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Month: September 2010 Page 1 of 2

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Leftists Should Take Credit for Bringing Down Democrats

Peter Dauo has a pair of well received articles on how the left, and specifically bloggers, have brought down the Obama administration.  This is in contrast to what many see as the attempt by the White House to portray left wingers as responsible for Democratic losses.


Look, if the left is so powerful that is is responisble for Democratic fortunes, well, that’s not something we should shrink from.  We should say “Yes, we can destroy Democratic prospects.  If you don’t do what we want, we WILL do so.”

Powerful groups get what they want, weak groups don’t.  If the White House wants to portray us as that powerful, we should embrace that description, because it is a blade which cuts both ways.

And there is an argument for it.  While certainly the economy is factor one, the people whom left-wing bloggers reach are the sort of folks who traditionally don’t just vote, they volunteer, they give money and they are themselves influentials, who convince others to be enthusiastic, vote, volunteer and give.  When, last year, I felt parts of the blogosphere lose their patience with Obama, I knew it would cost him, and it has.

Don’t run from this, embrace it, wrap yourself in it.  You are part of the left, and the left is capable of destroying governments which don’t do what it wants.  And this is good, because objectively Obama has not fixed the economy, has presided over further destruction of civil rights, has reduced access to abortion, and so on.

Powerful people and interests give away nothing they don’t want to unless they are forced to by others with power.  The left is either powerful and willing to use that power or it is nothing.

I Trust It Is Now Clear Democrats Hate The Left

Now that virtually everyone of any importance, up to and including the President has told you that they hate you, that you are a bunch of unrealistic ingrates who need to be drug tested, I trust no one still thinks the White House doesn’t hate the left’s guts, and that it comes from the very top, from the President?

I’m going to write on this at greater length, but the point folks need to get through their heads and burrowed down into their hearts and spleens is that Democratic politicians as a rule, despise you.  This isn’t just about the White House, Democrats in the Senate and in the House have done everything short of spit in your face, over and over again, as when Nancy Pelosi snuck an up or down vote  on the catfood comission’s findings into the lame duck sessions.

Not just that, but for whatever reason, these folks either don’t care about winning elections or are so incompetent they can’t see the obvious.  Everyone with any track record of being, y’know, right, told them the stimulus was too small and every political consultant knows the economy is the most important thing to reelection chances, yet they passed an inadequate stimulus anyway.  In a midterm election where they need the base to come out, they have spent the last six months insulting the base and engaging in policy after policy meant to enrage it.  They could have, for example, put off filing a brief arguing that government secrecy allows the president to assassinate any American he wants anytime until after the election, but they chose not to.

It is, for whatever reason, more important to Democrats to “hippie punch” than it is for them to win elections. It is more important for them to serve Wall Street, even if Wall Street gives more money to Republicans, than it is to win elections.  Further, they are  very happy to do very non-liberal things, like restrict abortion rights, forbid drug reimportation, gut net neutrality or try and cut social security.

It is not clear how many of them somewhere deep in their shriveled hearts feel they are actually liberals, but what is clear is that it doesn’t matter, because they won’t act on it, even when they control the Presidency, the House and the Senate.

Incompetent.  Ideologically right wing, only moderately less right wing than the Republicans.

This is your Democratic party.  These people are the problem. As long as they are around, the problem can never be solved.  If it could be, they would have done so.  This means, sorry folks, that the only hope for liberalism and for America to avoid a complete economic meltdown, is for Democrats to be swept out of power and for as many Dems who aren’t reliable progressives to lose their seats as possible.

Yes, the Republicans will do worse things, but that’s going to happen anyway.  And in some cases, as with Social Security, it is better to have Republicans in power, because it is easier to fight Republican efforts to gut SS than it is to fight Democratic efforts to do so.

I know a lot of people don’t like this calculus, but the math is clear.  These Democrats cannot or will not deliver.  They cannot or will not do what needs to be done.  They have to go.

More on this in a future essay, for now just understand this: the people who control the Democratic party despise you.  Loathe you.  They think you’re the sort of frightened sheep who will keep voting for them, keep giving them money and help, as long as they promise to be just a little better than the Republicans.

Are they right?

Tax Cuts for the rich create jobs outside the US

The standard right wing talking point that tax cuts for the rich and for corporations create jobs is true: Tax cuts for the rich create jobs overseas.

The tax cuts’ two bills, in 2001 and 2003 – changed laws so that personal income tax rates were reduced, exemptions for the Alternative Minimum Tax increased, and dividend and capital gains taxes also cut.

Yet in the debate, it seems of no moment to either side whether the tax cuts were effective in achieving their goal of spurring business investment and making the US economy more competitive.

Our own examination of US non-residential investment indicates that the reduction in capital gains tax rates failed to spur US business investment and failed to improve US economic competitiveness.

The 2000s – that is, the period immediately following the Bush tax cuts – were the weakest decade in US postwar history for real non-residential capital investment.

Not only were the 2000s by far the weakest period, but the tax cuts did not even curtail the secular slowdown in the growth of business structures.

Rather, the slowdown accelerated into a full decline.

The logic of this is simple enough.  If you have money to invest, you’re going to invest it where it’ll return the most.  Right now and in the past couple decades that is either in leveraged financial games, or it is in economies which are growing fast and have low costs.  The US does not have high growth compared to China or Brazil or many other developing countries.  It has high costs compared to those countries as well.

If you can build a factory overseas which produces the same goods for less, meaning more profit for you, why would you build it in the US?

Until that question is adequately answered, by which I mean “until it’s worth investing in the US”, most of the discretionary money of the rich will either go into useless speculative activities like the housing and credit bubbles, which don’t create real growth in the US, or they will go overseas.

There are a number of ways this question can be answered.

  • You could slap taxes on foreign capital flows;
  • you could slap tariffs on foreign goods produced in low cost domiciles so that companies have to produce in the US to have access to the US market;
  • you could push industries which are hard to outsource but don’t actually decrease American competitiveness.  The housing bubble increased the cost of doing real business in the US by inflating real estate costs.  A massive buildout making every building in the US energy neutral or an energy producer would increase US competitiveness.
  • you could try and do what America once did: have a tech boom.  If the future is being produced in a country then everyone has to invest there and when things are changing fast you can’t offshore production, because speed matters and offshoring is slow. This is why real wages increased during the tech boom of the 90s.

There are other answers as well, but the point is simpler: you must answer the question “why invest in the US instead of a low cost, high growth country?” Until you answer that question tax cuts will not only not do any good, but in a sense will do harm, by increasing the speed at which jobs are offshored out of America.

One of the silver linings of the State tax crisis

is that for the first time in 38 years the state prison population has dropped:

Professor Chris Uggen, at Public Criminology, summarizes the causes identified by the report:

Pew attributes the drop to greater diversion of low-level offenders and probation and parole violators from prison; stronger community supervision and re-entry programs; and, a quicker release of low-risk inmates who complete risk reduction programs. State budget problems have likely played an important role in accelerating each of these trends.

The decrease is certainly better than an increase, but Uggen notes that it is quite small.  The prison population dropped by only 0.4%, or 5,739 inmates.  Further, the decrease in the state prison population was outpaced by the increase in the federal prison population, which went up by 6, 838 inmates.  Even so, Uggen argues, this is significant: “…any change in direction is meaningful after four

I’d go further and say it was definitely caused by the economic crisis.  Suddenly locking up dark people and non-violent drug offenders doesn’t seem like such a good use of money. One can hope that this will continue.

What the Primaries mean

Tea party crazies are winning, and it’s not even close.  The deep rich, like the Koch’s, have funded this.  The Republicans figure they’ll get in eventually, and with a strong crazy hard right wing, they’ll be able to pass the stuff they really want to pass.

I think it’s going to backfire on the rich, these folks believe in tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts—but they also don’t believe in bailouts, and the rich WILL need another bailout.

America’s heading for its fascist moment.  Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

Yes Virginia, SS can be cut

Sorry, it doesn’t work like this:

Nevertheless, Grijalva is right. Social Security will most likely be left intact. Not because of any efforts of the CPC. Not because Progressives will stand up to block cuts. Not because Social Security is popular with the people. Social Security “reform” will fail because it is remarkably stupid and will result in devestating shame on the Administration and cause DLC-type Democrats to lose their seats. Whereas Democrats thought they could sell a crappy Healthcare bill as a success, there is no way Americans will watch seniors eat catfood and thank the Democrats for the priviledge.

No.  It doesn’t work like that. The bailouts passed with more opposition even than SS cuts.  If both parties agree on something, it is irrelevant what the public thinks because DLC-style Dems won’t lose their seats over it if it’s bipartisan.  Furthermore, even if they do lose their seats, they are willing to lose their seats in order to do the bidding of their large donors since if they don’t do that bidding, they not only stand a good chance of losing their seats due to a funding cut off, but once they’re out of office, they won’t be taken care of.

Public opinion is not relevant to the overall direction of what Village elites do.  It DOES NOT MATTER.  Calls about the bailout ran 100:1 to 1200:1 against, they passed it anyway.  Village elites are generally unified in their preferences for policy, and when they are, all you’re arguing is fairly trivial details, not the essence of the policy.  The question about SS in the Villagers minds is not whether it should be cut, but how.

That’s not to say it’s hopeless.  The last attempt to cut SS failed, after all.  But there wasn’t a Democratic president pushing for it that time.  Obama has proven very adept at arm-twisting Democrats.  The real question, however, is if Republicans will cooperate.  Cutting SS is something they want, but the tax cuts and pork they can offer if they get back Congress and the Presidency may outweigh that and the Tea Party types are generally folks who need SS badly.

We’ll see.  But I wouldn’t be complacent on this.  At all.

When Labor Is Strong Democrats Win…

union membership by state map

union membership by state map

Given that it’s Labor Day weekend let’s chat about labor—organized labor.  This post from 2007 is still relevant.  If you take a look at the map on your left something may jump out at you, as it did me. Where Labor is strong – Democrats tend to win. Where Labor is weak, they don’t. In the last election the electorate split fairly evenly, but amongst the groups that stand out as having gone Democratic, one is Labor. The general election was 49/49, but union members went 64/36 Democratic/Republican.

But it isn’t just about union members voting for Dems – that’d just make unions an identity group. As Matt Stoller pointed out back in 05 Unions actively help Democratic candidates. They give money, and they give it early. They do field and GOTV, and indeed, they probably have the best field organizations in America. Kerry ate Dean’s lunch in large part because of the International Association of Fire Fighter’s (IAFF) organizers out organizing (sometimes rather brutally) the Dean machine. (More on the IAFF and their endorsement of Dodd this time around later in the article).

Unions provide organizing space, they provide media surrogates, they conduct training, they support think tanks and so on. They provide a lot of the infrastructure that keeps the party going – and that pushes the party to pursue liberal and populist policies when in office.

historical union membership

historical union membership

As union membership has declined, so have Democratic electoral results. This isn’t an accident and it isn’t something that Republicans want to see stop. Unions have been under constant assault for decades – starting with Taft-Hartley in 47 (a bill Truman, his veto overruled, called a “slave labor bill”.) Recently, and egregiously, the NLRB has moved to classify nurses as supervisory workers, which would make most of them unable to be union members and basically de-unionize hospitals. (This is a loophole from Taft-Hartley, which made supervisory workers ineligible for unionization as a way of destroying the extremely powerful foreman’s unions that existed at the time.)

Democrats have often disrespected unions, even while paying them court. NAFTA was pushed through by Bill Clinton even though labor was largely against it. Indeed, I have been told that the unions went to Clinton and said “we have a war chest of many millions. We can spend it fighting NAFTA or pushing for universal health care. Your choice.” Clinton choice NAFTA over universal health care. Time and time again so-called free trade bills (which are usually more about free flow of money, than of trade, in any case) have been pushed over the objections of labor.

Meanwhile, the presumptive next nominee, Hilary Clinton, has as her chief strategist, Mark Penn, the CEO of Burson-Marsteller, a PR firm which is noted for its vicious anti-unionization campaigns. After receiving some complaints, Penn’s response? To stop doing anti-union work, which he claimed he’d never been doing in the first place (just getting the paychecks for). Did he tell his firm to stop doing anti-union work? No. Did Clinton demote him or get rid of him? No.

But, then, why should the Clinton campaign care what labor thinks? Sure, they complained, but when neither Penn nor Clinton really did anything to deal with the underlying problem (he’s the BOSS, and he should either make the anti-union work stop entirely, or if he can’t, quit the firm, if he doesn’t believe in it), labor really did nothing.

And in most cases, that’s labor’s pattern. They, like many Democratic constituencies, seem to be suffering from a certain learned helplessness. Take the IAFF, whom I promised to come back to. They endorsed Dodd last week. Now there are two possibilities here – one is that they are endorsing Dodd just based on his stellar record of getting behind their concerns. Hey, they backed Kerry when he was at his lowest (but remember that before that he had been the presumptive front-runner, a status Dodd has never had). The less charitable possibility was suggested in a Steve Clemons post:

My theory [on the Dodd endorsement]? It’s a case of the Althusserian “absent center” with Dodd as the donut hole.

The Firefighters don’t want to make the “wrong” choice between the three candidate that can win — Clinton, Obama, and Edwards.

They like Edwards like the rest of the movement but don’t think he’s going to win, and don’t want to piss off the Hillary machine. But they also don’t want to seem paralyzed and ineffectual. They want to be players. So they pseudo-aggressively endorse someone, but don’t piss off any of the big three by picking one of them against the other two.

After Dodd drops out following Iowa or New Hampshire, they see the lay of the land and jump to the likely winner.

I’m wondering how many endorsements by the unions we’re going to see for Edwards. Of the front-runners Edwards has the most union-friendly campaign and has promised the most union friendly policies. He’s been working hard for their support since the end of the last campaign. More to the point, to win, Edwards pretty much requires union support. Edwards’ strategy has always clearly been to do well in the early states and to get the union endorsements to supplement his ground machine, since he is well aware (having witnessed it personally in ‘04) that they have the best ground machine available.

If unions really are frightened of the Hilary machine holding grudges in 09 if they win, and unions won’t endors another viable candidate as a result, then the unions have made themselves into political eunuchs. If they won’t play, they don’t need to be taken into account. Hilary will throw them the occasional bone, sure, but is unlikely, as was Bill, to pursue policies that will do more than slow the long-term decline in union membership (look at the graph above and see how unions did under Bill). And unions need a reversal of that trend, not just a few years of slower bleeding, or even a halt.

Meanwhile the deeper reason that unions don’t get the respect they should in Democratic circles (and by “should” I mean on totally pragmatic “they make us win” terms) is probably because unions get little respect from white collar workers. Two episodes stand out for me on this – the first was that long period the 90’s where techies used to disrespect unions and resist unionization because they were being paid so well because “they were smart, and, like, knowledge workers” and therefore didn’t need unions. What they didn’t realize, because everyone who gets paid well always wants to think its because they, personally, are so wonderful, is that it was just a tight labor market for people with specific skills and that as soon as that skill set became common enough, the gravy train would stall. Sure enough, in the 00’s techies took it on the chin, and companies outsourced and offshored as much of their technical functions as they could. Suddenly a Bachelors in Comp.Sci wasn’t a ticket to the gravy train any more. Techies had made the classic error of attributing to themselves (genius knowledge workers who are each individually unique flowers with a skill set that can’t easily be replicated) what was a property of the situation (new technology, moving fast, not enough early adopters with the necessary technical skill set, therefore a labor crunch in the field).

And then, of course, there was the New York City Transit Strike – and the comments, I, as a blogger defending them, received from my commenters about how they should just be grateful to have decent jobs, shut up and go back to work, because my readers didn’t have half the benefits those blue-collar transit workers did and they didn’t deserve them anyway. No one seemed to make the connection that if the transit workers were costing the economy billions of dollars every day, then the economic value of what the transit workers did must be, ummm, rather larger than they were being compensated for. What was revealed then was a lot of ugly class hatred and envy – people with BA’s who felt that if they weren’t making it, neither should be blue collar workers without a degree. Fortunately, the majority of citizens of NYC actually backed the union (despite a full court press offensive against the union) and things worked out reasonably well.

But this middle class contempt for unions, and for the sort of people that make them up, boils up so frequently that I’ve come to believe it’s a deep malaise in the American middle class psyche. I’m not entirely sure why it exists, other than as manifestation of the very human emotion of envy, but it definitely exists. And as the middle and upper classes (who never liked unions to begin with) have become the powers in the Democratic party (try and get started in politics and you will quickly find that the easy route – internships – is mostly only available to you if mommy and daddy can afford to support you while you work for nothing) a fundamental misunderstanding, and often, outright contempt, for working people has taken hold (again, at the end of the day… remember all those “free” trade bills, passed by Democrats despite Labor’s strenuous objections).

Where unions are strong, Democrats win. But Democrats seem to have forgotten that at a very fundamental level and have allowed unions to sicken till they are but a pale shadow of what they once were. If Democrats want to win, they need to rectify that. If unions want their strength back, they need to hold Democrats to policies that aid unions, knowing that in so doing they are serving both sides. And the middle and upper classes that run the Democratic party need to get over their disdain for unions and recognize who their real friends are – even if only for hard-headed pragmatic reasons. There will be no new permanent Democratic majority like the one that ruled most of the post-war period, until the unions recover.

So this Labor Day Weekend I wish Labor nothing but the best. May a thousand unions certify and in so doing may Democrats sweep into office across the land.

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