Gary Wills: GOP Tactics Echo Antebellum South’s Secessionism

Gary Wills has a very enlightening new piece in the New York Review of Books about the debt-ceiling/shutdown crisis manufactured by the Tea Party wing of the GOP. I can’t add anything to it, Please just go and read it. It’s an opinion of the American present deeply informed by the American past.

Here’s a taste:

Republican leaders in Congress are too cowardly to say that the voting restrictions being enacted by Republican-controlled state legislatures are racially motivated. They accept the blatant lie that they are aimed only at non-existent “fraud.” They will not crack the open code by which their partners claim to object to Obama because he is a “foreign-born Muslim” when they really mean “a black man.” They will not admit that the many procedural laws adopted to prevent abortion are in violation of the law as defined by the Supreme Court. They go along with the pretence that all the new rules are “for women’s health.” De facto acts of secession are given a pseudo-legal cover.

Thus we get people who say they do not want the government in control of women’s health under Obamacare—just after they order doctors to give women vaginal probes the doctors do not consider medically necessary. Or that they do not want the government telling Americans what they should do about their health—just before they prohibit “navigators” from even discussing choices about their health. The same people who oppose background checks for gun purchases now want background checks for anyone the government authorizes to explain the law to people. This is a gag rule to rank with antebellum bans on the discussion of slavery.

So we have one condition that resembles the pre-Civil War virtual secessionism—the holding of a whole party hostage to its most extreme members. We also have the other antebellum condition—the disproportionate representation of the extreme faction. In state after state in the 2012 election, there was a large vote for President Obama, but a majority of House seats went to Republicans. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Obama won 52 percent of the votes cast, but Republicans got over twice as many seats (13 to 5), thanks to carefully planned gerrymandering of districts by Republican state legislatures. This advantage will be set in stone if all the voter restriction laws now being advanced block voters who might upset the disproportion.

The presiding spirit of this neo-secessionism is a resistance to majority rule.

(My only comment on all this I said a little over two years ago,)

Noam Chomsky: “It’s institutional structures that block change.”

Keystone XL demonstration, White House,8-23-20...

Keystone XL demonstration, White House,8-23-2011 Photo Credit: Josh Lopez (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If yesterday’s post of Lawrence Lessig‘s TED talk on corruption gives you reason for optimism, you may want to check that after you read this from perennial thorn in the side of the powers that be Noam Chomsky, who writes of a peculiar distinction between the most “advanced” societies in the world today and those  least touched by technological “progress” as far as the threat of climate change goes:

So, at one extreme you have indigenous, tribal societies trying to stem the race to disaster.  At the other extreme, the richest, most powerful societies in world history, like the United States and Canada, are racing full-speed ahead to destroy the environment as quickly as possible.  Unlike Ecuador, and indigenous societies throughout the world, they want to extract every drop of hydrocarbons from the ground with all possible speed.

Both political parties, President Obama, the media, and the international press seem to be looking forward with great enthusiasm to what they call “a century of energy independence” for the United States.  Energy independence is an almost meaningless concept, but put that aside.  What they mean is: we’ll have a century in which to maximize the use of fossil fuels and contribute to destroying the world.

And that’s pretty much the case everywhere.  Admittedly, when it comes to alternative energy development, Europe is doing something.  Meanwhile, the United States, the richest and most powerful country in world history, is the only nation among perhaps 100 relevant ones that doesn’t have a national policy for restricting the use of fossil fuels, that doesn’t even have renewable energy targets.  It’s not because the population doesn’t want it.  Americans are pretty close to the international norm in their concern about global warming.  It’s institutional structures that block change.  Business interests don’t want it and they’re overwhelmingly powerful in determining policy, so you get a big gap between opinion and policy on lots of issues, including this one.

This seems to be a pretty important point, but it’s very difficult to know how seriously it’s being taken: The United States government does not have the species’ or the world’s best interests at heart. And it’s not just the Republicans, who are an easy target for American liberals,  that we have to blame. The fact is the Republicans are pretty much brain-dead and useless at this point. But are the Democrats really all that much better on this issue in particular? Continue reading

Reagan’s Recovery vs Obama’s Recovery (UPDATE)

christofpierson:

Here’s an interesting comparison by Michael at EconoPolitics.com from April of this year. In sum, Michael shows, “Had total government spending and employment followed the same trend in this recovery as the 80s recovery, spending would be $895B higher and there would be 1,250,000 more government employees.”

Originally posted on EconoPolitics:

Last June, I compared the early 80s recovery under Ronald Reagan to the current recovery. I presented two graphs which compared total government spending and total government employment during the two recoveries. It turned out that government spending and employment both grew more during the Reagan recovery.

It’s been nine months since then. How have things changed?

The current recession began 62 months ago. Reagan’s recession officially began in July 1981 – so 62 months later would be September 1986.

At this point in Reagan’s Recovery (compared to start of recession):

  • Total government spending was up 51%.
  • Government employment was up 750,000.

Today (compared to start of recession):

  • Total government spending is up 22%.
  • Government employment is down 500,000.

Had total government spending and employment followed the same trend in this recovery as the 80s recovery, spending would be $895B higher and there would be 1,250,000 more government employees. Also…

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The Secret Seizure and “Progressive” Democrats’ Failure of Heart

Attorney General Eric Holder with Deputy AG James Cole, who made the call to seize two months of phone records of 20 AP reporters.

AG Eric Holder with Deputy AG James Cole, who made the call to secretly seize two months of records of 20 phone lines of AP reporters in search of a  leaker in the Obama administration.

My first instinct when I heard Monday’s revelation of the DOJ’s secret seizure of certain AP reporters’ work and home phone records was to say to myself, I’m glad I voted for Jill Stein.

My second was to fume over how infuriating this story is, what ham-handed ineptitude it displays. If there’s only one area of Obama’s administration that progressive Democrats who voted for him twice should agree with me about it’s this nauseatingly phony tougher-than-Bush approach to questions of national security. I mean, if I were the same person I was in, say, 2004 and had voted for Obama’s second term, I would be having some serious cognitive dissonance issues to deal with today. On the other hand, these are the same people who boasted loudly for half the campaign season about Osama bin Laden’s death (rather than his capture, which would really have been something to boast about), so chances are they won’t be too upset over anything Obama does in the name of national security. Continue reading

Also Sprach Hayek: Nietzsche and the Libertarians

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (Photo credit: risu)

Whatever has value in our world now does not have value in itself, according to its nature—nature is always value-less, but has been given value at some time, as a present—and it was we who gave and bestowed it.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882)

Value is therefore nothing inherent in goods, no property of them, but merely the importance that we first attribute to the satisfaction of our needs, that is, to our lives and well-being.

Carl Menger, Principles of Economics (1871)

Corey Robin has a fascinating, very long post up at The Nation on the possible (or even likely)  connections between Nietzsche and the Austrian school economists (Hayek, von Mises and their American disciples). He’s added a bit at Crooked Timber, where a lively discussion is underway.

Here’s his opening:

In the last half-century of American politics, conservatism has hardened around the defense of economic privilege and rule. Whether it’s the libertarianism of the GOP or the neoliberalism of the Democrats, that defense has enabled an upward redistribution of rights and a downward redistribution of duties. The 1 percent possesses more than wealth and political influence; it wields direct and personal power over men and women. Capital governs labor, telling workers what to say, how to vote and when to pee. It has all the substance of noblesse and none of the style of oblige. That many of its most vocal defenders believe Barack Obama to be their mortal enemy—a socialist, no less—is a testament less to the reality about which they speak than to the resonance of the vocabulary they deploy.

The Nobel Prize–winning economist Friedrich Hayek is the leading theoretician of this movement, formulating the most genuinely political theory of capitalism on the right we’ve ever seen. The theory does not imagine a shift from government to the individual, as is often claimed by conservatives; nor does it imagine a simple shift from the state to the market or from society to the atomized self, as is sometimes claimed by the left. Rather, it recasts our understanding of politics and where it might be found. This may explain why the University of Chicago chose to reissue Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty two years ago after the fiftieth anniversary of its publication. Like The Road to Serfdom (1944), which a swooning Glenn Beck catapulted to the bestseller list in 2010, The Constitution of Liberty is a text, as its publisher says, of “our present moment.”

The benefit of Robin’s article is that it doesn’t dismiss libertarian thought out of hand, as most leftist critiques might be tempted to do, but takes it very seriously and digs deep into its roots, showing precisely where the ancestral ideas that gave rise to our right-wing, market-obsessed American brethren diverged from the extremist right-wing ideology of the fascists in Germany. Libertarians may find the article unsettling, if they take Robin’s arguments as seriously as he takes theirs. Most Americans, left or right, may find it a disturbing read. I certainly did. Continue reading

AIPAC and the Evils of Republicratism

Gung ho at AIPAC

Gung ho at AIPAC

MJ Rosenberg makes these observations on his eponymous blog:

It’s hard to watch the AIPAC conference for more than a few minutes at a time. For me, the worst part is the pandering (and lying) by Democratic politicians eager to raise money for their next campaign.

So far, Joe Biden has been the worst. He is heavily funded by the Adler family of Miami Beach (he even brought President Obama to their home for a fundraiser), one of the big AIPAC families. Here is Biden talking about how the head of the Adler klan and another AIPAC mogul gave him his “formal education” on the Middle East. (Not to mention all that money.

And, of course, Biden (like John Kerry) knows better than his AIPAC speeches indicate. I have talked to him about Israel and Palestine.He can name the top Palestinian leaders in Fatah and Hamas and tell you the differences between their respective positions. He believes Israel needs to end the occupation and talk to Hamas. He would not dare say it publicly, although he has said  it so often privately that it is amazing the media never reports it.

But Biden does what he thinks he has to because, for politicians like him (that is, pretty much all politicians), nothing is more important than keeping donors happy. Call him a hypocrite but he cries all the way to the bank.

The Republicans are different. Supporting the occupation and threatening war with Iran come naturally to them. They don’t need lobby money for their campaigns and they don’t get Jewish votes anyway.  (This is not to say that they don’t like Sheldon Adelson’s money, just that as the pro-business party, they don’t need it). They support Netanyahu because they believe that the west needs to crush the Muslim world. They do not feign Islamophobia. It’s them.

Do we not hear echoes of  Yeats in this accurate picture of today’s politics?: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.” Continue reading

Another blast from the past

christofpierson:

“[M]odern democracy is at the service of global capitalism. We will not be voting our way toward a more humanist redistribution of resources, least of all if the market does not require it. Similarly, when we voted for Obama in 2008, we did not really vote for what we had the audacity to hope we were voting for, nor for change we really could believe in. We were voting, simply, for the choice the Democratic Party, through its intricate, arduous and obscenely expensive vetting process, presented to Democrats and Americans as the titular head of its party. We were not voting for any ideas other than the usual handful that get talked about endlessly in media that also owe their existence and wealth to global capitalism. We get what global capitalism pays for and wants and needs in that office to further its aims and agenda (of enriching the rich and distributing resources toward that end).”

Originally posted on Tragic Farce:

I call myself a Democrat because that’s how I’ve been registered all of my voting life. In fact, the older I get, the more disconnected I feel from that label. I don’t want to register as an independent because, Bernie Sanders notwithstanding, I can’t get over the prejudice that American independents are all right-wing at heart. Was it George Wallace’s American Independent Party that instilled this in me? Who knows? It’s beginning to feel, however, that the correct radical stance in this disintegrating context is to not register or vote at all. A vote begins to feel like acquiescence to the corruption.

Did Democrats or any other Obama supporter vote for the fiasco of the last month, culminating in the supreme surrender by our audacious leader last night to the anti-democrats of the Republican Party, bypassing the leaders of his own party to give the (fictional) partisanship-loathing centrists of the…

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Circumstances of Jill Stein’s Hofstra Arrest: “Symbolic” of What CPD Has Done to Democracy

Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala, the Green Party’s candidate for President and Vice President, you may have heard, were arrested a little over a week ago as they attempted to confront representatives of the Commission on Presidential Debates on the campus of Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, on the eve of the second official Presidential debate between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. What you may not have heard about are the actual circumstances of the arrest.

In a suit for injunctive relief filed on October 22 in Circuit Court in Palm Beach, Florida, to prevent that night’s third official debate from occurring at Lynn University in Boca Raton without inclusion of third parties, Stein’s attorney related the salient details of that arrest:

24.  On October 16th, 2012, less than one week ago, the United States Presidential Green Party candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, and her Vice-Presidential running mate, Ms. Cheri Honkala, were arrested for being on the grounds of the site of the Presidential debate which was scheduled to take place approximately seven hours later.

25.  Dr. Stein arrived on the grounds of Hofstra University at approximately 2:00pm in order to speak with defendant Commission for Presidential Debates to request that she and other “third party” candidates be allowed to participate in that evening’s Presidential debate. Fifteen minutes after making that request to a representative of defendant Commission, Dr. Stein and Ms. Honkala were approached by local police and the Secret Service, at which time they were handcuffed, taken to a remote detention facility/wharehouse/ especially set up to house “protestors”, where they were forced to remain for over eight hours while tightly handcuffed to metal chairs until such time as the debate between the only two candidates “invited” to participate in the debate was over.

26.  When Dr. Stein and Ms. Honkala were finally “un-hancuffed” from the metal chairs and released, they were sent out into the cold night in a remote location with no notice to their lawyers or staff of their release.

27.  Dr. Stein’s comments concerning her arrest, handcuffing, and incarceration are, in essence, the basis for this injunction. Upon her release, Dr. Stein stated: “It was painful but symbolic to be handcuffed for all those hours, because that’s what the Commission on Presidential Debates has essentially done to American democracy.”

We know the suit failed in its primary purpose to stop the debate.  But I hope you will take a minute and think about what happened to Stein and Honkala on the afternoon and evening of October 16. Think about these two women, candidates for president and vice-president,  on the ballot in 38 states with their Republican and Democratic opponents, handcuffed with plastic restraints to metal chairs for eight hours in an “undisclosed location,” like common criminals or terrorists.

This is what American democracy in 2012 looks like.

This Was a Foreign Policy Debate?

I made a comment to Washington Post Associate Editor Robert Kaiser in an online chat this afternoon about the debate last night:

It’s likely that Romney’s limitations [in last night's debate], which kept him trying to drag the subject back to domestic politics, owe to real limitations and inexperience. I don’t know why Obama was so ready to oblige Romney’s fallback to safety and follow him there. Nor do I understand why Bob Schieffer restricted most of the discussion to the Middle East and the military, as though that’s all the foreign policy worthy of being discussed or that Americans are capable of caring about. What about climate change, energy and geopolitics, immigration, drug war policy, the Eurozone and currency wars? This was the least informative debate in memory, except it did tell us almost too much about how vacant the discourse in the US has become, especially among the political class.

Kaiser replied:

Good comments, thanks. But I think both candidates are convinced that domestic issues will be much more important in voters’ final decisions than any concerns about foreign affairs.

The discussion is over, but here is how I respond to Kaiser:  Why have a foreign policy debate at all if it’s understood that the candidates and their campaigns don’t think it’s important to the voters and the media are willing to go along with them on that? Who was this debate for? Who are any of these debates for?

If you want to hear candidates actually talk about the stuff of foreign policy–how politics and economics in the US relates to politics and economics in other countries around the world–you have to watch democracynow.org’s Expanding the Debates, in which Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman allowed the Green Party’s Jill Stein and the Justice Party’s  Rocky Anderson to respond to questions Bob Schieffer put to the president and Mitt Romney. (Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson declined Democracy Now’s invitation. )  It’s doubtful, if you watched the official debate only, that you’ll have learned very much at all, given the extremely limited subjects discussed and the frequent derailments with domestic politics. But it’s almost guaranteed you will learn something watching the expanded format.

Homophobia in CA District 50

I’m shocked and a little shaken by something going on in a Congressional district far, far away from my own, here on on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t decided a couple of weeks ago to follow @MikeFlynn14. I don’t remember why I chose to follow Mike, or how our paths crossed, but it was clear to me his politics were sympatico to mine, in the #occupyWallStreet domain of the spectrum. A couple of nights ago, this Tweet from Mike caught my eye:

That certainly looked like a slur to me from this David Secor, whoever he was. I clicked through to Secor’s Twitter page expecting to find a Tea Party member and was surprised to find a Congressional candidate instead. For some reason, Secor doesn’t make his party affiliation terribly clear in his self-description (“House Candidate CA D-50.” You can easily miss the D there, as I did) but the politics he promotes there (“End Gridlock, Xtremist Control. GetMoneyOut! I take NO $ over $100! JOBS, ProtectRights4ALL,Women+,Vets+,PubEd+,Build USA RTs a +”) were confusingly left of center for someone who seemed to have just sent a homophobic taunt over Twitter.

I tweeted to Secor:

@davidsecor2012 @mikeflynn14 You’re really running for Congress? From CA? With an attitude [like] that? So you even have a chance?

Continue reading