Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Thomas Ferguson on the choice of Paul Ryan

August 21, 2012

Thomas Ferguson, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Boston, is one of the most astute political observers I know about.  He is going to be a regular on the Real News Network.  I’m just now catching up with his first broadcast, which was last Friday.  Here it is.

Click on Paul Ryan – Insider Trading and Attacks on Medicare for a transcript of the broadcast.

Click on The investment theory of politics for my account of Ferguson’s idea that American political parties represent conflicting business interests rather than the public, and that voters only get a choice on issues that don’t affect corporate profits or on which corporate interests are in conflict.  In the post, I review Ferguson’s 1995 book, Golden Rule: the Investment Theory of Political Parties and the Logic of Money-Driven Politics.

Click on Business, not politics, driving nation rightward for my review of Right Turn: the Decline of the Democrats and the Future of American Politics, which Ferguson co-authored with Joel Rogers in 1986.

Unfortunately both books are out of print and a lot of his current writing is in scholarly publications not available on-line, so the Real News Network is doing a good service to the public by giving Ferguson a public platform.

[8/26/12]  I had hoped for a follow-up interview with Thomas Ferguson this weekend, but it didn’t happen.

Minority turnout will decide 2012 election

August 21, 2012

The turnout of minority voters—Hispanics, African-Americans and others—will determine the outcome of the 2012 election.

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If they turn out in the same proportion as they did in 2008, and vote for President Obama in the same proportion as they did in 2008, Obama is almost sure to win.  Otherwise, not.

Democratic candidates for President have won a strong majority of the votes of members on minority groups for more than 20 years, and Republicans have won a majority of the votes of non-Hispanic white voters.  In 2008, the turnout of minority voters was greater than in 2004, and the turnout of white voters was less.  That was enough to change the result from Republican in 2004 to Democratic in 2008.

The Brookings study indicates that if non-Hispanic white voters turn out and vote for Mitt Romney in the same proportion as they did in 2004, and minorities turn out for Barack Obama as in 2008, Obama will win.

So it may not be enough for the Republican Party to get a good turnout of non-Hispanic white voters.  They would need to hold down the turnout of minority voters.  That’s the explanation for all the proposed voter ID laws and other schemes to make voting more difficult, such as the new limits on early voting in Ohio.

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“I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine,” said Doug Preisse, chairman of the [Franklin] county Republican Party and elections board member who voted against weekend hours, in an email to The Dispatch. “Let’s be fair and reasonable.”

via The Columbus Dispatch.

The largest minority voter group is Hispanics.  That’s why immigration from Mexico has become such a hot issue. Unless things change, more legal Hispanic immigration means more Democratic voters. and why President Obama at this time announced his path to citizenship for certain children of unauthorized immigrants.

My opinion is that either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama could appeal to voters across ethnic and racial lines if either had a realistic plan or firm intention for addressing unemployment, low wages and mortgage foreclosures.

Click on Why Minorities Will Decide the 2012 Election for the full Brookings Institution report.

Click on Why Does the Census Divide People by Race, Anyhow? for a Slate article on the history of racial classifications on the United States.

Click on The new battle over voting rights for links to more information about voter restrictions.

Click on We whites need not fear minority status for charts showing demographic trends.

As the maps below show, we non-Hispanic whites have already lost our majority status in some parts of the United States.



August 12, 2012

Mark Kleiman on The Reality-Based Community blog pointed out an interesting fact.

The nomination of Paul Ryan marks a milestone in American history: for the first time, there is no white Protestant running for President or Vice President on a major-party ticket.

Better yet, no one seems to mind. Perhaps the arc of history does bend in the right direction after all.

via The Reality-Based Community.

And, as somebody pointed out in the discussion thread, this is the first time since before World War Two that none of the major-party candidates for President or Vice President has done any military service.

The trouble with Paul Ryan

August 12, 2012

Rep. Paul Ryan

Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate is a bad thing.  Ryan, the chair of the House Budget Committee, is a radical right-winger who has proposed privatizing Social Security and wants to replace Medicare with an inadequate voucher program.  His budget proposals would entail not only eliminating most of the social safety net, but most governmental services.  He proposes drastic tax reductions for rich people, while increasing taxes for working people.

It would be a disaster for the country if Mitt Romney were to be elected, and then die in office, making Ryan President.  Or if Romney were to follow Ryan’s lead in domestic policy, as President George W. Bush followed Vice President Richard Cheney’s lead in national security affairs during his first six years in office.

But even if Romney loses, the Ryan choice changes the terms of debate.  President Barack Obama has offered to cut Social Security and Medicare, protected Wall Street from business failure and criminal prosecution, and done little or nothing to help labor.  But with Romney and Ryan as his opponents, he can define these as progressive positions.

Click on U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan for Ryan’s home page.

Click on The Legendary Paul Ryan for a profile of Paul Ryan by Jonathan Chait in New York magazine.

Click on How Paul Ryan Captured the G.O.P. for a profile of Paul Ryan by Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker.

Click on Six Things to Know About Ryan (and Romney) for analysis of Ryan’s record by Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic.

Click on Mitt Romney Would Pay 0.82 Percent in Taxes Under Paul Ryan’s Plan for a report by Matthew O’Brien in The Atlantic Monthly.

[Update 8/19/12]

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones pointed out that Paul Ryan has a new Medicare plan which (arguably) is not as bad as last year’s plan.  The new plan would call for private insurers and Medicare to submit competitive bids, and for the government to issue vouchers equivalent to the second-lowest bid.   People would be covered for the two lowest bids and could pay extra if they wanted premium coverage.

The problem with this, as Drum pointed out, is that this won’t necessarily hold down Medicare costs, since premiums for private insurance have gone up faster than Medicare—even though private employers (presumably) get competitive bids for their employee health insurance plans.  What happens if the bids come in higher than what Ryan wants to budget for vouchers?  Who pays the difference?  The government? Seniors?


Romney vs. Obama on the economy

August 7, 2012

On economic policy, American voters in November will be offered a choice between Mitt Romney, who is part of the problem, and Barack Obama, who is not part of the solution.

I’m not happy with President Obama, but Gov. Romney is no improvement.  Neither Obama nor Romney have realistic plans for unemployment or mortgage foreclosures.  Both regard the federal budget deficit as a higher priority problem.  But Obama at least has a realistic budget plan, and his record on federal spending is much more conservative than most of his admirers or detractors admit.  Romney proposes further tax cuts for upper-bracket taxpayers, which will make the problem worse.

Obama has not shown the least willingness to curb the irresponsible behavior of the financial elite which has brought on and prolonged the current economic recession.  Romney is part of that financial elite.

Both Obama and Romney regard Social Security and Medicare as “entitlements” which need to be cut back.  Obama repeatedly has offered up cuts in Social Security and Medicare as part of a grand bargain for balancing the budget.  Romney is an admirer of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin whose ultimate goal is to privatize Social Security and Medicare.

Romney scapegoats poor people, while Obama doesn’t talk about them at all.

President Obama’s economic policies follow in the footsteps of President Eisenhower and the first President Bush.  Governor Romney’s policies, based on his statements and his choice of advisers, would follow the second President Bush and the Tea Party movement.

If Obama and Romney were my only choices, and economic policy the only important issue, I would reluctantly vote for Obama.  But since I live in a state where third party candidates are on the  ballot, I will vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, or perhaps Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate.

Click on How Paul Ryan Captured the G.O.P. for a profile of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the architect of Republican economic policy, by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker.

Click on Romney Tax Plan on Table, Debt Collapses Table for a report on a bipartisan analysis of Gov. Romney’s tax proposals.  Romney has not given specifics for an excellent reason.  It is mathematically impossible for him to deliver his proposed tax cuts for rich people and still balance the budget by closing loopholes.

Click on Obama spending binge never happened from MarketWatch and Who Is the Smallest Government Spender Since Eisenhower? Would You Believe It’s Barack Obama? from Forbes for President Obama’s record on government spending.  If I were a conservative Republican who believed that cutting government spending was the overriding issue, I probably would vote to re-elect the President.

Click on Obama’s Second Term Agenda: Cutting Social Security, Medicare and/or Medicaid for analysis by Matt Stoller of the Roosevelt Institute, based on the President’s proposals and appointments during his first term.

Click on U.S. poverty heads for highest level in 50 years for a Chicago Tribune article on a subject neither candidate talks about.  The nonsense about Barack Obama being the “food stamp” President reflects the fact that the deep economic recession has made huge numbers of people eligible for the program that was put in place in the 1970s.

The new battle over voting rights

August 6, 2012

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The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1870, stated that no American could be denied the right to vote on account of race.  But white supremacists in the South figured out new ways to disenfranchise African-Americans.  One was a poll tax, which most black people and many poor white people could not afford to pay (the poll was outlawed by the 24th Amendment in 1964).  Another was a “literacy” test, with an exemption for those whose grandfathers had been registered voters.

Wasn’t it reasonable to require voters to be literate?  Wasn’t the right to vote so precious that it is worth saving your money to exercise?  All good questions, but besides the point, because these were not neutral requirements aimed at producing a better electorate.  They were subterfuges intended to prevent particular groups of people from voting.

So it is with today’s new voter ID laws.  You can make the argument that voting is a privilege that should be earned and not granted automatically.  But if you believe that (I don’t), then the requirements for earning that privilege should be equally difficult for all segments of the population.  The new voter ID laws don’t do that.  Republican lawmakers want to discourage voting by members of certain groups that tend to vote Democratic—poor people, minorities and students.  The new laws have the same purpose, although they are less stringent, than the literacy tests and poll taxes in the South in the days of white supremacy.

I have had a driver’s license since I first got a car in 1959, and I had no trouble obtaining a stamped copy of my birth certificate when I applied for a passport.  But if I hadn’t had a car to begin with, it would have been hard to get to the DMV office to apply for a license.  If I had been poor, it would have been hard to afford the license fees.  If at birth I hadn’t been delivered in a hospital by a physician, I don’t know what I would have done for a birth certificate.

Things that are easy for me as a middle-class person are not easy for everyone—especially when lawmakers are intentionally trying to make things difficult.

There are two sources of political power in the United States.  One is the mobilization of money; the other is the mobilization of people.  While legal barriers to the first are coming down, legal barriers to the second are being erected.

If you’re a liberal or a Democrat, it is important to get people registered despite the hurdles, and to overturn the laws.  This could be a good basis of grass-roots organizing.  You shouldn’t count on the federal courts to overturn these laws, because not all the judges support basic Constitutional rights.

Click on UFO Sightings Are More Common Than Voter Fraud for a report by Mother Jones, with charts and many good additional links.

Click on Voter ID Laws Could Swing States for a report by Politico on how voter ID laws could change the outcome of the coming Presidential election.

Click on The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification for a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University on the difficulty and expense of obtaining photo ID, especially for Americans who don’t own automobiles or weren’t born in hospitals.

Click on Lead plaintiff in Voter ID lawsuit gets birth certificate, still can’t vote if you think the Candorville cartoon is an exaggeration.  This is a report on a 93-year-old woman who has voted in Presidential elections since 1960, but is disenfranchised by Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law.

Click on Think Getting “Free” ID Is Easy? Think Again for stories collected by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of American citizens and formerly registered voters who’ve been disenfranchised under voter ID laws.

Click on Pennsylvania Is Key to Republican Vote-Blocking for a report by the Washington Monthly on how voter ID laws could swing Pennsylvania from Obama to Romney.

Click on Gutting the Right to Vote for a report by Counterpunch on Pennsylvania’s voter ID law.

Click on Florida looks ready to repeat many of the same mistakes in how it conducts its elections for a Slate report.

Click on CANDORVILLE daily comics by Darrin Bell for more cartoons.

The tiny group of people who buy U.S. elections

August 3, 2012

Super-PACs—technically known as “expenditure-only committees”—are a new kind of campaign organization which became legal as the result of a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission in October, 2010.  Super-PACs may raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations, associations, unions and individuals to advocate for or against a candidate.  They may not contribute directly to a candidate or campaign, and they must report their donors to the FEC on a monthly or quarterly basis.

Rich campaign contributors like the super-PACs because they control the message.  They don’t have to get the approval of the candidates or get the approval of their campaign staffs.

These charts from Mother Jones show what a small group of people finance the super-PACs.

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The biggest contributor to super-PACs is the Las Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson who, with his wife Miriam, has donated $36.3 million so far this year.  That is a lot of money to me and, I suppose, to you, but it is less than 1/5 of 1 percent of his total wealth of $24.9 billion.  Adelson originally supported Newt Gingrich, and now supports Mitt Romney.

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The largest super-PAC is Restore Our Future, which has raised $82.2 million, spent $61.9 million and supports Mitt Romney.  The second largest is Priorities USA Action, which has raised $20.7 mllion, spent $17.3 million and supports Barack Obama.

Click on Just How Small Is the Super-PAC Gazillionaires’ Club? for the full Mother Jones article by Andy Kroll and Tasneem Raja.

Click on Super PACs | Open Secrets for a list of super-PACs, who they support and how much they raised and spent.

Hat tip to Hullabaloo.

For the sake of clarity

June 27, 2012

Actually (since I’m an old retired guy) all I want is for all Americans to have the same opportunities I’ve had.

Hat tip to Echidne of the Snakes.

The voter’s dilemma

June 21, 2012

Click on Steve Kelley | New Orleans Times Picayune for more cartoons like this.

Democrats, demographics and political destiny

June 19, 2012

Gary Segura, writing in Democracy Journal, looks to demographic changes, especially the growth in the U.S. Hispanic population, to save the Democratic Party.

When Barack Obama is almost certainly re-elected this November, Latinos will have played a decisive role in crucial swing states like Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and Florida, and even in states where their population share is smaller.  Latinos should comprise just under 10 percent of the national electorate this year, compared with just 5.4 percent in 2000 and 3.7 percent in 1992.  At 15 percent of the national electorate by 2024 (a conservative estimate), and concentrated in several large-population states, Latino political power will have moved Arizona firmly into the Democratic column in the next decade and will eventually have created a chance for Democrats to carry Texas.

Republicans nationally receive 85 percent of their votes from white voters by capturing between 55 and 60 percent of their ballots in each election.  This margin, coupled with just enough votes from minorities, may be sufficient to eke out victories in the near term. But with the demographic decline of white voters, even 60 percent of that cohort will be a poor start when it comprises just two-thirds of the electorate in 2024; 60 percent of two-thirds would net the GOP just 39.6 percent of the national vote. Republicans must improve their standing with minority voters to remain competitive over the next century.

Can the GOP respond?  In the short run, I don’t think so.  Race played a critical role in the formation of the GOP coalition and is the principal reason that working-class white males, particularly in the South, have been so willing to embrace the party despite its economic policies.  To remove race and its rhetoric from Republican politics would serve to make the party more welcoming to minority voters but would also eliminate the primary claim the party makes in attracting those working-class whites.

via Gary Segura for Democracy Journal.

Actually, Hispanic voters are becoming disillusioned with President Obama.  That is why he is trying to appease them with his executive order forbidding deportation of certain categories of unauthorized immigrants who were brought to this country as a child.

The larger problem is that the reason that neither the Democratic nor the Republican leaders have policies that would move the nation from war and recession to peace and prosperity.  That is why Democrats and Republicans rely on group loyalty to appeal, respectively, to Hispanics and working-class non-Hispanic whites.

Click on The Browning of America for Gary Segura’s complete article.

Click on The Democrats’ Demographic Dreams for a critique.  [Added 6/20/12]

Click on President Obama bristles when he is the target of activist tactics he once used for details about how discontented Hispanic leaders pressured Obama on immigration policy.

Click on Yes, Barack Obama Thinks We’re Stupid (Immigration Edition) for more on the politics of President Obama’s new immigration policy.  [Added 6/20/12]

The good guys lose in Wisconsin

June 6, 2012

I was disappointed that Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin survived the recall election, given his nearly 8-to-1 fund-raising advantage, the resentment of public employee unions by taxpayers who do not enjoy union benefits and the fact that a recall is so unusual and drastic.

Double click to enlarge.

I was not surprised at the result, but I was surprised that Gov. Walker’s margin of victory was so decisive—53 percent to 46 percent.  I thought the unusually large turnout was a good sign for the recall supporters, but evidently the recall opponents also had strong grass-roots support.

The margin of victory shows the strength of the corporatist movement represented by Walker and his policies of cutting government services and stripping public employee unions of their rights.

I fear that this result will confirm President Obama in keeping his distance from the labor union movement and in economic policies that benefit working people at the corporate elite.

But as President Woodrow Wilson once said, it is better to lose in a cause that ultimately will win, than to win in a cause that ultimately will fail.  So long as the United States is a democracy, the assault on the rights of working people cannot continue forever.

Click on Walker’s win in Wisconsin boosts conservatives for analysis of the results of the election by Reuters news service.

Click on What Wisconsin’s Recall Election Tells Us About Obama-Romney: Nothing for a differing analysis.

Graphic from Mother Jones [Added 6/8/12]

Click on Pro-Walker Dark Money Group for a Mother Jones report on a Walker campaign contributor.

Click on The Wisconsin Recall, As Told Through Goofy Signs for a lighter perspective on the recall campaign.

Click on Slowpoke Comics for more cartoons by Jen Sorensen.

[6/9/12]  Some afterthoughts below.


Julian Assange meets the Occupy movement

May 29, 2012

Julian Assange is under house arrest in Britain and can’t get out and about to interview people for his The World Tomorrow TV program, but an interesting array of people come to him.

In Episode 7, he interviewed members of Occupy London and Occupy Wall Street, including David Graeber, an anarchist anthropologist and political theorist, who was one of the original Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Click on Digital Journal for a summary of Episode 7 and links to previous episodes.

Click on David Graeber, the Anti-Leader of Occupy Wall Street for a Business Week article about Graeber.

Click on “Intellectual Roots of Wall St. Protest Lie in Academe” for reasons why David Graeber should not be considered the leader or intellectual mentor of the Occupy Wall Street movement. [Added 6/5/12]

Click on Davod Graeber: anarchist, anthropologist, financial analyst for an article about Graeber and many links to his short writings.

Update [5/30/12]  Julian Assange lost his appeal to Britain’s supreme court against being extradited to Sweden to face chargesallegations of rape and sexual molestationmisconduct.  However, inasmuch as the ruling was based on an interpretation of international law not argued in court, Assange’s lawyers will have until June 13 to make an argument against the ruling.  Assange’s lawyers also are appealing to the European court of human rights in Strasbourg.

If there is good evidence to support the charges, Julian Assange should be put on trial just like anybody else.  The problem is the possibility that Sweden’s current conservative government will hand him over to U.S. authorities, where he could be tried and sent to prison for revealing secret information about U.S. government misconduct.

Click on Julian Assange loses appeal against extradition for a report in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper.

Click on Julian Assange Loses Extradition Appeal for Time magazine’s account.

[Added 5/31/12] Click on Julian Assange: The Rolling Stone Interview for background to the case.


May 17, 2012

Click on Candorville for more Darrin Bell cartoons.

Libertarians nominate a plausible candidate

May 10, 2012

The Libertarian Party has nominated Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, as its candidate for President in the 2012 election.  Johnson filed for the Republican nomination for President in 2011, but was frozen out of press coverage while the clownish Donald Trump was treated as a serious candidate.  There was no good reason why this should have been.  Somebody pointed out that polls showed that Johnson had a positive favorability rating in his home state, unlike Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.   But he goes against Washington’s bi-partisan consensus, as in advocating decriminalization of marijuana.

Gary Johnson

Barring the unforeseen, I will vote for him in November.  I probably would vote for him even if I lived in a battleground state instead of New York.  Philosophically, I am not a libertarian, but extremism in defense of liberty is preferable to the creeping totalitarianism represented by Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and the other Democratic and Republic leaders.

Click on Gary Johnson 2012 for Johnson’s home page.

Click on Gary Johnson wiki for his Wikipedia biography.

Click on Libertarian Gary Johnson: Spoiler Alert? for thoughts of Gene Healy, a vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute.  Healy said ex-Gov. Johnson is the most plausible and qualified Presidential candidate that the Libertarians have nominated in many years.   He denied that Johnson will not play the role of a spoiler by pulling votes from Mitt Romney and thereby helping Barack Obama.  He saidbeca the election race is “a battle between a President who’s violated most of his campaign promises on civil liberties and a candidate who’s already promised to do worse” and therefore is “pre-spoiled.”

Click on Why I am not a libertarian for my thoughts about libertarian ideology.

Reasons for voting 2012

May 4, 2012

The only good reason for a principled liberal Democrat to vote for Barack Obama is that he is not Mitt Romney.

The only good reason for a principled conservative Republican to vote for Mitt Romney is that he is not Barack Obama.

That is probably the reason that Negative Ads Dominate 2012 Election, Study Shows.

Today is Grumble About Obama Day

May 2, 2012

American Extremists - Positively negative

The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy web site has designated May 2 as Grumble About Obama Day, a day for liberals to vent their frustrations about President Obama before they go back to supporting him.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012 is Grumble About Obama Day—a day of deliberately ineffectual venting!

President Barack Obama’s flagrant disregard for progressive values and interests has led to bottled-up frustration for some in his party’s liberal base.

On GAOD, Democratic partisans will be allowed to (softly) complain about Obama’s endlessly growing list of conservative deeds.

Grumble About Obama Day is an unprecedented chance to give voice to concerns which its participants have no interest whatsoever in addressing… even with so small a gesture as supporting a primary challenge or a third-party alternative.

The second of May is the ideal day to feign that you may not vote for Obama’s second term. Afterwards, you can stand tall, knowing you’ve role-played a toothless “make me do it” scenario without the fuss and muss of actually standing up about issues that once seemed important to you.

Observers of Grumble About Obama Day are urged to wear anything but 2L4O: Too Left for Obama or Too Liberal for Obama t-shirts.

Some may choose to mark the day by wearing nothing at all, in honor of the Obama DOJ’s advocacy for the recent Supreme Court ruling on strip searches.

If, like many Democrats, you think everything Obama does is eleven-dimensionally brilliant, or at the very least justified, don’t feel obligated to grumble at all. You can spend the day doubting the integrity and sanity of those who do, just like on any other day.

Early in 2008, I said I would vote for any Presidential candidate who was a bipedal, carbon-based life form who was not George W. Bush.  I voted for Barack Obama with great enthusiasm, but, unfortunately, his policies turned out to be as bad as or worse than Bush’s policies.

The most important duty of a President is to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  President Obama has gone beyond President Bush in asserting unconstitutional powers in regard to habeas corpus, extraordinary renditions, torture, assassinations, warrantless wiretapping, state secrets, prosecution of whistle-blowers and committing acts of war without congressional authorization.

Likewise he has bailed out the Wall Street banking establishment and protected them from prosecution for financial fraud.  A couple of years ago, I thought the problem with President Obama was that he was weak, naive and overly willing to seek compromise from people who weren’t interested in compromise.  I no longer think this.  I think President Obama is a master politician.  It is just that he is not on my side, nor on the side of the people who supported him.

President Obama did not have to offer to cut Social Security.   His administration did not have to block state attorneys-general from prosecuting financial fraud.   There was no political gain.  The only reason for taking such actions was that this is what he believes in.   The President is not weak.  He is tough when it comes to protecting the military-intelligence establishment or the Wall Street financial establishment for oversight.

Click on Little Hope for Change: A Summary of the Bush-Obama Legacy for a thorough rundown comparing Bush’s actions, Obama’s words and Obama’s actions across a whole range of issues.

Click on What If Bush Had Done That? for the perspective of the libertarian Reason magazine.

Click on When It Looks and Feels Like Totalitarianism for a report by Jemima Pierre of the Black Agenda report on laws that give the federal executive the power to arrest on suspicion and suppress protest.  She wrote that the government is acting as if it is getting ready to suppress an uprising.

Click on Obama Worse than Bush on Civil Liberties – Romney No Different from Obama for a libertarian conservative perspective.

Click on Why Obama’s “targeted killing” is worse than Bush’s torture for a British view – which is based on the questionable assumption that torture has ended under President Obama.

Click on NSA whistle-blower: Obama “worse than Bush” for a report on the price an honest man paid for revealing corruption.

Click on Growth of Income Inequality Is Worse Under Obama Than Bush for a comment by Matt Stoller of the Roosevelt Institute.   Stoller said that the continuing upward redistribution of income isn’t necessarily the fault of President Obama, but that it is obvious that the President’s priority is to preserve the capital structure of the major banks rather than to help homeowners, debtors or workers.

American Extremists - Positively negative

Click on American Extremists for more cartoons.

Nonviolent resistance to Hitler?

April 29, 2012

On this web log, I favorably reviewed two of Gene Sharp’s manuals for nonviolent resistant to despots.  A friend asked if I think nonviolent resistance would have worked against Hitler.

His ideas rest on the truth that the power of a tyrant is the power to command the obedience of the people he rules.  To the extent that they cease to obey, his power disappears.  Gene Sharp cited examples of successful nonviolent resistance to Hitler, including Norwegian school teachers who successfully resisted demands that they teach Nazi doctrines, and German women married to Jewish men whose protests caused the German government to rescind orders to deport their husbands to death camps.

But nonviolent resistance would not work for peoples marked for extermination or ethnic cleansing.  this would not work for the Jews, gypsies and others marked for extermination.  Hitler did not wish to rule the Jews, gypsies and others marked for extermination.   He wished to eliminate them.  Nonviolent resistance would not have been an obstacle to that goal.

I am not a pacifist.  I understand that war is sometimes the least bad option.  I do not think that the line between nonviolent and violent resistance is always clear.  Many campaigns of mass defiance involve both.   A nonviolent struggle has the merit of being inherently democratic, in the way that many seizures of power in the name of liberation did not.  M.K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. had power that rested on the voluntary compliance of their followers.  Unlike the leaders of many supposed liberation movements, they didn’t kill people to keep their followers in line.

Click on The realism of nonviolent action for my review of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action.

Click on Gene Sharp’s revolution handbook for my review of his From Dictatorship to Democracy.

Click on Gene Sharp: A dictator’s worst nightmare for a good profile by CNN.  [Added 6/27/12]

And let the bad guys win?

April 5, 2012

Our corrupt politics: Is money the problem?

March 16, 2012

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein says the influence of big money in politics is exaggerated.  He wrote an article in the current New York Review of Books arguing that powerful lobbyists may shape legislation, but it is populist partisan politics that determines whether the legislation is enacted.  People whose main concern is money and profit are generally more reasonable and open to compromise than grass-roots zealots, he wrote; grass-roots partisan extremism is a much more serious problem.

In 2011, the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO joined together to call for a major reinvestment in American infrastructure.  None passed.  In 2010, most of the health care industry was either supportive or neutral on the Affordable Care Act, and if any one of them could have swung the votes of even a few Republican senators or congressmen, the desperate Democrats would have let them write almost anything they wanted into the bill.  But not one Republican budged.  In 2009, the Chamber of Commerce endorsed the stimulus bill as a necessary boost to the economy.  Not one House Republican voted for it. Almost every major business group has been calling for tax reform and a big, Simpson-Bowles-like deficit reduction package for years now. But Congress remains deadlocked.

Ezra Klein

Indeed, the more likely Americans are to have actually heard of the bill, the less likely money is to be the decisive factor in its fate.  That’s not to say that lobbyists and interest groups don’t have a hand in the construction of these laws—before they came to a vote—and don’t have a say in the component parts.  They do.  The health care industry, for instance, was able to cut a slew of early deals with the Obama administration; and the industry’s power helped put out of consideration certain provisions, like a public option that would have partnered with Medicare to bargain down prices.  The financial industry, disgraced as it was, managed to win a lot of battles in the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill.

But in the end, it didn’t decide which votes ended up in the “nay” column and which ended up in the “aye” column.  The leadership of the two parties did.  Which is to say that while moneyed interests are decisive in passing laws and influencing provisions that few Americans care about, they’re much weaker on the issues where Americans are actually watching.  But those issues are the ones that have convinced America that Washington is broken.  Which suggests that as big a problem as money is in politics—and make no mistake, it is a big problem, as the rise of the Super PACs shows all too clearly—it is not the only one, and it is probably not even the worst one.

via The New York Review of Books.

When President Obama sought to enact health care reform, he first promised the drug companies that nothing would be done to lower drug prices, and the health insurance companies that they would not be crowded out of the market by a public option, but that instead they would get a new captive clientele.  Klein is right that the drug and health insurance companies did not determine the outcome; they only determined that, no matter what the outcome, their vital interests would not be threatened.  The same is true of Wall Street and the Dodd-Frank bill.

The monied interests do not determine the outcome of the game; they determine something much more important, the stakes of the game.

The hot-button issues that stir up the public—such as whether it is okay to call an attractive young single woman who uses contraception a “slut” or a “prostitute”—are almost never issues that affect the structure of economic and political power.

What we are drifting toward is a politics in which the right is defined by the Koch brothers, Richard Scaife and Adolph Coors, the “left” by George Soros and rich Hollywood movie stars, firms like Goldman Sachs have a foot in both camps and people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett represent the vital center.  We need a politics that offers more options than those.


Barack Obama’s magic jobs number

March 9, 2012

Nate Silver’s statistical analysis indicates that incumbent Presidents since World War Two, and especially from 1980, have been likely to be re-elected if U.S. jobs are increasing at a rate of 150,000 a month in the election year.  The United States in fact added 227,000 jobs in February.

If Silver is correct, President Obama should be on track to win—barring the unforeseen—in spite of an unemployment rate still stubbornly high and long-term unemployment at record levels.  Of course he is helped by the lack of a sensible economic policy from any of his potential Republican opponents.

Click on Obama’s Magic Number? 150,000 Jobs Per Month for Nate Silver’s report in his FiveThirtyEight column for the New York Times column.

Click on Today’s Jobs Report in Pictures and The Legacy of the Great Recession for charts by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities showing just how bad the job situation still is.

Click on Statement by chief CPBB Chad Stone on the February employment report for analysis of the February jobs figures.

Click on Full Employment: A Force Against Rising Inequality and Stagnant Incomes for a report by economist Jared Bernstein on why it is vital to get back to a full employment economy.

Hat tip to Barry Ritholtz’s The Big Picture for the chart.


Are Democrats a top-and-bottom coalition?

March 7, 2012

When I was a boy (I’m 75 now), my father and uncles told me that the Ebersoles were Democrats because the Democrats were the party of the working man.  We revered the memory of Franklin Roosevelt.  But the legacy of FDR’s New Deal—the social safety net, the defense of organized labor and regulation of financial speculation—is under attack, and the Democratic leadership no longer represents the political coalition that put President Roosevelt into office.

Thomas B. Edsall, a brilliant political reporter, has long contended that that the Democratic Party is a top-and-bottom coalition dominated by a well-educated, culturally liberal, relatively affluent white elite, whose power depends on its ability to mobilize minorities and poor people.

He wrote in November that the Obama administration is resigned to the fact that white high school graduates aren’t going to vote for Democrats, and that the Democrats hope to win with the votes of African-Americans, Hispanics and white college-educated professionals.  More recently Jonathan Chait wrote in New York magazine that the growth in numbers of the latter three groups will enable the Democrats to defeat resentful white Republican blue-collar and middle-class voters.

The problem with this is that there is little community of interest between affluent white liberals and poor blacks and Hispanics.  And, as Edsall pointed out, there is plenty of potential for conflict between blacks and Hispanics.

To the extent his analysis is correct, the American political outlook is dim.  The Democratic Party, in this view, is run by a socially liberal elite that mobilizes blacks, Hispanics, poor people, students and feminists against allegedly selfish and prejudiced Republican white people, while the Republican Party is run by an economically conservative elite which mobilizes working-class and middle-class white people against allegedly parasitic Democratic minority groups.

What you would have is, on the one hand, a party in which the Haves advance the interests of the Have-Nots at the expense of the Have-a-Littles, and, on the other, a party in which the Haves advance the interests of the Have-a-Littles at the expense of the Have-Nots.  Such a political lineup would be poisonous to American democracy.  It would mean the power of the elites would never be challenged.

To what degree is this an accurate picture of American politics?  I think it is largely true, but I hope for a political realignment, and I believe it is possible.  I found a couple of web sites with charts and statistics that throw some light on this subject.

Click on The usual torrent of graphs and How did white people vote? for data from a statistician named Andrew Gelman on his Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference and Social Science web log.  He refuted a statement that the upper 5 percent of income earners were political liberals, and published charts showing that, within the different states, the lower income brackets of all ethnic groups tended to vote more Democratic and the upper income brackets more Republican.

His figures suggest that the picture isn’t as stark as Edsall and others say.  But the fact that rich white people are overwhelmingly Republican does not mean that affluent white Democrats are not influential within their part.

Click on White Flight for analysis by Ronald Brownstein for National Journal.  Brownstein’s data indicate that the Democrats have stronger support among white people with college educations than other white people.

Click on The Future of the Obama Coalition for Thomas B. Edsall’s column in the New York Times.

Below are two maps I took from Gelman’s web log and a map from Brownstein’s article.


Demographics and the GOP future

March 3, 2012

Jonathan Chait wrote an article for New York magazine about how ongoing demographic changes favor the Democrats, who have the allegiance of the majority of African-Americans, Hispanics and young people.

Obama’s election was the vindication of a prediction made several years before by journalist John Judis and political scientist Ruy Teixeira in their 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic Majority. Despite the fact that George W. Bush then occupied the White House, Judis and Teixeira argued that demographic and political trends were converging in such a way as to form a ­natural-majority coalition for Democrats.

The Republican Party had increasingly found itself confined to white voters, especially those lacking a college degree and rural whites who, as Obama awkwardly put it in 2008, tend to “cling to guns or religion.”  Meanwhile, the Democrats had ­increased their standing among whites with graduate degrees, particularly the growing share of secular whites, and remained dominant among racial minorities. 

As a whole, Judis and Teixeira noted, the electorate was growing both somewhat better educated and dramatically less white, making every successive election less favorable for the GOP. And the trends were even more striking in some key swing states.  Judis and Teixeira highlighted Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona, with skyrocketing Latino populations, and Virginia and North Carolina, with their influx of college-educated whites, as the most fertile grounds for the expanding Democratic base.

via 2012 or Never.

Chait said the Republican strategy is to convince working-class white people that a liberal elite is trying to make them sacrifice for the benefit of undeserving minorities and pool people, and that 2012 represents the last chance to roll back the welfare state before minority groups, the poor and the young become the majority.  If they fail, they face a “Democratic policy steamroller” symbolized by Barack Obama—young, hip, urban and black—who represents everything they resent and fear.

There is a certain about of truth about the Republican strategy, which relies as much on setting up obstacles for voting by minorities and young people as on getting out the vote of their own supporters.

Where Chait errs, in my opinion, is that he thinks that American politics consists of a struggle between coalitions of voters.  I have come to think, from reading writers such as Thomas Ferguson and Jacob Hacker, is that the voting blocs are not the players, but the pieces on the chessboard.

The players are Goldman Sachs, General Electric, Blue Cross / Blue Shield, Exxon Mobil, the Koch brothers, Bain Capital, Halliburton Industries, other big corporations and their industry associations.  We the voters get to choose among candidates, but these organizations choose what choices we get to make.

Thus we have a debate over whether we want Clinton-era taxes or Massachusetts-style health care, but not over what to do about corporate power and the de-industrialization and financialization of the U.S. economy.

Neither party’s leaders address the practical concerns of their core supporters—long-term unemployment, retirement security, erosion of wages and benefits.  If either party were to do that successfully, it would win the allegiance of a majority of voters, white, black and Hispanic, old and young.  They then would have a better reason than in-group loyalty for voting for one party or the other.  But in order to do that, they would have to have to challenge the corporate powers that benefit from the status quo.  Neither party, as now constituted, will do that.  There isn’t going to be any “Democratic policy steamroller.”

Aside from that, a lot could happen between now and November.  We could be at war with Iran.  We could be in the second phase of a double-dip recession, brought on by rising oil prices and the European financial crisis.  Democratic leaders shouldn’t count their chickens before they’re hatched.

Click on 2012 or Never for Jonathan Chait’s article.

Click on Why Obama’s Re-Election Is Going To Look A Lot Like 2008 for an article in The New Republic by Ruy Teixiera.

Click on The Brown Majority for the source and context of the above charts, which was taken from the on-line Boston Review.  The charts are interesting, but I say: Beware of long-range predictions based on projecting current birth rates into the indefinite future.  Over the long run birth rates of various groups tend to decline as the groups become more prosperous.


Roundup: Fracking, rich people, Islam, etc.

March 3, 2012

Here are links to some interesting articles I read on-line during the week.

2012 or Never by Jonathan Chait in New York magazine is an argument that the Republican Party’s policies put it on the wrong side of ongoing demographic changes.  The future electorate is going to be more and more like Barack Obama—young, urban, hip and non-white.  I think the Democratic leaders are making a mistake if they rely on demographics and Republican self-destruction to win their elections for them.  The party that wins the support of a majority of the electorate will be the one that actually does something about unemployment, outsourcing, declining wages and financial abuses.

The Big Fracking Bubble by Jeff Goodall in Rolling Stone is a profile of Hugh McClendon, founder of Chesapeake Energy, which is possibly the largest company engaged in hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.  It reportedly owns drilling rights on 15 million acres of land, more than twice the area of Maryland.  One disappointed Pennsylvania farm owner who sold drilling rights to Chesapeake said that the United States is destroying its water resource in order to extract an energy resource.

Upper class people more likely to cheat on the Raw Story web site describes a study which indicated that rich people on average are more willing than poor people to break traffic laws, cheat for financial gain and even take candy from children.  The researchers concluded that wealth generates a sense of entitlement.

Are They Really Religious? by Alaa al Aswany, an Egyptian journalist, for Huffington Post says the form of Islam being imported into Eygpt from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States emphasizes form over substance.  Hospital staffs leave emergency rooms unattended while they participate in their daily prayer routine.  Members of Parliament grow beards in tribute to Mohammad but are unconcerned with torture and corruption in the Mubarrak regime.  True religion, he writes, emphasizes the human values of truth, justice and freedom, not the details of ritual observances.

Tunisia: Moderate Political Islam Eschews Violence is a profile by my friend Tom Riggins on his web log is a profile of Said Ferjani, a leader of Tunisia’s Ennahda Party, and his teacher, Rachid al-Ghannouchi, founder of the party. The Ennahda Party, which represents a more moderate and democratic form of Islam than the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, won the recent Tunisian elections in coalition with two smaller parties, and is now participating in the drafting of a new Tunisian constitution.

Bradley Manning’s quest for justice is a report by Logan Price in The Guardian newspaper in England.  Reporting on Manning’s arraignment in military court for allegedly providing secret information about U.S. war crimes to Wikileaks, Price says that Manning holds to a higher standard of truth than the court does.

Thirty More Years of Hell is a rant by Connor Kilpatrick in Jacobin magazine about the world the Baby Boomer generation has created for the Millennial generation.

The Democratic lady and her friend

February 29, 2012

Click on Ted Rall’s Rallblog for his web site and latest cartoon.

Click on Photo gallery: Ted Rall Cartoons for a selection of his cartoons from the Los Angeles Times.

Is it too late for a new candidate?

February 27, 2012

It is technically possible that Republican voters could turn to a candidate other than Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul.  Highly unlikely, but technically possible.

› Under the rules, a [Republican] candidate must win 1,144 delegates during the primary season to win a majority and secure the nomination

› It is thought that a new candidate jumping in now would only be able to compete in eight of the remaining primaries – that gives them a possible 519 candidates up for grabs

› But a good showing in those primaries could not only establish that candidate’s credibility but also mean that none of the other candidates reach that 1,144 figure

› That would raise the prospect of what is known as a brokered convention, which essentially turns August’s Republican convention into one big debate to decide the nominee

via Al Jazeera English.

The Republicans’ dissatisfaction with their current crop of candidates isn’t new.  It is more common than not in each Presidential election for both Democrats and Republicans to ask:  Is this really the best we can do?  Since this happens so often, maybe the problem lies with the process rather than the individuals.  Can’t we come up with a process that is less exhausting, less demeaning and less expensive?

Click on Huntsman, Barbour Call for New Candidate for news of Republican dissatisfaction with the current selection of candidates.

Click on Republicans Want a Nominee Pre-Convention for a Gallup poll indicating that 55 percent of Republican voters are dissatisfied with their current selection, but they want the choice to be made in the primaries and not by a convention.

Click on Results of the 2012 Republican Party presidential primaries for Wikipedia’s running report on the Republican race.

Click on Republican presidential candidates 2012 for Wikipedia’s comprehensive roundup on all the Republican candidates.


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