Kevin Drum

Liberals and Labor

| Sun Jan. 16, 2011 1:46 PM EST

Freddie deBoer points out (correctly) that the liberal blogosphere lacks a serious left wing:

No, the nominal left of the blogosphere is almost exclusively neoliberal. Ask for a prominent left-wing blogger and people are likely to respond with the names of Matt Yglesias, Jon Chait, Kevin Drum.... Each of them, as I understand it, believe in the general paternalistic neoliberal policy platform, where labor rights are undercut everywhere for the creation of economic growth (that 21st century deity), and then, if things go to plan, wealth is redistributed from the top to those whose earnings and quality of life have been devastated by the attack on labor.

I plead guilty to some general neoliberal instincts, of course, but I plead guilty with (at least) one big exception: I am very decidedly not in favor of undercutting labor rights in order to stimulate economic growth, and I'm decidedly not in favor of relying solely on the tax code to redistribute wealth from the super rich to the rest of us. What's more, the older I get and the more obvious the devastating effects of the demise of the American labor movement become, the less neoliberal I get. The events of the past two years, in which the massed forces of capital came within a hair's breadth of destroying the world economy, and yet, phoenix-like, have come out richer and more powerful than before, ought to have convinced nearly everyone that business interests and the rich are now almost literally out of control. After all, if the past two years haven't done it, what would?

I have a piece in the next issue of the magazine about the long-term disaffection of the liberal cause from organized labor, something that I've come to believe is the single biggest policy disaster of the American left over the past 40 years. Unfortunately, the piece makes clear why I don't write more about this: I don't know what to do about it. In fact, I'd say it's clear that organized labor long ago passed the point of no return, and there's really no feasible hope of returning it to a state of even moderate influence over American economic life. Practically speaking, then, the question is: what sort of ground-level, working class organization can take its place as an effective countervailing power against the economic interests of corporations and the rich — which, today, reign virtually unchallenged? But I don't know that either. Any ideas?

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Friday Cat Blogging - 14 January 2011

| Fri Jan. 14, 2011 4:03 PM EST

It's winter here in Southern California, which means bitterly cold temps plummeting into....oh, the low sixties sometimes. And that means Inkblot needs a blanket to burrow under. Today, he's chosen an old American Airlines blanket that we reserve for his use. On the right, Scrabble Cat is helping Marian puzzle out her next play. Don't ask me why, but as soon as we pull out the Scrabble board, Domino instantly jumps up on the table and starts roaming around for no apparent reason. At least, for no reason apparent to those of us stuck in the mundane four dimensions of human reality.

Capitalism Update

| Fri Jan. 14, 2011 3:12 PM EST

Good news! Verizon has finally restored my mother's phone service about a month after it went out. The technician who fixed the problem was from Texas, and he was happy as a clam about the whole thing because he was due for mucho overtime and bonuses. But why Texas? Why not just send out a local guy? Answer: because so many Verizon phones have gone dead recently that their California crews can't deal with it. And why is that? According to the Texas guy, it's because Verizon is hellbent on converting their entire plant to fiber optic and has declined for some time to do any maintenance on their legacy phone lines. As a result, they've steadily deteriorated, and even a couple of weeks of rain can cause tens of thousands of homes to lose service.

Meanwhile, I am taking y'all's advice and seeing my doctor about my arm/shoulder/neck pain. (And just so you know: I haven't been ignoring this. I've actually tried lots of things over the past year, but none has had more than a modest effect.) However, here in the land of the best healthcare in the world, that means I've now got an appointment for late February.

American capitalism: it's the best in the world, as long as you don't need a phone or have a desire to see your doctor anytime in the current month. Huzzah!

Old Testament Economics

| Fri Jan. 14, 2011 1:39 PM EST

Paul Krugman:

A further thought inspired by the meditations that led me to today’s column: I think I now understand the otherwise weird resurgence of paleomonetarism in the midst of a prolonged liquidity trap. It’s not really about analysis, it’s about morality.

You see, if you’re the kind of person who views being taxed to pay for social insurance programs as tyranny, you’re also going to be the kind of person who sees the printing of fiat money by a government-sponsored central bank as confiscation. You may try to produce evidence about the terrible things that happen under fiat currencies; you may insist that hyperinflation is just around the corner; but ultimately the facts don’t matter, it’s the immorality of activist monetary policy that you hate.

Sure. Temperamentally, liberals are New Testament critters and conservatives are Old Testament critters. Conservatives believe in retribution. They believe in suffering for your sins. If you went into debt, it's right that you should suffer for it. If the economy partied too hard, a hangover is the proper cure. We may or may not learn from our mistakes, but it's still right and proper to pay for them.

The irony, of course, is that most of the tea party types who believe this are basically suffering for the sins of others. They've been conned into thinking that somehow they're the ones responsible for our economic woes, and the folks doing the conning are delighted to get away with this. I probably don't need to tell you who those folks are.

No More Oil

| Fri Jan. 14, 2011 1:18 PM EST

Reuters reports:

OPEC will hold an emergency meeting only if oil climbs above $100 a barrel and stays at that level, a Gulf delegate said on Thursday. A second Gulf delegate said the price strength would probably not last and customers were not asking for extra oil.

Over at NRO, Kevin Williamson gloats:

Good news for Generic Republican, who already has established himself as a legitimate contender for the White House in 2012: OPEC is not bailing us out. The oil cartel is making it known that it is cool with $100 oil and will not act unless prices move significantly higher and stay there....Oil producers have a real good to sell, one with intrinsic value. They do not want to be paid in devalued currencies. Neither do producers selling precious metals, fertilizer, farm products, etc., which is one reason why wholesale food prices are going zoom, zoom, zoom.

Please. How many times does OPEC have to play this game for guys like Williamson to catch on to the con? OPEC isn't sitting on its hands because they don't want to take our yucky devalued dollars. In the short term they can hedge against the dollar just like anyone else if they want to, and in the long term they can invest the surpluses in their sovereign wealth funds in any instrument they feel like. The reason for their apparently lackadaisical attitude is much simpler: they're already pumping at near their maximum production capacity. Iraq will probably be able to produce more someday if they manage to avoid another civil war, and Saudi Arabia claims to be working on plans to increase their pumping capacity too. Target date is somewhere around 2014, I think. But right now? What you see is what you get. The only thing an OPEC meeting would produce is yet another tortured explanation about why OPEC isn't increasing its production quotas, explanations that usually range from the hilarious to the pathetic in their effort to avoid saying the obvious: there's no more oil to pump, so quotas are going to stay where they are no matter how much anyone wishes otherwise.

Bye Bye, Silvio

| Fri Jan. 14, 2011 12:36 PM EST

Now this is a corruption probe:

Silvio Berlusconi has been formally placed under investigation on suspicion of paying for sex with a 17-year old girl, according to a statement issued today by prosecutors in Milan.

He was further accused of abusing his position as Italy's prime minister by bringing pressure to bear on the police to cover up his alleged relationship with the girl, who was working as a prostitute. The two alleged offences carry sentences totalling 15 years in jail.

I can hardly think of a politician more deserving of 15 years in the hole than Berlusconi. I keep thinking that it's too bad Darrell Issa doesn't live in Italy. He'd have some real meat to work with instead of having to continually try to manufacture idiocies against one of the most squeaky clean presidents of modern times.

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Poll Result of the Day: Raising the Debt Ceiling

| Thu Jan. 13, 2011 8:51 PM EST

Here's an....interesting....poll result from Ipsos Public Affairs:

So 71% of the public doesn't want to raise the debt ceiling. When they hear that this will wreck our credit rating, damage our credibility, and jack up interest rates, this changes to....71% of the public. Urk.

Tough Talk in Doha

| Thu Jan. 13, 2011 3:20 PM EST

While Barack Obama was in Tucson urging everyone to tone down their rhetoric, his Secretary of State was in Qatar ramping up the rhetoric:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blasted Arab governments for corruption and stalled political reforms Thursday and warned that extremist groups were exploiting this lack of democratic development to promote radical agendas in the Middle East and North Africa.

...."While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others, people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order," Mrs. Clinton told the Forum for the Future, a regional conference established to promote democracy and good governance. "The region's foundations are sinking into the sand."

Tough words. And with Tunisia and Algeria in something like open revolt, timely too. But no names were named, and it's not clear if they were named in any of her private meetings either. For the moment, it still doesn't appear that Yemen or Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Israel or any other country increasingly being taken over by extremist groups has much to fear from the United States.

When the Political is Personal

| Thu Jan. 13, 2011 1:57 PM EST

Conor Friedersdorf nominates me for combat duty:

Folks on the right think leftists don’t confront the indefensible speech uttered by their side. And vice-versa.

So why don’t the folks at The Corner enter into a bargain with a prominent blogger on the left?

What do you say, Matt Yglesias or Kevin Drum or Jonathan Chait? Here’s how it would work. Every day for a week, Monday through Friday, The Corner’s designated blogger could draft one post for publication on the left-leaning blog. The catch? They’d be limited to offering five direct quotations per day of lefties engaged in indefensible rhetoric, however they define it (in context, of course).

In return, the liberal interlocutor could publish the equivalent post at The Corner. And every day for a week, the participants would have to read one another’s five examples for that day, and decide whether to acknowledge that they’re indefensible and assert that the source should apologize if he or she hasn’t done so... or else defend the remark(s).

Maybe I’m wrong. But I suspect that Yglesias, Drum, and Chait would all be game for this sort of exchange. And that it wouldn’t be approved at The Corner in a million years.

Not a chance. On the list of things I don't want to spend my time on, this ranks very, very high. But if Chait takes him up on this I promise to read every day just for the entertainment value.

On a slightly more serious note, the real problem is that I don't think individual quotes here and there really prove anything. There are a lot of people in America, and that means that every day there are lots of people saying stupid things. Big deal. What matters is the overall tone, and here I think Harold Meyerson basically has it right:

A fabricated specter of impending governmental totalitarianism haunts the right's dreams. One month after Barack Obama was inaugurated as president, Beck hosted a show that gamed out how militias in Southern and Western states might rise up against an oppressive government. The number of self-proclaimed right-wing militias tripled — from 42 to 127, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center — in 2009 (and that doesn't count those that are entirely underground).

As much of the right sees it, the government is planning to incarcerate its enemies [], socialize the economy and take away everyone's guns. At the fringe, we have figures like Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America, who told a rally in Washington last April that, "We're in a war. The other side knows they are at war, because they started it. They are coming for our freedom, for our money, for our kids, for our property. They are coming for everything because they are a bunch of socialists."

This is obviously a lot harder to quantify. Are the fever dreams of the right worse than the fever dreams of the left? I'd say they obviously are, but that's a matter for evidence and argument, not listicles. But nobody on the right is ever going to acknowledge this anyway. They really do think of carbon taxes as tantamount to Stalinism and they really do think of national healthcare as a socialist experiment in starting up death panels for old people. I'm not even sure how you have a conversation about this stuff.

....Noodling some more about this, there are, of course, doom merchants on both the left and right. There were people on the left who were afraid that Bush had turned us into a fascist country and that his national security apparatus was turning us into a police state. So what's the difference? I think the distinction I always come back to is that for right-wingers this stuff is so much more personal.

What I mean by this is that, generally speaking, lefties weren't afraid that they personally were going to be rounded up in terror sweeps or sent off to war. They may have had strong views about these things, but (obviously with exceptions) their views were still fairly abstract: fascism is bad and police states are bad, but they themselves weren't really the ones who would suffer from it. It was others. And no matter how dedicated you are, you're never as passionate about other groups as you are about yourself.

Conservatives, by contrast, take this stuff very personally indeed. The government is coming for their guns, the government wants to kill their grandmother, the government wants to confiscate their money. Needless to say, this provokes a whole different level of frenzy. When you conceive of your political opposites as literally coming after you, it makes a lot more sense to take a very apocalyptic view of things. Thus, the popularity of Glenn Beck.

Sarah Palin Unplugged

| Thu Jan. 13, 2011 12:43 PM EST

I haven't paid a ton of attention to the Giffords coverage over the past two days, but hoo boy —  was Sarah Palin's video response yesterday one of the most ill-conceived political speeches ever? I'm not even talking about the "blood libel" thing. For all I know, she doesn't even understand what the phrase means — though I'll bet we'll soon get some kind of snarky, defensive tweet claiming that she does too know what it means and then concocting some absurd explanation about why it was appropriate.

No, I mean the whole thing. I happen to think Palin was treated unfairly over her "bullseye" map: if it was over the top, it was only slightly over the top, and it's hardly the kind of thing we don't see and hear all the time in political campaigns. But you know what? Unfair or not, the Giffords shooting isn't about how badly the world treats Sarah Palin. Sometimes you just have to let things go, rise above your critics, and appeal to everyone's better natures. But not Sarah. She's been wronged, and that's the only thing that ever matters in Sarah land. Her narcissism was practically off the Richter scale yesterday.

I think Doyle McManus is right: "The Arizona shootings and their aftermath will probably be remembered as the end of Palin's chances of being taken seriously as a Republican presidential candidate. She had an opportunity to rise to an occasion, and she whiffed." In any case, I hope McManus is right. If Palin can't handle a few days of partisan invective from the lefty blogosphere, it beggars the imagination to wonder how she'd do against some real critics.