interview with Salon, the first of the links below, to my attention.  Based on that, I think she would be at least as good a Senator as Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, whom I admire.  Bellows hesitates to support gun control legislation, but as far as I’m concerned, that is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Having another dissenting voice in the Senate would be important, even though an overwhelming majority (in the Senate, I mean) is against her.   She has the power to raise important questions and to raise public awareness.

It is interesting how things change.  Eighty years ago, Maine and Vermont were the most conservative states in the union.  They were the only two states that opposed President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s re-election in 1936.  But now Vermont is represented by Bernie Sanders, an independent who is the Senate’s only avowed socialist, and there is a good chance that Maine will be represented by Bellows.

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Why do so many politicians seem crazy?

April 8, 2014

            “Narcissism is closely allied with demented self-confidence: hubris. In his book The Hubris Syndrome: Bush, Blair, and the Intoxication of Power, the politician and medical doctor David Owen suggests that ‘there is a pattern of hubristic behavior manifest in the behavior of some leaders, particularly political leaders, which could legitimately be deemed to constitute a medically recognized syndrome,’ which he calls the hubristic syndrome. It afflicts some political leaders, but not all. Owen believes that it derives from some sort of narcissistic personality disorder, but goes beyond that. Its consequences throughout human history have been disastrous. Owen suggests that a sprinkling of behavioral symptoms from the following list characterizes this disorder:

George W. Bush

George W. Bush

—A narcissistic propensity to see the world primarily as an arena in which they can exercise power and seek glory rather than as a place with problems that need approaching in a pragmatic and non-self-referential manner;

            —a predisposition to take actions which seem likely to cast them in a good light—i.e., in order to enhance their image;

            —a disproportionate concern with image and presentation;

            —a messianic manner of talking about what they are doing and a tendency to exaltation;

            —an identification of themselves with the state to the extent that they regard the outlook and interests of the two as identical;

            —a tendency to talk of themselves in the third person or using the royal “we”;

            —excessive confidence in their own judgment and contempt for the advice or criticism of others;

            —exaggerated self-belief, bordering on a sense of omnipotence, in what they personally can achieve;

Tony Blair

Tony Blair

            —a belief that rather than being accountable to the mundane court of colleagues or public opinion, the real court to which they answer is much greater: History or God;

            —an unshakeable belief that in that court they will be vindicated;

            —recklessness, restlessness, and impulsiveness;

            —a tendency to allow their “broad vision,” especially their conviction of the moral rectitude of a proposed course of action, to obviate the need to consider other aspects of it, such as its practicality, cost, and the possibility of unwanted outcomes;

            —a consequent type of incompetence in carrying out a policy, which could be called hubristic incompetence. This is where things go wrong precisely because too much self-confidence has led the leader not to bother worrying about the nuts and bolts of a policy. It can be allied to an incurious nature.

Owen details the way in which George W. Bush., and more especially Tony Blair, eventually checked all these sinister boxes as their period in power unfolded. Margaret Thatcher had previously become another victim, and history shows many precursors.”

—SIMON BLACKBURN, Mirror, Mirror: The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love (Princeton 2014), pages 68-69.

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Who represents the interests of wage-earners?

March 26, 2014

After the election of President Obama, a tiny economic elite is still in charge.

http://www.salon.com/2014/03/16/there_is_no_meritocracy_its_just_the_1_percent_and_the_game_is_rigged/

Wall Street’s influence on the Democratic Party goes back a long way.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/03/21/the-missing-link-to-the-democratic-partys-pivot-to-wall-street/print

And nowadays the so-called progressives represent the views and interests of college-educated professionals rather than those of wage-earners.

http://www.salon.com/2014/03/20/college_educated_professionals_could_doom_progressive_politics/

The saving grace of Rand Paul

March 21, 2014

Senator Rand Paul is naive and ignorant, he has an inadequate political philosophy, but he has the heart of a human being.

Rand Paul

Rand Paul

Which is more than you can say for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie or Paul Ryan, to name a few.

He does not allow Orwellian language to blind him to the human reality behind extrajudicial executions, military intervention or preventive detention.  He does not justify or protect thieves, assassins or torturers.

A couple of years ago he made a fool of himself addressing students at Howard University, both underestimating their intelligence and knowledge and overestimating his own.  He made things worse afterwards by whining.

Yet how many other Republican politicians would have the guts to open himself up for questions from a predominantly black audience — as distinguished from giving an insulting lecture on the value of the work ethic.

Rand Paul is one of the few national politicians who is trying to reform drug sentencing policy, which has, as Michelle Alexander pointed out, resulted in mass incarceration and subsequent denial of civil rights to millions of young black men.  That’s more than can be said of Barack Obama, Eric Holder or Hillary Clinton.

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The trap of Red vs. Blue thinking

February 5, 2014

The fundamental fallacy which is committed by almost everyone is this: “A and B hate each other, therefore one is good and the other is bad.”
==Bertrand Russell, in 1956 letter

One of the big obstacles to rational discussion of politics is the notion that you’ve got to sign up for Team Red or Team Blue, and that on any given question, the criterion is which answer helps your team and which helps the other team.

Let me give a couple of examples.

I once argued with a Republican acquaintance about the need for filibuster reform in the Senate, so that bills and appointments could be approved by a 51-vote majority rather than a 60-vote super-majority.   His rebuttal was that Democrats benefit from the filibuster as much as Republicans, and would favor the filibuster when they were no longer in the majority.   This probably was true,  but the question was not what is in the interests of  the Democrat or Republicans, but in the interests of the USA.

Obama.TeaPartyA Democratic friend once said that it was a mistake to “fetishize” the Constitution, because that is what Tea Party Republicans do.  As I see it,  support for the Constitution is the basic social contract that binds the United States together as a nation.  Without it, Americans are no more than a collection of contending ethnic groups or the world’s biggest mass market for advertisers.  Maybe my thinking is wrong, but, if so, what Tea Party members do or don’t think has nothing to do with the case.

I disagree with Rep. Justin Amash, a Tea Party Republican from Michigan, on many issues, such as his role in the irresponsible government shutdown,  but I think he is worthy of praise for co-sponsoring legislation to curb abuses of the National Security Agency.

I have been enrolled as a Democrat since I first registered to vote.  I once thought there was an intrinsic difference between the two political parties.  I agreed with the historian, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who wrote in The Age of Jackson that the Republican Party and its predecessors, the Whig Party and the Federal Party, represented the interests of Wall Street and big business, while the Democratic Party, going back to Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson, was a coalition of everyone who might be harmed by the abuse of business power.  Schlesinger thus rationalized the fact that the Democratic coalition in the 1940s and 1950s included Southern white supremacists.  The interests of the Southern planters were not the interests of Wall Street.

I see now that this is an oversimplified view of history.  From the Civil War to the Great Depression, there were as many progressives in the Republican Party as in the Democratic Party.   The Republican Party was not merely the party of William McKinley and Calvin Coolidge; it was the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, George W. Norris and Fiorello LaGuardia.

And as political scientist Thomas Ferguson has pointed out, the Democratic Party is as much beholden to Wall Street and corporate interests as the Republican Party.

I agree with the Democrats more than the Republicans on most, although not all, issues on which the two parties differ.  But I am much more concerned about political continuity and bipartisan agreement on questions such as propping up Wall Street, extrajudicial killing, preventive detention and warrant-less surveillance. , a consensus that seems to endure in Washington regardless of public opinion. And I am pleased when people from either side of the political aisle dissent from this consensus.  If we Americans want a free, peaceful and prosperous country, we’ve got to get beyond limits of Blue vs. Red.

No political party is worthy of loyalty in and of itself.  No political label is worthy of loyalty.  The only things that are worthy of loyalty are certain principles and certain human beings.  A political party, like a corporation or a union, is merely an organizational structure in which individual people can do certain things.  But if the people are replaced, and their principles and purposes are lost, what is there left to be loyal to?

The flag of Lincoln’s party

January 29, 2014

flag+of+lincoln's+party

Hat tip to jobsanger.

Liberals who fear the libertarian temptation

January 26, 2014

Every now and then I come across some liberal commentator who is mildly critical of abuses of power under the Obama administration, but warns against making too much of them, because you thereby create distrust of government and play into the hands of libertarians.

The reasoning is that if you make too much of an issue of preventive detention, undeclared wars, assassination lists and warrant-less surveillance, you’ll lead cause people to focus on abuses of power by government and forget about abuses of power by big corporations.  Never mind that corporate power is so closely linked to government power these days that this is a distinction without a difference.

As an example of this kind of thinking, click on Would You Feel Differently About Snowden, Greenwald and Assange If You Knew What They Really Think? by Sean Wilentz for The New Republic.   He does not rebut anything that Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald or Julian Assange have actually asserted.  Rather he speculates on their underlying philosophy based on thin evidence, and warns against playing into the hands of corporations and libertarians.

For a good response to Wilentz, click on The Liberal Surveillance State by Henry Farrell on the Crooked Timber web log.  For some more examples of strained reasoning,  scroll down through the comments section.

I am not a libertarian.   But I am a civil libertarian, and it is a fact that right now, many self-described libertarians are better defenders of basic civil liberties than pro-Obama liberals.

A recent study shows the pitfalls of thinking that you have to either be on Team Blue or Team Red.  Click The Depressing Psychological Theory That Explains Washington for a report on the study by Ezra Klein for the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.  It tells how people were for (or against) a set of proposals when told it was a liberal program, and against (or for) the same set of proposals when told it was a conservative program.

If what somebody says is factually correct and morally right, you shouldn’t worry about whose hands it will “play into.”

How big money keeps populism at bay

January 24, 2014

The Democratic Party is in deep trouble going into the 2014 elections, and it’s not solely due, or even mainly due, to gerrymandering, voter suppression or other dirty tricks by Republicans.

Thomas Ferguson

Thomas Ferguson

Their main problem is that the Obama administration is five years old, and there has been no economic recovery for the vast majority of Americans.  While Democrats can justly claim that the economic crash is due to the policies of the Bush administration, voters have a right to expect that by now, the Obama administration would have offered an alternative.

Recognizing the problem, President Obama has started talking about income inequality, and trying to re-energize the Democratic base of support — union members, working women, Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans.   The problem for the President and for Democrats generally is how to do this without jeopardizing their support from big-money donors whose contributions they need to win.

This is a tightrope that Obama has been able to walk so far.  The question is how long he can get away with it.

Political scientist Thomas Ferguson, who is known for his “investment theory” of political parties, and fellow academics Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen recently published an analysis which concluded that the 2012 elections were basically a contest between different factions of the upper 1 percent of income earners.

Nearly two-thirds of itemized contributions to the Obama campaign and more than 70 percent of itemized contributions to the Romney campaign came from donors who contributed $10,000 or more.  Roughly the same breakdowns held for the proportions of total contributions in amounts of $500 or more.  Obama received more small donations than Romney, but both got the bulk of their funds from big donors.

That’s not to say nothing was at stake.  Republican candidates tend to get the support of the oil and gas industry; Democrats the telecommunications and computer industry.  Wall Street shifts back and forth between the two parties, but exercises strong influence over both.

The 2014 congressional elections will be the same, only worse, Ferguson, Jorgensen and Chen predicted, since recent court decisions have removed the last vestiges of restrictions on campaign contributions.

Thomas Frank wrote an eloquent article recently in Harper’s magazine, indicting college-educated progressive Democrats for their passivity and their disconnect from the concerns of working people.  He wrote that they are waiting for the Republican Party to be destroyed by the Tea Party movement, just as in earlier eras they waited for the GOP to be destroyed by George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, supply-side economics, Watergate and Barry Goldwater.

The Democrats’ problem is not just the power of money.  It is that, for many Democrats, the power of money is not an issue.

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Chris Christie and the abuse of power

January 10, 2014
Chris Christie

Chris Christie

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is in trouble over his administration’s orders to close three lanes on the George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey to New York City, without prior notice, creating enormous traffic jams for four days last September.

E-mails indicate that the traffic problems were created deliberately, evidently to punish Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., for supporting Christie’s Democratic opponent in the November election.

Christie has denied personal knowledge of the lane closings.  But, as Scott Galupo of The American Conservative pointed out, this would make it even worse.  It would mean Christie’s top people thought they didn’t need clear something like this with Christie.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

“Got it.”

So ordered (now former) Christie aide Bridget Kelly, and so responded Port Authority official David Wildstein.

That’s about as direct and cursory a conversation as two people can have. It’s the kind of missive I get from my wife when I’m in the grocery store: “one more thing: milk” … “Got it.”

No further explanation was necessary.

Kelly said “traffic problems,” and Wildstein, apparently, knew exactly what she meant.

There was no “It’s time to create some traffic problems.” Or “What can you do to cause headaches in Fort Lee.” Or, in response, “What do you mean?” Or, obviously, “Are you crazy?!”

This strongly suggests a couple of things:

1) This kind of thing was routine business for Kelly and Wildstein and perhaps others in the governor’s inner circle.

And, worse, 2) Gov. Christie has either directly cultivated or is himself accustomed to a culture in which such behavior is routine business.

Imagine somebody like this in the White House, in control of the Internal Revenue Service and the National Security Agency[1].   And Christie is considered the favorite candidate of the moderate wing of the Republican Party.

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Hillary Clinton tells financiers she’s on their side

December 17, 2013

Hillary Clinton recently addressed a meeting of Wall Street financiers, which was set up by Goldman Sachs, to tell them that she’s on their side, Politico magazine reported.

Clinton offered a message that the collected plutocrats found reassuring, according to accounts offered by several attendees, declaring that the banker-bashing so popular within both political parties was unproductive and indeed foolish.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

Striking a soothing note on the global financial crisis, she told the audience, in effect: We all got into this mess together, and we’re all going to have to work together to get out of it. 

What the bankers heard her to say was just what they would hope for from a prospective presidential candidate: Beating up the finance industry isn’t going to improve the economy—it needs to stop.

And indeed Goldman’s Tim O’Neill, who heads the bank’s asset management business, introduced Clinton by saying how courageous she was for speaking at the bank.  (Brave, perhaps, but also well-compensated: Clinton’s minimum fee for paid remarks is $200,000).

Certainly, Clinton offered the money men—and, yes, they are mostly men—at Goldman’s HQ a bit of a morale boost.  “It was like, ‘Here’s someone who doesn’t want to vilify us but wants to get business back in the game,’” said an attendee. “Like, maybe here’s someone who can lead us out of the wilderness.”

Clinton’s remarks were hardly a sweeping absolution for the sins of Wall Street, whose leaders she courted assiduously for financial support over a decade, as a senator and a presidential candidate in 2008.   But they did register as a repudiation of some of the angry anti-Wall Street rhetoric emanating from liberals rallying behind the likes of Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

And perhaps even more than that, Clinton’s presence offered a glimpse to a future in which Wall Street might repair its frayed political relationships.

via POLITICO Magazine.

I would have thought that the Wall Street financial community would be highly pleased with President Barack Obama.  His administration has bailed out the Wall Street banks from their bad investments, and held them harmless.  It continued the TARP bailouts and supported Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke’s policy of pumping money into the banking system by buying up toxic assets.

The Obama administration has refrained from prosecution of financial fraud in the wake of the Wall Street collapse, in sharp contrast to the many prosecutions of savings and loan officers in the administration the elder George H.W. Bush.   It has declined to investigate illegal mortgage foreclosures or to give meaningful relief to under-water mortgage debtors.

But, according to Politico, the Wall Street community is miffed at Obama, partly because of the imposition of the so-called Volcker rule, which limits speculative investments with money covered by government guarantees, and also because Obama fails to manifest camaraderie or respond to their wishes.  That is why they give Obama “only” $6 million in the last election, compared to the $16 million he got in 2008.

On the Republican side, the Politico reporters wrote, Wall Street’s favorite is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  But the financiers also like Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

What the article shows is that money still talks louder than public opinion.  The popular positions—breaking up the “too big to fail” banks, prosecuting financial fraud—are the underdog positions in Washington.

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