Friday, November 21, 2014

Obama's immigration reform

President Obama finally announced his immigration reform Executive Order in a national address last night, The President Speaks on Fixing America's Broken Immigration System 11/20/2014:

The White House provides the text of the speech here.

Immigrant-rights advocates applauded the belated move. (Isaías Alvarado, Lágrimas de alegría en LA tras histórico anuncio de alivio migratorio La Opinión 11/20/2014; Peter Hecht and Stephen Magagnini, Central Valley undocumented immigrants see hope in Obama action Sacramento Bee 11/21/2014)

The Republicans howled as usual. (María Peña, Republicanos demandan a Obama por acciones ejecutivas La Opinión 11/21/2014; Amanda Becker, U.S. House will fight Obama's immigration action: Boehner Reuters 11/21/2014)

Golly, if the President hadn't done that, there could have been bipartisan harmony with Republicans for the next two years! Reuters: "All year long I have warned the president that by ... threatening action repeatedly on immigration, he was making it impossible to build the trust necessary to work together," [House Majority Leader John] Boehner told reporters. "With this action, the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of ... bipartisan reform that he claims to seek."

Bill Schneider, a resident scholar at the corporatist-Democratic, Centrism Fetishist, Third Way group, sees Obama's immigration reform as a move to shore up Democratic support among Latinos, as part of a legacy-building drive and evidently as an intention to finally push back against Republicans instead of stumbling again and again in failed attempts at Bipartisanship over contentious issues (Immigration effort shows a president who is fighting back Reuters 11/20/2014):

Obama is not sulking. In fact, the midterm defeat seems to have given him new resolve. Obama went to China and came back with an agreement on climate change. China has, for the first time, committed itself to a program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Critics of climate change can no longer use China’s unwillingness to act as an excuse for U.S. inaction.

Now Obama looks about to issue an executive order halting the deportation of as many as five million illegal immigrants who would be forced to abandon their families. Obama may not get comprehensive immigration reform through Congress, but he has done what he believes he can do. He wants immigration and climate change to be the signature legacies of his second term.

Oh, and he also surprised everyone by coming out in favor of net neutrality. Where did that come from? The president wants Internet providers to be regulated like public utilities. Republicans are crying foul. They hate government regulation. Net neutrality is popular among tech savvy young people, however, who deserted the Democrats in droves in this month’s midterm. The demographics of the issue are good.

And the politics? Instead of sulking in defeat, Obama is embracing climate change, immigration reform and net neutrality. Republicans are grumbling. The president's response: "In your face!"
At least the immigration reform is mostly a good thing.

Still, I can't help but notice that Obama's speech made one gesture after another to the conservative framing of the immigration issue. For just one example:

When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system. And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders. Today, we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history. And over the past six years, illegal border crossings have been cut by more than half. Although this summer, there was a brief spike in unaccompanied children being apprehended at our border, the number of such children is now actually lower than it’s been in nearly two years. Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Those are the facts. ...

Now, I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law. But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President –- the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me -– that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.

Tonight, I am announcing those actions.

First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over. [my emphasis]
Obama's six-year record as President has included a pattern again and again of making moves - or at least speeches - that please his base, then follow up by promoting some bad policy (the Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid being the classic so far) in hopes of achieving domestic Bipartisanship with the toxic Republican Party.

We can hope this time will be different.

But he framed even this action which the Republicans consider anathema in the Republicans' own terms. He.Just.Can't'.Help.Himself.

The International Business Times emphasizes the conservative framing of Obama's speech in: Brianna Lee, Immigration Reform 2014: Obama's Deportation Relief Plan Touted As Accountability, Not Amnesty 11/20/2014.

Demetrios G. Papademetriou provides some historical background on immigration issues in this 2013 piece, The Fundamentals of Immigration Reform The American Prospect 03/12/2013

These are guides to the provisions of Obama's immigration reform actions:

Michelle Chen addresses this question of What Will Happen to the Immigrants Left Out of Obama’s Executive Actions? The Nation 11/21/2014:

And while the reprieve will be welcome news for millions, it contains a paradox: young people who were part of the 2012 reprieve, the DACA-mented, will see their parents excluded from the pending relief measures, because the new reforms exclude the undocumented parents of DACA recipients. In other words, the youth who have been on the frontlines campaigning for an expansion of their program now face the devastation of their parents being among the millions who the new measures leave behind.

The ongoing Ferguson drama

Attorney General Eric Holder has issued a statement on new guidelines he expects St. Louis and Missouri police to follow toward citizen protests over the Daryl Wilson grand jury decision and other issues, Maintaining Public Safety while Safeguarding Constitutional Rights Justice Department 11/21/2014:

Missouri's Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon foolishly and irresponsibly created a preemptive state of emergency even before the grand jury hands down its decision of the Wilson indictment. The effect of that action is to encourage the public and trigger-happy police of Ferguson and St. Louis to regard any demonstrations by African-Americans protesting Wilson's killing of Michael Brown as a potentially violent danger that could threaten their personal safety.

He's asking for trouble, in other words.

Charlie Pierce in Jay Nixon's the One Leading the Coming Storm in Ferguson Esquire Politics Blog 11/19/2014 quotes a Washington Post report by Wesley Lowery, Mo. governor declares state of emergency in expectation of more Ferguson unrest 11/17/2014:

The National Guard will be deployed to between 35 and 40 locations where the unified command has determined that, based on past protests and property destruction, it would be wise to have a “presence,” according to St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson.

“The National Guard is not coming to militarize the response,” Dotson said. “It’s a multiplier. It helps us protect our community.”
Pierce's response to this:

Tell you what, Chief. Why don't you and a few friends sit yourself around a table, hold hands, dim the lights, and have yourself a seance whereby you chat with the Ghost of Ross Barnett about how the presence of the National Guard doesn't "militarize" a response. Or the Ghosts of Bill Schroeder, Allison Krause, Sandy Scheuer, and Jeff Miller. Or the Ghosts of 43 People in Detroit. The Guard is a military organization, as many Guardsmen who served under the unsteady command of C-Plus Augustus in Iraq can tell you. Their weaponry and their training are all military. In some cases, such as a response to a natural disaster, this plain fact is evinced simply by the Guard's military efficiency. In this case, however, it will be evinced by bayonets and tanks. And the examples cited occurred when the Guard was called in to face a situation that already had begun. In this case, Nixon has called in the Guard before anything has happened. So, Chief, the response is already "militarized." Multiply that.

If Wilson gets no-billed, there will be a reaction, and all of it will not occur in Missouri. I don't think I'm out of line when I wonder whether or not said reaction will be used as a test case for how much official violence the general public will tolerate to be kept safe from Unruly Others in the street. I do not think I want to know the answer to that.
Chuck Raasch reports on Holder's new guidelines in With Ferguson decision looming, Holder issues new police guidance St. Louis Post-Dispatch 11/21/2014:

Allegations that police in St. Louis County and Ferguson overreacted to demonstrators, looters and others after the Aug. 9 shooting prompted congressional hearings on whether police around the country were becoming "militarized." President Barack Obama has ordered a review of a Department of Defense program that sends surplus military equipment to local police.

Holder's Bureau of Justice Assistance issued the "Resource Guide for Enhancing Community Relationships and Protecting Privacy and Constitutional Rights." It pulls together brochures, guides and other instruction material on topics like "The Role of State and Local Law Enforcement at First Amendment Events."

Post-grand jury decision gatherings are planned for at least 100 cities around the country, according to a Web clearinghouse called the Ferguson National Response Network. According to the site, gatherings are being planned in cities from Tampa, Fla., to Batesville, Ark., to Seattle. The site includes postings on planned demonstrations in Columbia, Mo., and Carbondale, Ill.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, leader of the heavily white racist police force in that city, has not surprisingly been pushing back hard against pressure from the Justice Department to clean up his department's act so that it can function as a law enforcement agency instead of a shakedown operation in uniforms. (Stephen Deere, Ferguson police chief fires back at reports his department is disbanding St. Louis Post-Dispatch 10/30/2014)

One thing I've learned from following from the Ferguson situation is that defenders of white cops who murder young black men under even the most questionable circumstances will try to blur two related but distinct matters: the need for police to clearly explain killing somebody, and the individual legal culpability of the cop doing the killing.

Defenders of Michael Brown's killer Daryl Wilson, including Thomas Jackson's rogue police department that is trying to build a one-sided public case supporting Wilson at the expense of doing its duty to enforce the law and explain its actions to the public it allegedly serves, try to concentrate solely on the individual criminal case against the killer cop. As in cop-wanna-be George Zimmerman's murder of Trayvon Martin, the Michael Brown's killer eliminated the one other main witness to the actual killing by acting as judge, jury and executioner all at once.

So the Ferguson police department and their many white defenders and supporters in Brown's killing have concentrated on nitpicking every incriminating bit of evidence before and after the fact to create "reasonable doubt," the standard the prosecution has to exceed in order to secure a conviction under the presumption of innocence that is a key part of American law.

But a police department's duty to explain a killing should not be considered to benefit from any presumption of innocence on the police's party. When a cop like Daryl Wilson kills a citizen like Michael Brown, whether or not the person killed is a young black man as Brown was, the police have an obligation to the public to explain clearly to the public why their cop killed somebody. Their duty is to enforce the law, not to act as defense counsel for rogue cops. If Wilson had good reason to pump bullets into Michael Brown and kill him, the police should be able to give a straightforward explanation of the killing. If they can't give an honest and convincing explanation of the killing, they should investigate the shooter like they would any other criminal suspect.

The fact that virtually no one expects police departments to do so these days is grim sign of the level of distrust that people have of the police who are supposed to be public servants, not a mob in uniform.

Shaun King in A lie in the Darren Wilson defense in the shooting death of Mike Brown that just won't go away Daily Kos 11/19/2014 points to a problem in official explanation, such as it is so far, of Brown's killing:

Mike Brown was not killed 35 feet away from Darren Wilson's SUV.

His final fall was at least 108 feet away from Darren Wilson's SUV. This 300 percent difference is actually a very big deal and is a significant part of Darren Wilson's defense. The St. Louis-area police have continued to advance this lie for over 103 days since Mike Brown was killed on Canfield Drive on the afternoon of August 9 in Ferguson, Missouri. ...

On August 10, 2014, St. Louis County Police Chief John Belmar held his first press conference on the shooting of Mike Brown by Officer Darren Wilson of the nearby Ferguson Police Department. His force had been called in to take over the investigation for the much smaller local department. The shooting had occurred less than 24 hours earlier, and the tensions on the ground in Ferguson were already red hot and boiling over. ...

When Chief Belmar sat down the next day to brief the press on his summary of the facts, he stated at 1:13 (and then even more emphatically at 6:01) in the video below, "The entire scene, from approximately the car door (of Officer Wilson) to the shooting, is, uh, about 35 feet." ...

At that time, when the chief said the "entire scene" was just 35 feet in distance from the "car door to the shooting," every observer accepted it as a negligible fact and thought little about it, instead zeroing in on why Darren Wilson stopped Mike Brown in the first place and why a police officer would shoot a young man who was surrendering with his hands up.

It turns, out, though, that the distance Mike Brown fled was not 35 feet, as was stated in the press conference and cited in hundreds of articles since. Nor was it 45 feet, or 75 feet, or even 95 feet, but approximately 108 feet away from Darren Wilson’s SUV. Below, you will find photos from the day of the murder, maps, infographics, and more to confirm for you that the distance was nearly 300 percent farther away than originally claimed by Chief Belmar and subsequently quoted as fact in almost every narrative of the case.

While the initial reporting of this distance from the chief could have been an error, albeit an egregious one, it seems clear now, after over 100 days of requests for the police to clarify this discrepancy have only produced silence, that it wasn’t an oversight, but a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts.

What reason would the chief have for so seriously understating the distance by more than 70 feet? Well, how far Mike Brown fled matters greatly, and the St. Louis County Police Department could have many reasons for purposely understating it. One doubts, though, that they expected to be caught telling this lie. When it was first told, while matters were tense in St. Louis and spreading on social media, nobody had any idea that this case would grip the nation and the world. [emphasis in original]
King goes on to explain in some detail his analysis of the problem here.

Chauncey DeVega has a couple of interviews on Ferguson posted. One is with the Washington Spectator's Lou Dubose, Chauncey DeVega Show: On the Ground in Ferguson With Journalist Lou Dubose 11/13/2014:

And, The Chauncey DeVega Show: On the Ground In Ferguson With Reverend Renita Lamkin 11/20/2014:

Lou Dubose has been writing on the Ferguson situation in the Washington Spectator he edits, such as The Ultimate Question: It explains everything about Ferguson 10/01/2014.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why might African-Americans not trust St. Louis cops?

This article illustrates one of the reasons: Robert Patrick. Lawyer identifies St. Louis officer who killed VonDerrit Myers Jr. St. Louis Post-Dispatch 11/20/2014:

[ Jermaine] Wooten [attorney for the 18-year-old black man killed] noted online posts attributed to [white cop Jason] Flanery that call President Barack Obama “Nobama” and say that in a speech by Michelle Obama, “She looks drunk, high, and dumb as hell.” The lawyer said repeated disparaging remarks about blacks in Flanery’s postings reflected a “strong negatively biased view of African-Americans.”

He also cited Flanery’s online criticism of liberals and homosexuality. The lawyer complained that “right-wing conservatives” have not traditionally been “the friendliest” to people such as Myers.

Wooten said that photos on an Instagram site, showing Flanery’s Marine, police and SWAT training, belie the claim that Myers pulled a gun and fired three shots before the officer could respond. ...

He said online pictures showed “a guy who is actually in love with weaponry.” More problematic, Wooten said, are comments on YouTube videos. In those, Flanery criticizes liberals and posts comments such as, “Conservatives are better. At everything.”

Flanery’s Instagram account showed pictures of him in the Marines and a video of him in civilian clothes, firing a fully automatic rifle. He praises family and farm life and posted comments such as “runyourgunnotyourmouth.” He also wrote, “I’ve been blessed with the ability to be exactly who I wanted to be when I grew up,” followed by the hashtags “lawman” and “Marines.”

Flanery, 32, on the force for six years, also posted comments on videos of police actions, including a shooting in New York. One comment: “And the moral of the story is ... if you shoot at men with guns they are going to shoot you back. And probably a lot.”

Wooten said, “That says to me, if someone has a gun ... he is going to continue to fire shots at that person until he is dead. Meaning if you fire one shot at me, I’ll fire 100 at you.”

The lawyer noted that Flanery was arrested on a weapons charge while he was in high school.

Court documents show that Flanery was charged with felony unlawful use of a weapon and later pleaded guilty of attempted unlawful use, a misdemeanor, and was fined $300 and ordered to take alcohol counseling.
Why would any black person not be suspicious of a police department that gives characters like Flanery a badge and a gun?

And why would any white person in their right mind think feel safe with trigger-happy white racists clowns having badges and a guns and the effective ability to act as judges, juries and executioners?

The job of police is to enforce the law and serve the public. They deserve the public's respect when they do that.

When they murder people unnecessarily, when they knowingly break the law themselves, they don't deserve anyone's respect.

Third Way, "liberal trolls" for the Republicans

If Third Way in the United States was ever anything other than a liberal-troll operation on behalf of Republicans, it is no longer. Sidney Blumenthal was one of early leaders in putting it together, as he describes in his The Clinton Wars (2003). My impression is that his intention was to establish a firmer basis for liberal politics, even if with a corporatist twist.

But now its just another Centrism Fetishist outfit (to adapt a phrase from Joan Walsh) that pushes Democrats to be more like the Republicans. We see the electoral results of that approach in the 2014 midterms. Sam Stein reports in Following 2014 Drubbing, Democrats Fret Things Could Get Worse Huffington Post 11/18/2014:

The president has promised or pursued action on priority items for his base: deferring deportations for groups of undocumented citizens and announcing a climate deal with China. He's also trying to sand down the rough edges of opposition and dissatisfaction in Congress. After a public airing of criticism by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid's office, staffers for the White House and the majority leader have reached out to each other to calm tensions.

Some in the party want him to go even further, arguing that at least showing good rapport with Republicans would improve the party's standing.

"He should take their veto-bait bills in stride, not overreact to their rhetorical and legislative excesses," said Matt Bennett, co-founder and senior vice president of Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank. "It is very much in his interest that he be seen as getting the wheels of government moving again. That will help his legacy and the prospects of the next Democratic nominee." [my emphasis]
Probably 99% of what anybody needs to know about Third Way's perspective is this paper that scolds the Democrats for not being more aggressive in attempting to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid ("entitlements" in the Republican propaganda phrase which they use): Entitlement Reform (n/d; accessed 11/20/2014).

Basic macroeconomics, but still a radical prescription in Angela Merkel's eurozone

Dieter Wermuth in “Mehr Vertrauen in Marktprozesse” Die Zeit Herdentrieb 17.11.2014 talks about the poor economic performance and prospects of the eurozone:

Am wichtigsten ist vermutlich, dass in den Euro-Ländern durchweg eine pro-zyklische Finanzpolitik betrieben wird, mit Deutschland an der Spitze. Durch den forcierten Abbau staatlicher Defizite sollen Unternehmen dazu animiert werden, endlich wieder mehr zu investieren. Denn daran hapert es. Wie wir aber in den USA und Großbritannien in diesen Tagen sehen, ist es den Unternehmen ziemlich gleichgültig, wie hoch die staatlichen Defizite sind. Wenn die Kapazitätsauslastung so niedrig ist wie sie immer noch ist, ist niemand über neue staatliche Schulden beunruhigt – wenn sie im Rahmen bleiben, versteht sich.

Die Investitionen der Unternehmen sind vor allem eine Funktion der Absatzerwartungen, nicht der staatlichen Defizite. Wenn der Fiskus zu stark auf die Bremse tritt, beeinträchtigt das diese Erwartungen. Davon wollen die aber nichts wissen. Spare in der Not, damit es Dir hinterher noch schlechter geht. Die Auflagen des Maastricht-Vertrags zwingen die Regierungen, ständig eine Politik gegen ihre eigenen Interessen zu betreiben. Wer haut denn endlich einmal diesen Knoten durch?

[The most important is supposedly, that in the euro countries a pro-cyclical financial policy has been pursued, with Germany in the lead. By the forced reduction of public deficits, businesses were supposed to be animated to finally invest more again. But that is still lacking. If capacity utilization is as low as it continues to be, no one will be concerned about public debt - obviously, if it stays within bounds.

Business investments are above all a function of sales expectations, not of public deficits. If the fiscal authorities step on the brakes too hard, they impair these expectations. But the experts don't want to hear that. Save during an emergency {is their idea}, so that later things will go even worse for you. The conditions of admission to the Maastricht Treat {that created the EU} require the governments to pursue a policy that is against their own interest. Who will eventually cut through this knot?]
Good question!

Ukraine, neocons, liberal interventionists, the Obama Administration and Henry Kissinger

Unindicted war criminal Henry Kissinger gave an interview to Der Spiegel, the English verison of which appears here, Interview with Henry Kissinger: 'Do We Achieve World Order Through Chaos or Insight?' Spiegel International, interview Conducted By Juliane von Mittelstaedt and Erich Follath 11/13/2014.

Although his bad acts as a government official during the Nixon and Ford Administrations will continue to define his personal and historical reputation, he does have some coherent "realist" ideas on foreign policy that are still worth noting. Like the President Richard Nixon he served, Kissinger combined some bad acts and bad ideas with some constructive policies, particular on relations with China and the Soviet Union and on nuclear arms control.

So his comments on Vladimir Putin's Russia are notable.

SPIEGEL: So let's talk about a concrete example: How should the West react to the Russian annexation of Crimea? Do you fear this might mean that borders in the future are no longer incontrovertible?

Kissinger: Crimea is a symptom, not a cause. Furthermore, Crimea is a special case. Ukraine was part of Russia for a long time. You can't accept the principle that any country can just change the borders and take a province of another country. But if the West is honest with itself, it has to admit that there were mistakes on its side. The annexation of Crimea was not a move toward global conquest. It was not Hitler moving into Czechoslovakia.
Something I'm not seeing discussed is the effect that Russia's official annexation of the Crimea would have on any attempt to bring Ukraine into NATO. NATO is a military collective defense alliance. And part of nations obligating each other to defend their borders is defining what borders they are defending.

So, if we bring Ukraine into NATO, it seems we would have two choices: officially recognize Russia's annexation of Crimea and agree only to defend the current borders controlled by the Ukrainian government; or, declare war on Russia over Crimea.

Recognizing the annexation of Crimea as an accomplished fact is probably a sensible thing to do. But the US has gone a long time never officially recognizing the government of Cuba that has been in effective control of that country since 1959. But as a practical matter, unless the US and its NATO partners really are willing to go to war with Russia to "liberate" the Crimea that voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to join Russia and which Russia regards as strategically vital its national security, they are going to have to accept it as a reality in practice. But even assuming Russia would allow Ukraine to join NATO without Russia taking further actions to prevent that, the US and NATO would presumably be hesitant any time soon to make a treaty with Ukraine that involved formal recognition of Russia's annexation of the Crimea.

A referendum by a portion of a country to secede or join another is not a sufficient reason in international law and practice for recognition of that choice, by either the original nation or anyone else. With neo-Confederate sentiment in the US Republican Party seemingly becoming stronger by the day, that's something worth emphasizing in this context.

Kissinger's position on this issue seems pragmatic; it may come off as amoral, as well. But that goes without saying: this is Henry Kissinger we're quoting here:

SPIEGEL: What was it then?

Kissinger: One has to ask one's self this question: Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn't make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine. So one has to ask one's self why did it happen?

SPIEGEL: What you're saying is that the West has at least a kind of responsibility for the escalation?

Kissinger: Yes, I am saying that. Europe and America did not understand the impact of these events, starting with the negotiations about Ukraine's economic relations with the European Union and culminating in the demonstrations in Kiev. All these, and their impact, should have been the subject of a dialogue with Russia. This does not mean the Russian response was appropriate. [my emphasis]
The advantage of Kissinger's amoral perspective is that he's not inclined to express self-righteous outrage at the amoral behavior of leaders like Putin, unlike the neoconservatives and liberal interventionists who endlessly moralize about liberty and human rights and international law while they gleefully trample them into the dust in the real world:

SPIEGEL: It seems you have a lot of understanding for Putin. But isn't he doing exactly what you are warning of -- creating chaos in eastern Ukraine and threatening sovereignty?

Kissinger: Certainly. But Ukraine has always had a special significance for Russia. It was a mistake not to realize that.

SPIEGEL: Relations between the West and Russia are tenser now than they have been in decades. Should we be concerned about the prospects of a new Cold War?

Kissinger: There clearly is this danger, and we must not ignore it. I think a resumption of the Cold War would be a historic tragedy. If a conflict is avoidable, on a basis reflecting morality and security, one should try to avoid it. [my emphasis]
It's sad when Henry Kissinger makes more practical good sense on an issue than most of mainstream opinion.

Here he affirms the unlikelihood of NATO actually going to war over the Crimea and the practical risks of economic sanctions against Russia:

SPIEGEL: But didn't the annexation of Crimea by Russia force the EU and US to react by imposing sanctions?

Kissinger: One, the West could not accept the annexation; some countermeasures were necessary. But nobody in the West has offered a concrete program to restore Crimea. Nobody is willing to fight over eastern Ukraine. That's a fact of life. So one could say we don't have to accept it, and we do not treat Crimea as a Russian territory under international law -- just as we continued to treat the Baltic states as independent throughout Soviet rule.

SPIEGEL: Would it be better to stop sanctions even without any concessions from the Russians?

Kissinger: No. But I do have a number of problems with the sanctions. When we talk about a global economy and then use sanctions within the global economy, then the temptation will be that big countries thinking of their future will try to protect themselves against potential dangers, and as they do, they will create a mercantilist global economy. And I have a particular problem with this idea of personal sanctions. And I'll tell you why. We publish a list of people who are sanctioned. So then, when the time comes to lift the sanctions, what are we going to say? "The following four people are now free of sanctions, and the other four are not." Why those four? I think one should always, when one starts something, think what one wants to achieve and how it should end. How does it end?

SPIEGEL: Doesn't that also apply to Putin, who has maneuvered himself into a corner? Does he act out of weakness or out of strength?

Kissinger: I think out of strategic weakness masked as tactical strength. [my emphasis]
Robert Parry cites Kissinger's interview in his article, Letting the Neocons Lead Consortium News 11/17/2014.

I would say that Parry's articles on Ukraine have been a little one-sided for my taste, though I feel weird writing that. I basically agree with his analysis of the West's bad policies over Ukraine and on expanding NATO generally. But in reading his columns, I find myself wishing for a bit more context on the ambitions of the Russian side and the internal dynamics driving Putin's regime. The West, the US in particular, has been reckless in much of its post-1989 policies toward Russia. But that doesn't mean that Russia's actions, even in pursuit of legitimate security concerns, have always been free of reckless impulses, either. But neither do I want to see people aping bad Cold War habits of crouching every criticism of US policy with a Both-Sides-Do-It or Russia-Is-Evil qualifiers in a useless gesture to try to avoid being accused of being pro-Russian by the Dick Cheneys and Ted Cruzes of the world.

But Parry is spot on with this:

In a rational political system, the American neocons would be the most discredited group in modern U.S. history. If not in the dock for complicity in war crimes – from Central America in the 1980s to Iraq last decade – they would surely not be well-regarded scholars at prominent think tanks and welcomed as op-ed columnists at major publications.

But the United States doesn’t currently have a rational political system. Instead of being prosecuted or ostracized, the neocons continue to dominate Official Washington’s foreign policy thinking. They and their “liberal interventionist” sidekicks continue to demonize disfavored “enemy” leaders – just as they did in Central America and Iraq – and bait doubters for “weakness” if they don’t climb onboard. [my emphasis]
He's doing well to calling attention to how little practical difference there is in cases like the new non-war war in Syria and Iraq between the neocons and the so-called liberal hawks or liberal interventionists.

In The Neocons — Masters of Chaos Consortium News 10/17/2014, Parry writes:

The neocons and their “liberal interventionist” junior partners have kept the “regime change” pot boiling with the Western-orchestrated overthrow and killing of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the proxy civil war in Syria to oust Bashar al-Assad, the costly economic embargoes against Iran, and the U.S.-backed coup that ousted Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych last February.

All these targeted governments were first ostracized by the neocons and the major U.S. news organizations, such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, which have become what amounts to neocon mouthpieces. Whenever the neocons decide that it’s time for another “regime change,” the mainstream U.S. media enlists in the propaganda wars.
This is also a context in which news from Latin America needs to be evaluated, especially in Venezuela and Argentina. The Obama Administration has been way too enthusiastic about "regime change" plays and overconfident in their ability to achieve constructive results.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The impeachment choir

The FOXists are laying down the propaganda fire for impeaching Obama over his Executive Order on immigration reform.

This theme isn't solely a post-election phenomenon. Media Matters reports on this example from August: Fox News Host, Contributor Suggest Immigration Executive Action May Be "Impeachment Bait" 08/15/2014.

And Charles Krauthammer is still at it: Jeremy Diamond, Krauthammer: Obama immigration action 'impeachable' CNN 11/15/2014.

The Party's chief ideologist is getting into the act, Limbaugh Credits Fox News For Giving GOP "Permission" To Talk About Impeachment Media Matters 11/18/2014.

And Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal is along for the ride, WSJ Ignores Piles Of Precedent To Question Legality Of Obama's Immigration Order Media Matters 11/17/2014.

David "Bobo" Brooks provides his version of the Republican Party line on why Obama has to be impeached over trying to help out them thar darkie furriners with an Executive Order in Obama in Winter New York Times 11/17/2014.

If he were reading this out loud, I would expect the whole thing to be in his "tell" voice he uses when regurgitating especially crass Party-line whoppers. He may even be getting delusional: "Maybe, in moments of stress, [members of Obama's team] are only really sensitive to criticism from the left flank."

Or maybe there has been a crack in some dimensional barrier and this is the Bobo from an alternative universe in which Barack Obama is "only really sensitive to criticism from the left flank." Bobo outdid himself on this one. At least it shows he has a lively imagination every now and then.

Tom Tomorrow shows us how it works here in Earth Prime:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Argentina vs. a touchy vulture

The Masters of the Universe are amazingly touchy about being criticized. Or being called out for being demonstrably wrong.

Paul Singer, who has been the main face of the vulture funds trying to drive Argentina into default, and probably not incidentally, to undermine Argentine President Cristina Fernández' government in the process, is experiencing a lot of getting things wrong and being touchy about it.

The decision that Singer and the vulture funds persuaded Nixon-appointed zombie judge Thomas Griesa to render in favor of the vulture funds against Argentina, which the Supreme Court allowed to stand this year by refusing to review the case, is having repercussions other than the ones the Singer likely expected. Peruvian economist Oscar Ugarteche, author of Arquitectura financiera internacional: una genealogía de 1850 a 2008 (2014?), tells Página/12 (Julia Goldenberg, “Tendría que existir un tribunal internacional de arbitraje para deuda soberana” 17.10.2014):

La nueva arquitectura que se está delineando tiene otra base, no está supeditada a las Instituciones Financieras Internacionales (IFIS) basadas en Washington. El banco de los Brics y el Banco del Sur no necesariamente utilizan el dólar como moneda para préstamos; no utilizan la ley de Estados Unidos ni a Nueva York como jurisdicción para los contratos, abriendo el camino a un futuro de una arquitectura financiera no dominada por un solo país. En mi trabajo de la Arquitectura financiera internacional: una genealogía de 1850 [a] 2008, se puede apreciar que en el tiempo cambian las instituciones cuando las existentes se vuelven obsoletas, sea porque dejan de responder a las necesidades sistémicas de estabilidad o porque las bases que las sostienen se debilitan.

[The new architecture that is being delineated has another basis, it is not dependent on the International Financial Institutions (IFIS) based in Washington. The bank of the BRICS and the Bank of the South {both recently initiated} will not necessarily use the dollar as the currency to make the loans; they won't utilize the law of the United States nor that of New York as a jurisdiction for the contracts, opening the path to a future of a financial architecture not dominated by a singly country. In my work on Arquitectura financiera internacional: una genealogía de 1850 a 2008, one can appreciate that in time the institutions change when the existing ones become obsolete, whether because they cease to respond to the systemic necessities of stability or because the bases that sustain them have become debilitated.]
Ugarteche argues that the Argentine confrontation with the vulture funds has made a problem of the international financial system visible in a new way, "que es un problema que tiene por lo menos 30 años, es que la jurisprudencia estadounidense se transformó en jurisprudencia universal, sin que haya mediado un acuerdo internacional para convertirla en jurisprudencia universal" ("which is a problem that it has had for at least 30 years, [which is] that American jurisprudence has been transformed into the universal jurisprudence [in matters of sovereign debt], without having been mediated by an international agreement to convert into a universal jurisprudence.")

The truly radical decision of the Nixon zombie judge in the vulture funds favor demonstrated dramatically how damaging that situation can be, even redounding against the real interests of the United States, if that interest is taken to be anything more than whatever financial buccaneer is implementing some money-making scheme for their private benefit at the moment. The implications for the restructuring of Greece, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian debt could be enormous.

Ugarteche observes, "Este caso es fascinante porque ha instalado además que este juez no cree en las reestructuraciones de deuda. Tira abajo 200 años de historia financiera" ("This case is fascinating because it had shown that this judge [Thomas Griesa] doesn't believe in the restructuring of debt. That shoots down 200 years of financial history.") Ugarteche is being conservative in the 200 years estimate; I've seen at least one estimate claiming it violated eight centuries of precedent in sovereign debt.

Ugarteche also calls attention to Singer's role as one of the top donors to Republican Party campaigns in the United States. Most likely aware of the irony of South American countries needing to scold the US for corruption, Ugarteche says, "Cambiar leyes a favor tuyo poniéndoles dinero a los congresistas en nuestros países se llama tráfico de influencias" ("Changing laws in your favor by giving money to Members of Congress in our countries [Argentina and Peru] is called trafficking in influence"). In the US, we call it normal politics, probably never more so than in the Citizen's United era. Peru has also tangled with Singer's Elliott Management Corporation vulture funds.

He endorses what he identifies as Argentine Economics Minister Alex Kicillof's belief that the current international system represents first and foremost the interests of big banks.

Kiciloff carried the fight against Singer and the vulture funds to the G-20 Summit that has been meeting in Australia. And got some nominal support in an official G-20 declaration. (Capitanich praises G20 debt restructurings clause Buenos Aires Herald 11/17/2014)

Paul Krugman discusses Paul Singer's touchiness about being wrong about the threat of impending inflation inThe Uses of Ridicule 11/06/2014)

Singer was depicted by Bloomberg Businessweek this year devouring Argentina (Max Abelson and Katia Porzecanski, Paul Singer Will Make Argentina Pay 08/07/2014); the URL indicates that a one time the title of the story was projected to be, "Argentina's vulture Paul Singer is Wall Street freedom fighter."

Krugman writes:

But Singer will get very angry if you make fun of him; in fact, he denounces reporting that points out how wrong he and others have been as the “Krugmanization” of the media, a term I’ll adopt with pride. It’s yet another illustration of one of the remarkable revelations of recent years, the incredibly sensitive feelings of the superrich, who are so hurt at any suggestion that great wealth does not also go with great wisdom and great virtue that they threaten to take the economy with them and go home. [my emphasis]
Krugman links to Matt O'Brien's This billionaire thinks the Fed is missing the hyperinflation in the Hamptons Washington Post 11/06/2014. And Krugman returns to Singer in Rage of the Traders 11/13/2014:

Sometimes the absurdity of what passes for economic wisdom surpasses even my highly adapted expectations. I really, truly expected that even Wall Street would consider Paul Singer’s hyperinflation in the Hamptons rant embarrassing, and try to pretend that it never happened. But no; apparently it’s being passed around eagerly by traders and big shots who think it’s the greatest thing since sliced foie gras. ...

Oh, and really rich people often have no idea when they look ridiculous. After all, who in their entourage is going to tell them?
As Roy Edroso says in another context, "Some ideas, if we're so generous as to call them that, are just too stupid for anything but cold buckets of derision." (Who'll Stop the Derp? Alicublog 11/12/2014)

There seems to have been a great deal of wishful thinking in Singer's approach to the Argentine case. He and those supporting his suit, not least Nixon zombie judge Thomas Griega, seem to have seriously underestimated who they were dealing with in Cristina Fernández and Axel Kicillof.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The zombie of Merkel-nomics lurches on

In their 2011 book, Yanis Varoufakis et al describe the basic macroeconomics of pulling the economy out of a depression with counter-cyclical stimulus:

When a complex capitalist economy enters a downward spiral like the one described in the previous paragraph, thrift makes things far, far worse. Then, the only glimmer of hope is the state. Uniquely able to step in and pump money into the economy, it is our only chance of ending the 'beggar they neighbour' logic during a recession. This is exactly what the Second World War did ... and how the post-war economic golden age came about. (pp. 211-212)
Even left-leaning economists now speak of the period of 1945-1973 as a Golden Age of capitalism. And in historical perspective, that seems to be justified.

This doesn't mean that there weren't still substantial destructive and self-undermining features of how the economic system was working. But the system in the advanced countries enjoying a substantial amount of stability and was spared severe, protracted crises on the scale and intensity of those of the Great Depression and whatever the historians eventually call the one that began in 2007-8.

The eurozone is the poster child for the disastrous consequences of doing just the opposite of what basic macroeconomics indicates. Bill Black talks about the eurozone's situation in Germany’s Passive-Aggressive “Stimulus” Program New Economic Perspectives 11/08/2014:

Kilkenomics [in Ireland], being a festival of economists and comedians, has long reflected the economic consensus that austerity in response to a Great Recession is economic malpractice akin to bleeding a patient to make him healthy. One of the great changes in Europe in the last month is that the number of economic voices willing to make this same point have grown rapidly. Germany’s “there is no alternative” (TINA) to austerity claims were always absurd, but now many more European voices are willing to point out that there are superb alternatives – in Germany. ...

There a one trillion euro shortfall on German spending on infrastructure even though such spending (1) improves life, (2) saves lives and reduces injuries, (3) increases productivity, and (4) spurs economic recovery from the self-inflicted disaster of the second, gratuitous Great Depression that Germany inflicted on the eurozone by demanding austerity. Germany is actually running a substantial budget surplus even though this is crippling the German economy’s growth and impairing growth throughout the eurozone. The obvious win-win is for Germany to substantially increase spending on its infrastructure. Naturally, invoking TINA, Germany refused.
He explains that criticism from other eurozone members is now strong and persistent enough that Angela Merkel's government has seen the need to produce what Black calls "a faux stimulus program."

As he explains, the €3.3 billion per year "stimulus" program that Merkel is promoting actually represents a continuation of severe austerity economics. "The surprising fact is that Germany felt the need to gin up even an oxymoronic 'stimulus' plan given her constant invocation of TINA," he writes.

Wolfgang Münchau in The wacky economics of Germany’s parallel universe Financial Times 11/16/2014 describes the hold that austerity economics has on the Sehr Ernste Leute (Very Serious People):

German economists roughly fall into two groups: those that have not read Keynes, and those that have not understood Keynes. To describe the economic mainstream in Germany as conservative misses the point. There are some overlaps with the various neoclassical or neoconservative schools in the US and elsewhere. But as compelling as a comparison between the German mainstream and the Tea Party may appear, it does not survive scrutiny. German orthodoxy straddles the centre-left and the centre-right. The only party with some Keynesian leanings are the former communists [the Left Party]. [my emphasis]
This is his summary of the ordoliberalism that Merkel practices, a definition that in my mind understates how stone conservative (in American political terms) the notion is:

The Germans have a name for their unique economic framework: ordoliberalism. Its origins are perfectly legitimate – a response of Germany’s liberal elites to the breakdown of liberal democracy in 1933. It was born out of the observation that unfettered liberal systems are inherently unstable, and require rules and government intervention to sustain themselves. The job of the government was not to correct market failures but to set and enforce rules.

After 1945, ordoliberalism became the dominant economic doctrine of the centre-right. In the 1990s, the Social Democrats started to embrace it, culminating in Gerhard Schröder’s labour and welfare reforms in 2003. Today the government is ordoliberal. The opposition is ordoliberal. The universities teach ordoliberal economics. In the meantime, macroeconomics in Germany and elsewhere are tantamount to parallel universes.
That's a surprisingly generous description, especially since he goes on to note that the ordoliberals have "no obvious explanations" for that little matter known as the Great Depression.

He also gives some sense of what a basically nationalistic policy it is. And, less clearly, how much it comes down to dogmatic insistence on austerity policies no matter what.

But his conclusions is certainly appropriately pessimistic: "It is hard to think of a doctrine that is more ill suited to a monetary union with such diverse legal traditions, political system[s] and economic conditions than this one. And it is equally hard to see Germany ever giving up on this. As a result the economic costs of crisis resolution will be extremely large."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Gene Lyons on the immediate future of Bipartisanship

Gene Lyons in The Animal House Republicans Take Control National Memo 11/12/2014 isn't optimistic that the new Senate and House majorities will take a constructive approach to governance over the next two years:

You think a guy like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will be dutifully attending committee meetings and painstakingly crafting legislation? Not as long as President Obama’s still in the White House and there are TV cameras on the premises.

There’s actually an editorial in the influential conservative magazine National Review entitled “The Governing Trap.”

It argues for two more years of Animal House Republicanism: “If voters come to believe that a Republican Congress and a Democratic president are doing a fine job of governing together, why wouldn’t they vote to continue the arrangement in 2016?”
I really like his point that "the demise of regionally and ideologically diverse American political parties — i.e. of liberal Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats — has brought paralysis to Washington."

Some amount of the nostalgia for Bipartisanship reflects just that fact. There used to be Democrats who would vote for liberal economic policies but were conservative on others. And there were Republicans who were critical of segregation and unnecessary wars. Putting together a coalition for a liberal or conservative policy normally meant getting votes from "both sides of the aisle."

But there's no virtue in Bipartisanship as such. Good policies are good policies even they're enacted on a party-line vote. Bad ones are bad no matter how much bipartisan support there is for them.

There is also a geographical aspect to this. Up until 1992, it was a cliche that Democratic Presidential candidates had a big advantage in "the West." That meant, in practice, that California with its bonanza of electoral college votes tended to go Republican. More specifically, California went Democratic in 1948 and 1964 and Republican in 1952, 1958, 1960, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988. Clinton's "It's the economy, stupid" campaign in 1992 won California.

Then in 1994, California's Republican Governor Pete Wilson was successful in passing the anti-immigrant Proposition 187, for which he prominently campaigned. Much of the badly-written law was struck down by the federal courts: "A federal district court temporarily halted Prop 187's restrictions on benefits in December 1994, and this freeze was continued under a November 1995 preliminary injunction. This 1995 decision, LULAC v. Wilson, also overturned most of Prop 187's enforcement procedures." (Larry Eig, California's Proposition 187: A Brief Overview; Congressional Research Service, n/d)

The obvious racist and xenophobic undertones of the Prop 187 campaign - and they weren't always "under" - alerted Latino citizens to the degree of hostility toward them and the undocumented relatives and neighbors. After that, Latino voting participation went up and stayed up. And a higher percentage of Latino voters have been voting Democratic ever since.

So California, and therefore "the West," now are a more reliably Democratic area in Presidential elections.

And that also means that, starting in the early 1990s, the Democrats no longer had to count on carry states in the Old Confederacy to win the Presidency, though it always helps to have Florida's trove of electoral votes, as the Supreme Court's selection of the President in 2000 reminds us in the worst way.

There are many factors in the current Party polarization. But one of them is this geographical situation. The Republicans have recreated the Solid South of earlier years and put it in their column. And they've constructed a partisan narrative that's ties the segregationist anti-democracy perspective to plutocratic economics and cultural conservatism. And they have a level of Party discipline in their national messaging and in both Houses of Congress that was just not the case for either Party after the infamous compromise of the Republican Party after the 1876 election with the Southern anti-democracy "Redeemers" until the last 20 years or so.

In fact, the "Republican Revolution" of 1994 with the election of a Republican House majority under the leadership of Newt Gingrich is a central milestone in the ongoing development of this process.

The 2014 midterm elections were a reminder of how deeply Democrats are stuck in the pre-1994 era: in their narrative framing, in their distancing themselves from their own Party and even from some of its most politically popular positions, in their endless and pointless jabbering about bipartisanship and "reaching across the aisle" (a phrase the Dems should remove from their vocabulary), in their irresponsibly hawkish foreign policy, in their almost bizarre failure to recognize how critical turnout of their own voting base is during midterm elections.

Republican segregationists are always saying that African-Americans need to just "git over it," in this case "it" being any and all objections to white racism.

What the Democrats need to git over is their fixation on the 1980s and their perceived vulnerability to an surging "movement conservatism."

Cenk Uygur here deconstructs the sorry spectacle that way too many Democrats presented in the 2014 election cycle in distancing themselves from Obama and his popular accomplishments, Dems Viciously Blame Obama As Era Of Compromise Begins The Young Turks 11/05/2014:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Krugman on taxing the One Percent

Paul Krugman argues that during the Obama Administration, effective taxes on the upper 1% of earners have increased by a signficant amount. Or at least a non-trivial one. (Why the One Percent Hates Obama 11/13/2014)

According to CBO, the effective tax rate on the one percent — reflecting the end of the Bush tax cuts at the top end, plus additional taxes associated with Obamacare — is now back to pre-Reagan levels. You could argue that we should have raised taxes at the top much more, to lean against the widening of market inequality, and I would agree. But it’s still a much bigger change than I think anyone on the left seems to realize.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Prognosticating a bit of 2015 for Germany and the eurozone

"Europe suffers from fatal politics." - Joseph Stiglitz, August 2014

Bloomberg Businessweek's looking-forward-to-2015 issue has a page featured bullet-points about Germany and Angela Merkel's Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economic policies, Rainer Buergin and Brian Parkin, What's Bugging Angela Merkel: Germany's Biggest Challenges 11/06/2014.

One of the notable ones concerns the effects of economic sanctions against Russia:

The Germans'once-flourishing trade with Russia is feeling the impact of sanctions. For the 12 months ended in August, exports to Russia declined 26%.
It remains to be seen whether these sanctions do more damage to the eurozone economy or to Russia.

The problem is that pursuing Hoover/Brüning economic policies during a depression leaves restricted room for economic sanctions without giving your own economy a serious blow.

Buergin and Parkin also note that Angie has promised to balance the German national budget in 2015, another staple of Hoover/Brüning economics during a depression. They note this determination of hers is dismaying to "other European Union governments that want Germany - the EU's biggest economy - to spend heavily at home and stimulate demand for French. Italian,
and other EU nations' goods."

It would also be accurate to say its dismaying to bonehead macroeconomics, as well.

Also, it's more than a little misleading to talk about Germany's economy as a separate one. When you're part of a currency zone, the currency zone is your economy.

Germany is also considering enacting a national minimum wage law for the first time. It's surprising they haven't had one before now. But in practice, the "social partnership" between Labor and Capital in Germany has mitigated the need for such a thing until the last 10 years or so.

Buergin and Parkin describe it this way: "To accommodate her Social Democrat [sic] coalition partners, Merkel's government will introduce the first nationwide hourly minimum wage of €8.50 ($10.63) on Jan. 1." And, of course, conservative economists make the same argument that they make in the United States every time the minimum wage is debated, even though experience has debunked it again and again and again: "The research institute DIW, citing simulations, estimates that the introduction of the minimum wage will cost Germany 57,000 to 384,000 jobs."

Monday, November 10, 2014

Democrats and electoral mandates

Cenk Uygur gives a breakdown of how Democrats and Republicans approach election mandates in Democrats Show Head-Spinning Weakness On Mandates, Unlike GOP The Young Turks 11/06/2014:

Sunday, November 09, 2014

The strangeness of the 2014 election

Norman Birnbaum in his The 2014 Elections First Thoughts 11/05/2014 points out the strangeness of the situation in which the genuinely positive and constructive aspects of Obama's Administration are ignored to an amazing extent:

Historians will one day produce convincing explanations of why the American electorate, and the makers of opinion in particular, have so systematically denigrated the President. In recent weeks he has been held responsible for the supposedly erratic and unconvincing US response to Ebola in the US. The charge rests on a great deal of magical thinking (the US should somehow be exempt from diseases which afflict others). They are also striking instances of hypocrisy, coming often from politicians who have opposed Federal regulation of health care and health matters. He has also been blamed for the rise of the latest Jihadist menace, the ISIL group ---with the preposterous assertion that had the US not withdrawn troops from Iraq, or had we backed so called moderates in Syria, the new Jihadist scourge would never have emerged. The assertion reveals total ignorance of the Mideast (which characterizes many in government and the Congress and the media) as well as a primitive belief in the omnipotence of the US. Obama has told more of the truth about the world than any of his predecessors since Kennedy---and has been loudly condemned for it by many in his own party and the governmental apparatus, who live not for our increasingly chaotic and destructive imperial adventures but from these.
The unwillingness of so many Democratic candidates to defend those accomplishments in 2014 is a big part of the problem, of course:

It would have been rational for the Democrats to gather around their President instead of running in panic from him, asking him not to campaign in their districts and behaving as if the Republican attacks on him (often of a large degree of falsehood and prejudice) are plausible. Taking their distance from Obama, they effectively lent the Republicans’ sordid tactics the semblance of legitimacy.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Argentina: harder to roll than US hedge funds and their Nixon zombie judge thought

Argentine Finance Minister Axel Kicillof is looking forward the expiration of the RUFO clause in their debt agreements "which prevents Argentina from voluntarily offering holdout creditors better terms than those of its 2005 and 2010 restructurings. This clause ends on January 31 next year." ('Vulture funds are the ebola of the financial system' Buenos Aires Herald 11/06/2014)

Once that clause expires, the vulture funds and their friend the Nixon-appointed zombie judge Thomas Griesa will have a much harder time forcing Argentina into actual default. The Buenos Aires Herald also reports:

A negotiation would possible in January considering a different scenario in Argentina’s debt dispute with vulture funds could emerge, Economy Minister Axel Kicillof said calling the groups of creditors suing the country over its defaulted bonds more than a decade ago the “ebola of the financial system.”

“Starting in January, it is possible that after so many pressures they tried to apply, with the position of the President (Cristina Fernández de Kirchner) very clear, attending the law and (refusing) to not giving some bondholders more than what has been given to others, facing that situation they (vulture funds) have not been able to turn, we will probably find another scenario,” Kicillof said in statements to media.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Jerry Brown, California and the national Democratic brand

Jerry Brown's Facebook page flagged this article without comment: Jennifer Medinanov, Brown to Start 4th California Term With Pledge for Fiscal Restraint New York Times 11/06/2014.

Part of Jerry's modus operandi has always been a reputation for fiscal responsibility. Some of the incarnations of that have been more inspiring than others.

Backing a balanced budget amendment during his 1980 President run wasn't necessarily the best idea he ever put forward. Although it would have made the massive military buildup under Reagan nearly impossible. That was one of the things that made me realize that however eccentric Jerry's proposals may sometimes seem - and that one was just a bad one - he's most likely seeing an angle that most politicians haven't seen yet.

But fiscal responsibility means something very different at the state level, not least because states don't borrow money in their own currency. Jerry in his current term broke the cycle in which Democrats struggled to minimize cuts in public education and basic services, while Republican obstruction on any kind of tax increase was causing the percentage of the state budget going to debt payments to go up and up. We were in a slow-motion version of Grover Norquist's drown-the-baby-in-the-bathtub strategy.

We'll see how Proposition 1 that just passed actually works, a ballot measure Jerry very prominently promoted. It attempts to force the state to hold a reserve for actual emergencies. I'm very sure that a big part of what he's thinking is that it will make it harder for a Republican Governor (Vishnu save us from that!) to blow out any surplus by just cutting taxes for the wealthy and starting the debt build-up cycle again.

Also, Medinanov doesn't tell the story of Janet Napolitano's proposal to raise UC tuition 5% a year for the next five years very well. (Full disclosure: I have a business relationship with the University of California; any opinions stated or implied here are strictly my own.) Jerry's concern there is presumably over the affordability of university education in California, not some desire to penny-pinch just for the sake of doing. This may be a case of something he said from his first round as California Governor (quoting from memory): "I'm not conservative, I'm just cheap."

Jerry has been careful in the past not to suggest that there was some kind of California Model of politics that would Democrats in other states could simply copy and be successful with it.

Al Franken got re-elected in Minnesota running as a progressive Democrat. His first election six years ago was so close it took eight months to settle the count. This time he got 53% to 42% for the Republican, this time in a midterm election, not a Presidential year like the first time. It's hard to see much in the 2014 election to indicate that the Blue Dog strategy is successful, if success means getting Democratic candidates elected. There's a lot of reason to believe the Blue Dog approach is especially suicidal in midterm elections where turnout is everything. And it certainly plays havoc with any attempt to establish a reasonably consistent Democratic "brand".

Pilar Marrero, who's a good reporter, says in an article today that there are still limited data to draw conclusions about the Latino vote Tuesday. Mitos y realidades del voto latino en las elecciones de 2014 La Opinión 11/06/2014

The number of Latino voters is increasing, so more voted in 2014 than in 2010, but the percentage of Latino voters compared to 2010 would be the more interesting data point. She thinks figures indicating a trend toward Latinos voting more for Reps are pretty shaky, at best. She thinks the lack of mobilizing Latino voters hurt Udall in Colorado's Senate election, which I've seen referenced elsewhere, as well. Last I heard, the party control of Colorado's House and Senate are both still uncertain because of close races; Latino turnout or lack thereof may have been very consequential in Colorado. Pilar also cites a figure that 36% of Latinos say the Democratic Party is indifferent or even hostile to Latinos.

Blue Dogging ain't gonna fix this. Blue Dogging like this, one more time around, one of the worst Democratic ads imaginable, Alison for Kentucky TV Ad "Largest Ever":

Watch the ad and then ask yourself, how could Democrats ever have created the impression they were hostile to Latinos? How? How? How?

One thing the national Democratic Party could and should learn from Jerry's success in California is to not pretend the Republicans are negotiating in good faith when they are not. Because there's no reason to believe the Reps in Congress are going to depart from their obstruction strategy as long as there is a Democrat in the White House. Paul Krugman defines that strategy this way:

But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy. From Day 1 of the Obama administration, Mr. McConnell and his colleagues have done everything they could to undermine effective policy, in particular blocking every effort to do the obvious thing — boost infrastructure spending — in a time of low interest rates and high unemployment.

This was, it turned out, bad for America but good for Republicans. Most voters don’t know much about policy details, nor do they understand the legislative process. So all they saw was that the man in the White House wasn't delivering prosperity — and they punished his party. [my emphasis]
But David Siders, the Sacramento Bee, who has spent years unsuccessfully trying to grok what Jerry's about, does a stenography piece that really jsut says, Republicans agree that they don't like Jerry Brown. (GOP victories will test reach of Jerry Brown’s California-made agenda 11/05/2014) But it's presented as Republicans explaining why California's experience this year has no lessons for other states, no, nothing to see here, move right along, no relevance anywhere else.

It does include this comment from Jerry: "Turnout is a global phenomenon that builds up over time and is the result of many things." It's not something that can be drummed up overnight, in other words. What happens in non-election years also matters.

Please tell me actual adults in 2008 didn't believe this

I was gobsmacked to see this article by Matt Yglesias, Mitch McConnell may be the greatest strategist in contemporary politics Vox 11/06/2014 . It's no secret that President Obama came into office hoping for bipartisan cooperation with Republicans on domestic issues. Even that he made a political fetish out of Bipartisanship.

But he specificity of this expectation as Yglesias expresses it was stunning to me:

In the winter of 2008-2009, the leaders of the Obama transition effort had a theory as to how things would go and mainstream Washington agreed with them.

The theory went like this. With large majorities in the House and Senate, it was obvious that lots of Democratic bills would pass. But the White House would be generous and make concessions to Republicans who were willing to leap on the bandwagon. Consequently, incumbent Republicans from states Obama won (Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, Nevada) would be eager to cut deals in which they backed Obama bills in exchange for key concessions. With that process under way, many Republicans who weren't even that vulnerable would be eager to cut deals as well, in search of a piece of the action. As a result, bills would pass the Senate with large 70- to 75-vote majorities, and Obama would be seen as the game-changing president who healed American politics and got things done.
They expected 70- to 75-vote majorities?!?

I've been thinking it was ridiculous of the Democrats not to have abolished the Senate filibuster rule right away when the new Congress convened in 2009.

I guess I had not idea of how delusional the operative assumptions were. Wow!

Yglesias gives McConnell too much credit saying "he is arguably the sharpest mind in contemporary politics on a strategic level."

In fact, the Republicans in Congress in 1993-4 pursued an obstructionist course, leading to the "Gingrich Revolution" of 1994. After that, the Republicans intensified their obstructionism. That was followed by Shrub Bush's selection as President by the Republican Supreme Court in 2000, and the years of war and radicalism that followed.

It's astonishing to think that Obama and his political team could seriously have believed in 2008 after his election that the Republicans in Congress would cheerfully line up to give him 75-25 majorities in the Senate on any important domestic legislation.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

ISIS, Obama and the "Q" word (quagmire)

"America’s war against ISIS is quickly turning into a quagmire," writes Fred Kaplan. (Obama’s Quagmire Slate 10/31/2014)

Knock me over with a feather! Who could have foreseen such a thing? I'm shocked, shocked, I tell you!

Kaplan explains:

The most promising allies in a fight against the Sunni jihadists of ISIS would be the Shiite regimes of Iran and Syria. But Obama can’t join forces with them, at least not openly: First, he’s called for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with good reason, and allying with Iran’s mullahs wouldn’t go over well politically; second, if he did ally with them, the region’s anti-ISIS Sunni governments would back away. And Sunnis are vital to this coalition, in order to discredit the notion that ISIS is a legitimate Muslim power. As for those Sunni governments, Turkey—which could be the most potent force against ISIS — doesn’t want to help the Kurds, lest they push their long-standing desire to secede; the Saudis are providing a base to train “moderate” Syrian rebels, and the United Arab Emirates is providing some air power, but otherwise, they don’t have much to give.
Awesome. And he sums up:

So here we are, back in the Middle East again, shoring up a dysfunctional regime, caught in the middle of a sectarian conflict, saddled with allies who aren’t doing much and whose interests conflict with ours, roped off from potential allies who could do much more but whose interests conflict with ours more deeply, and facing a bunch of millenarian savages whose appeal grows as our involvement deepens.
Oh, and apparently the mystery group "Khorasan" had materialized back into existence again: Jordan Carney, U.S. Targets Khorasan Group With New Round of Airstrikes National Journal 11/06/2014.

Democrats have a mostly bad Tuesday

"The Blue Dogs were effectively wiped out and this was a very bad cycle for the Republican wing of the Democratic Party." - Howie Klein, A Very Bad Cycle For The Republican Wing Of The Democratic Party Down With Tyranny! 11/05/2014

This ad from Alison Grimes in Kentucky that Cenk Uygur dissects here is emblematic of the failure of Blue Dog Dems in 2014, Kentucky Democrat's Weak-Ass TV Commercial Against Mitch McConnell 09/15/2014:

Hoeever, as Howie points out in his post:

No surprise that McConnell won. And not a surprise that that was the very first race called last night. The Democrats had a weak, inauthentic, poll-driven candidate who didn't inspire anyone who didn't already hate McConnell or who wanted a family friend of Bill and Hill to win or just a generic woman in office. McConnell won by a bigger margin than most pundits were predicting-- 754,777 (55.7%) to 557,652 (41.2%). But all those millions of dollars spent on her race were hardly a waste. As of the October 15 FEC reporting deadline, Alison Grimes had raised $17,487,650 and McConnell had been forced to raise $27,956,687 to defend his seat. As far as independent expenditures, the DSCC spent $2,240,122 and the Senate Majority PAC spent another $5,590,112. Various unions and Democratic-allied groups spent another couple million plus.

As much as I was disgusted by Grimes' Blue Dog campaign, Howie is pointing out there the benefits of what former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean called the "50-state strategy." Even in long-shot campaigns, having a challenger forces the Republicans to spend money in their own state rather than send it elsewhere. It also helps the Democratic Party build its infrastructure and brand in "red" states that tend to go Republican.

A practical downside of a 50-state strategy is that in practice it's likely to bring more Blue Dogs out of the woodwork as candidates. But the Blue Dog problem is ultimately a more general branding problem for the Democrats. If the Democrats can't enforce a little more practical party-line discipline in Congress - and, yes, more political/ideological discipline, as well - they're going to wind up with a Party "brand" that's way more diffuse than it should be. We saw in 2010 and again this year that midterm elections are about turnout, turnout, turnout. Democrats have to get their base voters to the polls. How they think they can do that by pretending to be Republicans is a genuine mystery to me.

The Dems today could learn something about branding from Harry Truman:

09/18/1948: "I think the last Congress conclusively proved that the Republicans are entirely for special privilege, and you can't afford to have that sort of an administration in the Government."

09/27/1948: "The Republicans in Congress have persistently been sabotaging the best interests of the people of this country by refusing to pass laws which benefit all the people. They are a special interest Congress. They have done absolutely nothing for the people of the country since they have been in session, but they have done a lot to them."

09/27/1948: The people will have to decide between the Democratic and the Republican Parties; and that is really a decision between two different kinds of government.

The Democratic Party will give you the kind of government that Sam Rayburn stands for--government in the interest of the farmer and the workingman and all the people. And when the Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives, Sam Rayburn will have a powerful voice in seeing that you get the kind of government you ought to have.

Some people have wondered why I keep on talking about the Republican 80th "do-nothing" Congress. Well, I'll tell you why. It's because they raised a storm warning that tells us what we could expect, if we had a Republican President as well as a Republican Congress.

We might have "unity" then. I don't know. But if we did have unity, what kind would it be?
I think it's safe to say that President Truman didn't share President Obama's notion of Bipartisanship as being a good thing in and of itself.

09/28/1948: "I could continue to give you the record of these predatory animals in Washington, and of the fight that we have been carrying on against them, but you're intelligent people. You know the record. Just study the record--that's all I ask you to do. Study my record. Study the record of the 80th Congress, controlled by Republican leadership, and see the difference." Lawd have mercy! I do belive that sounds downright "uncivil." It would send poor Chuck Todd straight to the fainting couch to heah such a thing!

09/29/2014: "The Republicans always have been for special interests. The Democratic Party is the party of the people."

10/01/1948: The Republicans are not interested in the welfare of the whole people. They are only interested in special privilege, they are only interested in helping the rich. It is a policy of the Republican Party that the big fellows ought to get all the big money, and let just a little of it trickle down to the everyday fellow in the street.

That is not the Democratic way. We believe in beginning at the bottom, and letting the good things go up. If a man has got ability and brains and energy, I am glad to see him get to the top, and get a big salary, and have everything that is coming to him; but I want the common everyday fellow to have his fair share of the good things in life.
But despite the Democrats' very real branding problems, and the Republicans' understandable desire to interpret the 2014 election as some fundamental political shift, it wasn't actually that unusual a midterm election.

Not that the Republicans' just cruised to victory. They had lots of special interest money and a political strategy, as Josh Marshall reminds us You Broke It, You Won It TPM 11/06/2014:

... it is much easier to break the government and reap the benefits of doing so if you are not the party of government. This is obvious when you put it this way. But it's worth considering what a central reality this is.

We should also remember that this is exactly what Republicans did in 1993 and 1994. The script was identical. The difference is actually a good one for Democrats in that they got a lot more accomplished in 2009-10 than the more entrenched Democratic majority of 1993-94. Still, the strategy was identical and it had a similar result - the difference being needing three cycles to finally grab the Senate. [my emphasis]
Turnout is so crucial in midterms, and the Republicans consistently do better at it. As Digby Parton says, "Until Democrats can figure out a way to get their voters to the polls in midterm elections, this will happen. We have known this for some time. And yet everyone's acting surprised." (You mean this didn't signal an epic sea change in American politics? Hullabaloo 11/06/2014)

Which gets back to that branding problem.

The Democrats need a more unified brand nationally. The President has a lot to do with setting the tone, and Obama has unquestionably been deficient in that regard.

But Cenk Uygur rightly cautions us against laying the blame accruing to the Democrats for their performance in this year's elections all on Obama, Dems Viciously Blame Obama As Era Of Compromise Begins The Young Turks 11/05/2014:

I'll be curious to see what the post-election studies show about turnout, especially Latino turnout. (Latinos Activists Angry, But Vindicated, After Democrats Lose Senate; Pilar Marrero, Ojos están puestos ahora en Obama para que actúe sobre inmigración La Opinión 11/05/2014) Delaying his promised Executive Order on immigration reform until after the election was classic Blue Dog thinking on Obama's part. In practice, it angered the base, especially Latino voters, and did nothing for him with the swing voters, of whom there are few in midterm elections. Pilar Marrero's report refers to a poll with a sample of 5,000 Latino voters in Tuesday's election, apparently nationwide, which found "que el 45% dijo que inmigración era el tema más importante y que 67% dijo que era uno de los más importantes" ["that 45% say that immigration was the most important issue and that 67% say that it was that it was one of the most important"]. (emphasis in original)

But there again, there were problems down-ticket on immigration, as well. Here is an Alison Grimes ad dated 10/07/2014 on her YouTube site for her losing Senate campaign in Kentucky this year, blasting Mitch McConnell for not being more opposed to Latino immigrants than St. Reagan was, Alison for Kentucky TV Ad "Largest Ever":

As of this writing, the YouTube site has a notice, "This video is unlisted. Be considerate and think twice before sharing." It's kind of appropriate, like a warning of a porno video you hide in some closet. Although it's from her "Alison for Kentucky" YouTube channel, it doesn't show on the channel video list or pop up in a search of the channel.

Now Obama's promising again to do immigration reform by Executive Order if Congress doesn't act by the end of the year, which of course they won't. (Pilar Marrero, Obama promete actuar en inmigración antes de fin de año La Opinión 11/06/2014)

Pro-immigrant activists are planning to keep the pressure on him, as María Peña reports in Activistas alistan más protestas para exigir alivios migratorios La Opinión 11/06/2014.

And, of course, race had something to do with Tuesday results (Chauncey DeVega, Time Traveling Through the 2014 Midterm Elections. What Year is it Really? The End of Reconstruction? The Gilded Age? Neo Jim and Jane Crow? WARN 11/05/2014):

The Republican Party's win in the 2014 midterms is not a rejection of the Democratic Party's policies (on specific policy issues the American people overwhelming support the Democratic Party) per se. it is a channeling of general angst and hostility toward a government which has been broken by the Republican Party, an angst that they in turn have masterfully deflected back on Obama and the Democrats.

For the White Right and the Republican Party, more generally, the midterms are an actual and symbolic repudiation of Barack Obama, the United States' first black president. From Birtherism, to their embrace of neo Confederate language and ideology, and overt acts of racial animus and paranoia, the Republican Party and its media machine have dedicated themselves to putting the "uppity", "arrogant", "usurper", black tyrant "back in his place".

For the White Gaze, Obama is also a stand-in for Black Americans, as well as the idea of a changing and demographically more diverse United States. For the White Right, beating Obama (the wish of doing so literally; the act of winning an election, figuratively) is a way of reasserting dominance--as though it was ever lost--over the life chances and political fortunes of Black and Brown America.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Jerry Brown wins a fourth term as California Governor

California Governor Jerry Brown was just re-elected to a fourth term, the first person ever elected four times as Governor in the state. Carly Schwartz reports in Jerry Brown Coasts To Re-Election With Nonexistent Campaign Huffington Post 11/04/2014:

California voters re-elected Jerry Brown for governor Tuesday, marking the first time in the state's history that a gubernatorial candidate won a fourth term.

Brown, a Democrat, defeated Republican challenger Neel Kashkari, according to the AP. In a victory speech outside the Governor's mansion in Sacramento, Brown said he considered his historic fourth term to be a "gift."

"Being where I am tonight is extremely bold. I didn't get here by being pusillanimous," he added. [my emphasis]

As of this writing, the Sacramento Bee is showing Jerry's winning percentage as 58.7%.

Jerry Brown came on strong on Tuesday

In this Young Turks segment, they analyze one of the worst political ads ever, from Mark Pryor in Arkansas, in which he literally waves around a Bible, Why Democrats Lost 11/04/2014:

After they show the Pryor ad, Ana Kasparian expresses her joy over the California results: "California is the s**t!"

But a Democrat can actually read the Bible out loud without sounding like a schmuck.

Or, at least, Jerry Brown can.

In 1980, anti-tax zealot Howard Jarvis got a follow-up to 1978's Proposition 13 on the ballot that would basically have slashed state services by a third. (Proposition 9) Jerry was in his 2nd term as Governor then. He kicked off the No campaign by explaining straightforwardly what it would do in terms of services. He finished it with (quoting from memory), "And now I would like to read a passage from the Bible." Then he picked up a Bible and read the passage from Matthew 25 about how the nasty Republicans who pretend to be pious are all going to Hail.

The speech set the tone for the No campaign, which was successful. In fact, it was that No campaign that stopped the slash-and-burn mania that Prop 13 had kicked off in 1978. His use of the Bible was very effective. Of course, Jerry the former Jesuit seminarian knows more about the Bible than most theologians, forget preachers or an Arkansas Senators aspiring to a new career as a lobbyist.

BTW, he did it again in 2012 in support of his successful Prop 30 to raise taxes for five years to support socialistic projects like public schools. David Siders, Jerry Brown invokes New Testament in Prop. 30 tax campaign Sacramento Bee 08/02/2012

(Don't miss RJ Escrow's comment starting around 6:35.)

Here are two Sacramento Bee videos of Jerry's brief comments after winning on Tuesday evening. Jerry Brown claims victory 11/04/2014:

Jerry Brown touts 'grit, guts, imagination' 11/04/2014