Glenn Greenwald publishes a fascinating little extract from an NSA document today. The unnamed author is explaining why cooperation with foreign countries doesn't change much depending on which party wins national elections:
Are our foreign intelligence relationships usually insulated from short-term political ups and downs, or not?
(S//SI//REL) For a variety of reasons, our intelligence relationships are rarely disrupted by foreign political perturbations, international or domestic. First, we are helping our partners address critical intelligence shortfalls, just as they are assisting us. Second, in many of our foreign partners’ capitals, few senior officials outside of their defense-intelligence apparatuses are witting to any SIGINT connection to the U.S./NSA.
In other words, you might be the prime minister, but that doesn't mean you have any idea what your intelligence apparatus is up to.
Now, this is worth taking with a grain of salt, since we don't know who wrote this, or whether he really knew what he was talking about. I've been skeptical all along of the "shocked, shocked" reaction of many foreign leaders to the Snowden leaks, and I remain skeptical that they didn't know at least the broad outlines of what the NSA and their own intelligence services were up to. Nonetheless, this provides a useful window into the NSA's thinking: the less their political masters know, the better off they are.
As I noted the other day, this is all about creating a framework within which voters can be made to understand the actual policy agenda Republicans are campaigning on. This is what the Bain attacks on Mitt Romney were all about: Dem focus groups showed voters simply didn’t believe Romney would cut entitlements (per the Paul Ryan plan) while cutting taxes on the rich. The Bain narrative made Romney’s actual priorities more comprehensible.
The Koch attacks are designed to do something similar. They aren’t really about the Kochs. They are a proxy for the one percent, a means through which to tap into a general sense that the economy remains rigged in favor of the very wealthy. Placed into this frame, GOP policies — opposition to raising the minimum wage; the Paul Ryan fiscal blueprint, which would redistribute wealth upwards; opposition to the Medicaid expansion, which AFP is fighting in multiple states — become more comprehensible as part of a broader storyline. In that narrative, Republican candidates are trying to maintain or even exacerbate an economic status quo that’s stacked against ordinary Americans, while Dems are offering solutions to boost economic mobility and reduce inequality, which are increasingly pressing public concerns.
Plus it's always good to have a bogeyman, isn't it?
But I agree with Sargent, and this is something that relates back to my posts earlier this week about the fact that middle-class voters don't perceive a big difference between the economic policies of Democrats and Republicans. I argued that one reason for this is that Democrats haven't offered the middle class very much over the past few decades. But several critics pounced on this: even if it's true, they said, the policy agendas of the two parties are like night and day. Republicans want to privatize Social Security. They want to shred the safety net. They want to let the minimum wage erode to nothing. They want to eliminate capital gains taxes. They want to gut the EPA. Etc.
But one of the mysteries of modern politics is that a lot of voters don't take this seriously. Partly it's because Republicans have never had the unified power to pass this agenda. Partly it's because they chickened out on a lot of it even when they came close to having that power during the Bush era. As a result, when Republicans engage in one of their periodic anti-government jeremiads it strikes a lot of people as just a sort of meaningless chant, words that Republican candidates have to mouth in order to prove they're part of the team, but not something they're really serious about.
This frustrates Democrats no end, and they'd love to find a way to truly pin this stuff on the backs of Republican candidates. If Sargent is right, the Koch brothers are a way to do this.
Sen. Marco Rubio, still engaged in his campaign to reconnect with his tea party roots after blowing it on immigration reform, announced today that he plans to introduce a bill that would "prevent a 'takeover' of the Internet by the United Nations or another government regime." Steve Benen is puzzled:
To be sure, there are foreign governments that censor their citizens’ access to online content, but it’s not at all clear why Rubio sees this as a domestic threat here in the U.S. As best as I can tell, there is no effort to empower the United Nations or anyone else to regulate the Internet on a global scale. Such a policy would certainly be scary, and would require opposition, but at present, it’s also non-existent.
For the most part, Rubio is probably just glomming onto a random bit of jingoism that he thinks will rile up his base. Still, there's actually a kernel of substance to this. Right now, the US Department of Commerce exercises ultimate control over the DNS root zone, and ICANN, a nonprofit that administers the DNS naming system, does so under contract to the Commerce Department. And while ICANN has a global governance structure, it's based in Los Angeles and has historically had a heavy American management presence.
But that could change. Last year, in response to some of Edward Snowden's spying revelations, ICANN's board of directors issued a statement that called for "accelerating the globalization of ICANN and IANA functions, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing." Last month the European Commission joined in, releasing a statement that lamented a "continued loss of confidence in the Internet and its current governance" and proposing new governance that would "identify how to globalise the IANA functions" and "establish a clear timeline for the globalisation of ICANN." A week later, rumors surfaced that ICANN might try to move its headquarters to Geneva.
Now, this kind of squabbling has gone on forever, and the politics behind these statements is usually pretty murky. There's no telling if it will ever amount to anything, and in any case it certainly has nothing to do with UN control over the internet. Nonetheless, other countries have long chafed under effective American control of the internet's plumbing, and the Snowden leaks have given new momentum to calls for that control to end. It's possible that this is what Rubio is thinking of.
Apologies for the radio silence. I had an adventure-filled afternoon. My first adventure prompted me to call for help, and I discovered that my iPhone's contact list had mysteriously disappeared. No calling for help for me! Eventually everything got sorted out, and when I finally got home I restored my contacts via iCloud. So no permanent harm done. Still, when my car strands me, I always figure my phone will bail me out. That's what a phone is for. Right? But what do you do when your phone mysteriously decides to strand you at the same time?
A friend just emailed me with a gloomy outlook for Democrats in this year's midterm elections. I don't really have an outlook myself yet, though obviously Democrats suffer from a difficult electoral map, the traditional 6-year blues, and their usual problem turning out voters in off-year elections. But as long as we're being gloomy, here's something else to add to the bonfire. It's an extract from a Washington Post poll graphic showing how voters react to congressional candidates being associated with the Obama administration. It's not a pretty picture.
Now, if you want some good news, all you have to do is take a look at some of the other numbers in the poll, which makes it clear that most people have no idea what really makes them more or less likely to vote for someone. At the very bottom, for example, you'll see that virtually no one is willing to fess up that they're more likely to vote for an incumbent, despite mountains of research showing that incumbency is the single most powerful predictor of electoral success there is. So maybe this is all just a bunch of hooey. But I wouldn't bet on it.
But don’t expect the similar levels of growth in the two countries to shake many people’s faith in their economic views. Most of the “slim government” crowd will argue that Britain didn’t cut enough (or that the U.S. growth isn’t real) and that’s why the U.K. hasn’t left the U.S. in the dust. Most increased government spending supporters will see proof that the stimulus wasn’t big enough (or that the U.K. growth isn’t real) because if it had been U.S. growth would be dwarfing that of the sceptred isle.
Many people seem to have stable preferences about whether they want government bigger or smaller. They will point to current economic conditions as the reason for why their preferences should prevail, but their preferences do not change when those putatively justifying economic conditions fade away. Neither are most people fazed when the government spending policies they support (as well as those that they oppose) deliver different results than they expected. Motivated reason is such a force in this particular policy area that rather than arguing over what current economic conditions particularly require, debaters are probably better off cutting to the chase and arguing directly about the real issue: Disagreement about how big or small we want the government to be.
I don't think this is fair. If you want to compare Britain and the US, you have to look at their entire growth trajectory since the start of the recession. The chart on the right is taken from OECD numbers, so it's an apples-to-apples comparison. And really, there is no comparison. As of 2012 (the most recent figures available from the OECD) Britain's GDP was still 3 percent below its 2007 level. By contrast, US GDP was 4 percent above its 2007 level.
We can argue all day long about what caused this divergence, but I think the raw data is fairly unequivocal. Whatever the reason, the US economy really did suffer less and recover more robustly than the British economy.
The Pinellas County race pit Alex Sink, an uninspiring corporate Democrat, against David Jolly, a say-anything lobbyist who spent half a week of the stretch sleazily and baselessly calling his opponent a "bigot." Both of them came off like people desperately trying to sell you a time share.
Having now spent 6,000-odd words on the Florida special election, I should admit that smart analysts predicted the result with one number. Two-hundred thousand. If that many ballots showed up in FL-13, Democrats were hitting their turnout models and winning the race. If fewer, they were losing. There were about 180,000 votes cast in the race, and the Democrats lost.
Yep. Basically, it was a tight race in a district previously held by a Republican but won by Obama in 2012. And Jolly ended up winning by two percentage points. There's really not much of a lesson to be learned here aside from the fact that (a) it was truly a tossup district, and (b) Democrats have a really tough time with turnout in non-presidential elections. Eventually they're going to have to figure out what to do about that.
President Obama this week will seek to force American businesses to pay more overtime to millions of workers, the latest move by his administration to confront corporations that have had soaring profits even as wages have stagnated....Mr. Obama’s decision to use his executive authority to change the nation’s overtime rules is likely to be seen as a challenge to Republicans in Congress, who have already blocked most of the president’s economic agenda and have said they intend to fight his proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25.
This is obviously just the latest in Obama's long series of Constitution-crushing moves that flout the law and turn the president into a despot-in-chief, gleefully kneecapping Congress and — wait. What's this?
In 2004, business groups persuaded President George W. Bush’s administration to allow them greater latitude on exempting salaried white-collar workers from overtime pay, even as organized labor objected....Mr. Obama’s authority to act comes from his ability as president to revise the rules that carry out the Fair Labor Standards Act, which Congress originally passed in 1938. Mr. Bush and previous presidents used similar tactics at times to work around opponents in Congress.
Oh. So he's just doing the same stuff that every other president has done. Sorry about that. You may go about your business.
For what it's worth, this gets to the heart of my impatience with all the right-wing hysteria about how Obama is shredding the Constitution and turning himself into a modern-day Napoleon. I'm not unpersuadable on the general point that Obama's executive orders sometimes go too far. But so far no one has provided any evidence that Obama has done anything more than any other modern president. They all issue executive orders, and Obama has actually issued fewer than most. They all urge the federal bureaucracy to reinterpret regulations in liberal or conservative directions. They all appoint agency heads with mandates to push the rulemaking process in agreeable directions. And they all get taken to court over this stuff and sometimes get their hats handed to them.
Is Obama opening up whole new vistas in executive overreach? I don't see it, and I don't even see anyone making the case seriously. You can't just run down a laundry list of executive actions you happen to dislike. You need to take a genuinely evenhanded look at the past 30 or 40 years of this stuff and make an argument that Obama is doing something unique. Until you do that, you're just playing dumb partisan games.
Yesterday I wrote a post griping about the supposed mystery of why so many working and middle class voters (WMC for short) have drifted into the Republican Party over the past few decades. It's hardly a mystery, I said, and it's not an example of people voting against their own economic interest. The problem is simple: Democrats haven't really done much for the WMC lately, so fewer and fewer of them view Democrats as their champions. That being the case, they might as well vote for the party that promises to cut their taxes and supports traditional values.
Scott Lemieux agrees with many of the specific points I made, but nonetheless thinks I went too far with my "general framing." His post is worth a read, and it also gives me a handy excuse to write a follow-up. This is partly to expand on some things, partly to defend myself, and partly to concede an issue or two. So in no special order, here goes:
First off, you're really talking about the white WMC, right?
Yeah, that's usually how this stuff is framed. As it happens, I'd argue that although the black and Hispanic WMC still firmly supports Democrats, they largely do it for noneconomic reasons these days. But that's a subject for a different day. What we're talking about here is mostly about the white WMC.
But has this drift toward the Republican Party even happened? Haven't you written before that it's a myth?
Yes I have, based on the work of Larry Bartels, who says this is solely a Southern phenomenon. However, I've been persuaded by Lane Kenworthy's work that the drift is both real and national. It's not a myth.
Lemieux says that relative to Republicans, Democrats are better than I give them credit for. What about that?
No argument there. I don't think anyone could read this site for more than five minutes and not know what I think of the modern Republican Party.
Plus he says that Obamacare has been a big plus for the WMC. And a bunch of folks on Twitter said the same thing.
That's a point I'll concede. I was thinking of a few things here. First, most WMC voters already get health coverage at work, so Obamacare's impact on them is limited. Beyond that, the Medicaid expansion was targeted at the poor, and the exchange subsidies get pretty small by the time you reach a middle-class income. But my memory was faulty on that score. A middle-class family with an income of, say, $50-60,000 still gets a pretty hefty subsidy. And of course there are other features of Obamacare that help the middle class too. I was a little too dismissive of this.
On the other hand, this is also a pretty good example of Democrats snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They stuck together unanimously to pass the bill, which was great. But ideological ambivalence had already watered it down significantly by then, and ever since Obama signed it, it seems like half the party has been running for cover lest anyone know they voted for it. If Democrats themselves can't loudly sell their own bill as a middle class boon, it's hardly any surprise that lots of middle-class voters don't see it that way either.
But Democrats have done a lot of things beyond just Obamacare.
Sure, and I've listed them myself from time to time. But here's the thing: folks like Lemieux and me can look at this stuff and make a case that Democrats are helping the middle class. Unfortunately, it's mostly too abstract to register with average voters. Did the stimulus bill help the WMC? Probably, but it's not concrete enough for anyone to feel like it helped them personally. How about the CFPB, which Lemieux mentions? I think it's great. But if you stopped a dozen average folks on the street, not one would have the slightest inkling of what it is or whether they benefited from it. These things are just too small, too watered-down, and too sporadic to have much impact. What's more, whatever small impact they do have gets wiped out whenever Democrats support things like the 2005 bankruptcy bill or get cold feet about repealing something like the carried interest loophole.
OK, but why did you "yadda yadda" all the genuinely big things Democrats have done for the poor?
I didn't. I explicitly mentioned them. And this isn't some kind of shell game over definitions of "poor" and "working class." After all, no one ever asks why the poor have drifted away from the Democratic Party, even though they presumably have social views that are similar to the WMC. You know why? Because they haven't drifted away. And why is that? Because Democrats have done stuff for them.
That's the whole point here. The WMC feels like Democrats do stuff for the poor, but not for them. And there's a lot of truth to that.
But what can Democrats do? Republicans block every proposal they ever make.
I'm not blaming them for that. Politics is politics. And I'm not ignoring the fact that Dems stand up against Republicans all the time. They do. Nor is this an exercise in "both sides do it." Obviously Republicans are far more slavishly devoted to the interests of corporations and the rich than Democrats.
Hell, I don't even personally oppose every manifestation of the neoliberal policy evolution of the post-70s Democratic Party. Some of it I support. I'm a fairly moderate, neoliberalish squish myself most of the time. If you care about evidence in the policymaking process, the evidence is pretty strong that some lefty dreams just don't make sense.
Nonetheless, the corporate drift of the Democratic Party since the 80s is simply a matter of record. Lemieux and I can toss out lists of small-ball Democratic accomplishments all day long, but the vast majority of low-information voters have never heard of them or don't think they really do them any good. Maybe they're mistaken or misguided, but that's the way it is.
If Democrats want to regain the support of the WMC, they have to consistently unite behind stuff that benefits the WMC in very simple, concrete ways. Democrats do that on abortion, for example, and everyone knows where they stand even if they don't win all their battles. It's the same way with economic policy. Even if they don't win all or most of their battles, they need to unite behind real programs for the middle class; they need to talk about them loudly; they need to stop diluting their message by taking the side of the plutocrats whenever it's convenient; and they have to keep it up for decades.
Maybe the reality of modern politics prevents this. But if that's the case, then it's time to stop navel-gazing about why the WMC has drifted away from the Democrats. The answer is staring us all in the face.
As a search continued Tuesday for a Malaysian airliner that mysteriously disappeared, Malaysian military officials said radar data showed it inexplicably turned around and headed toward the Malacca Strait, hundreds of miles off its scheduled flight path, news agencies and Malaysian media reported.
....Search teams from 10 nations had initially focused their efforts mainly east of the peninsula....A high-ranking military official involved in the investigation confirmed that the plane changed course and said it was believed to be flying low, the Associated Press reported.
It is, of course, mysterious that the plane veered off course and turned west an hour after takeoff. But that's not the real puzzle. The plane disappeared on Saturday. If the Malaysian military tracked it turning west into the Malacca Strait in real time, how is it that it took them three days to bother telling anyone about this? That seems damn peculiar even if things were just generally fubared at the time. Here's another account:
The [Malaysian] air force chief did not say what kind of signals the military had tracked. But his remarks raised questions about whether the military had noticed the plane as it flew across the country and about when it informed civilian authorities.
According to the general’s account, the last sign of the plane was recorded at 2:40 a.m., and the aircraft was then near Pulau Perak, an island more than 100 miles off the western shore of the Malaysian peninsula. That assertion stunned aviation experts as well as officials in China, who had been told again and again that the authorities lost contact with the plane more than an hour earlier, when it was on course over the Gulf of Thailand, east of the peninsula. But the new account seemed to fit with the decision on Monday, previously unexplained, to expand the search area to include waters west of the peninsula.
It is unclear why the west coast contact, if correct, was not made public until now. Asked on Monday why crews were searching the strait, the country's civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman told reporters: "There are some things that I can tell you and some things that I can't."