Political Animal


September 01, 2014 3:23 PM Day’s End and Sunset Watch

Since it’s a major federal holiday, I’m wrapping up early and then going out to clean the grill. Labor Day is traditionally the end of the tourism season here on the Central Coast, so it’s a good day for people-and-puppy watching on the walking trail, too. But everyone should read the new issue of the Washington Monthly before feeling free to goof off, of course.

Here are some remains of the day:

* At Think Progress Ian Millhiser provides a comprehensive account of the great Pullman Strike of 1894, which inaugurated the modern era of labor struggle in the U.S. and exposed the radicalism of major employers acting in collusion with government.

* Paul Krugman mulls the implications of the sudden downward trajectory of estimates of future Medicare spending.

* At TNR Naomi Shavin looks at BLS numbers on worst-paid occupations; fast-food cooks come in dead last.

* At Ten Miles Square, Julia Azari provides a first-hand account of the hotel fire that disrupted this year’s American Political Science Association meeting in Washington.

* At College Guide, Conor Williams discusses new research on dual language learning experiements.

And in non-political news:

* Watched a pretty good football game Saturday. Woof.

That’s it for Labor Day barring major breaking news. We’ll be back to the regular blogging schedule tomorrow. Let’s close with the original version of “Which Side Are You On” by Florence Reece of Harlan County, Kentucky.


September 01, 2014 2:42 PM British Tremors

If you get bored with the U.S. midterm election cycle that according to some ancient traditions really begins today, there’s always British politics, where a mandatory parliamentary general election to be held no later than next May is already being described as a potential “earthquake.” It’s looking like a preliminary tremor will occur in an October by-election in which the anti-EU, anti-immigrant UKIP party is very likely to secure its first parliamentary representation, per this HuffPost article:

David Cameron looks set for a by-election humiliation at the hands of Ukip following former MP Douglas Carswell’s defection, according to an opinion poll.
Mr Carswell’s decision to join Nigel Farage’s party and trigger a by-election shocked Westminster and the poll of voters in the Clacton seat predicting a massive 44 point lead for Ukip will add to the prime minister’s discomfort.
The Survation study for the Mail on Sunday put Ukip on 64%, with Mr Carswell’s former party on 20%, Labour on 13% and the Lib Dems on 2%.

A UKIP victory of that magnitude could tempt other Tory MPs to defect, while increasing pressure on Cameron’s government to pander further to nationalist sentiment. It looks like the promise of a post-election referendum on EU membership may not be enough to squelch UKIP, which along with the collapse of support for the Tories’ LibDem coalition partners, has become a real threat.

September 01, 2014 11:36 AM Unions Today

If you want some stimulating reading for Labor Day, I strongly recommend the interview of labor strategist and all-around fabulous political writer and thinker Rich Yeselson, conducted by TNR’s Jonathan Cohn. The piece covers a lot of ground, from the myth of union responsibility for Detroit’s problems to the possible wave of unionization among franchise employees if the courts don’t screw that up. But I’ll just quote Rich’s big-picture observation about the anti-union culture of the United States and its irrationality:

Pretty much in every other country in Western Europe, Canada, even Australia and the U.K. (which share some labor-management features with the U.S.), the assumption is that unions are basic ingredient of liberal capitalism. Among conservatives and business owners in those countries, you’ll hear a lot about how they are inefficient, too powerful, or just pains in the ass. But pretty much everybody accepts them as a normal part of the political/economic/legal landscape. That’s simply not the case here.
What’s ironic about that is that unions are inherently conservative institutions, which historically developed parallel with the development of capitalism itself. They are as much a part of capitalism as Henry Ford or Apple. Unions use contracts—and there’s nothing more intrinsic to capitalism than the right of contract—to link their members to the fortunes of the companies they contract with. They are capable of having huge fights with capital (as in the thirties)—which raise the hopes of leftists—but, usually, over the attainment of very incremental ends—-which disappoint leftists. Marx had nothing but contempt for British trade unionists, and Trotsky saw no value in unions at all. Yet conservatives and most libertarians hate them. Weird.

‘Tis weird indeed, but a real and abiding problem.

September 01, 2014 10:25 AM Rubio’s Novel Immigration Reform Strategy

Now that Sen. Marco Rubio, who not that long ago was going to be the “savior” of the Republican Party by leading it to play a role in the enactment of comprehensive immigration reform, has performed a 180 degree turn on the subject, you’d hope he’d admit his flip-flop or shut up about it. But no: he wants us to understand (per a report from The Hill’s Peter Sullivan) that embracing a legislative repeal of the very DACA policies he once embraced is just a new strategy for immigration reform. Seriously:

Rubio spokesman Alex Conant told The Hill that Rubio’s strategy for achieving immigration reform, not his policies, has changed.
“We’re not talking about policy changes,” he said. “We’re talking about a more realistic way of achieving policy wins.”

Well, hell, I suppose any flip-flop can be rationalized as a “strategy” of disarming the enemy by joining his ranks, the better to betray him down the road. But at some point Republicans of every point of view on immigration policy are going to wonder why they should trust this conniving pol at all.

September 01, 2014 9:39 AM Anti-Labor Day

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned here before the profound effect of spending my most formative childhood years in a place that was sort of a monument to capital’s war on labor. LaGrange, Georgia, in the early 1960s was a textile company town ruled economically, politically and socially by the Callaway family, proprietors of Callaway Mills. People there still talked—whispered, really—about the anti-union violence that occurred there a generation earlier:

On September 1, 1934, The General Textile Strike of 1934, also known as the Uprising of ’34, began. 170,000 southern workers and 44,000 Georgia workers joined in the strike. Textile workers walked off their jobs at the mills and joined caravans of cars that traveled to nearby manufacturing facilities encouraging everyone to join the strike. Mill owners hired armed guards to protect their properties while picketers angrily marched in front of them demanding fair treatment and pay. Violence broke between the guards and picketers in Cedartown, Columbus, Macon, Augusta, Trion, and Porterdale textile plants. As the news of violence against the workers spread across the south, Georgia workers joined the United Textile Workers (UTW) union for protection.Concerned that the ensuing violence and unrest would cost him the upcoming election, Georgia Governor Eugene Talmadge declared martial law. Although he promised during his campaign that no force would be used against the strikers, as soon as he had secured a second term as governor he sent in the Armed National Guard to put down the unrest. Strikers were bullied, beaten, and arrested, and some strikers lost their lives when the Guard used force. One worker at Callaway Mills in LaGrange was beaten to death in front of fellow strikers by National Guard officers when he did not vacate mill property quick enough. Female strikers who worked in Sargent and East Newnan Cotton Mills in Coweta County (just south of Carroll County), were the first to be arrested and taken to holding cells on a military base in Atlanta until the strike ended. Dwindling resources and the fear of arrest - or even death - caused the the strike to end after only three weeks. The government assured the strikers that textile mills in the south would be investigated for unfair treatment and violations of law. Textile workers returned to work but were afraid their employers would seek retribution. Many of the strikers were fired from their jobs, evicted from the mill villages, and placed on a “blacklist” that circulated among textile mills in the area. The strikers who were allowed to return to work turned their backs on labor unions because they were afraid they too would be fired and blacklisted.

To be clear, the National Guard in LaGrange and other textile towns wasn’t just breaking strikes: it was evicting workers from their (company-owned) homes for any hint of union activity. It was state-sponsored class terror, and it succeeded.

Things didn’t changed much in LaGrange in the generation after the Uprising of ‘34 was crushed. As a particularly clear sign of anti-union animus, the public schools in LaGrange began class on Labor Day each year. While I was living there, Callaway family scion “Bo” was elected to Congress in the Goldwater landslide of ‘64 as an segregationist Republican. Two years later his views on civil rights almost certainly cost him the governorship of Georgia as a write-in campaign denied Callaway a popular majority against arch-segregationist Lester Maddox, who was subsequently elected by the legislature on a party-line vote. Two years after that Callaway patriarch Fuller stunned LaGrange by selling out his mills to the South Carolina-based Milliken empire.

By then my family had moved away and I lost touch with my LaGrange friends, but the Milliken takeover of the town must have felt inevitable. Roger Milliken was far and away the industry’s most notable executive, a union buster of the old school who also shared the Callaways’ decision to invest heavily in a southern Republican Party that would be the boon companion of “job creators.” By the late 1960s and for Lord only knows how much longer, the South Carolina Republican Party was regarded as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Milliken firm.

While Milliken and the textile industry have both lost their dominant position in the South, the Callaway/Milliken tradition of anti-union patriarchy lives on. It tells you everything you need to know about the supposed New South that one of its symbols, the Indian-American governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, is as faithful a labor-hater as one could ever hope for, as noted most recently in comments she made this last February:

South Carolina loves its manufacturing jobs from BMW, Michelin and Boeing and wants more.
But Gov. Nikki Haley says they’re not welcome if they’re bringing a unionized workforce….
“It’s not something we want to see happen,” she said after an appearance at an automotive conference in downtown. “We discourage any companies that have unions from wanting to come to South Carolina because we don’t want to taint the water.”
Haley promised to keep fighting against union penetration.
“You’ve heard me say many times I wear heels. It’s not for a fashion statement,” she said. “It’s because we’re kicking them every day, and we’ll continue to kick them.”

It probably hasn’t occurred to Haley to insist on public schools holding classes on Labor Day, but I wouldn’t put it—or the use of the National Guard to break a strike, if anyone dared initiate one—past her if she gets another term as governor. The 1930s and 1960s live on, and the worship of the Golden Calf of capital has a grip on the Bible Belt as strong as sin.

September 01, 2014 8:00 AM Daylight Video

Happy Labor Day. Believe I’ve put this up in the past, but don’t think it can be improved upon: Leonard Cohen performing “Solidarity Forever.”

August 31, 2014 8:13 PM Keep an Eye on Kansas

Not to pat myself on the back, but I did bring this up first. It seems that there may be a better chance of Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas losing his reelection bid if he runs against an independent in a two-way race than if he runs against both an independent and a Democrat in a three-way race. At least, that’s what one recent poll found. For this reason, the Democrats have an incentive to both help Greg Orman, the independent, and to try to convince Chad Taylor, the Democrat, to drop out of the race.

But, first, they have no make sure that Orman would be willing to caucus with them, and that is not assured. While Orman is a former Democrat, he is also a former Republican. And while he preaches tolerance on social issues, he also preaches fiscal conservatism.

Yet, one thing is certain. The Republican Party is going to do everything they can to defeat him.

So, the way I see it, there is an opening here if creative minds care to walk through it.

August 31, 2014 2:16 PM Et Tu NYTimes? More False Equivalence and Green Lanternism Directed at Obama

I don’t know how many of you share my fury at this sort of thing, but the lead editorial in today’s New York Times epitomizes the tendency of the press to try to find a way to blame on Barack Obama for policy outcomes over which he has little or no control. In this case, the complaint is that AmeriCorps, the national service program that Bill Clinton started and Obama championed during the 2008 campaign, has failed to grow to the size authorized by a bipartisan bill Obama signed in 2009.

This is surely a lamentable state of affairs. But who, exactly, is responsible? The Times blames “Washington disfunction” but mostly singles out Obama:

During his first run for the White House, President Obama spoke many times about his commitment to expanding AmeriCorps and other national service programs. “This will be a cause of my presidency,” he pledged. In 2009, amid much fanfare, he signed into law the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, named for the senator who was its foremost champion. The law was passed with bipartisan support in the House and Senate, and it called for increasing AmeriCorps positions in stages to 250,000 by 2017. Yet in the five years since, the authorized ramp-up has not occurred.
Instead of giving more people the opportunity to serve, AmeriCorps’ growth has become yet another victim of Washington’s dysfunction, weak leadership and the disintegration of bipartisanship for the public good. The gap between the yearly targets for AmeriCorps positions set in the act and the actual number of AmeriCorps participants has grown wider with each passing year. This year, fewer than 80,000 positions were funded; the goal is 200,000.
Despite Mr. Obama’s eloquence about national service, his annual budget proposals have requested much less than would be required to come close to reaching the Serve America Act’s benchmarks. Scant effort has been made to push for more.

This is the familiar progressive case against Obama: he made big promises but failed to deliver because he didn’t fight hard enough (the editorial’s headline “Broken Promises on National Service” drives home the point). Having laid the problem largely on the president, the editorial then includes, almost as an afterthought, this sentence:

And of course, the Republican-controlled House now routinely passes budget resolutions that would eliminate AmeriCorps, as well as the Corporation for National and Community Service that oversees the program.

But that fact—the GOP jihad against AmeriCorps—is pretty much the entirety of the reason why AmeriCorps’ budget hasn’t grown bigger. As national service expert Melissa Bass of the University of Mississippi explained in the Washington Monthly, the only reason funding for AmeriCorps has been stalled is that congressional Republicans who originally supported the 2009 law got spooked by the Tea Party and did a 180:

Almost half of Senate Republicans (twenty of forty-one) voted for the measure, as did seventy House Republicans. This show of bipartisan support was as rare as it was timely. By more than tripling the number of AmeriCorps slots, the new law would give young people frozen out of the job market by high unemployment rates a chance to serve their country and communities at precisely the time when social needs are at their greatest.

Yet less than two years later, in February 2011, the GOP-controlled House voted to eliminate funding for AmeriCorps entirely. Sixty of the Republicans who voted to end the program had, two years earlier, elected to triple its size.

Given this unprincipled GOP obstruction, what basis is there to believe, as the Times apparently wants us to, that if only the president had fought harder and demanded bigger budget increases for AmeriCorps he would have gotten them? None that I can think of. In fact, we should be thankful that the administration has somehow managed to preserve the program’s funding at 80,000 annual members—which, by the way, is 30,000 more than before 2009, an increase the Times doesn’t bother to mention.


August 31, 2014 1:34 PM How the Megadonors of the Right Think

Let’s be clear about who the political enemy is in this country:

Three years ago, Home Depot co-founder Kenneth Langone helped lead an unsuccessful effort by a group of GOP megadonors to persuade Gov. Chris Christie to make a run for president in 2012.
Now Langone, who remains a Christie cheerleader, said he is convinced the New Jersey governor is the “guy who can win” the 2016 presidential election — and that the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy is in his rear-view mirror.
“If he decides, and I’d be more inclined to say when he decides to throw his hat in the ring, I think he’s going to be a formidable competitor,” Langone said in an interview. “People I talk to are still high on him. He looks fabulous. He looks healthy. He’s energized.”

Ken Langone is the same billionaire who told CNBC in January that Pope Francis ought to watch his mouth.

Pope Francis’ critical comments about the wealthy and capitalism have at least one wealthy capitalist benefactor hesitant about giving financial support to one of the church’s major fundraising projects.
At issue is an effort to raise $180 million for the restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York being spearheaded by billionaire Ken Langone, the investor known for founding Home Depot, among other things.
Langone told CNBC that one potential seven-figure donor is concerned about statements from the pope criticizing market economies as “exclusionary,” urging the rich to give more to the poor and criticizing a “culture of prosperity” that leads some to become “incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.”
Langone said he’s raised the issue more than once with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, most recently at a breakfast in early December at which he updated him on fundraising progress.
“I’ve told the cardinal, ‘Your Eminence, this is one more hurdle I hope we don’t have to deal with. You want to be careful about generalities. Rich people in one country don’t act the same as rich people in another country,’ ” he said.

I’m going to take the Pope’s side on this one. And I’m going to get my hardware elsewhere.

August 31, 2014 11:14 AM Is This How Patriotism Works?

I voted against George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004, and I spent most of his presidency actively working against his administration with every tool at my disposal, but I never said or wrote that I would prefer that the country be led by a foreigner or a foreign leader. Not so, for many pundits on the right. Ann Coulter wants Benjamin Netanyahu to be our president, Erick Erickson wants David Cameron to be our president, and Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle would be okay with either Netanyahu or Vladimir Putin being our president.

Someone needs to explain the right’s adoration for Vladimir Putin because it’s creeping me out.

August 31, 2014 9:44 AM Eating our Vegetables

The New York Times’ Editorial Board has rather suddenly found the boldness to call torture “torture” and is now calling on the government to release the “bad” photos from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Shall we forget the past and reward good behavior going forward?

I’m talking about the NYT’s Editorial Board, not the country, silly.

In my opinion, the most galling thing about this debate and this legal dispute is the government’s argument that releasing the photos will so enrage international opinion that people will rise up and just start slaughtering Americans in retaliation.

When a country commits acts that are nearly universally considered to be crimes against humanity, and are actually supposed to be considered crimes against humanity, then the offending country has to be held accountable in some way. The way America can show that it is different from the thugs who torture people in Uzbekistan or Saudi Arabia or Syria or North Korea is to admit what we did and enforce the law.

Hiding the evidence is not redemptive in any way. If the New York Times can come around and admit that the U.S. government had an official policy of torturing people, then the Obama administration can come around, too. They’ve never denied it in words, but they keep going to court to try to shield us from the truth and protect us from the consequences.

The better path is to stop resisting and let the law do its work.

Otherwise, we might as well be Uzbekistan.

August 31, 2014 8:56 AM Daylight Video

Sticking with the coal mines.

August 30, 2014 6:06 PM Molly Powell, You Blew Me Away

There is really no way for me to do justice to this Molly Powell piece in favor of catcalls at the National Review Online, at least, not in the allotted time remaining to me in the universe. The article itself goes so far as to argue that women who have Alzheimer’s disease are extremely horny and would most definitely appreciate a catcall despite being “fat and gray-haired and hav[ing] three chins and cankels.” It goes even further and details a time in Ms. Powell’s youth when a Frenchman gratified himself on a train while “while leering and grunting at” her. It asserts that attractive women who dress attractively “bear at least some of the responsibility” for being “treated like pieces of meat,” while in the very next sentence saying that “this is not to say that we deserve to be harassed if we are naturally alluring or if we wear sexy clothing.”

The thing is, the article is nothing compared to the comments.

August 30, 2014 3:52 PM With Allies Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

I think lightning should strike him or something.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has warned that the West will be the next target of the jihadists sweeping through Syria and Iraq, unless there is “rapid” action.
“If we ignore them, I am sure they will reach Europe in a month and America in another month,” he said in remarks quoted on Saturday by Asharq al-Awsat daily and Saudi-backed Al-Arabiya television station.
“Terrorism knows no border and its danger could affect several countries outside the Middle East,” said the king who was speaking at a welcoming ceremony on Friday for new ambassadors, including a new envoy from Saudi ally the United States.

Here’s Steve Clemons, writing in late June for The Atlantic:

The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the “moderate” armed opposition in the country, receives a lot of attention. But two of the most successful factions fighting Assad’s forces are Islamist extremist groups: Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the latter of which is now amassing territory in Iraq and threatening to further destabilize the entire region. And that success is in part due to the support they have received from two Persian Gulf countries: Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Qatar’s military and economic largesse has made its way to Jabhat al-Nusra, to the point that a senior Qatari official told me he can identify al-Nusra commanders by the blocks they control in various Syrian cities. But ISIS is another matter. As one senior Qatari official stated, “ISIS has been a Saudi project.”
ISIS, in fact, may have been a major part of Bandar’s covert-ops strategy in Syria. The Saudi government, for its part, has denied allegations, including claims made by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, that it has directly supported ISIS. But there are also signs that the kingdom recently shifted its assistance—whether direct or indirect—away from extremist factions in Syria and toward more moderate opposition groups.

So, the king let Bandar Bush create this problem and now he warns us that we’re going to be the victims of his creation if we don’t bring some serious violence to the situation.


August 30, 2014 1:16 PM Some People Never Learn

It’s surprisingly easy to compose a list of the 25 stupidest things Bush administration officials said about the invasion of Iraq, and no such list can be remotely comprehensive. For example, the list I just referenced has President Bush assuring Reverend Pat Robertson that he doesn’t need to prepare the public for casualties because we won’t have any casualties, and it has Donald Rumsfeld dismissing concerns about looting because “free” people are free to do dumb things, but it makes no reference to Paul Wolfowitz saying in Congressional testimony that, “There’s a lot of money to pay for this. It doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money. We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.” It doesn’t include his testimony that “It is hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam’s security forces and his army — hard to imagine.” It doesn’t include his testimony that “I can’t imagine anyone here wanting to spend another $30 billion to be there for another 12 years.”

The Bush administration said countless stupid things, told an uncountable number of lies, and made so many horrible predictions that it is a herculean challenge to try to document them all. But even their strongest critics didn’t predict just how wrong things would go.

Nearly half of Syria’s population has been displaced either internally or externally as refugees in the worst humanitarian crisis to strike the Middle East in at least a century, according to new data released by the International Rescue Committee.
The complex civil war, which has now morphed into a three-way free-for-all among rebels, the Syrian regime and a caliphate of Islamic extremists attacking virtually everyone, has driven at least 3 million people from Syria into neighboring countries. The movement is stressing already fragile nations such as Jordan and Lebanon, who have born the brunt of the exodus even as both deal with their own unstable internal political situations.
Turkey also has received hundreds of thousands of refugees and continues to struggle to control its own border; thousands of foreign Jihadi fighters have used Turkey to access the Syrian battlefield. They offset the tens of thousands of Syrian fleeing the fighting, leaving southern Turkey awash in desperate refugees and militants of all stripes.
In terms of world history, the IRC, considered one of the world’s most effective aid organizations, says the situation has reached a level of disaster not seen worldwide since the Rwandan genocide, more than 20 years ago that saw fewer people - about 1.5 million _ displaced but nearly a million killed.

Yeah, I didn’t even get to Iraq, where it is estimated that over a million people have been “freedomed” from their homes.

I don’t think the American people are focused enough on the lesson here, which is what happens when you listen to conservatives and allow them to have control of our foreign policy apparatus and the most lethal military in the history of mankind.

It’s a lesson we should all heed as the present administration tries to figure out how to triage all the crises that have resulted from the Bush administration’s reaction to 9/11.

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