Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

The passing scene: Links & comments 10/13/14

October 13, 2014

White poverty exists, ignored by Leonard Pitts Jr. for the Miami Herald.

There are more poor, unemployed white people in the USA than there are poor, unemployed black people, and poor whites, too, are targets of prejudice.

I remember being told as a boy that “white trash” were a lower class than “Negroes”.

But the basic cause of poverty is the same in the slums of Detroit or small towns in Kentucky: Employers shutting down and moving out.

Aggressive police take hundreds of millions of dollars from motorists not charged with crimes by Michael Samish, Robert O’Harrow Jr. or Steve Rich for the Washington Post.

Since 9/11, police have seized more than $2.5 billion from 61,998 motorists without search warrants or indictments.  At what point to the police stop being protectors and start being predators?

Tom Cotton and the era of post-truth politics by Steve Benen for MSNBC.

The GOP candidate for Senate for Arkansas tells blatant lies and gets away with it.

The postmodernist philosophy is that there is no such thing as objective truth, only different ways of looking at things.  This philosophy seems to have taken hold in American politics.

Andrew Cuomo Is a Very Flawed Concept by Charles P. Pierce for Esquire.

Given a choice between a right-wing Democratic candidate and an extreme right-wing Republican candidate, This is why I plan to vote for the Green Party candidate for governor of New York.

 

The passing scene: Links & comments 7/11/14

July 11, 2014

Oligarchy Blues: Without fair elections and a viable legislative process at the federal and state levels, the republic no longer exists by Michael Ventura for the Austin (Texas) Chronicle.

This writer sums up what’s wrong with the USA very briefly and very clearly.  I highly recommend reading this.  Like Ventura, I don’t have a complete answer for what to do, but, like him, I think it is necessary to break free of the assumption that the alternatives that the political system offers are the only possibilities that exist.

In Fever Dreams Begin Irresponsibilities, Texas Edition by Hendrik Hertzberg for The New Yorker.

The Texas Republican Party is part of the problem, not part of the solution.  Enemies like these make Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton look good.

Fighting for Oil by Michael Klare for TomDispatch.  [Hat tip to Bill Harvey]

It’s no coincidence that the world’s various “trouble spots” torn by “age-old conflicts” happen to be rich in oil and natural gas.

The legacy children of the Honduran coup by Dan Beeton for Aljazerra America.  [Hat tip to Bill Harvey]

It’s also no coincidence that the unauthorized child migrants sneaking into the USA come from countries such as Honduras, with its U.S.-backed military dictatorship, and not from democratic countries such as Nicaragua.

The French Do Buy Books – Real Books by Pamela Druckerman in The New York Times.  [Hat tip to Laura Cushman]

France and some of the other European governments forbid on-line booksellers to offer big discounts on book prices.  As a result, French people pay more for books, but independent bookstores are much more plentiful.

The fall of a superpower by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Brazilians assumed that being Brazilian made them inherently superior in World Cup football  and were shocked at their team’s defeat by Germans.   But superiority in anything is never inherent.   Excellence takes continual hard work and hard thinking, and, even then, there’s no guarantee that a smart, determined competitor won’t out-do you.

Ian Welsh on the way of thinking we need

October 25, 2013
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Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh, whose blog link is on my Blogs I Like page, wrote four excellent posts this week on the current economic and political situation and how we should think about it.

They are all worth reading in their entirety, along with the comment threads, but here are some highlights, with links.

The preferred business model today is to make it so that no one owns anything: everything is unbundled, instead of owning it, you lease or rent it and the moment you can’t pay it all goes away.  This is what “cloud” computing is about: a revenue stream. Lose your revenue, lose everything.  Ownership of DNA sequences, ownership of seeds, effective ownership of your intellectual property because it appears in someone else’s pipe (like Google using people’s endorsements without compensating them), you will own nothing, and all surplus value you produce in excess of what you need to (barely) survive will be taken from you.

To put it another way, the current business model is value stripping.

via Baseline Predictions for the next Sixty Odd Years.

We’re going to hit the wall.  We’re going to have fight a dystopic panopticon police state in which ordinary people are not allowed to own anything of real value, let alone keep any of the real value they create.  We’re going to do this while the environment comes apart, while we get battered by “extreme weather events”, droughts, water shortages and hunger.

That’s the baseline scenario.  That’s what we have to be ready to deal with, to change as much as we can, to radically mitigate to save hundreds of millions or billions of lives, and to make billions of lives good, instead of meaningless existential hells.

via Baseline Predictions for the next Sixty Odd Years.

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The politics of a new generation

October 7, 2013

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For most Americans, things have been changing for the worse for a long time.  Good jobs are disappearing.  Wages are stagnant.  Health and other job benefits are disappearing.   More and more people are permanent temporary workers or permanent part-time workers.  American industry is being hollowed out.  The current generation of Americans is the first that could not look forward to a better life than the generations that came before.

If this is a democracy, why do we put up with it?  Why isn’t there a strong political movement for change, like the Populist movement, the Progressive movement, the New Deal or the civil rights movement?

It seems to me that for real political change to take place, two things have to happen, and one of them hasn’t happened yet.  The first thing is that people come to understand that the ideas of the past no longer fit the conditions of the present.  This has happened.  The second thing is that people have to reach a new consensus on what is to be done.  This hasn’t happened yet.

I think there were two big changes in the 20th century about how Americans think about politics.  The first came out of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the second out of Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America.”

My parents were young in the 1920s, when the American consensus was rugged individualism, small government and isolation from world affairs.  This changed as a result of the Great Depression and World War Two, and a new consensus emerged.  I was born in 1936.  My thinking was (and is) shaped by my memories of the war and my parents’ stories of the Depression.  I am part of the that consensus.

I grew up with a national consensus that the country needed strong social safety net, government regulation to prevent corporate abuses and strong alliances against totalitarian foreign aggressors.  This was the baseline of American politics—the point of departure for any suggested change.  It was the baseline for Republicans such as Dwight Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon as much as for Democrats.  You could move one way or the other from that baseline, but this was your starting point.

By the 1970s, that consensus had lost its hold on Americans, but it wasn’t until the Ronald Reagan administration that a new consensus emerged.  The new baseline was tax cuts, deregulation, privatization, law and order at home and a free hand by the U.S. government abroad.  This has been the starting point for Democrats such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as much as for the elder and younger George Bush.

Now a new generation has come of age to whom the assumptions of the Reagan era are not taken for granted.   The new generation does not remember the Oil Embargo, the Iranian hostage crisis or rioting in the streets.  It is not hung up on differences of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

Many of them are highly educated and unemployed or with marginal jobs, while loaded down with debt.  All of them are being told that the good jobs are going away and never coming back, and nothing can be done about it.  They fit the profile of a generation ripe for revolution.  But while there is unrest, there is as yet no consensus on which direction in which to go.

Young people turned out to elect Barack Obama and Democrats in 2008, but the Obama administration turned out to be as committed to the assumptions of the Reagan era as its predecessors.   The labor union movement seems divided as to whether to stick with the Democrats and follow its more radical members.  I don’t know what to make of the Occupy movement.

What I don’t see is anything comparable to Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, which was both a complete philosophy of politics and economics and a blueprint for change for the Reagan era.  Nor do I see any movement strong enough to force the political establishment to respond, such as the labor union movement of the 1930s or the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

My own political thinking is backward-looking.  I want to defend the social safety net, the separation of corporation and state and basic civil rights, and to restore basic protections that have been taken away.  My political desires are modest, but as things stand now, bringing them about would require a radical transformation and overthrow of the American power structure.

And the people on top positions are acting more pro-actively to forestall any threat to their power than anybody as the bottom is acting to bring about progressive change.  I’ll write more about this in a followup post.

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What does it take to enact a law in the USA?

September 30, 2013

In a country with a parliamentary system, a Prime Minister is chosen by the party with a majority in parliament, or by a coalition of parties if none of them has a majority.  The Prime Minister then proposes laws and normally they are enacted by parliament.  If parliament rejects an important bill, the Prime Minister has the option to call an election, and let the people decide which they think is right.

Here in the United States, the process is different.  In order to become law, the Affordable Care Act has to get a majority of votes in the House of Representatives and 60 out of 100 votes in the U.S. Senate.  It then had to be signed by the President and reviewed by the Supreme Court.  It seems to me that, whether or not you agree with the law, that ought to be enough.

Source: Buffalo News

Hat tip to Buffalo News.
Update: President Obama signed a law providing for continuation of pay of active-duty military personnel.

But now the Republicans in the House of Representatives are threatening to shut down the government unless the Obama administration delays implementation of the health care act.  They don’t have the votes to repeal the law, so they are using a blackmail tactic instead.

In my opinion, Obamacare is a flawed plan which is unlikely to work as intended.  But it is law, and millions of individuals and thousands of businesses have made plans based on the schedule for implementing it.   Shutting down the government would be harmful to the country, but there would be even more harm from the economic uncertainty created by doubts as to whether a law really is law even after it is enacted.

Granted, there are worse things that could happen than a temporary shutdown of government.  But it creates unnecessary disruption, unnecessary hardship and also unnecessary expense, because it is more costly to shut down and restart than to continue operations.  It is terrible way to run a government.

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The politics of defunding Obamacare

September 26, 2013

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Click on What Republicans don’t understand about the politics of Obamacare for more from Ezra Klein on the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

Hat tip to jobsanger.

Chris Hedges on the failure of the liberal elite

August 21, 2013

Click on Death of the Liberal Class (and scroll down through breaks in the text) for more from Chris Hedges.

Elections do not a democracy make

July 17, 2013

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Another thing we Americans should take into account when criticizing the Egyptian political culture is that our government for decades has propped up an Egyptian dictatorship which has crushed a free press, independent civic organizations and the other institutions that make democracy possible.

Few despots are powerful enough to stamp out organized religion, so, when no other means are available, opposition to the dictator often takes a religious form.  This was true of Iran under the Shah, it was true of Poland under the Communists.

I don’t say that Egypt would be a well-functioning democracy if only the U.S. hadn’t interfered.  I don’t know enough to make a statement one way or the other.  I do say the Egyptians and the other peoples of  the Middle East would be better off if the U.S. government ceased interfering with their government and politics.

Anyhow, we Americans have a highly dysfunctional democracy ourselves, and no foreign power to blame it on..

The cartoon is by Joel Pett of the Lexington Herald-Leader.  Hat tip to jobsanger.

Recommended reading 7/17/2013

July 17, 2013

Here are things I read recently that I found interesting.  Maybe you will, too.

Chalmers M. Johnson reviews ‘Gold Warriors’ by Sterling Seagrave and Peggy Seagrave in the London Review of Books (2003).

Gold WarriorsThis 10-year-old book review is utterly fascinating.  Gold Warriors: America’s Secret Recovery of Yamashita’s Gold tells the story of how the Japanese military looted the whole of eastern Asia of its treasure and buried it in hidden underground vaults in the Philippines, much as described in Neal Stephenson’s great thriller Cryptonomicon, and how some of it was discovered and used to fund top-secret activities of the Central Intelligence Agency.   Weird, but evidently true, according to Chalmers Johnson, an expert on China, Japan and U.S. policy in the Far East.

Are Corporations Trying to Distract Us With Social Issues While They Take Control of Our Economy? by R.J. Eskow on AlterNet.

Robert Frank, in What’s The Matter With Kansas? wrote about how Republicans persuaded “values voters” to base their vote on issues such as abortion, gay marriage and gun control rather than on their economic self-interest.  R.J. Eskow argues that the Democrats are doing just the same thing, except using the reverse side of these issues.   The problem for American voters is that the only meaningful choices the Democratic and Republican parties offer us are on issues that don’t threaten the holders of economic and political power.

Time to Fight for Something Better Than Obamacare by Alejandro Reuss for The Washington Spectator.

The Affordable Care Act will leave the United States with a certain number of people with good individual or employer-provided private insurance, a lot of people with bad private insurance, some people helped by Medicare or Medicaid and some with no insurance at all.  Should we be satisfied with that?  Alejandro Reuss argues that Americans should demand a single-payer system (Medicare for all).

Why the City of Miami Is Doomed to Drown by Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone.

Miami might well be doomed even if its leaders face up to the threat of rising sea levels and worsening tropical storms.  Which they aren’t.

The Expendables: How the Temps Who Power Corporate Giants Are Getting Crushed by Michael Grabel in ProPublica.  (Hat tip to Daniel Brandt)

Taken for a Ride: Temp Agencies and ‘Raiteros’ in Immigrant Chicago by Michael Grabel in ProPublica.  (Hat tip to Daniel Brandt)

It’s tough to be a temporary worker.  It’s infinitely worse to be an immigrant temporary worker.

Jack Hunter the Southern Avenger

July 12, 2013

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Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is under attack for employing Jack Hunter, a former member of the pro-secessionist League of the South, who broadcast commentary as the Southern Avenger.

Hunter, like a number of other white Southerners, is blind to the fact that the Confederacy was organized in defense of slavery, not of state’s rights.   But on a lot of issues, he makes a lot of sense.  Back in 2011, I linked to his videos on Wikileaks, neo=conservatism and extremist language, which I think stand up very well.  Whatever criticism is aimed at Rand Paul for his association with Jack Hunter also applies to me.

I don’t expect to agree with everyone on everything.  In a nation as large and diverse as the United States, there will be a lot of people with whom I agree on some things and disagree on other things.

Now there are some political positions, such as justifying torture, that are so morally reprehensible that I would not support their advocates under any circumstances.   But for me, having the wrong idea about the issues in the Civil War is not one of them.

Maybe I would be more of a political purist if there were more liberals who were outspoken in opposition to undeclared wars, presidential death lists and warrantless surveillance.

Click on Rebel Yell for the article by Alma Goodman in the Washington Free Beacon that generated the controversy about Jack Hunter’s record.

Click on Rand Paul is not ready for prime time for comment by Philip Klein in the Washington Examiner on the implications for Rand Paul’s political future?

Click on Rand Paul’s Aide: a Dunce on the Confederacy for a thoughtful discussion by Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic.

Click on Southern Avenger – “conservative, libertarian, independent” for Jack Hunter’s web page.

What do you think?  Is Jack Hunter beyond the pale?  Should Rand Paul repudiate Hunter?

The election cycle

May 30, 2013

Can't Act

Click on Ted Rall’s Rallblog for more cartoons like this.

The high cost of politics

May 23, 2013

ElectionBought

Hat tip for the infographic to United Republic.

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How money power overrides citizen power

April 10, 2013

This brief TED talk by Lawrence Lessig highlights the power of money in American politics and what a small number of people are able to exercise that power.  I recommend the video, but I don’t think things are going to change until there is a populist movement in this country strong enough to challenge the power and question the assumptions of the elite class.

I think the campaign financing reforms that he suggests are a good first step, although they are not a solution.  The greater problem is the power of an interlocking elite class in government, high finance and giant manufacturing corporations, in which people move back and forth from high level jobs in Washington and Wall Street and everybody in these circles takes it for granted that Social Security and Medicare are a problem that has to be solved.

The great American reform movements of the past—abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the populist and progressive reform movements, the organization of labor unions, the civil rights movement—came from people who did not accept the choices offered by the two major parties, and whose power did not depend on governmental favors.

Hat tip to Daily Kos.

Liberals and the wisdom of conservatism

April 2, 2013

Jonathan Haidt, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, wrote in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion  that good people are divided because liberals and conservatives fail to understand the moral foundations of each others’ values.  Haidt identifies as a liberal, and yet says the conservatives typically have a broader and better understanding than liberals do.

Haidt and his colleagues created what he called a Moral Foundations Questionnaire, which were intended to show how strongly people felt about moral behavior in five categories: (1) Care vs. harm, (2) Fairness vs. cheating, (3) Loyalty vs. betrayal, (4) Authority vs. subversion, and (5) Sanctity vs. degradation.  Later they added (6) Liberty vs. oppression.

righteous.mindThey found that self-identified liberals and progressives cared most about Care, a lot about Liberty, some about Fairness and very little about anything else.  Conservatives, on the other hand, cared about all six Moral Foundations in roughly equal measure.  Libertarians, who don’t fall into either category, called most about Liberty, a lot about Fairness and very little about anything else.

Haidt said that while American liberals care about individuals and their welfare, American conservatives balance this with concern for the virtues necessary to uphold social order.  You don’t help the bees by destroying the hive, he said.  He said libertarians are even more limited; they are liberals without bleeding hearts.

When conservatives were asked to fill out questionnaires based on what they thought a typical liberal would think, they were reasonably accurate.  But when liberals were asked to put themselves in the place of a typical conservative, they failed utterly.   That finding startled me, and I wonder how many Fox News and Rush Limbaugh fans were included in the survey.

But his basic point is correct.  The liberal virtues of freedom, reason and tolerance can be practiced only in a stable society, and a stable society requires the conservative virtues of duty, authority and tradition.

Just as liberals are outliers within American society, Haidt wrote, Americans are outliers among the people of the world.  Americans value the well-being of the individual over all else.  Most other cultures set a higher value on community and divinity.   Haidt became aware of this on a visit to India, where he came to appreciate the virtues of a hierarchical, tightly-knit society in which people weren’t treated equally or even justly, but everyone had a place in society with its duties.

He cited an article on cross-cultural comparisons by Joe Heinrich, Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayen, which coined the acronym WEIRD—Westernized, educated, individualistic, rich and democratic—to define what sets Americans apart from the rest of the world.

Haidt participated with Brazilian psychologists in a survey of moral values of rich and poor people in Recife and Porto Alegre, Brazil, and in Philadelphia.  Interestingly, they found that the richer and more educated Brazilians and Americans had more in common with each other than they did with the poor and working-class people of their own countries.  The poor people thought breaking rules was wrong regardless of circumstance, while the educated people said that it depended on whether breaking the rule did any harm.

I wish Haidt had followed up on that finding.  What it suggests is that so-called WEIRD values are a natural consequence of wealth and education.  I would like to believe that liberalism represents the direction of human progress, rather than a fair-weather philosophy that goes overboard in adversity.

Click on YourMorals.Org to take Jonathan Haidt’s Morality Quiz

Click on Of Freedom and Fairness for Haidt’s article in Democracy Journal about the current political situation.

Click on Why Americans Are the Weirdest People in the World for a feature article about Joe Heinrich, Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayen and their cross-cultural research.

Click on The Knowns and the Unknowns for a criticism of Haidt’s philosophical assumptions by John Gray in The New Republic.

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How redistricting foils majority rule

April 1, 2013

The first two charts below show how Republicans used redistricting to tilt election results in Michigan.

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Double click to enlarge.

The two charts are in an excellent series of articles by Bloomberg News on how gerrymandering enables Republicans to win a majority of House of Representatives seats even in states where they get a minority of the votes.   The concluding article proposed a solution, a non-partisan commission to draw election districts, as was done in California under Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Click on the following links to read the articles.

Republicans Foil What Majority Wants By Gerrymandering

Republicans Win Congress as Democrats Get Most Votes

California Nonpartisan Districting Ousts Life Incumbents

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Conservatives analyze the election’s meaning

November 20, 2012

Click on The Liberal Gloat for Ross Douthat’s argument that Democratic victories in the current election reflect social and economic problems for which liberals lack good answers.

Click on The Insecurity Election for Paul Krugman’s rebuttal.

Hat tip to Marginal Revolution.

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Another problem with the electoral college

November 10, 2012

The brilliant statistical election analyst, Nate Silver, pointed out that if Mitt Romney had won the popular vote by as big a margin as Barack Obama did, he would still have lost the electoral vote, provided the distribution of his vote among the states was the same as it was.

Silver-Nate-artSilver said Romney would have had to win by three percentage points—more than any Republican since George H.W. Bush in 1988—in order to win the electoral vote.  Moreover, Silver said, the Democratic advantage in the electoral vote is likely to persist for the next few elections.

I’m of the opinion that the Presidential candidate who gets a majority of the votes is the one who ought to be declared the winner.  I’m aware that the rules are different, and I don’t blame anybody for playing by those rules, but I think the rules should be changed.

Besides being more fair and just, an election by popular vote would dilute the influence of voter suppression on the Presidential election.  Voter suppression matters most when, as in Florida in 2000, a small number of votes more or less than tip the electoral votes of a big state.

Click on As Nation and Parties Change, Republicans Are At an Electoral College Disadvantage for Nate Silver’s full report in his FiveThirtyEight column.

Click on National Popular Vote for a plan for reforming the Electoral College.

Gerrymandered Congress vs. majority rule

November 10, 2012

During the 2012 congressional elections, Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives received a majority of the total popular vote, but Republicans retained their substantial majority of seats in the House of Representatives.

cult mapHow is this possible?  The main reason is gerrymandering — drawing of congressional district boundaries so as to give one party an advantage.  Republicans and Democrats both do it.  What’s possibly the weirdest district in the United States—Maryland’s third—was drawn to benefit a Democratic incumbent.  But at the present time it is Republican gerrymandering that has skewed the congressional election results the most.

Another factor is the creation of districts in which minority groups are in the majority, so as to make sure minorities are represented in Congress.  This means African-American and Hispanic voters, most of whom usually vote Democratic, are concentrated in just a few districts.   The Democratic Party would be better off if African-Americans and Hispanic voters were distributed over more districts, where their votes could be combined with the votes of non-Hispanic white liberals.

To my mind, this is just as bad as a Presidential election in which one candidate gets a majority of the popular vote, but another gets a majority of the electoral vote.

gerrymander067It will be hard to correct his on the state level.  No party that is in power will voluntarily reduce its chances of winning elected office.  The answer will have to be a grass-roots movement to amend state constitutions to allow for non-partisan commissions and court review of district boundaries, based on objective criteria for compactness and respect for historic jurisdictional boundaries.  You probably could program a computer to draw up congressional districts, and do a better job than now.

Until the gerrymandering problem is addressed, I think it would be a bad idea to change Electoral College representation as as Maine and Nebraska have done so that all but two electors are chosen by congressional district [1] instead of statewide.  If that had been in effect, Mitt Romney would have carried Pennsylvania and Ohio even though Barack Obama won a majority of the popular vote there.

Click on Why Americans Actually Voted for a Democratic House for an explanation of how gerrymandering distorted the 2012 election result.

Click on Narrowing In on Absurd Gerrymanders for an explanation of how GIS software is used to gerrymander congressional districts, and how it could be used to create fair districts.

Click on The Redistricting Game for a report on a computer game that shows how gerrymandering works.

Click on America’s Most Gerrymandered Congressional District for background on Maryland’s Third District.

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The Democratic and Republican coalitions

November 8, 2012

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This chart from the New York Times shows the support of various demographic groups to the Democratic and Republican Presidential candidates in 2004, 2008 and 2012.  Barack Obama got more support from most groups in 2008 than John Kerry did in 2004.  Obama’s support decreased in 2012, but remained strong enough to win.

The big exceptions were Obama’s surge of support among Hispanic and Asian-American voters.  Republicans ought to be asking themselves why this is.  Hispanic culture is based on respect for church, family and work, which are all values that conservatives affirm.

This is a highly informative chart, and an effective use of graphics to present statistical information.

Hat tip to The Big Picture.

A post-election crisis of legitimacy?

October 29, 2012

Some friends of mine made an argument I hadn’t considered as to why liberals should vote to re-elect President Obama, even if they live in states certain to go for either Obama or Governor Romney.  They fear a crisis of legitimacy, due to Barack Obama winning the electoral vote and Mitt Romney possibly winning the popular vote.   That is a real danger.

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight poll analysis

Prior to the 2000 election, it looked as if Al Gore might win the electoral vote and George W. Bush the popular vote (you’ll recall the actual result was the reverse).  The Republican Party was geared up to challenge the legitimacy of a Gore victory.  I think the same thing can be expected in the event Obama loses the popular vote, or even wins by an extremely narrow margin.  There will be lawsuits, bogus charges of voting fraud and endless protests.

This danger, arguably, could be lessened by Green Party supporters holding our noses and voting for Obama.

This is a strong argument, but for me a crisis of legitimacy would be a lesser evil than acquiescing in the legitimacy of (1) creation of a secret paramilitary force (described in a recent Washington Post article) with a mission to executive an ever-expanding list of death warrants based on secret criteria, (2) an open-ended policy of expanding undeclared war based on flying killer robots, (3) impunity for torturers, continuation of secret CIA interrogation centers and condition of a policy of rendition, (4) protection of Wall Street bankers from financial failure and prosecution for financial fraud, and (5) the undermining of Social Security, Medicare and other basic safety net programs.

These are all things on which Obama and Romney agree.  The worst thing that President Obama has done is to convince so many American liberals to accept these conditions as normal and as a framework for debating the issues.

In 2008, I voted for a candidate who ran on a slogan of hope and change.  Now, in 2012, I am being asked to re-elect that candidate on the grounds that there is no hope and that change is impossible.

I’m not sure that a Romney administration would be greatly different from a second Obama administration.  Under a Romney administration, liberal Democrats might remember that they are liberals, and would be able to oppose abuses of power without being constrained by party loyalty.

Many Democrats are bitter about Green Party supporters in Florida in 2000, saying that if they had voted for Al Gore instead of Ralph Nader, Gore would have won.  But that was only one factor in Gore’s defeat, and not the major one.  The most important reasons for Gore’s defeat were the blatant bias against him of the Washington press corps, the disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida for bogus reasons, the “white collar riot” of Republican activists to block a  recount, and a partisan Supreme Court decision. Al Gore himself, acting (as he thought) for the greater good of the country, accepted defeat and told the country to move.   I don’t think that Mitt Romney and his supporters will accept defeat so gracefully.

But if President Obama loses the popular vote, or the popular vote is close, it will be his own fault, not my fault.  He would be more popular if he had not gone against public opinion in pro-actively protecting the Wall Street banks against financial failure and criminal prosecution, and in expanding rather than winding down U.S. wars.

Click on President Obama Could Lose The Popular Vote, Win in the Electoral College for an explanation of what could happen.

Click on FiveThirtyEight Blog for Nate Silver’s continuing expert analysis of poll results.

Which is the real Mitt Romney?

October 4, 2012

Which is the real Mitt Romney?  The ruthless Bain Capital financial operator?  The moderate and competent governor of Massachusetts?  The radical right-winger of the Republican primaries?  Or the compassionate conservative of last night’s debate?

Poor President Obama was at a loss, because he was debating the positions Mitt Romney took a couple of weeks ago, not what Romney was saying last night.   I am old enough to remember the New Nixon, supposedly a kinder, gentler version of the previous Richard Nixon.   Now we have a New Romney.   As I did with Nixon, I wonder how long this will last.

Four reasons Romney might still win

September 25, 2012

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Governor Romney’s presidential election campaign is in disarray, and polls show President Obama with a small lead in the popular vote nationwide and the key swing states.  But economist Robert Reich, an Obama supporter, says it’s too soon to count Romney out.  Here’s why.

1. Between now and Election Day come two jobs reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics – October 5 and November 2.  If they’re as bad as the last report, showing only 96,000 jobs added in August (125,000 are needed just to keep up with population growth) and the lowest percentage of employed adults since 1981, Romney’s claim the economy is off track becomes more credible, and Obama’s that it’s on the mend harder to defend.

With gas prices rising, corporate profits shrinking, most of Europe in recession, Japan still a basket case, and the Chinese economy slowing, the upcoming job reports are unlikely to be stellar.

2. Also between now and Election Day are three presidential debates, starting October 3. It’s commonly thought Obama will win them handily but that expectation may be very wrong – and could work against him. Yes, Romney is an automaton – but when the dials are set properly he can give a good imitation of a human engaged in sharp debate. He did well in the Republican primary debates.

Obama, by contrast, can come off slow and ponderous. Recall how he stuttered and stumbled during the 2008 Democratic primary debates. And he hasn’t been in a real-live debate for four years; Romney recently emerged from almost a year of them.

3. During the next seven final weeks of the campaign, the anti-Obama forces will be spending a gigantic amount of money.  Not just the Romney campaign and Romney’s super PACs, but other super PACS aligned with Romney, billionaires spending their own fortunes, and non-profit “social welfare” organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove’s “Crossroads,” and various Koch-brothers political fronts—all will dump hundreds of millions on TV and radio spots, much of it spreading lies and distortions. Some of this money will be devoted to get-out-the-vote drives—to phone banks and door-to-door canvassing to identify favorable voters, and vans to bring them to the polling stations.

It’s an easy bet they’ll far outspend Obama and his allies.  I’ve heard two-to-one.  The race is still close enough that a comparative handful of voters in swing states can make the difference – which means gobs of money used to motivate voters to polling stations can be critical.

4.  As they’ve displayed before, the Republican Party will do whatever it can to win – even if it means disenfranchising certain voters.  To date, 11 states have enacted voter identification laws, all designed by Republican legislatures and governors to dampen Democratic turnout.

The GOP is also encouraging what can only be termed “voter vigilante” groups to “monitor polling stations to prevent fraud” – which means intimidating minorities who have every right to vote.  We can’t know at this point how successful these efforts may be but it’s a dangerous wildcard.  And what about those Diebold voting machines?

###

And even if Obama is reelected, more hard work begins after Inauguration Day—when we must push him to be tougher on the Republicans than he was in his first term, and do what the nation needs.

via FOCUS.

Robert Reich appears to be operating on the theory that President Obama’s shortcomings as President are a result of him giving in to his Republican opponents.  But what if Barack Obama’s pro-Wall Street and pro-militarist politics are what he in fact believes in?   Pushing Obama to do what the nation needs will be a lot  harder than re-electing him.

I can’t see Barack Obama as anything more than a lesser evil than Mitt Romney, and perhaps not even that.   If Mitt Romney wins based on the poor economy, or on performing better than Obama in the debates, or even on spending more money, so be it. But the Republican voter suppression campaign is in a different category.  A Romney victory based on voter suppression would be an attack on the American democratic process itself.

Click on Four Reasons Why Romney Might Still Win for the full comment by Robert Reich on his web log.

Click on FiveThirtyEight for the expert and impartial analysis of polls and statistics by Nate Silver for the New York Times.

Click on Obama vs. Romney Electoral Map for the Huffington Post’s updates and summaries of poll results.

Click on TPM Electoral College Scorecard for Talking Points Memo’s map updating and summarizing poll results.

Hat tip to Hal Bauer for the Robert Reich link.

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The 47 percent who don’t pay income taxes

September 18, 2012

Mitt Romney thinks the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes are “takers” who leech off the remaining 53 percent.  But the majority of the 47 percent pay payroll taxes, and most of the rest are elderly people who (presumably) paid income and payroll taxes during their working lives.

There are three main reasons why so many Americans do not pay federal income taxes.

  1. During the Clinton administration, the Earned Income Tax Credit was enacted as part of a program which reduced eligibility for welfare payments, under the theory that poor people should be given an economic incentive to work, even at poverty-level wages.  In my opinion, this is a good thing, not a bad thing.
  2. During the Bush administration, income tax rates were cut for Americans in all tax brackets, which made the cuts for taxpayers in the upper brackets more palatable.  In my opinion, it would be wrong to allow those tax reductions to expire for low-income Americans while retaining them for high-income Americans.
  3. As a result of the Great Recession, there has been a huge increase in the number of  Americans who are unemployed or working for poverty-level wages.  The best way to get them to pay income taxes would be to create a high-wage, full-employment economy.

Here is a breakdown of the different reasons the 47 percent do not pay income taxes.

Mitt Romney goes to extraordinary lengths to keep his U.S. income tax payments as low as possible.  He said he pays just under 15 percent of his income in federal taxes.  If your worthiness as an American citizen is based on what percentage of your income you pay in taxes, I am far more worthy than Mitt Romney.

Click on Why Do People Pay No Federal Income Tax? for information from the Tax Policy Center.

Click on Memo to Mitt Romney: the 47% Pay Taxes Too for a report by Janet Novack in Forbes.

Click on Romney’s theory of the “taker class” and why it matters for comment by Ezra Klein on the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

Click on Mitt Romney’s Offshore Accounts, Tax Loopholes and Mysterious IRA for a report in Vanity Fair about what’s known and not known about Romney’s finances.

Click on Controversial fund-raiser video shows candid Romney for CNN Political Ticker’s report on the video.

In the United States, there are income taxes, which fall most heavily on the rich; residential property taxes, which fall most heavily on the property-owning middle class; payroll taxes, which fall most heavily on wage earners; and sales and excise taxes, which fall most heavily on poor people.  Why is it that income taxes are the only tax that right-wing politicians ever talk about reducing?

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U.S. democracy: The power of money

September 17, 2012

Writer Larry Beinhart, one of the panelists in this Al Jazeera English program on U.S. campaign financing, said compared American democracy to Iranian democracy.  In Iran, all political candidates have to get clearance from the Council of Guardians who certify that they conform to the tenets of Shiite Islam.  Within those limits, there are contested elections based on full and vigorous debate.  In the United States, as Beinhart said, candidates have to get clearance from financial guardians, the big contributors who pay for election campaigns, and, within the limits of acceptability to those big contributors, there are contested elections based on full and vigorous debate.

James Bopp, lawyer for the winning side in the Citizens United case, and Steven Hoersting, co-founder of the Center for Competitive Politics, who is regarded as a father of the Super-PAC system, argued that unlimited financial contributions allow for more voices to be heard in American politics, and offset the power of supposedly liberal reporters and broadcasters.  Hoersting argued further that middle-class people are not at a disadvantage, because it allows them to pool their financial resources and speak independently.

This is not how things work in practice, though.  We Americans have a wide range of choices on abortion rights, affirmative action,  church-and-state separation, gay marriage, smokers’ rights and many other issues that do not affect the financial interests of the upper 1/10th of 1 percent of income earners.  But candidates who advocate breaking up the big Wall Street banks, which is what public opinion polls say the majority of the American people want, are relegated to the fringes.

Why I’m not voting for the black President

September 13, 2012

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a writer and blogger for The Atlantic Monthly, wrote an essay entitled “Fear of a Black President” in which, among other things, he described what President Obama’s election means to black people, and especially to black parents.  It means that there is literally no upper limit on what black Americans are allowed to achieve.  As recently as five years ago, I would not have believed it possible for a black person to be nominated, let alone elected, by either of the two major parties.  I take satisfaction as an American that I was proved wrong.

At the same time, as Coates pointed out, Barack Obama is under constant attack based on his race.  He is accused, based on no evidence whatsoever, of being a product of affirmative action, of being a Kenyan anti-colonial radical, of hating white people.   When Obama said policeman James Crowley’s arrest of Prof. Henry Louis Gates on trumped-up charges was “stupid,” he was accused of stirring up black people against white people.  Given Obama’s difficult situation, Coates wrote, it is understandable that he has not actually done anything to help black people as a group.

I think this is correct.  As a matter of pure political calculation, it is more important for him to reassure white people than to stand with black people.  The fact that he has shown a black man can be elected President, plus the nature of the attacks made on him as a black man, is enough to assure him the support of the vast majority of African-Americans.  So he can afford to turn his back on Van Jones, on Shirley Sherrod and on ACORN, while he would give ammunition to his attackers if he had stood by them.

Obama’s political career, as Coates noted, is based on presenting himself to white people as someone more reasonable than a Jesse Jackson or an Al Sharpton.  Obama was not, except for his short and ineffective service as a community organizer, an advocate of the interests and grievances of African-Americans.  Rather he was the person who could bring black people and white people together and get them to, if not forget about race, at least put race in the background.

Much has been made of Obama’s connections with the angry preacher Jeremiah Wright, the ex-revolutionary Bill Ayers and the racketeer Tony Renko.  Obama is not angry, revolutionary or a racketeer.  The significance of these three people is that they are part of the Chicago power structure, which he as an outsider worked his way into, just as he worked his way into the Washington, D.C., power structure.

Obama’s political advancement was based on his ability to convince people in power that what he advocated was reasonable.  That is how he persuaded the Illinois state legislature to pass a law requiring police interrogations to be videotaped and made available to juries; that is how he together with Senator John McCain persuaded Congress to create an Internet site on which all earmarked appropriations would be listed.   All his speeches—and he is a great speaker—are examples of walking through minefields, of satisfying and reconciling all sides.

My astute friend Oidin pointed out during the 2008 campaign that Barack Obama’s advertising and video biography showed him interacting only with white people, not with black people.  His black sister did not emerge into the public eye until election night.  Many successful black people say they have to purposefully be less forceful than is natural to them, in order that white people not feel threatened by them.  President Obama is the prime example of the non-threatening black person—although there are a certain number of white people who will feel threatened by him no matter what he does or doesn’t do.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

When I voted for Barack Obama in 2008, it was not in order to do black people a favor.  I voted for him because I thought he would stop the country’s drift into perpetual warfare, lawless authoritarianism and economic oligarchy.  I thought that merely replacing President George W. Bush would be a change for the better.  I was wrong.

I don’t think President Obama is any worse than the leading white Presidential candidates of the past 10 years.  Obama built on precedents set by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.  He probably is no worse than Hillary Clinton or John McCain would have been in his place, let alone Mitt Romney.

But I am not demanding that the black President adhere to a higher standard than a white President.  The basic minimum duty of a President is to obey the law and to enforce the law.  I would vote for a Gerald Ford if I could count on him to do these two things.  President Obama has claimed the power to sign death warrants and commit acts of war based on decisions made in secret according to secret criteria.  He has refused to enforce the law against financial fraud or crimes against humanity.  The legal and organizational infrastructure for dictatorship exists in the United States, and Obama has not dismantled it.  He has strengthened it.

Human rights do not end at the water’s edge.  People in targeted areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen have as much right as you, me or Trayvon Martin to not be killed based on vague suspicions.

Most of my friends and acquaintances intend to vote for Obama.  They tell me it is my responsibility to choose among the options on the table and, if they are all bad, to vote for the least bad.  I don’t accept that.  If I don’t insist on a candidate who upholds the Constitution and the laws, then I am an enabler for the violation of the Constitution and the laws.

Click on Fear of a Black President for the complete article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic Monthly.  It is well worth reading in full.

Click on Vertical Solidarity is nonsense for a rejoiner by “B Psycho” on Psychopolitik.

Click on Why Barack Obama Is the More Effective Evil for an important article by Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report.

Click on The Hard Right Is Paranoid About the Wrong Things for comment by Conor Friedersdorf, another Atlantic writer, on rational and irrational reasons for opposing President Obama.


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