2016 Election

Waving the Constitution at Those Who Ignore It

I waved my pocket copy of the Constitution at Nancy Pelosi on July 19,2008. Khizr Khan waved his at Donald Trump on July 28,2016.

I waved my pocket copy of the Constitution at Nancy Pelosi on July 19,2008. Khizr Khan waved his at Donald Trump on July 28,2016.

In real time Thursday night, I caught only the final few seconds of Khizer Khan’s powerful speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Through the rest of Thursday and Friday, more and more of the details of the speech flitted through my Twitter stream and then my heart was warmed when I saw photos of Khan pulling out his pocket copy of the Constitution and waving it at Donald Trump. Almost exactly eight years ago, I had done the same thing, waving my pocket copy at Nancy Pelosi, who then was Speaker of the House and appearing at Netroots Nation in Austin.

Khan was confronting Trump about his campaign in which he had noted that “Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims. He disrespects other minorities, women, judges, even his own party leadership. He vows to build walls and ban us from this country.” (Quotes come from this copy of Khan’s transcript.) Khan then continued, presumably in reference to banning Muslims from the US: “Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with our future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.”

In my case, as I noted here and then in a follow-up a couple of months later here, I was urging Pelosi to act on the clear evidence that the George W. Bush administration had committed war crimes including torture. Sadly, as we now approach the end of two terms with Barrack Obama as President, no significant Bush Administration official has faced any consequences for the torture and other war crimes carried out in our name. Further, despite clear-cut evidence of many crimes by banksters in the massive foreclosure fraud crisis that dispossessed a significant proportion of the US middle class, no significant prosecutions have been undertaken by the Department Formerly Known as Justice.

Khan is so right to wave the Constitution in Trump’s face. Note that a central feature at recent Trump rallies has been endless chanting of “Lock her up”, calling for prosecution of Hillary Clinton for crimes associated with her use of a private email server (and presumably also for Benghazi!!1!) while serving as Secretary of State.

And that is where I see potential huge danger for our dear Constitution. We already have seen failure to prosecute crimes of tremendous impact to the world and to ordinary citizens here at home. Should Trump win, how could a “Justice Department” that already has shown a willingness to ignore the law in response to the desires of two presidents in a row refuse Trump’s insistence that Clinton be incarcerated through massive overcharging of any technical violation (if it even occurred, which is a huge stretch on its own) on the email front and totally fabricated charges on Benghazi.

Thank you, Khizr Khan for reminding our country that we are founded on what should be a sacred document that lays out how we should establish justice. And thank you for the sacrifice of your son Humayun, who was lost while taking part in an ill-advised war in which many of the war crimes discussed above were carried out.

Here is the full video of Khan’s speech. Standing next to him is his wife, Ghazala Khan.

Surrogating the 2016 American Presidency

Tonight was the opening of the Democratic National Convention. It was a rather stunning difference from the scenes on the street yesterday and today, where there were minimal and well behaved cops in Philly as contrasted with the warrior cop oppressive stormtrooper presence in Cleveland. From my reporter friends from the Arizona Republic, the food is totally better in Philly too. Hey, armies move on food, and cheesesteaks rule.

Is everything coming up roses? Nope. There was the whole Debbie Wasserman Schultz thing. She was well advised by our friend David Dayen to stay away and excommunicate herself from the convention podium. But, crikey, the rest simply looks beautiful. Sanders supporters marching in the streets for change, mostly unfettered and unoppressed, other voices being heard, and all relative delegates meeting and co-existing in the halls. This ain’t the dysfunctional RNC bigoted shit show. That, in and of itself, would be worth this post. There is more.

Don’t let cable coverage and the relentless yammer of their panels of self interested toadies fool you, the few true camera pans at the RNC showed more than a few empty seats and a far smaller crowd (especially in the upper decks) than displayed tonight at the DNC.

The real tell, in difference, was in the quality of the speakers and presentation. The only lasting memory from the RNC’s opening night was the embarrassing plagiarism in Melania Trump’s speech. Honestly, my bet is that is not on her, but the understaffed and idiot handlers her narcissistic, yet bumbling, husband provided. That said, it was a res ipsa loquitur deal and, in the end, spoke for itself. What else do you remember from that night other than Tim Tebow did not appear? I got nuthin.

The first night of the DNC in Philly, however, came with a litany of decent and well presented folks presented to a full and energetic hall. Emphasis on full. The dynamics in staging and presentation were stark. As were the quality and mental coherence of the speakers. The first electric moment came when Sarah Silverman, who along with Al Franken, was doing a bit and intro to Paul Simon singing (a geriatric, albeit mesmerizing) Bridge Over Troubled Water. Silverman and Franken had to kill an extra 120 seconds or so and she blurted out some hard, and real, truth that her fellow Bernie Sanders supporters who refuse to help Clinton defeat Trump are flat out “being ridiculous”. Truer words have never been spoken.

But soon came Michelle Obama to the podium. I am not sure I have the words to describe how good Michelle was. As a convention speaker, a surrogate, a leader, a mother and as a First Lady embodying all of the above. Michelle Obama killed it. She blew the joint up. I don’t know how else to describe it, but if you did not witness it live, watch the video up at top. Just do it.

Frankly, at the conclusion of Michelle Obama’s speech, it was hard to see how the last two key speakers, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, could possibly top the moment. Sadly, they could not. Liz Warren gave a great, and often in depth, speech. One that absolutely slayed Donald Trump in nearly every way. On its own, it would have been noteworthy. But sandwiched between the brilliance of Michelle Obama and Sanders, with his acolytes cheering and hers still reeling, it seemed good, but not great.

Bernie Sanders caught a little more fire, but mostly because of his yuuge contingent of supporters. And that is not just a good thing, it is a great thing. Sanders did everything, and more, he should have done in this speech by ginning up the classic points and issues his campaign, and its followers, were built on…and then transferring them to Clinton.

It did not work perfectly, but this will be a process up until the election date on November 8. Bernie went a long way, gracefully and patiently, tonight. And, while the cheering crowd appeared to be much more than just the “Sandernistas”, all of the hall seemed to get on board. That, along with Sarah Siverman telling holdout Bernie Busters to wake up and not be ridiculous, were giant steps in unifying support for Clinton over Trump.

Listen, I have been around the block a few times, and know I am supposed to lead with the headline. Sorry, this one worked up to it, and here it is. The RNC and Trump got their lousy bounce because the media, once again, cravenly portrayed what happened in Cleveland as normal, and tit for tat, with what is happening, and will happen, in Philadelphia. That is simply a ratings and craven click germinated lie. The difference is stark.

Nowhere is it more stark than in the picture painted as to the surrogates who will come out of the respective conventions to campaign for their respective candidate between now and November 8.

Um, let’s see, for the GOP we have Newt, Carson, Melania, Thiel, Flynn, Joe Arpaio and Chachi Baio. I excluded Ivanka because she might actually be competent. Seriously, that is basically it for Trump surrogates. From the whole convention. Even Clint Eastwood’s chair took a pass in this, the year of the Orange Faced Short Fingered Vulgarian Bigot.

Let’s compare that with what came out of the Democratic Convention’s first night. Sarah Silverman, Al Franken, Paul Simon, Eva Longoria, Corey Booker and, then, the big three…Michelle Obama, Liz Warren and Bernie Sanders. That is just the first night folks.

See a bit of a dichotomy in personality and credibility there?

Then picture that Clinton’s road warrior surrogates will include not just the above, but also Joe Biden, President Barack Obama and the Big Dog himself, Bill Clinton.

Elections are won in the trenches. Say what you will about Hillary Clinton, and I will probably join you on many negatives, but the Clintons do have a ground operation. And their surrogates are like the 1927 Yankees compared to the Bad News Bears for Trump and the RNC. How will Trump bolster his bench, by bringing in Roger Ailes to molest the women of America? Is there another ground plan for the Trump Juggalos?

Sure, Clinton can still muck it up and lose. She, and the DNC, have been beyond pathetic in how they have treated nearly half their party, and much of their activist base, during the primaries and aftermath. Not just ugly, but stupid. They deserve any hell they get for that, whether it comes from appropriately enraged Sanders supporters or from press reporting on hacks (THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!!!)

Bottom line is this: Which set of surrogates would you think would do a better job spreading out over the country: Crazy Newt, Racist Flynn, Bigot Arpaio and Chachi, …. or Michelle Obama, Liz Warren, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama and Joe Biden?

Think I will go with the latter, and I think they will reach a heck of a lot more voters who will actually engage than will the trite and petty bigots Trump will have on the public offer.

And the Dems have a laundry list of other quality surrogates who will stand up. Trump has apparent Klan worthy members like Jeff Sessions, felons like Don King and Mike Tyson, and people who seek to be them.

Who you gonna call when it comes time to vote?

Seems like an easy decision, especially when you consider that the next 30 to 35 years of ideological control of the Supreme Court hang in the balance.

Brexit: Unicorn-Sniffing Naifs Deprived of Their Future

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 8.46.11 AM

As you surely know, Britain voted to Brexit the European Union yesterday, confounding predictions and setting off a great deal of uncertainty.

One detail people are focusing most closely on is the age differential shown in a YouGov exit poll. It showed that voters 18-24 voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. “The younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries,” a widely linked FT comment laid out. “We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied.”

That Millennial sentiment, and the overwhelming support for Remain, has been celebrated as wise by the punditocracy — and it probably is.

But the same people celebrating this Millennial view — one that embraced tolerance and opportunity — often as not attacked the overwhelming support by American Millennials for Bernie Sanders. That disproportionate support, coming from a much smaller part of the electorate but by very similar margins, was deemed a naive belief in empty promises (promises, of course, that largely resembled adopting the policies that the EU used to and in some places still represents).

I suspect the reality is that, on top of a real cosmopolitanism among younger people, both votes were just a vote for perceived self-interest, no more or less wise than the votes of their older, less cosmopolitan parents.

Still, those celebrating the UK’s Millennials for their wisdom might give some consideration as to why the underlying cosmopolitanism and interest in European style social policies of the young would be the perceived self-interest of the young on both sides of the pond.

Monday Morning: Scattered

That’s how I feel this morning — my head feels like a bunch of scattered pictures lying on my bedroom floor. Can’t tell how much of this sensation is work hangover from a too-busy weekend, or a result of a themeless news morning.

Often as I browse my feeds I find narratives emerge on their own, bubbling up on their own. Today? Not so much. There are too many topics in flight, too many major stories juggled, too many balls in the air, everything’s a blur.

The biggest stories adrift and muddled are those in which elections are central:

  • U.S. primary season wrap-up and the general election ahead — and I’m not going to touch this topic with a 20-foot pole. Imma’ let better writers and statisticians handle it without me piling on.
  • The Philippines election — the leading candidate is alleged to encourage urban vigilante death squads to reduce crime.
  • Brexit — Britain votes on a referendum next month on whether to exit the EU. Brexit played a role in the election last week of London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan, who also happens to be London’s first Muslim mayor.
  • Australia’s double-dissolution election — PM Malcolm Turnbull last week announced both the House of Representatives and the Senate would be dissolved and replaced in an election on July 2nd. Turnbull faces replacement depending on which party amasses the most power during the election. There have only been seven double dissolutions since Australia’s federation under its constitution in 1901.

Anyhoo…here’s some miscellaneous flotsam that caught my eye in today’s debris field.

  • Number of unique mobile device users: 5 BILLION (Tomi Ahonen) — Do read this blog post, the numbers are mind-boggling. And intelligence agencies want to map and store ALL of the communications generated by these numbers?
  • Browser company Opera just went after iOS market with VPN offering (PC World) — Opera already announced a free VPN to Windows and Linux users; today it targeted Apple users with a VPN for iOS (do note the limited country availability). Don’t feel left out, Android users, you’ll get a VPN offering from Opera soon.
  • Swarm of earthquakes detected at Mount St. Helens (KOMO) — The eight-week-long swarm has been likened to those in 2013 and 2014 due to fault slippage. An eruption may not be imminent.
  • Jihadi Gang Warfare (@thegruq at Medium) — A really good read about the Islamic militant gang in Brussels and how their amateurishness prevented even greater bloodshed in both Paris and Brussels. Unfortunately a primer on how not to do urban terror.
  • Google isn’t just feeding romance novels to its AI to teach it language (Le Monde) — ZOMG, it’s using them to teach it morals, too! That’s what Le Monde reported that Buzzfeed didn’t.

    Valeurs morales

    Deux chercheurs de Georgia Tech, Mark Riedl et Brent Harrison, vont encore plus loin. Selon eux, la littérature peut inculquer des valeurs morales à des programmes d’intelligence artificielle. « Nous n’avons pas de manuel rassemblant toutes les valeurs d’une culture, mais nous avons des collections d’histoires issues de ces différentes cultures », expliquent-ils dans leur article de recherche publié en février.

    «Les histoires encodent de nombreuses formes de connaissances implicites. Les fables et les contes ont fait passer de génération en génération des valeurs et des exemples de bons comportements. (…) Donner aux intelligences artificielles la capacité de lire et de comprendre des histoires pourrait être la façon la plus efficace de les acculturer afin qu’elles s’intègrent mieux dans les sociétés humaines et contribuent à notre bien-être.»

    Moral values

    Two researchers from Georgia Tech, Mark Riedl and Brent Harrison, go even further. They believe literature can inculcate moral values in artificial intelligence programs. “We have no manual containing all the values of a culture, but we have collections of stories from different cultures,” they explain in their research article published in February.

    “The stories encode many forms of implicit knowledge. Fables and tales were passing generation to generation the values and examples of good behavior. (…) Giving artificial intelligence the ability to read and understand stories may be the most effective way to acculturate them so they can better integrate into human society and contribute to our well-being.”

    Gods help us, I hope they didn’t feed the AI that POS Fifty Shades of freaking Grey. Though I’d rather 90% of romance novels for morals over Lord of the Flies or The Handmaid’s Tale, because romance’s depiction of right and wrong is much more straightforward than in literary fiction, even the very best of it.

That’s quite enough trouble to kick off our week, even if it’s not particularly coherent. Catch you tomorrow morning!

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 6: Totalitarian Propaganda

Only the mob and the elite can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself; the masses have to be won by propaganda. P. 341.

As we saw in Part 5, the elites were neutralized by violence against the Marxists and Communists. That removed a major obstacle to the growth of the totalitarian movement in Germany between the two World Wars. It opened the door to all kinds of crackpot theorizing and ridiculous conspiracy theories. But terror is only available when the totalitarian movement has taken over the state. Before that time, the state monopolizes the instruments of force, and presumably will not use them to assist a totalitarian movement to replace the existing power structure. Therefore, the connivance of the Social Democratic party was the chief driving force in the crushing of the Marxists and communists. Once that was done, the totalitarian movement began its propaganda assault.

Arendt says that both Nazi and Russian Communist propaganda claim to be rooted in scientific theories that explain the hidden mysteries of human society:

People are threatened by Communist propaganda with missing the train of history, with remaining hopelessly behind their time, with spending their lives uselessly, just as they were threatened by the Nazis with living against the eternal laws of nature and life, with an irreparable and mysterious deterioration of their blood. P. 345,

Propaganda was focused on the mob, the displaced and rootless people with little or no understanding of the actual state of society. The primary criterion for the subjects of propaganda was mysteriousness. The creators used all those subjects that were not part of public discourse. That included the Jews, the Jesuits, the Freemasons, and other secret societies, in general anything that was kept secret for whatever reason. The mob was disposed to believe anything that revealed the workings of secret groups exercising power in ways that made their lives miserable. And there are plenty of events that seem unlikely in life, so the propagandists were able to offer explanations for lots of seemingly random events.

The following paragraph deserves special attention:

In other words, while it is true that the masses are obsessed by a desire to escape from reality because in their essential homelessness they can no longer bear its accidental, incomprehensible aspects, it is also true that their longing for fiction has some connection with those capacities of the human mind whose structural consistency is superior to mere occurrence. The masses’ escape from reality is a verdict against the world in which they are forced to live and in which they cannot exist, since coincidence has become its supreme master and human beings need the constant transformation of chaotic and accidental conditions into a man-made pattern of relative consistency. The revolt of the masses against “realism,” common sense, … was the result of their atomization, of their loss of social status along with which they lost the whole sector of communal relationships in whose framework common sense makes sense. In their situation of spiritual and social homelessness, a measured insight into the interdependence of the arbitrary and the planned, the accidental and the necessary, could no longer operate. Totalitarian propaganda can outrageously insult common sense only where common sense has lost its validity. Before the alternative of facing the anarchic growth and total arbitrariness of decay or bowing down before the most rigid, fantastically fictitious consistency of an ideology, the masses probably will always choose the latter and be ready to pay for it with individual sacrifices — and this not because they are stupid or wicked, but because in the general disaster this escape grants them a minimum of self-respect. P. 352, emphasis added.

Our minds seek order. We need a coherent story to explain the way things are. In a functional society, people have social and economic certainties that form the structure in which common sense can operate, and that structure is closely tied to reality. When those structures break down, as in post-WWI Germany and Austria, people want and accept stories that provide them with a sense of order, and a place in which they can find dignity and self-respect, no matter that these stories are totally bizarre and disconnected from reality.

Totalitarian propagandists provided such stories premised on pseudo-scientific certainties about society, certainties that explained the random events and the damaging experiences that made their lives unbearable. They blame secret forces, mysterious groups that control everything. A modern day equivalent would be the UN’s Black Helicopters, the Army’s Jade Helm, and the claim that Obama is going to seize your guns. Older examples include the New World Order or the Trilateral Commission, or the fantastical claims of the Communist menace of fluoride. These stories are always present in the minds of a few, and they spread like cancer when the economic and social structure is in disarray. In the case of Hitler, Arendt gives us as a concrete example, his use of the silly Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This nonsense works because the totalitarian movement is able to shut the targets of propaganda off from the real world. In that setting, propagandists

… conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which, through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real experiences deal to human beings and their expectations. P. 353.

The elites, as we have seen, did not provide an alternative, but instead participated in these fictions, cheering them on, and through their art and music, provided even more disruption. Today we have conservative elites who deny science and bow down to the chimeras of religious fanatics.

Of course, today we don’t have anything as ham-handed as propaganda. We have endless advertising, whether in the form of paid spots on your TV, or “earned media”, as when the four former heads of the Council of Economic Advisers make up stories about a paper they haven’t read. We get bombarded with the most awful images and words, using techniques formulated to sell soap:

.…there is a certain element of violence in the imaginative exaggerations of publicity men, that behind the assertion that girls who do not use this particular brand of soap may go through life with pimples and without a husband, lies the wild dream of monopoly, the dream that one day the manufacturer of the “only soap that prevents pimples” may have the power to deprive of husbands all girls who do not use his soap. P. 345.

We see this working in the Orwellian language of Frank Luntz. We see it in the crackpot worldview of Trump, who adopted the Fox-supported fantasy that immigrants caused job losses in the US, and not the CEOs of Apple and Intel who built factories in other nations, supplying US built design and capital extracted from US citizens and giving jobs to Taiwanese instead of US citizens. This false view of the world is useful for selling the Trump brand over the Cruz or Rubio brand, and so off it goes to work on the minds of the poorly educated people that Trump loves so much.

There is a huge number of people whose lives are so disrupted that the stories pumped out by Republican presidential candidates sound good. There are millions thrown out of jobs who aren’t ever going to have the life they were promised if they worked hard and played by the rules. There are millions who lost everything in the Great Crash, and who now watch as their children shoulder mountains of education debt because they refused to pay taxes or to tax the rich. There are millions of racists, homophobes and misogynists who found a religious basis and government support for their biases, and who lost that support. There are millions of people whose parents are immigrants who somehow think that today’s immigrants are making their lives miserable. There are millions of religious people whose faith has been shaken to its roots by grasping preachers, pedophiles and a hierarchy that covered it up. The WaPo has the evidence. Barrons offers the spectacle of a deeply conservative Thomas Donlan calling the Republican base “losers”.

These so-called losers are not stupid people. In their despair, the advertising of the haters offers a bit of self-respect, and a story about the world that doesn’t require them to make radical changes.

Index to posts in this series.

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Index to All Posts

This post will be updated with all posts on The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. Here’s a copy of this book. All page numbers correspond to that version

Posts in this series:

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 1: Introduction.

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 2: Antisemitism

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude on the Tea Party

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 3: Superfluous Capital and Superfluous People

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude on The Commons

Capitalism Versus The Social Commons (published at Naked Capitalism; discusses privatization using Rosa Luxemburg theory)

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 4: Humanity under Totalitarianism

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude on Right-Wing Authoritarianism

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 5: Artistic and Intellectual Elites and the Rise of Fascism

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude Defining Elites

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude On the Twilight of Conservative Elite Pundits

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 6: Totalitarian Propaganda

The Problem of the Liberal Elites Part 1

The Problem of Liberal Elites Part 2 On Trade

The Problem of the Liberal Elites Part 3 on Trade

The Problem of the Liberal Elites Part 4 Conclusion

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 7: Superfluous People

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Conclusion

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude On the Twilight of Conservative Elite Pundits

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude On the Twilight of Conservative Elites

Previous posts in this series:

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 1: Introduction.

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 2: Antisemitism

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude on the Tea Party

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 3: Superfluous Capital and Superfluous People

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude on The Commons

Capitalism Versus The Social Commons (published at Naked Capitalism; discusses privatization using Rosa Luxemburg theory)

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 4: Humanity under Totalitarianism

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude on Right-Wing Authoritarianism

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 5: Artistic and Intellectual Elites and the Rise of Fascism

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude Defining Elites

After defining the term elites (see previous post), Arendt says that the elites did not actively oppose the rise of fascism in Germany and Austria, and in some respects were supportive. One problem I have (and I have several) is the lack of a direct explanation for the failure of the elites to confront the rise of fascism. The text raises one possibility. I suspect that immediately after WWI, most of the elites were sympathetic to the ideas of the Marxist left, and that many were actively interested. Then they saw that the Social Democrats directed the right-wing violence that killed and imprisoned the revolutionaries. That was enough to keep the fellow-travelers and the sympathizers away from left activism. They retreated to their writing rooms and their ateliers, and left the space of massive change to the right wing. They wanted “to see the ruin of this whole world of fake security, fake culture, and fake life.” (P. 328) The elites weren’t going to do anything about it, they just pointed and laughed as the mob solidified into the fascist movement.

Among the sins of these elites was their refusal to attack crackpot ideas.

To this aversion of the intellectual elite for official historiography, to its conviction that history, which was a forgery anyway, might as well be the playground of crackpots, must be added the terrible, demoralizing fascination in the possibility that gigantic lies and monstrous falsehoods can eventually be established as unquestioned facts, that man may be free to change his own past at will, and that the difference between truth and falsehood may cease to be objective and become a mere matter of power and cleverness, of pressure and infinite repetition. P. 333

That’s uncomfortably close to Karl Rove’s “we create new reality”.

At the same time the elites were disengaging from the political world, they were pursuing their own esoteric ideas, ideas which further distanced them from the mob. This ended badly for the intellectual elites. Some were driven out, some fled, and the rest found a way to accommodate themselves to the fascist states.

As I wrote in my previous post, the US has plenty of elites who are conservative, but if we limit ourselves to writers and philosophers, there has never been a serious conservative intellectual class in this country. There have been a few intellectual conservatives, although none spring to mind who would pass Hofstadter’s test, including specifically William Buckley. If you disagree, perhaps you could read down Richard Posner’s list of 600f or so public intellectuals and identify all the US people listed, living or dead. It is astonishing to think that the likes of Ann Coulter and Erik Erikson are included on Posner’s list. And I confess I’ve never understood why bookstores shelve Ayn Rand among the philosophy books. There is certainly a class of highly conservative economists, but to me they lack any pretense of being intellectuals in Hofstadter’s sense. Further, they do not self-criticize, they do not change their minds in the face of contrary evidence. This means they are ideologues, not intellectuals.

Using my definition from the previous post, Buckley and a number of writers and pundits and economists would certainly qualify as a member of the conservative elite. Let’s focus on the pundits. Does anyone take them seriously? When was the last time any serious thinker took up an political issue raised by David Brooks in his NYT column, or the conventional nonsense he spouts on PBS? Just take a look, if you can, at this absurd column. It begins with a paean to the US system of capitalism and social welfare, and, of course, our crony capitalism: “nurturing disruptive dynamos like Bell Labs, Walmart, Whole Foods, Google and Apple”. Then this:

It’s amazing that a large part of the millennial generation has rejected this consensus. In supporting Bernie Sanders they are not just supporting a guy who is mad at Wall Street. They are supporting a guy who fundamentally wants to reshape the American economic system, and thus reshape American culture and values. As he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, he wants to make us more like northern Europe.

Why those Millenials are just downright unreasonable in questioning a system that promises that their lives will be much worse than their parents. They should all start businesses and get rich, just like Brooks did, and just like their parents did, or something. Brooks says nothing about the lived reality of Millenials. He refuses to face the fact that his favored Republican policies, tax-cutting, deregulating, war-mongering, and refusal to govern, have saddled them with massive personal debts and a stagnating economy that shipped all the decent jobs out to other countries. In his latest, Brooks has clearly lost it. It’s an explainer of this op-ed in the New York Times from two years ago offering three views of marriage. And here I though glorifying marriage was Ross Douthat’s job description.

Douthat is a deeply silly man, mooning on about conservative values and governance in the face of the actual behavior of the Republicans in government. Here he explains how similar Donald Trump and Pope Francis are. Apparently if you want to change something Douthat likes, you are either a vulgar materialist or an intellectual ascetic. I’m waiting for Douthat to explain how Donald Trump has a classy marriage this time, and is therefore fit to be President.

The bizarre Thomas Friedman is shocked that Bernie Sanders said that the business model of Wall Street is fraud, which became obvious after those scumballs wrecked the economy and destroyed our retirement plans. Since the downturn also cost his wife’s family a staggeringly large amount of wealth, he might have wondered how that happened.

Not one conservative pundit has called out the crackpot stupidity of national politicians on climate denial, denial of evolution, tearing down the separation of church and state, denial of pretty much any fact or lesson from science, or their truly insane theory of government, that if you ruin it things will be great. Instead, they embrace every stupid idea, or simply keep quiet. They cannot tell fact from chain emails. Why do these conservative pundits, and by extension the rest of the conservative elites, think this will turn out better for them in the long run than it did for the German elites of the 1920s?

Thomas Piketty On the Democratic Primary

In an article in The Guardian, Thomas Piketty says that Bernie Sanders represents a real hope for the adoption of the tax policies Piketty lays out in Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Piketty calls for higher and steeply progressive income taxes and a high estate tax, which he thinks will lead to a reduction in income and wealth inequality, and to a better democracy, one less favorable to the interests of the rich and more open to the needs of society as a whole. He calls for a return to the ideals of the Democratic Party, ideals forged in response to an earlier awful financial debacle, and says that even if Sanders doesn’t win the nomination, he has opened the door for someone else to bring these ideas to fruition.

Piketty reminds us of the history of the Democratic Party starting with Franklin Roosevelt. He points out that FDR did not want to follow in the path of European nations, but instead forged a uniquely US path forward, including heavy regulation of the financial sector, a reasonably strong safety net, and a highly progressive system of taxation, including both a high marginal tax rate on outlandish income and a steep and a heavy estate tax that broke up fortunes quickly. After the financial problems of the 1970s, the disastrous loss of the War in Viet Nam, and due in part to the desires of the very rich, the nation turned its back on those ideals, and Ronald Reagan and his band of wreckers led the nation backwards towards a “mythical capitalism said to have existed in the past.” The Democrats did not resist these changes, but made peace with them.

Piketty says that the important thing Sanders wants to do is to restore the taxation system to previous levels, and to return to the uniquely US version of social democracy.

Sanders makes clear he wants to restore progressive taxation and a higher minimum wage ($15 an hour). To this he adds free healthcare and higher education in a country where inequality in access to education has reached unprecedented heights, highlighting a gulf standing between the lives of most Americans, and the soothing meritocratic speeches pronounced by the winners of the system.

Savor that last part, the part about the “gulf standing between the lives of most Americans and the soothing meritocratic speeches pronounced by the winners of the system.” The Clintons stand on the far side of that gulf with their huge fortune, their enormous foundation, and the hedge fund set up for their son-in-law whose meritocratic standing is open to serious question.

The last few weeks have sharpened our understanding of the differences between Sanders supporters and supporters of Hillary Clinton. Clinton is part of the neoliberal consensus described in Piketty’s article, which has governed the elite hive mind for decades. Sanders represents a break with that ideology. He is in the tradition of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the New Deal President, who established the US welfare state that was torn down by the neoliberals. Piketty too represents a break with the neoliberal consensus.

It is instructive to see where this divide lies. Take, for example, Paul Krugman. He is 62 years old, compared with Piketty, who is 44. Krugman is certainly liberal, but he has made it clear that he favors the incremental approach of Hillary Clinton. Krugman was trained in the mathematical school of economics, and even today insists that the use of mathematical models based on past history should be the central method of the discipline. Piketty was trained in the US, and is really good with those math techniques. However, he doesn’t accept the standard approach to the area, which he claims is closer to an ideology than a science. Instead, he adopts the methods of the social sciences. His book is a triumph of dogged efforts to read and understand 200 years of wealth and income inequality in Europe and the US.

Over the past several weeks Krugman has praised Clinton’s stand on Obamacare and financial regulation, and has derided Sander’s policies on both issues. He claims that Sanders cannot implement his plans and that they are somehow flawed. His comment sections are full of shocked people. Some call names, but many have more substantive issues: Krugman supported single payer in the past, and called for stronger financial regulation. Now he claims neither is possible.

What Krugman means is that the Republicans will never allow any tax increases. It’s that simple. He asserts that the ideas of Piketty and Sanders are never going to be possible because taxes cannot be raised. He accepts as a fact that there is no practical way to undo wealth and income inequality, that these are the immutable facts of our new normal. That is the dividing line between the neoliberal and the progressive wings of the Democratic party. One side says we need higher taxes and a larger social commons, areas of life not dominated by the rich people sucking up as much profit as possible. The other says we have to settle for whatever the rich will give us.

Krugman and most of the Democratic establishment is on one side of that line. And it isn’t an age thing. There are plenty of young wonks on the move who work inside the neoliberal consensus. Piketty and Sanders are on the other. And this isn’t an age thing either. There are plenty of people in all age groups, from Millenials to white-haired Boomers, who agree with Sanders.

This is the fight in the Democratic Party. Either you believe that we can change our government and our economy to work for all the people and not just the few, or you believe that we are doomed to remain under the thumb those who rule us from the far side of the money gulf with their laughable claim that they are the meritocracy and not a plutocracy.

While They’re Replacing John Boehner, the GOP Should Replace Devin Nunes, Too

In a profile in Politico, Justin Amash* makes the case that the Freedom Caucus’ rebellion against John Boehner isn’t so much about ideology, it is about process.

Republican leaders see Freedom Caucus members as a bunch of bomb-throwing ideologues with little interest in finding solutions that can pass a divided government.

But that’s a false reading of the group, Amash told his constituents. Their mission isn’t to drag Republican leadership to the right, though many of them would certainly favor more conservative outcomes. It’s simply to force them to follow the institution’s procedures, Amash argued.

That means allowing legislation and amendments to flow through committees in a deliberative way, and giving individual members a chance to offer amendments and to have their ideas voted on on the House floor. Instead of waiting until right before the latest legislative crisis erupts, then twisting members’ arms for votes, they argue, leadership must empower the rank and file on the front end and let the process work its will.

“In some cases, conservative outcomes will succeed. In other cases, liberal outcomes will succeed. And that’s OK,” said Amash, who was reelected overwhelmingly last year after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce backed his Republican primary rival. “We can have a House where different coalitions get together on different bills and pass legislation. And then we present that to the Senate and we present it to the White House.

The truth lies somewhere in-between. After all, 8 of the 21 questions the FC posed to potential Speaker candidates are ideological in nature, hitting on the following issues:

  • Obamacare
  • Budget and appropriation resolution reform
  • Ex-Im bank
  • Highway Trust Fund
  • Impeaching the IRS Commissioner
  • First Amendment Defense Act

Admittedly, even some of those — the financial ones — are procedural, but there are some key ideological litmus tests there.

Of the remaining 21 questions, 3 pertain to use of NRCC resources, 4 pertain to conference make-up, and 6 have to do with process. In other words, this block of members wants to end the systematic exclusion of their members from leadership and other positions and the systematic suppression of legislation that might win a majority vote without leadership sanction.

And while I certainly recognize that some of these process reforms — again, especially the financial ones — would likely lead to more hostage taking, I also think such reforms would also make (as one example) stupid wars and surveillance less likely, because a transpartisan majority of the House opposes many such things while GOP leadership does not (Nancy Pelosi generally opposes stupid surveillance and wars but also usually, though not always, does the bidding of the President).

The Yoder-Polis Act, an ECPA reform bill supported by 300 co-sponsors, is an example of worthy legislation that has long been held up because of leadership opposition.

While making the case for reform, though, I’d like to make the suggestion for another: to boot Devin Nunes, the current Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. According to the House Republican rules, the only positions picked by the Speaker are Select Committee Chairs, which would include Nunes and Benghazi Committee Chair Trey Gowdy (the latter of whom seems to be taken care of with Republican after Republican now admitting the committee is just a hack job, though if the FC wants to call for Richard Hanna to take over as Chair to shut down this government waste, I’d be cool with that too).

But with Boehner on his way out, it seems fair to suggest that Nunes should go too. While Nunes was actually better on Benghazi than his predecessor (raising questions about the CIA’s involvement in gun-running), he has otherwise been a typical rubber stamp for the intelligence community, rushing to pass info-sharing with Department of Energy even while commenting on their shitty security practices, and pitching partisan briefings to give the IC one more opportunity to explain why the phone dragnet was more useful than all the independent reviews say it was.

The Intelligence Community has lost credibility since 9/11, and having a series of rubber stamp oversight Chairs (excepting Silvestre Reyes, who was actually reasonably good) has only exacerbated that credibility problem. So why not call for the appointment of someone like former state judge Ted Poe, who has experience with intelligence related issues on both the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees, but who has also been a staunch defender of the Constitution.

Hostage taking aside, I’m sympathetic to the argument that the House should adopt more inclusive rules, in part because it would undercut the problems of a two party duopoly serving DC conventional wisdom.

But no place in Congress needs to be reformed more than our intelligence oversight. And while picking a more independent Chair won’t revamp the legal structure of intelligence oversight, it might initiate a process of bringing more rigorous oversight to our nation’s intelligence agencies.

Of course, who am I kidding?!?! It’s not even clear that the GOP will succeed in finding a palatable Speaker candidate before Boehner retires. Throwing HPSCI Chair into the mix would likely be too much to ask. Nevertheless, as we discuss change and process, HPSCI is definitely one area where we could improve process to benefit the country.


*Amash is my congressperson, but I have not spoken to him or anyone else associated with him for this post and don’t even know if he’d support this suggestion.

The Coming Trump Legacy On Immigration

donald-trump-bad-hairHere is a bloody secret about blogging: The best ideas you express often come from others, even if you value add on to them. Welp, there will be no value adding on here, this post is 100% the work of our longtime friend at both Emptywheel and FDL, the one and only Peterr:

I had this vision of Donald Trump taking down the Statue of Liberty, replacing it with an even larger figure of himself, with a new poem inscribed on the base befitting his views on immigrants.

The New New Colossus

Not like the New Colossus, French-built bile
With calling torch and open arms so grand;
Now on this isle a Grander One shall stand:
A mighty huckster with a scam, whose smile
is a racist, hateful sneer, with his pile
of ego-sculpted hair. From his grasping hand
comes a devil’s contract; his beady eyes demand
payment ‘ere any travel one more mile.

“Keep, foreign lands, your homeless poor,” cries he
with flapping lips. “Give me your greedy, your rich,
Your coddled wealthy yearning to pay me,
the grasping powers drawn here by my pitch.
Send these, the makers, ready with my fee;
I snuff the lamp of Liberty, that bitch.”

I leave it to your imagination to envision the figure of The Donald standing astride New York harbor for yourself.

Okay, Peter is a long time friend, and his take totally merited publication. But Lady Liberty takes some attending to. You have to want the freedom of this country, you have to want it bad, and you have to be willing to fight for it, even when that freedom makes your blood curl (props to Sorkin’s American President). But wanting the American ethos is easy for an apparently gerbil topped pretender like Donald Trump. Trump wants the limelight, wants all the glory, and never wants to answer for the hell of stupidity, bankruptcy, loss of jobs and ignorance that he really stands for. Troll on Donald.

So many have given their lives for the right of a hollow shill to troll the American electorate. So many have died for that. So many just to give a blowhard clownshow jackhole the right to parade around like he is diddly shit other than the court jester and a sideshow amusement huckster.

The American people can propagate and tolerate an enormous amount of stupid, but not enough to let a pompous, bankruptcy generated, pompous jackass like Donald Trump through the door. Just an opinion, and a sincere hope.

Nope. George Bush was one thing, Trump is a bridge too far.