2011 - %3, October

Keep Asking Yourself One Question: Whose Side Am I On?

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 1:28 PM EDT

Paul Krugman writes today about the Occupy Wall Street protesters:

Now, it’s true that some of the protesters are oddly dressed or have silly-sounding slogans, which is inevitable given the open character of the events. But so what? I, at least, am a lot more offended by the sight of exquisitely tailored plutocrats, who owe their continued wealth to government guarantees, whining that President Obama has said mean things about them than I am by the sight of ragtag young people denouncing consumerism.

This is a really important point, and it's especially important for sober, mainstream, analytical liberal folks. Like me. So consider this post a warning to myself.

If you go to any tea party event, you'll hear some crackpot stuff and see some people dressed up in crackpot costumes (tricorner hats etc.). By "crackpot," I mean stuff so outré that even movement conservatives know it's crazy and want nothing to do with it. Of course, it gets reported in the media occasionally, and when it does, snarky liberals have a field day with it.

But does this scare off anyone on the right? It does not. They ignore it, or dismiss it, or try to explain it away, and then continue praising the overall movement. The fact that liberals have found some hook to deliver a blast of well-timed mockery just doesn't faze them. They know whose side they're on.

So Krugman is right: liberals need to take the same attitude. Are there some crackpots at the Occupy Wall Street protests who will be gleefully quoted by Fox News? Sure. Are some of the organizers anarchists or socialists or whatnot? Sure. Is it sometimes hard to discern a real set of grievances from the protesters? Sure.

But so what. Ignore it. Dismiss it. Explain it away. Do whatever strikes your fancy. But don't let any of this scare you off. We can put up with a bit of mockery if we keep the chart above firmly in front of our faces. Just keep reminding yourself: a mere three years after the financial industry nearly destroyed the planet, Wall Street is bigger and more profitable than ever while a tenth of the rest of us remain mired in unemployment. Even after nearly destroying the planet, virtually nothing has changed. That's the outrage, not a few folks with funny costumes or wacky slogans. Always keep in mind whose side you're on.

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Georgia Redistricting Map: DOA at the DOJ?

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 12:15 PM EDT
Gov. Nathan Deal.

Georgia has the hopped aboard the redistricting bandwagon. On Thursday, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Justice, arguing that their new electoral maps for its state House, state Senate, and Congressional House races comply with the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

States re-draw their voting districts every ten years or so to reflect population changes indicated in the latest US Census data. Under Section Five of the VRA, Georgia is one of nine states required to pre-clear its maps (and other changes to election law) with the DOJ or the DC district court. These states, most of which reside in the South, have troubling records of disenfranchising their minority populations.

The trouble is, these states still can't seem to get it right (see Texas, Alabama, and Arizona). But Deal and his fellow Georgia Republicans, who passed a tough new immigration law several months ago, are also asking the DOJ to pre-empt their lawsuit and approve the plan on their own. If they do so, Deal, et. al, will drop the suit. 

Democrats are calling BS, the Journal-Constitution reports:

House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, said it does not matter to her if the state went first to the Justice Department or to court.

Republicans' "violations of the Voting Rights Act...regardless of the route they take, the end result will be one that rejects maps that re-segregate Georgia," she said.

Abrams said her party's hopes for the maps' rejection were bolstered recently by the Justice Department's decision to challenge Texas' redistricting plan and by a federal judge's decision in Alabama to reject a challenge of the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act.

"If one takes the Alabama decision from the courts and the Texas decision by the Justice Department together, it's clear Georgia's maps will face some very strong challenges," she said.

House GOP Leader Eric Cantor Calls Occupy Protests "Mobs"

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 12:03 PM EDT
House Maj. Leader Eric Cantor.

To no one's surprise, conservatives of all stripes have done their best to dismiss and disparage the Occupy Wall Street protests and the hundreds more Occupy protests springing up around the country. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney described the protests as "dangerous" and "class warfare." Right-wing shock jock Rush Limbaugh called the Occupy Wall Street protesters "stupid." And another GOP presidential contender, Herman Cain, not only told those Occupy protesters without a job to blame themselves for being unemployed, but also suggested the protests were a conspiracy "planned and orchestrated to distract from the failed policies of the Obama administration."

On Friday morning, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor joined the chorus of doubters, even sounding fearful about the protests. At the Values Voter Summit here in Washington, DC, Cantor said, "I for one am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country. And believe it or not, some in this town have actually condoned the pitting of Americans against Americans."

Here's the video, via ThinkProgress:

Yes, Government is Responsible For Our Sluggish Economy

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 11:57 AM EDT

As you've probably heard by now, employment was up by 103,000 last month. Since the economy needs to generate 100-150,000 jobs each month just to keep up with population growth, this means that in real terms we're either treading water or actually moving backward. In any case, it's a lousy report.

But rather than run my usual chart showing this, here's a peek at the details from the BLS report instead. As you can see, our problem is that the private sector is producing more jobs — though slowly — but the public sector is shrinking. That's been the story for a long time now, though you might not know it given the ceaseless clamor from the right about big government, overbearing regulations, and out-of-control spending. The evening news isn't likely to point this out, but the truth is that government employment is down across the board, and that's a big reason our economy has remained so sluggish. Not only are conservatives in Congress grimly determined to prevent any substantive action to improve the economy, but conservatives around the country are actively making things worse. And we wonder why people have such a dim view of our elected officials.

Harry Reid Goes Sub-Nuclear

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 11:28 AM EDT

Harry Reid, in a fit of spinefulness, killed off a Senate rule last night. There are really only two things you need to know about this:

  1. The rule itself was an obscure and trivial delaying tactic that, until now, neither party had used for decades. It does not directly affect either cloture or the filibuster, so stop drooling.
  2. The rule was eliminated by a majority vote that overturned a ruling of the parliamentarian.

#1 doesn't matter. (Though details are here if you're a masochist.) #2 might be a big deal. For starters, if you can change the Senate rules by simply overruling the parliamentarian on a majority vote, you can change pretty much any Senate rule by a majority vote. For seconders, Harry Reid actually got the entire Democratic caucus to go along with this. That's.....sort of amazing.

No one knows how this is going to play out in the future. One possibility is that it's a nothingburger. Overturning an obscure rule doesn't set much of a precedent, and likewise, uniting the Democratic caucus over something so arcane doesn't mean much either. Mitch McConnell and his friends will squawk, and then life will go back to normal. What's more, the proposition that a parliamentarian's ruling can be overturned on a majority vote isn't really anything new. It hasn't been used much, but it's a precedent that's been in place for decades.

Still, there's at least the possibility that it's very much a somethingburger. It might be something Republicans take advantage of if they win a Senate majority in the next election. In the nearer future, it might mean Democrats are finally figuring out that if they don't hang together, they will assuredly all hang separately. If I had to guess, I'd vote that this is a nothingburger, but it's worth keeping an eye on.

(It will, of course, also inspire Fox/Drudge/Tea Party shrieks about totalitarianism and Democratic thuggery, but that can be safely ignored. The real action will all be behind the scenes.)

China is Losing Its Edge

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 10:46 AM EDT

This is one of the reasons that I'm a little less preoccupied by China than some people:

Rising Chinese labour costs are changing the economics of global manufacturing and could contribute to the creation of 3m jobs in the US by 2020, according to a study being released on Friday.

....The Boston Consulting Group estimates that the trend could cut the US’s merchandise trade deficit with the rest of the world, excluding oil, from $360bn in 2010 to about $260bn by the end of the decade. The shift would also reduce its soaring deficit with China, which reached $273bn in 2010 and has triggered an intense political controversy over China’s exchange rate policies.

This has been inevitable for a long time. As China grows and gets richer, its workers will get paid more and it will make less and less sense to move U.S. production there. It's a natural brake on offshoring. Add to it China's demographic trends and you have a country that still has a bright future but is almost certainly not going to be able to keep up the torrid growth rates of the past few decades. Once it hits per capita GDP of $10-15 thousand or so, continued progress is going to come ever more slowly.

At the same time, this isn't automatically great news for American manufacturing, which, in the short term, is just likely to migrate to India and Malaysia and other countries with even lower labor costs than China. And as for our current account deficit, the key phrase in the article above is "excluding oil." Obviously China is a significant factor in our trade deficit, but oil is both a bigger and more persistent one. If we want to tackle that — and we do! — we need both macroeconomic action (a weaker dollar) and policy action (ways to reduce our use of OPEC oil). Both a weaker dollar and a carbon tax are our friends right now.

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Is Soaking the Rich...Dangerous??

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 9:15 AM EDT

This week, top Democrats—including President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—are locked into a full-court press, calling for a 5.6 percent surtax on millionaires to help pay for the president's $445 billion jobs bill. In the week that is/was Occupy Wall Street, that sounds like a can't-miss political winner.

But the Tax Policy Center's Howard Gleckman says, "Hey, slow down!" While the surtax would raise the average tax bill of millionaires by some $110,000, the fact is that there simply aren't enough millionaires to actually solve the country's fiscal problems. "If we are going to get serious about the deficit, people making $200,000 (or even $100,000) have got to help out," Gleckman suggests.

Gleckman's chief concern: That the surtax will torpedo any realistic effort at long-term tax reform. Thanks to tax changes in the offing—the expected expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which will spike the top rate to 39.6 and curb a number of exemptions, along with a .9 percent surtax on expensive plans as part of health care reform—the top marginal tax rate for millionaires would climb to nearly 50 percent by 2013. And according to the current schedule, the tax rate on capital gains will also almost double by 2013.

So what's the problem?

With rates this high, the political pressure to protect tax preferences will be enormous. After all, the rich are going to fight much harder to protect breaks that are worth 50 cents on the dollar than one that is worth only 35 cents. And I stupidly thought the idea was to lower rates and eliminate these subsidies.

Reid wants to be able to say that Republicans blocked a critical jobs bill just to protect their fat-cat millionaire pals. Give him credit for smart politics: By replacing the potpourri of tax increases Obama would have used to pay for his stimulus bill with a simple, easy to understand millionaire tax, the Senate Democratic leader has done a wonderful job clarifying his party’s message.

Book Review: Folks, This Ain't Normal

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 6:30 AM EDT

Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World

By Joel Salatin

CENTER STREET

A Virginia farmer and devout Christian whose innovative livestock operation was featured in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, Joel Salatin has been reaping a literary cash crop: books of homespun food wisdom. His latest combines Wendell Berryesque agrarian ecology with barnyard preaching and cornpone comedy to accomplish what literary theorists call "queering"—highlighting just how strange our "normal" worldview has become. While his chatty informality gives the book a padded feel, even alt-foodies should be able to appreciate his lucid treatment of topics like bovine ecology. But the ideal audience is your Big Gulp-quaffing conservative cousin. This book has enormous potential to broaden the movement's appeal.

Occupy Wall Street: The Video

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 6:30 AM EDT

Right Here All Over (Occupy Wall St.) from Alex Mallis on Vimeo.

An evocative documentary on the micro community forming from the macro protest: Occupy Wall Street. Six minutes well cut.

 

 

"The Ides of March": Dark, Cynical Fun for Disillusioned Liberals

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 6:02 AM EDT
Ryan Gosling in the 2011 political thriller "The Ides of March"

The Ides of March

COLUMBIA PICTURES

101 minutes

George Clooney's latest directorial effort, The Ides of March, fits rather snuggly into the mood of the 2012 election season. Working off a script based on Beau Willimon's 2008 play Farragut North, Clooney & Co. serve up dirty politics, a pitiless primary, a candidate of hope and change, plenty of liberal angst, and—as an apparent throwback to the '90s—an intern-centric sex scandal.

The political thriller embeds the viewer in the war room of Democrat Mike Morris' presidential campaign during the final days before the decisive open primary in Ohio. In the heat of televised debates and media interrogation, Morris (played by Clooney, seasoned and stoic as ever) doesn't give off the faintest scent of a character problem. Morris—think an amalgam of Gavin Newsom, Barack Obama, and John F. Kennedy Jr.—openly brands himself as an atheist, an unabashed lover of green jobs, a foreign policy dove, and a tough opponent of the death penalty. But in spite of his considerable charisma and grassroots pull, he's stuck in a dead heat for the nomination, up against the safer, more traditional Sen. Pullman.

At the center of all of this is the Morris campaign's wiz-kid media consultant, Stephen Myers (a pitch-perfect Ryan Gosling), a rising star in the Democratic Party and a savvy practitioner of the backroom ballet of scuzzy politics. But sometime during the election cycle, Myers passionately bought into the governor's rhetoric, sucking down the "delicious" Kool-Aid of the Morris camp. "I don't have to play dirty anymore," Myers proudly swears. "I got Morris!"

Aaaand…cue the playing dirty. (Spoilers follow.)

Channeling the dark reality of American politics, The Ides of March goes from idealism to opprobrium faster than you can spell "Yes We Can."

As Myers finds himself at the heart of a devastating scandal, his idealistic chimera caves in on him from every angle. Eventually, the hotshot strategist has to come to terms with the sad realization that Morris might be just as much of a cold, ruthless crook as the next electable candidate. Predictably, Myers starts rapidly swapping out his starry-eyed outlook and loyalty for career moves and personal vendettas. Gosling, who scored major indie points for his work in compelling, low-budget fare like The Believer and Blue Valentine, handles his character's moral degeneration with precision and a chilling, poker-faced drive.