Saturday, May 8, 2021

Maybe she's just smarter than Kevin

Illustration by hotlittlepotato via Wired.

An interesting claim in this WaPo story: Liz Cheney seems to think there is evidence she has the politics right, and party management seems to be trying to hide the evidence from members:

When staff from the National Republican Congressional Committee [at an April retreat] rose to explain the party’s latest polling in core battleground districts, they left out a key finding about Trump’s weakness, declining to divulge the information even when directly questioned about Trump’s support by a member of Congress, according to two people familiar with what transpired.

Trump’s unfavorable ratings were 15 points higher than his favorable ones in the core districts, according to the full polling results, which were later obtained by The Washington Post. Nearly twice as many voters had a strongly unfavorable view of the former president as had a strongly favorable one.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Distrust Doom Loop

Doom Loop: Richmond Mural Project 2014, by Onur and Wes21, photo by Brandon Bartoszek, 2019.

Breaking: On further consideration, Brooks ("Our Pathetic Herd Immunity Failure") thinks the New Deal may have been OK:

The New Deal was an act of social solidarity that created the national cohesion we needed to win World War II. I am not in the habit of supporting massive federal spending proposals. But in this specific context — in the midst of a distrust doom loop — this is our best shot of reversing the decline.

Not, to be sure, because it rescued millions of Americans from hunger, homelessness, and despair, but because it created "cohesion". Which prepared us for the Second World War. And probably would have prepared us for the Covid-19 pandemic too, if we'd only had a good Great Depression beforehand for an excuse. You don't want a New Deal every day, because that's awfully expensive, but it's just the thing to get you out of a Distrust Doom Loop  (the phrase sounds like Tom Friedman having a panic attack, but is Brooks's own, premiered in an article in The Atlantic last October).

Maybe if Trump had offered people a little New Deal in 2019, he'd have saved us from the Distrust Doom Loop of 2020.

And if something had given David Brooks more of a social cohesion feeling he would have handled it better himself, almost exactly a year ago, as our friend reminds us:

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Literary Corner: The Committed Woke

In memory of the great Merle Haggard, who may not have smoked marijuana in Muskogee, but certainly did in every other town on the circuit:


We don't get up early in Biloxi
We don't set our radio alarms
We don't ever wear a mask on Main Street
Or brag on vaccinations in our arms

We don't go for wokie in Muskogee
Or Tupelo or old Sault Saint-Marie
We don't buzz on coffee in Kentucky
Cause dead asleep is where we want to be

I"m proud to be unwoke in Oklahoma
I'm proud to be asleep in Tennessee
I"m proud to linger in my bed in Texas
Cause I love livin right and sleepin free


We don't allow no racism in Tulsa
We drove it out a hundred years ago
We had to drive our black folks all out with it
But nothing in this life comes free, you know

We don't take to critical race theory
We like lettin well enough alone
Criticize your forebears if you want to
I"ll be here just sleepin like a stone

I"m proud to be unwoke in Oklahoma
I'm proud to be asleep in Tennessee
I"m proud to linger in my bed in Texas
Cause I love livin right and sleepin free

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Another Steele Dossier?

Updated 5 May

This is kind of interesting, reported in England by The Telegraph (paywall) and picked up by the Sydney Morning Herald: It seems Christopher Steele compiled a second dossier on Donald Trump, this one directly for the FBI, after Trump took office:

The second dossier contains raw intelligence that makes further claims of Russian meddling in the US election and also references claims regarding the existence of further sex tapes. The second dossier is reliant on separate sources to those who supplied information for the first reports.

The fact the FBI continued to receive intelligence from Steele, who ran MI6’s Russia desk from 2006 to 2009 before setting up Orbis, is potentially significant because it shows his work was apparently still being taken seriously after Trump took hold of the reins of power.

It was, was it? We'd been given to believe FBI broke off relations with Steele in November 2016, after David Corn revealed the existence of the original dossier in a Halloween article in Mother Jones—not that at that point that they didn't trust his research, but that they couldn't trust him to stay away from the press, which is understandable (I can also understand Steele's point of view, that the FBI didn't seem to be doing anything with the material he'd showed them, even as they publicly reopened an obviously bogus investigation into Hillary Clinton, and someone who appeared to be a tool of the Russian government was dangerously close to getting elected president of the United States, and he and Glenn Simpson felt morally obliged to do something).

But it's not exactly true that the FBI broke off with Steele. DOJ's Bruce Ohr kept talking to Steele, and the FBI was aware, and opinions on it in the Bureau differed:

Monday, May 3, 2021

Joe did what? He didn't—yet.

 

 

Republican Chuck Hagel and Democrat Joe Lieberman in 2008, when they were both being considered for cross-the-aisle vice presidential candidacies. Remember who won the vice presidency? Via Politico.


Really interesting tidbit from Anita Kumar/Politico, passing on what look to me like some pretty carefully orchestrated hints from the White House as to what's likely to happen to the Biden agenda this summer, after he's finished with the essential task of looking hopeful for Republican cooperation:

But Biden aides also are hinting that there are time limits to how long that engagement will last. They say the president hopes to make progress on both spending bills — either as a pair or individually — by Memorial Day and sign them into law this summer. And the calendar creates some urgency: By the end of his first year, members of Congress will be consumed by the midterms and then the next presidential race. The White House also knows how a drag-on legislative process can consume a presidency and party.

“Biden and the people around him understand you have to get as much done this year as possible,” said Republican Chuck Hagel, who served with Biden in the Senate and later served as Defense secretary in the Obama administration. “At what point then — if you’re not making any progress on any front and you've been willing to compromise on some things — do you have to go it alone. That’s a decision they’re going to have to make. You don’t have a lot of time.”

Unparliamentary Language

 

Erskine May, 1st Baron Farnborough, KCB, Under Clerk of the Parliaments from 1871 to 1886. Via Wikipedia.

Lovely buried lede in this Guardian story about Prime Minister Boris Johnson's inveterate lying, which is becoming increasingly hard for Britain to live with:

On Tuesday an exasperated cross-party group of MPs went to see [Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay] Hoyle. Their message: the parliamentary protocols drawn up in Victorian times no longer work. “We need new rules for this Trumpian era of British politics,” Green MP Caroline Lucas told the Radio 4 Today programme. The MPs want to be able to call him out – and the charge sheet against him is long.

Under the ministerial code, an MP who makes a false statement to the Commons is supposed to correct the record. Johnson has repeatedly ignored this obligation, making a litany of inaccurate claims which he subsequently fails to fix. Seemingly, Erskine May, the sideburned baron who established parliamentary procedure, did not envisage a PM like Johnson.

Basically, they're asking permission to use unparliamentary language and call Johnson a liar, preferably to his face at Question Time.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

All Power to the Oppressed Parents!

Children in New York City's universal pre-K program, abandoned by their selfish millionaire moms who'd rather be at a power lunch with their law partners. David Brooks begs, don't let this happen to the rest of America! Via Day Care Council of New York.

Shorter David F. Brooks ("Power to the Parents!", New York Times 30 April 2021)"

We must allow parents to make their own decisions on building their families! I mean unless they make the wrong decisions, obviously we need to keep an eye on that.

This is such a great example of a particular manner of Republican argumentation, addressed to Biden's American Families Plan and its cruel and insidious attempt to force our nation's 3- and 4-year-olds into quality pre-kindergarten programs against their parents' desires.

That is—he begins with praise for the expanded child tax credit program of the American Rescue (to be extended out to 2025 under American Families), which gives parents $300 per month (for adjusted gross income of $150,000 for a couple filing jointly, less for higher incomes) per child under 5, $250 for kids 6 to 16, for the freedom it allows parents to decide what to do with the money

Joe Did What? Not Deficit Hawkery.

 

Bathtub boats, via Walmart.

So, as promised earlier in the week, to the Biden program: one reassuring thing we've learned over the pandemic year is that the federal government has a lot of fiscal and financial tools for dealing with an out-of-the-blue emergency. We may not be totally able to rely on the people, in Congress, in the White House, at the Fed, but the tools are really there—we don't need to devise a whole new system, the way the Union did (and the Confederacy failed to do) at the outset of the Civil War. The Federal Reserve Bank can keep interest rates near zero for years at a time, it seems, and Treasury can borrow more or less unlimited funds to deal with it, if Congress allows them to. And indeed, they've borrowed $4.3 trillion for Covid relief since March 2020, the last $1.9-trillion tranche signed by President Joe Biden, in a bill passed without a single Republican vote.

Which is a sign that Democrats may not be simply reverting "back to the days of paygo politics," as David Dayen complains, when they propose they propose some $4 trillion in tax hikes, all of it on the top 0.3% earners and on corporations, to "pay for" the planned new spending of the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan:

“So, how do we pay for my Jobs and Family Plan?  I made it clear, we can do it without increasing the deficits,” Biden said last night. “What I propose is fair, fiscally responsible, and it raises revenue to pay for the plans I have proposed.” This was in a section where Biden attacked trickle-down economics, but even there, he condemned Trump for adding “$2 trillion to the deficit” with his tax cuts.

Friday, April 30, 2021

The Gaetz of Hell shall not prevail

 


So, per this Daily Beast story. sometime in late 2020 and early 2021 the former tax collector of Seminole County, Florida, Mr. Joel Greenberg, in a series of text messages exchanged on the Signal app with presidential ratfucker Roger Stone detailing some of the crimes he'd committed, including crimes committed in concert with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), for he would like to purchase a presidential pardon, for $250,000, if Mr. Stone was agreeable, in unmarked bills (well, in Bitcoin):

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Rarely Asked Questions: How Does Government Pay Its Bills?

Winner of my "Best Visual Illustration of Rarely Asked Questions" contest, via EntheoNation.


I'm crazy about the Biden proposals introduced in Wednesday's Joint Speech, or as Susan Glasser/New Yorker says, in what seems to me like the most accurate summary I've seen,

To anyone who remembered last year’s Democratic primaries, the President’s first address to a joint session of Congress sounded as if Elizabeth Warren, and not Biden, had won.

and I'm going to want to take issue with scoffers, not necessarily representing "Modern Monetary Theory", including the generally very estimable David Dayen at The American Prospect, complaining of "that old deficit hawkery" in the way the plan is being sold.

I don't think it's that at all. But before I get there, I'd like to lay down some basics on the nature of government spending in a modern state that I think aren't well understood. because most of us think we already know, and as I've been learning recently we don't:

Rarely Asked Questions:

Q: How does the government pay its bills?

A: It has a checking account, known as the Fund Balance With Treasury (FBWT).

Q: Where does the money come from?

A: Everyplace that gives the US government money, including tax collections by the IRS and other agencies, fees it collects from various enterprises (think parking at national parks. but there's lots more), and of course money it has borrowed from the private sector by selling bonds and other kinds of federal paper. Unlike your checking account, it also includes all the assets the government owns that it can't easily convert into cash, generally inventory, and isn't supposed to sell, like stocks of toilet paper and paperclips and nuclear weapons and land, plus the loans it issues to veterans, students, small business owners, etc.

Q: So that's a lot of money, right?

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Refresher Course

So Rudolph Giuliani's Upper East Side office and apartment have been raided, and cellphones and computers seized, and a grand jury subpoena served on Giuliani's executive assistant, in an FBI investigation of whether he may have violated laws against trying to influence or lobby the US government on behalf of a foreign official without disclosing it to the Justice Department. Among other things, I trust. Also a phone taken from lawyer Victoria Toensing, who has been variously involved with Giuliani's Ukraine contacts Yuriy Lutsenko and Dmytro Firtash and has employed Lev Parnas and Ihor Fruman as "translators", I believe, and is the attorney of writer John Solomon, who is in turn one of the correspondents in the communications the feds are searching for on the devices they seized.

I'm re-upping the following, from January 2020, the day after Trump's impeachment lawyers presented his "case",  as a helpful guide to who all these people were and what they were likely to have been doing, and who they were doing it for (one Donald J. Trump, in his aspiration for a second presidential term)

By Jen Sorensen.


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Isms don't kill people. Or maybe they do.

 

It's so weird for writers like Bret Stephens to try to warn us that "antiracism divides the world into racial identities" when all its iconography looks like this. From "4 Lessons on Anti-Racism from Brené Brown and Ibram X. Kendi", Illustration by Angelina Bambina/Adobe Stock via Mindful.

The overall funniest thing about Mr. Bret Stephens ("Race and the Coming Liberal Crackup") trying to explain the "antiracism" concept to his readers is his serene confidence that he can do it without reading anything on the subject (spoiler: he can't), but I very much like the way he falls into this interesting rhetorical sandpit on his way:

Morally and philosophically, liberalism believes in individual autonomy, which entails a concept of personal responsibility. The current model of anti-racism scoffs at this: It divides the world into racial identities, which in turn are governed by systems of privilege and powerlessness. Liberalism believes in process: A trial or contest is fair if standards are consistent and rules are equitable, irrespective of outcome. Anti-racism is determined to make a process achieve a desired outcome. Liberalism finds appeals to racial favoritism inherently suspect, even offensive. Anti-racism welcomes such favoritism, provided it’s in the name of righting past wrongs.

He's interested in the concept of individual autonomy, but he can't talk about any individuals, only what isms do, believing, scoffing, dividing, being determined, finding things offensive, welcoming things.

Capitalists Gonna

 

Red Herring via Black Label Logic.


This is pretty disquieting, as reported by Jon Queally for Common Dreams (via Salon):

Asked to explain why not, Gates — whose massive fortune as founder of Microsoft relies largely on intellectual property laws that turned his software innovations into tens of billions of dollars in personal wealth — said: "Well, there's only so many vaccine factories in the world and people are very serious about the safety of vaccines. And so moving something that had never been done — moving a vaccine, say, from a [Johnson & Johnson] factory into a factory in India — it's novel — it's only because of our grants and expertise that that can happen at all."

Monday, April 26, 2021

Identity Politics

 



I mean, what do you expect? This is what they do now. Doesn't make me think there's anything insincere about the campaign, just that policy isn't its subject matter. Even the merch isn't, though it's important, not so much as a fundraising strategy, I think, as a vehicle for expressing brand identification. 

I get a little dizzy trying to comprehend the way Republicans play identity politics, because it has different levels that seem superficially to contradict each other: they pick representatives from more or less marginal groups, sometimes relatively sober examples like Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, sometimes really silly ones like this Caitlyn Jenner thing, and then get shocked and indignant with how the Black community, or the LGBTQ+ community, or whoever it might be, don't welcome them. 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Brooks Is Getting Even Worse

No particular reason. Photo by Evan Vucci/AP, June 2019.

Getting rid of Trump not only hasn't helped, according to David Brooks ("The G.O.P. Is Getting Even Worse"), it's actually hurt, and Republicans (who no longer include Brooks, it's hinted in the third sentence, but he still has friends in the party), wouldn't you know it, are the real victims:

Those of us who had hoped America would calm down when we no longer had Donald Trump spewing poison from the Oval Office have been sadly disabused. There are increasing signs that the Trumpian base is radicalizing. My Republican friends report vicious divisions in their churches and families. Republican politicians who don’t toe the Trump line are speaking of death threats and menacing verbal attacks.

It’s as if the Trump base felt some security when their man was at the top, and that’s now gone. Maybe Trump was the restraining force.

It's fun to imagine how Trump was holding them back all this time. If he hadn't warned supporters on 6 January, "I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard," who knows what they might have gotten up to? They might have been distinctly unpeaceful, even unpatriotic, waving Confederate flags and the like.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Germany note

 This is so cool—the Greens are now the most popular party in Germany, via the English-language The Local:

At 28% next to the Christian Democrats' 21% and the Social Democrats' third place with a pathetic 13%. This doesn't mean they're going to win the September general election, obviously. I don't see where they compete, really, except in those places where the SPD normally dominates, in the rich urban northwest and the area around Berlin where the post-Communist "Linke", otherwise very weak, is also a force.

2017 German general election results, constituency vote (where you vote for your representative by name) on the left and party list vote (where you vote for a party) on the right, via.

To win a majority, they'd have to win all the SPD's seats and make some inroads in the solidly conservative (and even richer) south, and I don't see how that happens. But if you look at all the places on the map where the SPD wins constituency votes but conservatives win the party list, in the Rhineland and in the Bremen and Hanover and Hamburg conurbation in the north, maybe the now-popular Greens could make a difference to the size of the overall left.

The Greens have also for the first time named a candidate for the chancellorship, the job Angela Merkel is finally leaving, Annalena Baerbock, a 40-year-old lawyer originally from Hanover but representing the eastern state of Brandenburg, with two kids, a master's degree from the London School of Economics, and three bronze medals in trampolining. Politically, she stands for a move to the "center" in contrast with the SPD and Linke, which in current German politics apparently means favoring a pro-NATO, pro-Europe foreign policy and suspicion of Russia, which is supposed to appeal to disaffected conservatives (and maybe that's what this poll is telling us about), but the party remains green in the sense of irreducibly environmentalist. 

Pleased to have been named by Robert Habeck and the party leadership as Green candidate for the chancellorship, and the slogan says, "A policy that looks ahead, dares to do something new, listens to people and trusts them—that is what I stand for." So German politics gets interesting again, at the very least, and kind of more cheerful.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Lance

 The blogoverse is a little messed up today, I don't mind saying, by an internal event, the unexpected death (quietly, in his sleep, of causes as yet unknown) of the blogger known as Lance Mannion, among the finest writers of us all, a blogger's blogger if you like, who saw the potential of the form as a literary form and made it work as hardly anybody has done, working with a range of subjects that included, obviously, the rage against the machine that we all express, but also constantly coming back to writing itself, and movies, offering some of the best (and most generous) criticism on the Toobz, and professional lit-prof instruction too—his last post was just one supremely writerly quote from a master, Scott Fitzgerald, in The Last Tycoon—

It was my first inkling Wylie was a writer. And while I like writers---because if you ask a writer anything you usually get an answer---still it belittled him in my eyes. Writers aren't people exactly, or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person. It’s like actors, who try so pathetically not to look in mirrors, who lean backward trying---only to see their faces in reflecting chandeliers.

—and a plug for a 2009 New Yorker article in which it was cited, as if he was worried, selflessly as usual, that Arthur Krystal's 12-year-old piece might not have been appreciated as much as it deserved.

But he had another shtik as well that was unique, I think, covering his and his family's lives in upstate New York in a normal routine of crisis and adjustment, reminiscent of James Thurber in his "The Night the Bed Fell" vein (that was Roy's reference), often hilarious, and then, latterly when Mrs. M. or his father, "Pop",  or both of them might be in a medical emergency, hilarious and unbearably poignant at the same time, of which I'll point you toward a piece he chose himself for the 2018 Jon Swift Roundup, "Of Pop Mannion, Mrs M, spinach pasta, and the persistence of memory";

A moment like this has happened just about every day since Pop died. Mrs M and Pop were very close. I’ve only had to lose my father once. She’s lost her beloved father-in-law five or six times and will likely lose him a few more until the memories finally make it to their proper place in the attic.

I debated with myself over what order to tell this, whether I should put the sad part or the funny part first. Yep. There’s a funny part. Obviously, that was the sad part. So here’s the funny part.

So read it and RIP to a really good writer.

Update from Lance/David's son Oliver/Jack and link to a gofundme:


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

There's still work to do

 

Sheriff's deputy Jason Meade, left, and the late Casey Goodson, right, via Atlanta Black Star.

Sometime last night, following up in The Times on the story of the 16-year-old in a Columbus foster home who was shot dead by police just a few minutes, as it happened, before the announcement of the verdict in the murder of George Floyd—Ma'khia Bryant, who was apparently having a conflict with a couple of other girls in the home and had threatened them with a knife, which would be a bad thing, though not a capital crime to be punished without trial, right on the spot—I noticed, down toward the end of the story:

Columbus has been gripped by tension over police shootings since early December, when Casey Goodson Jr., 23, was shot to death at the entrance of his home by a Franklin County sheriff’s deputy assigned to a fugitive task force.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Joe Did What? Coal edition

 

Mountaintop mining in West Virginia: Image by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images via Marketplace, and a story on Trump administration zeroing out funding for a study on the health hazards of the process.

In what I think is a stunning sign of support for the Biden administration and its infrastructure program/Green Newish Deal, President Cecil Roberts of the United Mine Workers of America showed up at the Press Club yesterday with Senator Joe Manchin (Difficult-WV) by his side, to announce that his union would back, specifically, the administration's plan for phasing out the coal industry, sort of:

The United States’s largest coal miners’ union said Monday it would accept President Joe Biden’s plan to move away from coal and other fossil fuels in exchange for a “true energy transition” that includes thousands of jobs in renewable energy and spending on technology to make coal cleaner.

Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, said ensuring jobs for displaced miners — including 7,000 coal workers who lost their jobs last year — is crucial to any infrastructure bill taken up by Congress. (Aljazeera)

Which is bigger than it sounds in the first place because the things he's demanding are already there in the plan, more or less:

Monday, April 19, 2021

Tea and Psychopathy

 

Image from The Baffler, September 2019 (covering the tenth anniversary celebrations of Tea Party Patriots Action, an organization founded in 2017)

More "economic anxiety", right at the top of the original Tea Party food chain, in this ill-organized but enthralling piece by Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones:

Jenny Beth Martin happened to hear CNBC contributor Rick Santelli on her car radio. He was ranting from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange about the administration’s plan to bail out homeowners at risk of foreclosure—or, as he called them, “losers.” “This is America!” he shouted. “How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgages [when they have] an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?”

Martin was primed for this message. A graduate of the University of Georgia and the daughter of a Methodist minister, she’d been involved in Republican politics for years, volunteering for Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and later working as a GOP consultant. For about eight years, her husband, Lee, had owned a company that supplied temporary workers to local businesses. The company went belly up in 2007, court records show, and the Martins filed for bankruptcy. In 2009, they were more than $1.4 million in debt. Lee owed the IRS $1 million and more than $172,000 to Georgia’s tax authorities. The Martins eventually lost their home and their twin Lincoln Navigators.

Their own economic calamity did not make the Martins more sympathetic to the victims of the Great Recession. “The contrast hit me hard,” Martin wrote in the 2012 book she co-authored with Mark Meckler (now the interim CEO of Parler), Tea Party Patriots: The Second American Revolution. “While my husband and I cleaned our neighbors’ bathrooms to pay our bills, our taxes were being spent by our government to pay for the mortgages of people who could not, or would not, pay their bills.”

Honey, you don't seem to have been paying your taxes. And that million dollars wasn't income tax (which is generally dischargeable under Chapter 7 bankruptcy), either, unless it was willfully evaded tax (as in repeated failure to pay, or failure to file returns) or fraud (such as hiding bank accounts from IRS). Most likely at least some of it was the payroll tax you should have been paying for your workers in that rent-seeking enterprise in which you extruded cash out of the local economy's desire to get work done without paying benefits.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Fantasy Politics League

 

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, 1632, via Wikipedia.

Monsignor Douthat, treating a dumb but harmless political metaphor they way Jack the Ripper used to treat young women, says that "Ron DeSantis Is the Republican Autopsy". Ew, right? 

What he means to say starts from the sensible observation that Republicans can't perform an "autopsy" on their 2020 election loss the way they did after the loss of 2012, because that would force them to say negative things about The Former Guy, and we can't have that! So it's not that DeSantis is an autopsy, whatever that would mean, or the corpse on the gurney—that's the Trump party—but that Ross is the coroner cutting it up, standing in for the party officials who can't be seen doing it, and what he finds is that DeSantis is the lecture you get after he's done; an incarnated Douthat column:

the party’s autopsy for 2020, and its not-Trump hopes for 2024, are made flesh in the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis.

Ew again.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Centrist Escapism

One good reason for being pleased you're not at the center of the universe, according to nautil.us, would be that means you're not "he filth and mire of the world, the worst, lowest, most lifeless part of the universe, the bottom story of the house". Illustration by Rauner Special Collections Library.


Dr. Krugman savages Andrew Yang, mayoral candidate ("Andrew Yang Hasn't Done the Math"), over his claim in the 2020 presidential campaign that America's big problem is job loss due to rapid automation, for which the only cure is giving everybody a "universal" "basic" "income" of $1000 a month:

But that’s not what we’re seeing. In fact, the lead article in the current issue of the Monthly Labor Review, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is an attempt to understand the productivity slowdown — the historically low growth in productivity since 2005. This slowdown has been especially pronounced in manufacturing, which has seen hardly any productivity rise over the past decade.

I made similar points back in 2019, eliciting a furious response from Yang, who decried “incomplete statistics” and declared that “I’ve done the math.” But if he had done the math, he didn’t share it with the rest of us; all he offered were anecdotes. Yes, at any given time there are always some workers being displaced by technology. The question is whether this is happening faster now than in the past. The numbers say that it isn’t.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

For the Record: Biden's Corporate Tax

Cartoon by Clifford Berryman, June 1933, via Wikipedia. More material on the issues being faced then here, but (spoiler) it wasn't Roosevelt's idea to replace income tax with a sales tax..

 

Bos sent me this thread from Stephanie Kelton offering suggestions for forgetting about a hike on corporate taxes (or living with Manchin haggling the hike down, I'm not sure which). Also some corroboration for my hypothesis that she lacks clear concepts of how the budgeting process works and what Biden and Yellen are planning for the tax system. Both her ideas are pretty good, too, I hafta say, but don't offer good reasons for giving up on the tax hike:

Afghanistan note

Via Amnesty International.

I don't know exactly what to think about the Biden plan for Afghanistan, except to say no, Ross, it's not Trumpism—it's President Obama, who set dates for complete withdrawal by April 2010 during the 2008 campaign; by 2014 in June 2011 and by 2016 in May 2014; and in 2015, Obama fixed a last date for withdrawing all the troops, in 2017, but the guy who was president in 2017 reversed that, almost doubling the number of troops to 14,000 instead. Obama's policy, wanting to withdraw them bet never quite managing to do more than draw them very far down, from 100,000 at peak in 2010 to 8,400 when he left office, has so far been the same as Biden's, who campaigned to bring them back by this May and has now pushed it back to September. Whereas Trump's policy, as ever, was to follow the advice of the last person he spoke to before posting the tweet, with varying results, because he spoke to different people.

It's become clear that nothing NATO troops do in Afghanistan is going to make the situation there any better, after 20 years. It's not clear that pulling troops out will make it any worse, especially, than it is, either: US military seems certain that the likelihood of another redoubt of anti-US terrorists living in the mountain caves under Taliban protection the way the Qa'eda did 20 years ago is extremely low, and they think they could handle it from outside the country if it did. Is it likely the Taliban will sweep through the country, destroying the social progress the capital has seen over the past 20 years, the way they did in 1996-98 with the social progress they had made during the time of Soviet dominance, pictured at top? That's the implicit threat that the corrupt and feckless Kabul government seems to be holding out—"Protect us, or they'll come and stick all the women back in purdah!"

Even some of the women in government are getting fatigued with the argument, per The Times, though:

“It is too early to comment on the subject. We need to know much more,” said Fatima Gailani, an Afghan government negotiator who is involved in the continuing peace talks with the Taliban. “One thing is certain: It is about time that we learn how to rely on ourselves. Women of Afghanistan are totally different now. They are a force in our country; no one can deny them their rights or status.”

and there are signs that the simmering "civil war", which continues to kill people all the time in spite of the presence of NATO, isn't a new struggle between two sides but the old multilateral warlordism that never went away:

As American troops prepare to leave and fractures form in the Afghan government, militias controlled by powerful local warlords are once more rising to prominence and attacking government forces.

I'd ask people to remember this: Afghanistan has never been a country, but a very big frontier, between the Persians of Iran in the west, the Turkic populations of former Soviet Central Asia and China to the north and east, and the Indic people, mainly Pashtun, of Pakistan and India to the south; the Taliban are Pashtun, not "Afghan" to the extent there is such a thing at all, and the charisma that enabled them to seize so much territory back in 1998 is gone; they're just another warlord group now, corrupt and creepy (Russia may still be helping them out financially, but stopped that bounty program over a year ago, and is now actively engaged with the US, alongside China and Pakistan, in brokering peace talks).

Maybe instead of worrying, as we tend to do, about whether NATO is "abandoning" the crappy old regime set up by the Bush administration, we should think of withdrawal as offering the best chance to people like Fatima Gailani to assert themselves. That—as opposed to propping up President Ghani—is the only prospect for an actually good outcome, inside Kabul at least. We'll keep sending money, and political advisers as long as it's safe. Why not try treating it as something that could be good for Afghanistan?


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

What Do We Owe to Trumpism?

 

Fender factory, Fullerton, CA, 1950s, via guitar.com.

Oh, please, Ross (Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, "What Bidenism Owes to Trumpism"):

Here’s a somewhat different, more provoking way of thinking: We should regard Bidenism, in its current outline, as an attempt to build on Donald Trump’s half-formed, never-finished policy agenda, in the way that elements of Jimmy Carter’s program found their fullest expression in Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

I’m borrowing this idea from the Bloomberg opinion columnist Karl W. Smith, who recently called Biden’s economic proposals “the coherent manifestation of MAGAism in the same way that Reaganism was a coherent manifestation of Carter-era deregulation.” But the analogy rests on more than just regulatory policy: Much of what we remember as the Reagan agenda was anticipated in Carter-era policies and debates.
For instance, the Reagan military buildup really began under Carter, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan: It was Carter’s C.I.A. that armed the mujahedeen, and Carter who fatefully involved the United States in the Persian Gulf...

That's President Jimmy Carter, that furious militarist who never thought of anything but building up forces for confrontation with the Soviets and unleashing the American plutocracy to poison us all, but Ted Kennedy wouldn't let him. Remember?

Monday, April 12, 2021

New York note

 

The second Campaign for Fiscal Equity March on Albany, in October 2016, via Schott Foundation—that's Jackson in the T-shirt in front, characteristically making sure somebody else gets time at stage center. Via Schott Foundation.

Something I didn't know about my state senator, Robert Jackson, who I've been cheerfully voting for two or three seasons and who finally won in 2018—actually a few things, thanks to Wikipedia, none of which played much of a role in his campaigns, that although he is Black, his father was a Chinese immigrant called Eddie Chu, and that he's a Muslim, and during his time on the City Council from 2002 to 2013, which is when I first heard of him, he was the only Muslim there. 

But before that, back in 1993, when I was living in Brooklyn, he was president of a local Manhattan community school board frustrated by the unfairness of the way New York City schools in the state budgeting process, and joined together with the board's lawyer, Michael Rebell, to found an organization known as the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which sues the state on the grounds that it was violating its own constitution, which guarantees that

The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.

They won the principle in the Court of Appeals in 1995, with a ruling that the constitution does indeed require the state to provide every child with a "sound basic education",  during which Rebell became moderately famous and Jackson did not. And another in 2001 (by which time we were living in Manhattan, with two kids in the school system) that the school funding system was itself unconstitutional, affirmed on then-governor Pataki's appeal in 2003, but even after a 150-mile march to Albany (which I certainly remember hearing about, but I don't remember hearing Jackson's name in connection with the march, which he in fact led), but still the state did nothing. in 2005 Judge Leland DeGrasse tried to make it clearer: the state owed the city $5.6 billion in annual operating aid and an additional $9.2 billion over five years in capital spending for building, renovating, and leasing facilities; the state did nothing. In 2006 the legislature finally did pass the capital spending, but failed to pass the annual operating aid even when the Court of Appeals reduced the demand to a  suggestion, for $2 billion a year, and the effort to comply through a succession of Democratic governors, Spitzer, Patterson, and Cuomo, faltered after the 2008 financial crisis and seemed to have permanently died.

Until now, you see, when the state senate has finally achieved a veto-proof Democratic majority, and Cuomo can no longer play the houses against each other, and with the help of federal funding under the Biden American Rescue the plan is finally fully funded, with Senator Jackson's vote, of course, and he's finally accepting some congratulations:

I just think this is so cool, as an example of what's happening right now. That arc was getting so long!


Asian Is Not a Virus, Covid Is

Demonstrators in San Francisco making my point in February. Photo by Jim Wilson/The New York Times.


This is nuts, from NYPD, reported in our terrific online newspaper Gothamist:

“F–king Chinese coronavirus,” a teenager shouted at a 59-year-old man before allegedly kicking him in the back on Madison Avenue in March 2020.

“Where the f--k is your mask?! You f---ing Chinese!” raged a man accused of attacking a 47-year-old Asian man in front of his 10-year-old son that month.

Despite the racial invective, the NYPD didn’t treat either incident as an anti-Asian hate crime — instead, it classified them under a new “anti-COVID” category, which tracks attackers who allegedly believed their victims had COVID-19 at the time of the underlying crime. The NYPD says that with this category of offense the motive is really about the victim’s disability status, not race.

The effect of this policy, apparently it was a kind of policy, was to reduce the number of anti-Asian hate crimes in the department's statistics. The attackers weren't acting out of any bias against Asians, they were acting out of hatred of imaginary Covid that Asians suffer from, not that they suffer from it, the only symptom is looking like an Asian, which is usually a symptom of being Asian, not of being infected with Covid, but the attackers weren't aware of that, so it's clearly not a matter of race. Really?

In 2020, the police logged just four anti-Asian crimes in New York, versus 25 anti-Covid crimes, 24 of which involved Asian victims. 

It looks as if they have stopped doing this now, since the establishment of the Asian Hate Crimes Task Force in August—this year the department has registered 31 anti-Asian hate crimes and just three "anti-Covid crimes"—so maybe it's mean-spirited to complain, but it's taken them time to get there: just three weeks ago they were telling the Daily News there'd been no anti-Asian crimes at all in the first three months of 2020, and it seems to be only a challenge from the paper that got them to correct the falsehood, though not before a clueless commissioner had gotten himself caught bullshitting:

Asked moments later by a Gothamist/WNYC reporter whether Corey’s number of zero was accurate, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea blamed victims for not reporting crimes.

“I don’t think there’s any way that that’s an accurate number,” Shea said, apparently unaware of the irony. “It’s an underreporting of crimes.”

But you have to ask yourself how it happened, or who thought it was a good idea to claim that Covid-19 is a "disability" that a person could think they could punish by kicking another person in the back without any evidence that the person they were kicking even had it, or what they thought could be the benefit to the city or the police force from denying that hate crime existed. And you have to ask yourself how much NYPD's famous data-collecting process is corrupted by this kind of idiocy.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

IMMIGRATION: "THE MACHINE STOPS" OR, DEALING WITH AN IMMIGRATION SYSTEM "DISMANTLED IN ITS ENTIRETY" PART 1


Book Cover Courtesy: brooklinebooksmoth

Reference to the famous 1909 short story by E.M. Forster is a good way to start this post.  The story describes a world in which humanity lives underground serviced by a single, all-knowing machine that limits human contact to Zoom-like screens, and takes care of all other human needs in its own way – that is until "the machine stops."  

You will recall in my introductory post that I referred to statements by the incoming Department of Homeland Security, (DHS) Alejandro Mayorka, that: 

To put it succinctly, the prior administration dismantled our nation’s immigration system in its entirety.

For someone who has dealt professionally with the immigration system since 2002, I thought this statement was rhetorical to some degree, bitter as I was about Trump and the illegally appointed apparatchiks he put in place to sabotage the system.  I refer, among others, to Ken (the Cooch) Cucinelli, the former "Acting Director" of USCIS

Back to Piketty

 

Green Lantern Corps Quarterly 2/47.

One last word (I hope) on my economic views, and where they come from, and why I'm so dogged on the point, and then I'll try to stop.

I grew up in the belief that capitalism—the arrangement that divides society into two (slightly overlapping) groups, the very small group of the owners of capital, who control the economy for the purpose of profit, that is of increasing their capital stock, and the very large group of the rest of us, who are controlled by it, and must surrender to the demands of capital to survive—is a problem: unleashing astonishingly creative and transformative forces, as Marx and Engels put it in the 1848 Manifesto,

The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground – what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor? 

but doling out the rewards of this extraordinary progress in unequal fashion, keeping most of the "surplus product" for the owners, and giving everybody else just enough to keep them more or less quiet and docile, and creating disparities between them that have and them that have not that could only grow, and grow, and grow inexorably worse. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Brooks Whigging Out Again

 

John F. Kennedy campaigning door to door in West Virginia, 1960, Life cover, via Reddit.

Shorter David Brooks, "The Heart and Soul of the Biden Project", New York Times, 9 April 2021:

So Biden is a Whig. Fight me.

That is, not, thank heavens, a Democrat:

Some people say this is like the New Deal. I’d say this is an updated, monster-size version of “the American System,” the 19th-century education and infrastructure investments inspired by Alexander Hamilton, championed by Henry Clay and then advanced by the early Republicans, like Abraham Lincoln. That was an unabashedly nationalist project, made by a youthful country, using an energetic government to secure two great goals: economic dynamism and national unity.

Because nobody could say the New Deal had anything to do with economic dynamism or national unity. The New Deal didn't build any infrastructure, other than the rural electrifcation, the Bay Bridge and the Triborough Bridge, the Chickamauga Dam and the Grand Coulee Dam and the Pensacola Dam and the Hoover Dam, the Overseas Highway from Key West to the Florida mainland, the Lincoln Tunnel and the Bankhead Tunnel (in Mobile) and the Detroit Sewage Disposal and dozens of airport projects, or education programs other than the numerous schools, teachers, and classes provided by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, the National Youth Administration, including many programs devoted to the training of the African American community.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

It's the Debt, Stupid. I Mean the GOOD Debt.

Sichuan man with 13,500 copper cash, same as the Qin dynasty more than 2,000 years earlier, 1917, photo by Sydney D. Gamble via Wikipedia.


My mind is still stuck on money here, and all the wonderful things I've learned about it in the last couple of weeks, of which a lot is scattered around the comments and not necessarily quite coherent, starting with the point about where money comes from. Willie Sutton was right! It comes from the bank! 

Seriously—this was not always the case, and it was never the case as much as it is now, but banks make money, by which I don't mean physical currency, the bills and coins in your wallet that represent your money, which are of course manufactured by the Mint and the Bureau of Engraving and given to the bank to distribute to the public as a convenient way for us to move our money around, as in buying things, turning them over to the shopkeeper as a token of our exchange that she can send back to the bank to inform them that the money is now hers and have them adjust her account accordingly. 

That money, actual money, is not a thing at all, but a relationship, or potential relationship, between a person who has something and a person who wants something, the relationship of indebtedness: when I give the person my dollar bill, she is obligated to give me a cup of coffee, she owes it to me—or if I don't, and take the coffee anyway, I am obligated to her, and must bring her the dollar bill later on (these tiny credit operations hardly happen anywhere any more, I think, but they used to be a normal part of life, where they'd keep you a tab at the grocer and the barber and the bar and so forth).