Meanwhile

February 24, 2011

Muslim Killings Continue

Nigeria is an extraordinary place.  With over 150 million people, it is the most populous member of OPEC.  The country includes an incredible diversity of ethnic groups, with three–Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba–making up the majority of the population.  A religious country, the population is divided approximately evenly between Islam and Christianity.  The Muslims include traditionalists, as well as a Mahdist influence, while the Christians include a wide variety of sects, from Roman Catholic to Pentacostal. The Anglican primate claims to have ten times the US Episcopalian population of two million people.

It’s also a country with an extraordinary history of violent conflict.  As Libyan atrocities mount, the violence in Nigeria continues.

Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies John Campbell, former US Ambassador to Nigeria will discuss his book, Dancing on the Brink when he joins us at Virtually Speaking.

You can find more background material at his CFR blog.

 

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Binder

February 21, 2011

AdNags reaches up to the February Narratives Binder, flips open the tab marked “Wave Election” and selects the first page, and goes to the  Savvy Analysis graf:

But in the view of officials from both major political parties, Republicans may be risking the same kind of electoral backlash Democrats suffered after they were perceived as overreaching.

As often happens with articles built from a Narrative Binder template, this one doesn’ t happen to be true, unless you add in a word or three:

But in the view of officials from both major political parties, Republicans may be risking the same kind of electoral backlash Democrats suffered after they were perceived [by the Beltway]  as overreaching.

The reason the Democrats lost control of the House in the last election was not because they went way too far:  delivering way too much health care reform; sticking it to the fraudulent banksters who wrecked the American Dream; and using whatever means necessary to get the economy back to 5 percent unemployment.  Instead the Democrats did just what the Beltway perceivers told them to do. They listened to the overreach narrative.

Obama and the Senate worked to minimize both the scope, and effective date of health care reform.  Politically, they managed this so badly that people who still get health insurance were just getting their enrollment packages, complete with increased premiums, reduced coverage and higher co-pays on the week of the election. Not only was there, at that point, no relief for the uninsured, but the people who were insured discovered that all this talk of “Obamacare” meant they were gonna be out of pocket still more money in 2011.

They let fraud go unpunished, and left $50 billion in HAMP money on the table that could have ameliorated a still growing foreclosure crisis.  And they decided that there was really no pressing need for an aggressive jobs program, despite idle capacity, work force involuntarily idled and a bond market screaming to be used for long term infrastructure projects.*

This was not “overreach.”  As Marcy says in the clip above, the reason the Democrats lost so badly is they failed to deliver. They particularly failed to deliver to precisely those whom had voted for the first time, expressly  for Obama’s message of change. They were thirsting for something new, something better,  after eight years of shrinking take home pay, terrifying insecurity about health care and collapsing values of both homes and investments.

What they did not get was “overreaching.”  What they got was “not nearly enough.” So they stayed home.

AdNags would prefer to feed the overarching narrative of the need for Beltway centrists to tame the animal spirits of the willful base. So now the GOP is not being extreme–they are just engaging in the behavior typical in a party following a major electoral shift.

Underlying this commitment to the narrative template  is AdNags’ role as the self-anointing priest in the Church of the Savvy–from his lofty, objective distance he can see historical patterns invisible to the players caught up in the sweep of their movement.  His sneering is not, of course, limited to the politicians–he is also talking about the little people swept up in these pointless attempts to change anything.  It is, after all, just something of a game.

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*What you do when financial capital is cheap is take advantage of low interest rates to convert borrowed dollars into income generating physical capital–repairing bridges, building new rail systems, creating a  more efficient electric grid, pulling fiber to post offices and libraries.  This investment in physical capital raises economic growth–and the time to create those public sector job opportunities to improve the US physical plant is precisely when interest rates are low and unemployment is high.


Wisconsin

February 20, 2011

Yves Smith summarizes the situation quite nicely:

First, let’s debunk a couple of issues thrown out by Wisconsin governor Walker’s camp before turning to the real culprit in state budget’s supposed tsuris. The state budget is not in any kind of real peril. The Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated that the state would end fiscal year 2011 with a gross positive balance of $121. 4 million and a net balance (after mandated reserves) of $56.4 million. Walker asserts there is actually a $137 million deficit. But where did that change come from? Lee Sheppard of Forbes estimated that Walker’s tax cuts for businesses would cost at the bare minimum $100 million over the state’s biennial budget cycle. Other sources put a firmer stake in the ground and estimate the costs at at $140 million. Viola! Being nice to your best buddies means you need to go after someone else.

The second major canard is that Wisconsin state employees are overpaid. If any are, it sure isn’t the teachers, nurses, or white collar worker. Note this chart for Wisconsin workers byMenzie Chinn at Econbrowser (hat tip Mike Konczal) is of data on total compensation, meaning it includes benefits such as pensions and health care. And as Chinn notes in comments to the post, the disparity in the 1990s and last decade would have been more skewed in favor of private sector workers.

But it is also true that elections have consequences.  If there is a solid majority in the Wisconsin legislature who wants to break the unions, and a governor who is willing to sign legislation essentially eliminating the unions’ ability to obtain a meaningful contract, then shouldn’t the workers just suck it up?

Thing is that the reason we have devices like contracts, and like, for instance, judges appointed for life, is to preserve some continuity across the electoral cycle.  Defense contractors don’t have to worry that a new administration will cancel a commitment. AIG bonus contracts turned out to be immune from popular opinion, or the desires of elected officials.

Republicans, recognizing their position is in the minority of both public opinion and the legislatures, most of the time, do their best to destroy impediments to faction when they are in power, or can hijack. That’s why the Senate was hamstrung by fake filibusters, and why Obama cannot get judges confirmed. In those cases, the GOP was engaging in a holding action until the Senate turns in their favor, and they can do as they please.

In this case, if they GOP can break these unions, they will indeed go the way of PATCO–unable to reconstitute themselves even in a more favorable legislative environment.  That makes it worth the fight–and creates at least a moral authority for acting in opposition through public outcry.

This is a perfect subject for Stuart and Susie to discuss tonight.

Oh, and Athenae on Joe Klein.


Consolidation

February 12, 2011

Stuart and I have decided to open our weekly Saturday show with a discussion of this week in liberalism.

While everyone else was watching (on the web, not US cable news) the BBC or Al Jazeera English to follow developments in Egypt, there were some interesting developments among the ruling factions in the US.

First, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) formally ceased to exist. Appropriately enough, Joe Klein provided an obit, concluding with this howler:

Barack Obama’s success as a moderate-liberal transcended the old party feuds, for the most part. The Republican party became radically immoderate. The Democratic Party’s left seemed a pillar of sanity, by contrast. The DLC had few battles left to fight (ADD: And the Third Way group could fill the DLC’s role in a less obstreperous fashion). But I will remember it fondly for the intellectual stimulation it provided during some stultifying times–and for the humane, creative policy solutions it provided that have made our poorest neighborhoods safer, healthier and more prosperous.

In fact, as Stuart and I will discuss today, Barack Obama’s “success” has been in consolidating DLC staff members (Bruce Reed, Ellen Tauscher, Bill Daley) into the administration.  It’s kinda amusingly touching to see Joe haul out the “moderate” modifier to Obama’s “liberal” label.   The comments on this post are well worth reading, although you may understand my sense of samizdat in plain view when you contrast them to Joe’s post.

The other interesting ideological outbreak was the newly elected Tea Party House members joining with some of the old line small government conservatives to form a coalition with civil liberties Democrats to vote down the extension of the Patriot Act. Glenn Greenwald, as always, is the goto guy on this.

The establishments of both political parties — whether because of actual conviction or political calculation — are equally devoted to the National Security State, the Surveillance State, and the endless erosions of core liberties they entail.  Partisan devotees of each party generally pretend to care about such liberties only when the other party is in power — because screaming about abuses of power confers political advantage and enables demonization of the President — but they quickly ignore or even justify the destruction of those liberties when their own party wields power.  Hence, Democratic loyalists spent years screeching that Bush was “shredding the Constitution” for supporting policies which Barack Obama now enthusiastically supports, while right-wing stalwarts — who spent years cheering on every Bush-led assault on basic Constitutional limits in the name of Terrorism — flamboyantly read from the Constitution during the Obama era as though they venerate that document as sacred.  The war on civil liberties in the U.S. is a fully bipartisan endeavor, and no effective opposition is possible through fealty to either of the two parties.

One of the heroes on this one was Dennis Kucinich (GG again):

This was the contradiction which Dennis Kucinich smartly exploitedwhen challenging the Tea Party to join him in opposing the Patriot Act’s extension:

The 112th Congress began with a historic reading of the U.S. Constitution. Will anyone subscribe to the First and Fourth Amendments tomorrow when the PATRIOT Act is up for a vote? I am hopeful that members of the Tea Party who came to Congress to defend the Constitution will join me in challenging the reauthorization.

Also this week, the freshman and their allies have been attacking the Republican leadership for not holding with the spending cut promises that the Republican Wave ran on.  It will be interesting to see whether the Republican leadership can successfully school the incoming Members on the execution of the Big Lie (“the GOP is the party of smaller government”) on the legislative side. It’s always a bit trickier when you’re in the majority, but it’s always possible to blame the Democrats for the actual outcome.

It’s also interesting to compare the list of New Democrats with the vote tally of Democrats who voted to extend incursions on civil liberties that provide, at best, nothing more than security theater.

Which leads us to this week’s (NEW FEATURE!) Saturday Poll question:


Juan Cole on the Future of Egypt

February 12, 2011

Juan was at Columbia University on Thursday. He outlines here the (Bayesian) probabilities of different outcomes, assigning a probability of about 20% to an outcome we would regard as an operational democracy.

In the various discussions I’ve seen about the pros and cons of supporting authoritarian governments that will serve US interests, I seldom see it mentioned that authoritarian governments do not have succession plans. Or, rather, they do not have succession plans that survive the fall or death of the tyrant. The sycophancy that accompanies autocrats does not leave room for realism about what will come next.

While this is understandable within those regimes, it has always struck me as pretty fucked up that the Serious People don’t recognize this phenomenon. When they install a Shah of Iran, and support him through escalating levels of oppression, they set the stage for the emergence of a successor regime that will be largely defined in contrast and opposition to the regime they have installed. Moreover, their intimate involvement with the hated authoritarian leaves them with little leverage in what emerges as the successor regime.

Fortunately, from the perspective of the Realpolitik types, this doesn’t really matter as much as it might. The Iranian regime, for instance, kicks up a lot of verbal ruckus, but they still sell oil into the international marketplace, which is all that really matters to the US. Likewise, Iran is used as a tribal tool for the neo-conservatives, but, again, there is little material difference between Reagan selling the regime arms to fund illegal activities in Nicaragua and John Bolton lying about the nature of the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Of course, if you are concerned about loftier ideals, like participatory government that guarantee basic human rights, the fact that there really isn’t very much gained by jettisoning those principles has to bother you. Or, worse, that those who benefit from jettisoning those principles in favor of an inherently unstable autocracy is actually a very small group of the already wealthy and powerful.

Twenty percent seems about right.


Myth

February 9, 2011

Mike Stark, the guy who is calling out Rush on the realities of the Reagan Presidency, encapsulates much of what Will Bunch has to say in Tear Down This Myth. The real Ronald Reagan raised taxes, grew the federal government, massively increased the deficit, cut and ran in the face of opposition in Lebanon and had little to do with the end of the Cold War. Will joins us tomorrow at Virtually Speaking to talk about the book, in the context of Reagan’s centenary year.

Will systematically documents the real Reagan in Tear Down This Myth, but, just as important, he documents the process by which the myth was created:

A group of Republican insiders led by lobbyist Grover Norquist launched something called the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project. Ostensibly, the group’s audacious goal was to name something for Reagan or place a monument in every county in America. While they’re not there yet, the results are impressive, from a web of Ronald Reagan Boulevards and Freeways to Mount Reagan in New Hampshire to that massive statue in Louisiana.

But the project’s real purpose in creating an aura around a Republican icon was to then use that glow to sell an ultraconservative agenda not really rooted in Reagan reality. The 1981 tax cut is grossly oversold as the cause of that decade’s economic comeback, but a series of tax increases that Reagan signed, starting in 1982, are almost never mentioned. Also receiving short shrift are the facts that Reagan increased the size of government and created more debt than all the presidents who came before him — or that under his watch the American consumer began to get hooked on credit cards.

The myth didn’t grow. It didn’t reflect the great character of the President Reagan or America’s abiding love for a great president.

It was a PR campaign–an enormously successful PR campaign, creating an iconic image that had little to do with man himself.

Rush is tongue-tied here because he was part of that PR campaign, part of the team that fashioned this mythological being. When Rush says this:

RUSH: Well, because you understand Reagan in a way that is flawed. You –

Your call is actually kinda interesting because you represent the impossibility of “bridging the gap.” Somebody like you just has to be defeated. There’s no crossing the aisle and finding common ground with you. You’re free to be who you are, don’t misunderstand. I’m not trying to insulting. I’m just saying, you are unreachable. You don’t want to be reached. This picture of Reagan, you’ve just described somebody you should love, and you hate him! You just described somebody you should absolutely love, all these things. He’s an anti-conservative, as you say, but you don’t love him. You’re having trouble understanding why he’s viewed as heroic to a lot of people.

The reason why the gap can’t be bridged is that on Rush’s side of the bridge is a shining, gleaming falsehood.  It’s true that Rush will never be able to get Mike to understand why Reagan is revered as the apotheosis of today’s conservative thought  because Mike knows he wasn’t.  The reason he is viewed as heroic by a lot of people is because the hero they see is manufactured.

Rush, as part of the manufacturing team, knows this very well. He absolutely, positively cannot discuss policy during the Reagan administration, because Reagan’s policies simply do not line up with the image they’ve created. So he stammers and  stumbles, and tries to change the subject.

 

 


Concision

February 9, 2011

Juan Cole, from Monday’s Virtually Speaking Susie broadcast, on the nature of the the security regime in the Middle East.  He describes how the US sees the regional order, particularly from the perspective of the “Washington elites” who see a Egyptian, Saudi, Israeli triangle in the Middle East:

That order is unnatural.  It requires a feudal religious absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia. It requires a police state in Egypt and it requires an expanding and aggressive Israel that is taking the land of Palestinians keep them stateless and occasionally engaging punitive wars on them as well as on neighbors like Lebanon that object.

When Glenn Greenwald joined Digby on Virtually Speaking Sundays, he remarked afterwards that he enjoyed being able to discuss issues without the constraints of time that characterize most venues for these discussions. He referred particularly to the very short segments that make up political/policy discussions on television,  to Noam Chomsky’s remarks on concision’s role in limiting debate in televised venues like Nightline.  Chomsky argues that it is impossible to concisely make a comment that is grounded in something other than the conventional wisdom of the moment, and so demanding  concision of guests serves as a tool  to define the boundaries of  what Jay Rosen calls the Sphere of Deviance, “views which journalists and the political mainstream of society reject as unworthy of being heard.”

But as Juan’s concise clarity makes clear–especially when you contrast it with the flabby work we’ve been getting from venues like the NY Times on the topic–the absence of voices like Juan’s on the Sunday morning programs cannot be solely attributed to the need to express a clear point of view in four minutes.