Tag Archives: Doug J.

Erlernen Sie Von Uns, Amerika, Part III

David Leonhardt at NYT:

Remember the German economic boom of 2010?

Germany’s economic growth surged in the middle of last year, causing commentators both there and here to proclaim that American stimulus had failed and German austerity had worked. Germany’s announced budget cuts, the commentators said, had given private companies enough confidence in the government to begin spending their own money again.

Well, it turns out the German boom didn’t last long. With its modest stimulus winding down, Germany’s growth slowed sharply late last year, and its economic output still has not recovered to its prerecession peak. Output in the United States — where the stimulus program has been bigger and longer lasting — has recovered. This country would now need to suffer through a double-dip recession for its gross domestic product to be in the same condition as Germany’s.

Yet many members of Congress continue to insist that budget cuts are the path to prosperity. The only question in Washington seems to be how deeply to cut federal spending this year.

If the economy were at a different point in the cycle — not emerging from a financial crisis — the coming fight over spending could actually be quite productive. Republicans could force Democrats to make government more efficient, which Democrats rarely do on their own. Democrats could force Republicans to abandon the worst of their proposed cuts, like those to medical research, law enforcement, college financial aid and preschools. And maybe such a benevolent compromise can still occur over the next several years.

The immediate problem, however, is the fragility of the economy. Gross domestic product may have surpassed its previous peak, but it’s still growing too slowly for companies to be doing much hiring. States, of course, are making major cuts. A big round of federal cuts will only make things worse.

So if the opponents of deep federal cuts, starting with President Obama, are trying to decide how hard to fight, they may want to err on the side of toughness. Both logic and history make this case.

Let’s start with the logic. The austerity crowd argues that government cuts will lead to more activity by the private sector. How could that be? The main way would be if the government were using so many resources that it was driving up their price and making it harder for companies to use them.

In the early 1990s, for instance, government borrowing was pushing up interest rates. When the deficit began to fall, interest rates did too. Projects that had not previously been profitable for companies suddenly began to make sense. The resulting economic boom brought in more tax revenue and further reduced the deficit.

But this virtuous cycle can’t happen today. Interest rates are already very low. They’re low because the financial crisis and recession caused a huge drop in the private sector’s demand for loans. Even with all the government spending to fight the recession, overall demand for loans has remained historically low, the data shows.

Similarly, there is no evidence that the government is gobbling up too many workers and keeping them from the private sector. When John Boehner, the speaker of the House, said last week that federal payrolls had grown by 200,000 people since Mr. Obama took office, he was simply wrong. The federal government has added only 58,000 workers, largely in national security, since January 2009. State and local governments have cut 405,000 jobs over the same span.

The fundamental problem after a financial crisis is that businesses and households stop spending money, and they remain skittish for years afterward. Consider that new-vehicle sales, which peaked at 17 million in 2005, recovered to only 12 million last year. Single-family home sales, which peaked at 7.5 million in 2005, continued falling last year, to 4.6 million. No wonder so many businesses are uncertain about the future.

Without the government spending of the last two years — including tax cuts — the economy would be in vastly worse shape. Likewise, if the federal government begins laying off tens of thousands of workers now, the economy will clearly suffer.

Doug J.:

Bobo six months ago on German austerity:

The early returns suggest the Germans were. The American stimulus package was supposed to create a “summer of recovery,” according to Obama administration officials. Job growth was supposed to be surging at up to 500,000 a month. Instead, the U.S. economy is scuffling along.

[….]

The economy can’t be played like a piano — press a fiscal key here and the right job creation notes come out over there. Instead, economic management is more like parenting. If you instill good values and create a secure climate then, through some mysterious process you will never understand, things will probably end well.

An actual economics reporter (Dave Leonhardt) today:

With its modest stimulus winding down, Germany’s growth slowed sharply late last year, and its economic output still has not recovered to its prerecession peak. Output in the United States — where the stimulus program has been bigger and longer lasting — has recovered. This country would now need to suffer through a double-dip recession for its gross domestic product to be in the same condition as Germany’s.

[…..]

“It’s really quite striking how well the U.S. is performing relative to the U.K., which is tightening aggressively,” says Ian Shepherdson, a Britain-based economist for the research firm High Frequency Economics, “and relative to Germany, which is tightening more modestly.” Mr. Shepherdson adds that he generally opposes stimulus programs for a normal recession but that they are crucial after a crisis.

It’s pretty much a guarantee that any argument involving the idea of government as parent will be a faulty argument.

No one could have predicted that Paul Krugman would be right about austerity.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

David Leonhardt is speaking simple economic truths in what must sound like a foreign language, given the tenor of debates over the past few months. Standard economic theories haven’t applied in Washington for a while, so Leonhardt’s essay has the force of the running man throwing the hammer into the Big Brother TV screen in the famous Apple 1984 commercial.

Leonhardt manages to mention that GDP is still growing too slowly in the US for mass hiring, even with a higher growth rate than Germany. He manages to note the state and local cuts that will blunt recovery. He manages to look at interest rates, which are historically low, and reason that government spending is not crowding out the private sector in any way. He calls John Boehner a liar for saying the federal workforce has grown by 200,000 employees since Barack Obama’s tenure in office (it’s about 1/4 that). He says that the problem right now is a lack of demand. He cites the much better example of Britain, which has gone whole-hog for austerity and seen negative job growth and negative GDP growth since.

I’d like to think that this kind of truth would, like resuscitating a dying patient, shock the political class back to life. More likely it will just fall down the memory hole, drowned out by the bipartisan cries of “we all want to cut spending.” The unemployed are still invisible, economic theory is still upside down, and one article won’t change that.

It would be nice if it did.

Andrew Leonard at Salon:

What do we learn from the correlation between states with the worst housing bust and budget shortfalls? If U.S. economic growth slows, the federal deficit situation will get worse. Republicans believe that cutting government spending will spur economic growth. But the evidence we have from countries that have attempted such a strategy since the Great Recession began to ebb — Germany and the United Kingdom — suggests exactly the opposite. Austerity policies are not the right medicine for a fragile economy.

Felix Salmon:

One of the best aspects of being a journalist is that you get to talk at length to the most knowledgeable and interesting experts on just about any subject you can think of. For me, yesterday was a prime case in point: a long and fascinating lunch with James Macdonald, the author of my favorite book on the history of sovereign debt. Turns out he also has a microscopic vineyard in Tuscany, so the conversation ebbed wonderfully from economics to wine and back.

Macdonald has an economic historian’s view of the current austerity debate, and he was very clear: if you look at the history of countries trying to cut and deflate their way to prosperity while keeping their currencies pegged, it’s pretty grim — all the way back to Napoleonic times. Sometimes, the peg is gold. For a good example of the destructive abilities of that particular peg, look at the UK in the 1920s, which Macdonald says was arguably worse than the US in the 1930s: shallower, to be sure, but substantially longer. The devaluation of the pound, when it finally came, was very long overdue.

At other times, the peg is simply political: Macdonald gives the example of southern Italy being locked into what was essentially the Piedmontese monetary system at the time of the Risorgimento. That might have been well over a century ago, but there’s a case to be made that it has hobbled just about everywhere south of Rome to this day — and that’s in a country with about as much internal labor mobility as between EU countries.

So from a historical perspective, the prospects for countries like Portugal, Ireland and Greece are pretty grim. They can cut their budgets drastically and stay pegged to the euro, but most of them would be better off in the position of Iceland, which can and did devalue in a crisis (and allowed its banks to default, too). So far, the Baltic states have stuck to their deflationary guns with the most determination and discipline, but such things work until they don’t: at some point it’s entirely possible that Latvia or Estonia could pull an Argentina and kickstart growth by devaluing.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

I’m sure that, in the light of this new evidence, American conservatives will undertake a thorough rethinking of their anti-stimulus beliefs. After all, as they told us at the time, this was a natural experiment.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Economics, Foreign Affairs, The Crisis

One Stop For All Your Marty Peretz News

The New Republic:

Today, The New Republic announces that Marty Peretz, who has been editor-in-chief of the magazine for 37 years, will become editor-in-chief emeritus. In addition, he will move from writing his blog, The Spine, to writing a column for the website. Marty’s stewardship of The New Republic has been the liveliest and the most intellectually consequential in the long history of the magazine. Though he will no longer be at the top of the masthead, he will remain in the thick of things. Below are some thoughts from Marty:

I have been with The New Republic going on 37 years, almost all of them with the title of editor-in-chief. The truth is that I hardly ever actually edited an article for the magazine. But, frankly, it was my vision—and the vision of my compatriots—of what was needed for a serious journal of opinion in American society that defined what TNR has become since 1974.

The editors and staff we assembled constitute a marvel of American journalism, a long magic moment of intelligence, moral seriousness, responsible politics … and, forgive me, a deep concern for the national interest. Sometimes we quarreled with our readers and often amongst ourselves. And the truth is that there were a few occasions—very few, actually—in which, as proprietor of the publication, I exercised the prerogative of firing someone. But there was only one occasion when I kept an article from being published. From today’s perspective my reluctance to print something on Ted Kennedy’s sex life may seem too precious or finicky. Still, I think it was the correct judgment. Let others traffic in such trash.

So I endured hundreds and maybe thousands of pieces which I believed to be ethically flawed, historically wrong, politically foolish. History, in whatever ways history does these chores, will ultimately sort it all out. I dare say that I have tested the patience of some of my staff with more than a few of my articles and perhaps The Spine almost in its entirety. As errants go, however, they’ve flourished at least as much as I have.

Alex Pareene at Salon:

For those still wondering about the fate of Muslim-hating erstwhile New Republic owner and editor-in-chief Martin Peretz, they’ve finally made an official announcement: He is now the “editor-in-chief emeritus.” Marty never actually edited the magazine — though he hired and fired editors — but his title and ownership of the magazine allowed him to write first his regular columns and then “The Spine,” his dyspeptic blog. It is the blog that got him in trouble, which just revealed that no one ever read his print column.

And so, according to a recent New York magazine profile of Peretz, they were going to make him stop blogging. Except he kept blogging. And that is because, according to a slightly more recent New York Times Magazine profile of Peretz, he just refused to stop.

Multiple New Republic staff members told me that The Spine would soon be replaced by a rigorously edited weekly Peretz column. In Tel Aviv, Peretz laughed at the thought.

“That’s not going to happen,” Peretz said.

Now, that is going to happen. Sort of. Mostly. “In addition” to the new column, anonymous New Republic editors write, “he will move from writing his blog, The Spine, to writing a column for the website.”

Chris Rovzar at New York Magazine:

New Republic owner Marty Peretz, who has been much-profiled of late, has admitted he really hasn’t been editing the magazine for years now. (He lives in Israel, for one thing.) And now he’ll officially pass his editor-in-chief title on to Richard Just, who has been serving as editor since Franklin Foer left last month. “I have been with The New Republic going on 37 years, almost all of them with the title of editor-in-chief,” Peretz wrote in a farewell note, according to Keith Kelly. “The truth is that I hardly ever actually edited an article for the magazine. But, frankly, it was my vision and the vision of my compatriots of what was needed for a serious journal of opinion in American society that defined what TNR has become since 1974.” Peretz will continue to write a column for the website, which means his departure as titular E-i-C may not actually be a relief for anybody at the magazine.

John Cook at Gawker:

Martin Peretz is an obscenely wealthy moral cripple who owns the New Republic. His penchant for spouting ethnic slurs against Arabs recently earned him two lengthy and intense magazine profiles. Neither one saw fit to report that he is gay.

It’s an open secret in Washington, D.C., that Peretz, who came to own the New Republic after marrying Anne Labouisse, an heiress to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, is sexually attracted to men. We’ve spoken to several people who have direct (though not intimate) knowledge of Peretz’s sexual preference and say that he makes no effort to hide it. We’re told that his children have spoken openly of their father’s life as a gay man. This is not a closely guarded secret or fleeting rumor; it’s a commonplace among members of the Washington politico-media power axis.

Peretz’s life has sort of fallen apart over the last year. Though he has been an avowed bigot for most of his adult life, he has only been held to account for his ethnic hostility to Arabs and Persians recently, when he wondered aloud on his New Republic blog “whether I need honor these people and pretend they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.” The “these people” were Arabs, for whom Peretz also said “life is cheap” (he later apologized for the First Amendment line). The naked racism of the sentiment caused even some of Peretz’ oldest friends to hang their heads in shame, and served as an ignominious cap to his career. He and his wife divorced in 2009 (they had been separated since 2005), and late last year he stepped down as the New Republic‘s titular editor-in-chief and moved to Tel Aviv, where he teaches high school students and is active on the social circuit (he still maintains residences in New York City and Cambridge, Mass.).

A late-life crisis for such an eminent figure—not to mention Peretz’s defiance in the face of critics that included longtime supporters—is catnip for magazine editors. So in December, New York published Benjamin Wallace-Wells‘ 5,500-word profile, “Peretz in Exile.” The piece delved into all manner of details of Peretz’s personal life—”theirs was a complicated union,” Wallace-Wells wrote of his marriage, quoting Peretz saying “our values—and our lifestyles—sundered us apart.” The piece noted that some of Peretz’s closest friends and family members viewed him as “more compartmentalized than ever-open, almost to a fault, and yet also hidden.” And it noted—with a wink to insiders so Wallace-Wells wouldn’t appear clueless—that Peretz’s “friendships with younger men were sometimes so intense that they could seem to border on the erotic.” As for Peretz’s actual erotic relationships with men, or the role they may or may not have played in the dissolution of his marriage—they apparently didn’t merit inclusion.

And now this week comes another 5,000-plus-word profile, this time in the New York Times Magazine. Stephen Rodrick‘s “Martin Peretz Is Not Sorry About Anything” covers much of the same ground—though it includes the rather insane story of Peretz testifying on behalf of notorious New Republic fabulist-turned lawyer Stephen Glass at a California Bar Association hearing last year. Like Wallace-Wells, Rodrick aimed squarely at Peretz’s personal romantic life but chose not to mention the most salient fact about that life. “His wife cited his infidelities and explosive temper as problems in the marriage,” Rodrick writes, “but Peretz pre-empted any discussion of his romantic world, declaring, ‘My sexual life is too complicated for one word, and not complicated enough for 15.'” Unless he is an idiot, Rodrick knew precisely what Peretz was talking about, but chose to leave readers with a blurry evasion—just as he chose to write without further clarification that Peretz “lives part of the year in a high-rise apartment tended by his assistant, a 26-year-old former I.D.F. officer.” More winks for those in the know.

Both pieces purport to be attempts to understand Peretz’s psyche, and their deliberate elisions of one of the most foundational aspects of that psyche is fundamentally dishonest. We are given to understand that Peretz is important to know, and that in order to know him we must know about his wife, his marriage, his infidelities—but not his sexuality.

Eric Alterman at The American Prospect:

Well, it’s finally over. Martin Peretz, who, according to David Horowitz’s Frontpage webzine, “has been a pillar of responsible liberalism since buying The New Republic magazine in 1974,” has finally been shown the door. He did not go quietly. You can find his parting remarks here and also here and here. Peretz left TNR as he inhabited it: in a splendid (and splenetic) fit of pique, pessimism, and personality-driven politics.

No one who knew Peretz or his magazine will doubt that it was full of sound and fury. But what did it signify? It’s no easy task to sum up 37 years of anything, much less the tenure of a magazine editor who prided himself on being described as “schizophrenic.” For some, the fact that right-wing zealots like Horowitz, his Sancho Panza, Ronald Radosh, and National Review‘s Jonah Goldberg were the only people willing to come to Peretz’s defense as he was pilloried as a racist crank tells you all you need to know about the man. (It does, after all, take one to know one.)

But then there is the matter of the magazine itself. It’s long been a cliché to point out that Peretz hired editors who were both more liberal, and usually, more intelligent than he was. And many of them went on to become among the brightest stars of the American journalistic firmament. One of them, Leon Wieseltier, stayed and stayed. (The Times piece hints of the possible gift of a house from his patron.) Allowing for a few personal obsessions of his own, Wieseltier has managed week after week, for a quarter century, to publish the most stimulating and erudite “back of the book” available anywhere in America. No matter what egregious attacks Peretz sent forth against Arabs, blacks, Mexicans, or (no less frequently) liberals, Wieseltier never had any trouble attracting top-tier reviewers whether in politics or literature and eliciting what was often their best work.

So the plus side of Peretz’s tenure was that the magazine was mostly liberal, mostly well-edited, and easily dismissible when it wasn’t. But while it is true that under Mike Kinsley, Rick Hertzberg, and to lesser extent, Peter Beinart and Frank Foer, TNR lived up to its reputation as a lively, contrarian read on the week’s news with a strong liberal voice, its net effect — even in its best years — was to weaken liberalism and comfort conservatives. The primary problem was the fact that unlike say, Commentary, which after a few years of claiming that it had been “mugged by reality” owned up to its conservative conversion, TNR continued to insist that it spoke for American liberalism. And people who did not pay too close attention — or had their own reasons for indulging this conceit — played along. And so the virus of liberal self-hatred infected the entire bloodstream of liberalism — particularly with regard to Israel and the Palestinians — and bore at its body from within.

The old “even the liberal New Republic” line that dates back to the Reagan era was no joke. Kinsley and Hertzberg could write the most brilliant eviscerations of Reaganite nonsense available anywhere, but the fact that elsewhere in the magazine, these same endeavors were receiving the enthusiastic endorsements not only of Peretz but of Charles Krauthammer, Fred Barnes, Morton Kondracke — even on occasion, the likes of Jeane Kirkpatrick and Richard Perle — counted for far more in the context of contemporary debate. The sad fact of political life in Washington is that “liberals” are never so influential as when they are throwing in the towel on their own team and endorsing the arguments of the other side. (The punditocracy tends to call this “moderation.”) The New Republic “mattered” when it endorsed the contras, the U.S. war in El Salvador, the MX missile, Charles Murray’s racist pseudo-science, Republican lies about the Clinton health-care-reform plan, the Iraq War, and pretty much everything the Israeli government has said and done for the past 37 years; other times, not so much. Liberals making liberal points, however eloquently, might make other liberals feel better. They might help to inform their arguments. But they do not make news; they do not get their authors invited on Sunday shows or invited to the White House.

Doug J.:

I think Peretz’s corruption of liberalism within the media went even deeper. He hired a lot of TNRers when they were young, just out of some Ivy League school. I knew a lot of the type of the kids he would hire and they are the most affirmation-craving people you could possibly imagine. A few years of getting patted on the head by a millionaire for churning out contrarian Harvard-dining hall bullshit leaves its mark on such souls. I don’t think Michael Kinsley ever recovered from it, though I agree he can be very sharp when he’s not basking in the brilliance of his own counterintuitive ironies. With nearly all of these TNRers, the desire to bust out “how genocide is good for your 401K” remained long after they were no longer in Peretz’s employ.

There’s no question that prominent so-called “liberals” in the media have wanked around “spreading freedom”, bashing unions, doing triple-backwards contrarian reverses, musing about IQs and school uniforms, while the American middle-class has languished on life support. That’s not right.

Leave a comment

Filed under Mainstream, New Media

The Murder Of Brisenia Flores

Will Bunch at Media Matters:

All of America continues to mourn the unbelievably tragic loss of Christina Green, the 9-year-old granddaughter of former Phillies’ manager Dallas Green who was killed, along with five adults, by a murderous madman trying to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson. The sight of Christina’s parents and brother in the gallery at the State of the Union address last night is more proof that the killing of such an innocent continues to resonate with the American people.

You’ve heard all about Christina Green, but do you know about Brisenia Flores? Like Christina, Brisenia was 9 years old, and she also lived in Pima County, Arizona, not far from Tucson. Like Christina, she was gunned down in cold blood by killers with strange ideas about society and politics.

But there are also important differences. While the seriously warped mind of Christina’s Tucson murderer, Jared Lee Loughner, is a muddled mess, the motives of one of Brisenia’s alleged killers– a woman named Shawna Forde — are pretty clear: She saw herself as the leader of an armed movement against undocumented immigrants, an idea that was energized by her exposure to the then-brand-new Tea Party Movement. But unlike the horrific spree that took Christina’s life, the political murder of Brisenia and her dad (while Brisenia’s mom survived only by pretending to be dead) has only received very sporadic coverage in the national media. That’s a shame, because it’s an important story that illustrates the potential for senseless violence when hateful rhetoric on the right — in this case about undocumented immigrants — falls on the ears of the unhinged.

This week, Forde is on trial on Tucson, and the details are horrific:

As her mother tells it, 9-year-old Brisenia Flores had begged the border vigilantes who had just broken into her house, “Please don’t shoot me.”

But they did — in the face at point-blank range, prosecutors allege, as Brisenia’s father sat dead on the couch and her mother lay on the floor, pretending that she too had been killed in the gunfire.

Why did Forde, said to be the “mastermind,” and the other alleged killer, Jason Bush, carry out this heinous crime? Prosecutors allege that Forde cooked up a scheme to rob and murder drug dealers, all to raise money for the fledgling, anti-immigrant border patrolling group called Minutemen American Defense, or MAD.

Terry Greene Sterling at Daily Beast:

The murders in Arivaca, a tiny community about 11 miles north of the Mexican border, were followed nearly a year later by the still unsolved killing of southern Arizona rancher Robert Krentz, which was widely blamed on a faceless Mexican narco in the country illegally. But whereas the Flores murders received brief press attention and then were largely forgotten, Krentz’s killing set off a national cry for beefed-up border security and fueled the passage of Arizona’s notorious immigration law, which makes it a state crime for unauthorized immigrants to set foot there and requires all Arizona cops to enforce immigration law, a task normally delegated to the feds.

Latinos are still waiting for similar outrage over the deaths of Brisenia Flores and her dad. “A prevalent impression by those in the Hispanic community concerned with the Shawna Forde case is that, despite the fact that an innocent child was murdered, public condemnation of this senseless act has not been forthcoming,” Salvador Ongaro, a Phoenix lawyer and member of Los Abogados, Arizona’s Hispanic bar association, said in an email to The Daily Beast.

Phoenix-based radio talk-show host Carlos Galindo says he has reminded his listeners of Brisenia Flores “on a regular basis at least two or three times a week” since the murders occurred. He criticizes Latino leaders for failing to voice sufficient outrage. “This was a horrible, tragic, and absolutely race-based coldblooded murder,” he says, “and we allowed the far right to muddy it up and say her dad was a drug dealer and Brisenia was collateral damage. When we don’t counter that, we allow continued violence against all Arizonans.”

Joe Coscarelli at The Village Voice:

For more details on the trial, read At the Courthouse. Meanwhile, a search of the New York Times website for “Brisenia Flores” yields zero results; CNN.com last covered the story in June of 2009.

Maya at Feministing:

Maybe it’s because the victims of this crime were Latino. Or because the story doesn’t square with the conservative narrative that Minutemen are just like a “neighborhood watch.” Or because right-wing rhetoric–in this case anti-immigration rhetoric–played such a clear and unequivocal role in this instance of violence.

PJ Tatler on Bunch:

This morning, Will Bunch cries at the senseless death of Brisenia Flores… since they found a way to spin her death as being something they could blame on the Tea Party as well.

It seems rather odd, but somehow, MMFA seems to have missed a much larger story of the arrest of Kermit Gosnell and his staff of ghouls. Gosnell, will be placed on trial for drug dealing and at least eight murders. He is thought to have taken the lives of hundreds of newborn babies, and will go down as one of the most prolific serial killers in American history.

Perhaps they have a blind spot for mass murderers that share their politics.

Mao and Che would be proud.

E.D. Kain:

People like Forde and Bush are life-long losers, criminals, racists. Forde has an erratic past and was described as unstable. Bush has ties to the Aryan Nation. These are scummy people, and they’d be scummy people without Glenn Beck or the Tea Party. But having a cause based on fear and hatred and bigotry just fuels these sorts of bigots. It gives them a moral edifice, however bizarre, to justify their actions. Murder and theft aren’t crimes – they’re part of the revolution! Gunning down a nine-year-old girl is part of the resistance, it’s patriotic! And Beck and others, including members of the Arizona government, who are fomenting fear and paranoia over immigration are at least partly to blame.

Maybe this is what Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik was talking about in the wake of the Giffords shootings. Maybe he was so quick to denounce heated rhetoric because he’d seen what it had already led to in his county, in his state and his country. It’s not just rhetoric, after all. It’s rallies and talk of revolution. It’s people up in arms, passing laws to get the Mexicans out, and when that fails, arming themselves and taking the vigilante route. And if Brisenia’s story doesn’t break your heart, nothing will.

Doug J.:

I hadn’t hear much about about the murder of Brisenia Flores and her father until ED’s and mistermix’s posts. That’s no accident, it hasn’t received a lot of media coverage. Neither is the news about the attempted bombing in Spokane.

Over the past few years, we’ve had one major dust-up over two black guys in Philadelphia dressing in “traditional Black Panther garb” and another about the fact Obama has a met a guy who used to be in the Weathermen. I guess the idea is that the political violence of the 60s, often associated with the left (rightly or wrongly) was so awful that we can never forget it, which is strange given that we are ignoring similar levels of political violence, generally associated with the right, today (see Digby).

I realize times have changed, that national media is more diffuse, that nothing as cinematic as the Patty Hearst kidnapping has taken place yet. But it’s still amazing that so many journalists (Joe Klein, for example) is looking for black panthers under his bed, while cheerfully shrugging off today’s political violence as isolated incidents.

Leave a comment

Filed under Crime, Mainstream, Politics

Everbody Do The Hippie Punch!

Found on Jonathan Chait’s blog

Freddie at L Hote:

There are many myths within the political blogosphere, but none is so deeply troubling or so highly treasured by mainstream political bloggers than this: that the political blogosphere contains within it the whole range of respectable political opinion, and that once an issue has been thoroughly debated therein, it has had a full and fair hearing. The truth is that almost anything resembling an actual left wing has been systematically written out of the conversation within the political blogosphere, both intentionally and not, while those writing within it congratulate themselves for having answered all left-wing criticism.

That the blogosphere is a flagrantly anti-leftist space should be clear to anyone who has paid a remote amount of attention. Who, exactly, represents the left extreme in the establishment blogosphere? You’d likely hear names like Jane Hamsher or Glenn Greenwald. But these examples are instructive. Is Hamsher a socialist? A revolutionary anti-capitalist? In any historical or international context– in the context of a country that once had a robust socialist left, and in a world where there are straightforwardly socialist parties in almost every other democracy– is Hamsher particularly left-wing? Not at all. It’s only because her rhetoric is rather inflamed that she is seen as particularly far to the left. This is what makes this whole discourse/extremism conversation such a failure; there is a meticulous sorting of far right-wing rhetoric from far right-wing politics, but no similar sorting on the left. Hamsher says bad words and is mean in print, so she is a far leftist. That her politics are largely mainstream American liberalism that would have been considered moderate for much of the 20th century is immaterial.

Meanwhile, consider Tim Carney and Mark Levin. Levin has outsized, ugly rhetoric. Carney is, by all impressions, a remarkably sweet and friendly guy. But Carney, in an international and historical context, is a reactionary. Those who sort various forms of extremism differentiate Levin and Carney because Levin’s extremism is marked in language, and Carney’s extremism is marked in policy. The distinction matters to bloggy taste makers. Meanwhile, Hamsher’s extremism in language is considered proof positive of extreme left-wing policy platform. No distinction matters; genuinely left-wing politics are forbidden and as such are a piece with angry vitriol.

Greenwald, meanwhile, might very well have actually left-wing domestic policy preferences. I honestly have no idea; Greenwald blogs almost exclusively about foreign policy and privacy issues. In other words, his voice is permitted into the range of the respectable (when it is permitted at all; ask Joe Klein if Greenwald belongs at the adult table) exactly to the degree that it tracks with libertarian ideology. Someone whose domestic policy might (but might not) represent a coherent left-wing policy platform has entrance into the broader conversation precisely because that domestic policy preference remains unspoken.

I hardly even need to explain the example of Markos Moulitsas. Moulitsas is a blogging pioneer and one with a large audience. But within the establishmentarian blogosphere, the professional blogosphere of magazines, think tanks, and the DC media establishment, he amounts to an exiled figure. See how many times supposedly leftist bloggers within this establishment approvingly quote Moulitsas, compared to those who approvingly quote, say, Will Wilkinson, Ross Douthat, or John Cole. Do some of these bloggers have legitimate beef with Kos? Sure. But the fact that his blog is a no-go zone for so many publications, while bad behavior from those of different ideological persuasions is permitted, ensures that the effects of this will be asymmetrical. I believe that people have to create positive change by changing their own behavior, but I also am aware that the nominal left capitulates to demands that they know the right absolutely will not capitulate to themselves. And so the right wins, again and again.

No, the nominal left of the blogosphere is almost exclusively neoliberal. Ask for a prominent left-wing blogger and people are likely to respond with the names of Matt Yglesias, Jon Chait, Kevin Drum…. Each of them, as I understand it, believe in the general paternalistic neoliberal policy platform, where labor rights are undercut everywhere for the creation of economic growth (that 21st century deity), and then, if things go to plan, wealth is redistributed from the top to those whose earnings and quality of life have been devastated by the attack on labor. That there are deep and cogent criticisms of the analytic, moral, and predictive elements of neoliberalism is an argument for another day. That those criticisms exist, and that they emanate from a genuine left-wing position, is a point I find perfectly banal but largely undiscussed in political blogs. And that’s the problem. Whatever those bloggers are, they are not left-wing, and the fact that they are the best people can generally come up with is indicative of the great imbalance.

Matthew Yglesias:

I don’t really know what it means to criticize a writer for holding that his own views are “the truth of man.” Obviously, I agree with my political opinions and disagree with those who disagree with me. If I didn’t agree I’d change my mind.

But one point that I agree with here, is that while I’ll cop to being a “neoliberal” I don’t acknowledge that I have critics to the “left” of me. On economic policy, here are the main things I’m trying to accomplish:

— More redistribution of money from the top to the bottom.
— A less paternalistic welfare state that puts more money directly in the hands of the recipients of social services.
— Macroeconomic stabilization policy that seriously aims for full employment.
— Curb the regulatory privileges of incumbent landowners.
— Roll back subsidies implicit in our current automobile/housing-oriented industrial policy.
— Break the licensing cartels that deny opportunity to the unskilled.
— Much greater equalization of opportunities in K-12 education.
— Reduction of the rents assembled by privileged intellectual property owners.
— Throughout the public sector, concerted reform aimed at ensuring public services are public services and not jobs programs.
— Taxation of polluters (and resource-extractors more generally) rather than current de facto subsidization of resource extraction.

Is this a “neoliberal” program? Well, this is one of these terms that was invented by its critics so I hesitate to embrace it though I recognize that the shoe fits to a considerable extent. I’d say it’s liberalism, a view recognizably derived from the thinking of JS Mill and Pigou and Keynes and Maury “Freedom Plus Groceries” Maverick and all the rest. I recognize that many people disagree with this agenda, and that many of those who disagree with it think of themselves as “to the left” of my view. But I simply deny that there are positions that are more genuinely egalitarian than my own. I really and sincerely believe that liberalism is the best way to advance the interests of the underprivileged and to make the world a better place. I offer “further left” people the (unreturned) courtesy of not questioning the sincerity of their belief that they have some better solutions, but I think they’re mistaken.

That’s hardly a comprehensive reply to everything DeBoer wrote, but I hope it’s an explanation of what the hell happened to me.

Jonathan Chait at The New Republic:

I’ll cop to a couple things. First, I’m not a left-winger. I don’t agree with the left about very much. If you’re looking for genuine left-wing thought, this is not the blog for you.

Second, I don’t spend a whole lot of time discussing left-wing thought because my interest in ideas is primarily, though not completely, in proportion to their influence on American politics. There’s room for bringing in ideas that have little or no impact at the moment, but I don’t do much of that.

One time I did argue with the left was on health care reform, where you had left-wingers making the absurd claim that the Affordable Care Act did not improve the status quo. I found this created an angry reaction and multiple accusations that I was engaged in “hippie punching” or other unfair attacks on the left. So, from my perspective, it seems like left-wingers get upset if I engage with with and upset if I ignore them. Obviously, they wouldn’t be upset if I wrote about their ideas and agreed with them, but on most issues I don’t agree with them.

Naked Capitalism:

The post discusses the positions of quite a few political bloggers, including Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Mickey Kaus, Jon Chait, Kevin Drum, and the economic, social and career forces that contribute to the rightward pull.

And I have to say I understand that part, even thought I do not sympathize. Readers have often said I should be on certain TV shows. And logically, I should be on at least some of them. But guess what, they won’t have me (not even Democracy Now, but that’s because they are not that interested in finance, and when they do that type of story, they seem to prefer either Real People or academics). Even though a TV veteran says it has a lot to do with bookers (they are pretty much all female and he insists they prefer to book men), I suspect another big reason is my outspoken views. One ought to think that would make me a useful guest, since good talking heads TV often involves friction between participants with diverging views. But some types of divergence appear not to be terribly welcome.

Kevin Drum:

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

E.D. Kain at The League:

Now, I agree that a real left-wing – socialists, serious advocates of unionization, etc. – is not terribly well represented at least in the corners of the blogosphere that I haunt. I don’t believe, however, that this is simply due to some larger, concerted effort to ignore and marginalize the left.

First, I think that the left-wing as Freddie wants it to exist represents a very small demographic in this country. It is not surprising, then, that it is less represented in public debate and online.

Second and much more to the point, I’ve seen Freddie make this complaint before – that his arguments and positions were being written out of debate. This makes no sense to me. When we started The League, Freddie was by far the most linked-to among us. Even now that he no longer (or very rarely) blogs, his posts tend to generate links all over the place. Hell, it wasn’t long ago he got a link at The Dish for a comment he made on someone else’s blog post. This is because Freddie is a tremendous writer, and people find his arguments and ideas – and the way he presents them – compelling and interesting. He’s fun to read. And he gets all these links and responses and discussion in spite of the fact that he is a died in the wool leftist.

Indeed, so far as I can tell the greatest threat to Freddie’s ideas receiving no exposure by Very Serious People is Freddie deBoer himself. By removing himself from the debate he has contributed vastly to his own complaint. Because Freddie was getting his ideas out there and then he stopped. Maybe he was frustrated because his ideas weren’t spreading into the liberal blogosphere the way they were getting attention on many conservative and libertarian blogs. That’s fair – it certainly can be frustrating to feel as though you aren’t being taken seriously by the people who matter most. I guess I’d just suggest patience.

Actually patience might not be enough – Freddie should organize. If organized labor in this country is withering it isn’t for lack of money or political influence, it is because those who advocate for its survival are not organizing for its survival. In the age of the internet there is no reason people like Freddie aren’t creating their own publications to push their ideas to the surface. Freddie could do it, and he should. It would be far more beneficial to his cause then posts lamenting the decline of the left-wing in America.

The barrier to entry for ideas is lower than it has ever been – but those last hurdles – the Washington establishment; the Very Serious People and institutional bloggers and so forth – they can be hard to leap, no doubt about it. But I don’t think Freddie is right to stop trying.

Doug J.:

Can anyone deny that Glenn Greenwald will never get a gig at Cato or Reason, that Digby and Matt Taibbi will never get gigs at the Atlantic (I consider GG a libertarian)? Can anyone deny that Glenn Greenwald would generate more pageviews than anyone who is at Reason or Cato, that Digby or Matt Taibbi would get more pageviews than anyone but Sully at the Atlantic?

Of course, the first rule of establishment corporate journalism is that you do not call it establishment corporate journalism. ED (for example) would like to earn living as a journalist, so it’s natural that he pooh-poohs Freddie’s point. I don’t mean to single ED out; to the contrary, the fact that he takes deBoer’s point seriously at all puts him miles above Joe Klein and James Fallows and the rest, who will always simply ignore these sorts of arguments.

They may not even know that these arguments are valid. After all, it’s hard to make a man understand something when his livelihood depends on him not understanding it.

Steve Hynd at Firedoglake

Mike Konczal at Rortybomb:

3. One thing I’ve noticed that separates the people Freddie disapproves of from everyone else is that the ones Freddie disapproves of are primarily journalists. Journalists of policy, of ideological movements and changes, and of institutional day-to-day fighting, but liberal people whose primary career training and arc are one of journalism. A journalistic approach to politics has its strengths and its weaknesses. Its strengths are a solid understanding of the micro elements that move things forward or backwards yard-by-yard. Its weaknesses can be a form of source capture, and a myopia on what is achievable in the short run rather than what moves things in the long run. I don’t think the professionalization of bloggers as reporters has moved them rightward, but it could be argued that it has caused them to focus on the short-term, in part because what the Democrats were trying to be bill-wise required a lot of explanation and in part because journalism requires that.

In its worse form, it becomes what Jay Rosen and others call A Church of the Savvy, where access, the art of the possible, and a healthy disdain for broader scope thinking are all privileged.   This is less disdain for socialist or left-wing thinking (which is disdained by all kinds of people) but disdain for outsiders, a broader and more worrisome issue than Freddie lets on.

4. It’s important to realize that the right-wing wonks Freddie seems to respect as building a long-term vision are running under different assumptions of what to do.  To them, the problem isn’t thinking of a better solution to a problem, it’s arguing why there is no problem.   This comes from an explicit goal to view their project as an ideological one, one that comes out of a Banfield critique that social science is necessarily ideological. This, by definition, orientates towards long-term visions of the possible.

Freddie might want to engage with a left-modified form of the Banfield critique, one that points out when you have a wonk politics hammer every problem looks like a nail. Aaron Bady noticed this with the wonkosphere’s embrace of DIY U and other producitivity related ‘solutions’ to higher ed (also googling that made me realize I stole the title of this from Aaron, sorry!). If all you know are techniques of neoliberalism, then those are the solutions you’ll naturally gravitate towards. That’s different than where Freddie goes, which is one centered around prestige and access.

5. I’ll gladly defend Ezra and Matt on the charges Freddie throws at them. Their key points they raised early over the past two years – that the Senate would become obstructionist not just at a bill level but in a “running down the clock” manner and that would have major consequences (Ezra), that the GOP would not pay a price for their obstruction as people look at their checkbooks when they vote (both) and that the Federal Reserve is a major battlefield for the recovery and progressives/liberals aren’t ready to move, even intellectually, on how to fight for it (Matt) are all major things that happened from the past two years.   Ezra in particular has covered the day-to-day amazingly well with a large quantity of work meant to be accessible to a wide range of readers (I write 2 posts every other day and feel like Charles Dickens), and if Freddie’s real critique is that liberals don’t likes unions Ezra has written a lot about how the Obama administration is overlooking them.

As for Matt’s neoliberalism stuff, I read it is coming from his engagement with land use. But to make it clear, I’m in favor of a hella robust regulatory state, but I agree with large parts of his critique. If you worry about why work associated with women is denigrated to second-class work and why women are underpaid relative to men you have to look at why dental hygenists do the same work as dentists for less pay and prestige. If you worry about the carceral state, our policy of putting the maximum number of people within the criminal disciplinary net and high recidivism and subsequent lack of mobility, you have to look at that fact that it can be illegal to hire ex-cons as low-level service employees; illegal to give licenses, and thus hire, ex-cons for things like “barbering, nail technicians, cosmetology and dead animal removal.”

Andrew Sullivan:

The Dish has always tried to remain friendly to outsider voices and distance itself from the Inside the Beltway closed conversation. In that sense, the most glaring lack in Freddie’s post is a list of who exactly we ought to be reading and engaging but aren’t. Isn’t that the obvious solution? If we’re missing worthy far-left blogospheric voices, who are they?

Leave a comment

Filed under New Media, Politics

Great Nation Or Greatest Nation? Or, This Blog Post Brought To You By The Letter “F.”

Rich Lowry at NRO (entire column):

When the likes of Marco Rubio, the new Republican senator from Florida, say this is the greatest country ever, sophisticated opinion-makers cluck and roll their eyes. What a noxious tea-party nostrum. How chauvinistic. What hubris.

Yet, what other countries deserve this designation? For the sake of convenience, start at 1648, when the Peace of Westphalia ratified the modern system of nation-states. And grade on power, prosperity and goodness.

Is Spain the greatest ever? It had a nice run a couple of hundred years ago based on plundering the New World of its gold and silver. By 1800, it was one of the poorest countries in Europe. Today, it teeters on bankruptcy.

Is France? Its model of centralizing monarchy in the 17th century was extremely influential, and admirable — if you like elaborate court ritual, religious persecution and expansionistic wars. It gave the world the template for modern ideological madness in the French Revolution and for the modern tyrant in Napoleon. After the debacle of World War II, it recovered to a power of middling rank. If there’s no doubting the greatness of the French, their history comes with the implicit admonition: “Do not try this at home.”

Germany? In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was a cultural jewel. And one of the most talented statesmen ever, Bismarck, forged a nation that became an industrial behemoth. It also had an illiberal heart. Germany today is an anchor of democratic Europe, but with a hellish black mark against it that will last for all time.

Russia? By the beginning of the 20th century, a decrepit autocracy sat atop a mass of misery. Then, things went south. The communists murdered and enslaved many millions across seven decades. Russia remains an important, if vastly diminished, power, governed by a prickly, grasping kleptocracy.

Britain? Getting warmer. It invented the rights that are the bedrock of liberal democracy. More than most European powers, it lived by Adam Smith’s formula for prosperity: “peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice.” From a tiny island, it came to govern an enormous extent of the globe in a relatively benign colonialism. It was a bulwark against the dictatorships of the Continent, from Napoleon, to the Kaiser, to Hitler. And it spawned the countries that have made the English-speaking world a synonym for good governance and liberty: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and America.

Which brings us to the U.S. We had the advantage of jumping off from the achievement of the British. We founded our nation upon self-evident truths about the rights of man, even if our conduct hasn’t always matched them. We pushed aside Spain and Mexico in muscling across the continent, but brought order and liberty in our wake. Our treatment of the Indians was appalling, but par for the course in the context of the time. It took centuries of mistreatment of blacks before we finally heeded our own ideals.

The positive side of the ledger, though, is immense: We got constitutional government to work on a scale no one had thought possible; made ourselves a haven of liberty for the world’s peoples; and created a fluid, open society. We amassed unbelievable wealth, and spread it widely. Internationally, we wielded our overwhelming military and industrial power as a benevolent hegemon. We led the coalitions against the ideological empires of the 20th century and protected the global commons. We remain the world’s sole superpower, looked to by most of the world as a leader distinctly better than any of the alternatives.

Our greatness is simply a fact. Only the churlish or malevolent can deny it, or even get irked at its assertion. When a Marco Rubio talks of the greatness of America, it’s not bumptious self-congratulation. Our greatness comes with the responsibility to preserve our traditional dynamism and status as a robust middle-class society. To paraphrase the Benjamin Franklin of lore, we have the greatest country ever — if we can keep it.

Bill Kristol at The Weekly Standard:

Over at NRO, you can read Rich Lowry’s engaging year-end column about America, “Yes, the Greatest Country Ever.”

The day after Rich’s column appeared, on January 1, President Obama asserted in his weekly address that “we’ve had the good fortune to grow up in the greatest nation on Earth.” Then, in case anyone missed it, Obama repeated eight sentences later that he’s confident we can “do what it takes to make sure America remains in the 21st century what it was the 20th: the greatest country in the world.”

And sources now tell us that Lowry’s been called to the White House this week for a secret meeting.

Meanwhile, we look forward to denunciations from the usual enlightened quarters of this vulgar expression of American chauvinism and boastful claim of American exceptionalism by an American president.

Greg Sargent:

The last thing you need is more proof of the mindlessness and vapidity of the right’s attack on Obama for allegedly not believing in “American exceptionalism.” But Bill Kristol’s latest rendition is really worth savoring, because it unwittingly shows what nonsense it all is.

Kristol has a post up making the case that Obama has finally caved to the right’s attacks and has grudgingly conceded America’s greatness. The evidence? Kristol notes that in his weekly address on Saturday, the President hailed America as “the greatest nation on earth,” and “the greatest country in the world.”

This, Kristol says, showcases the “new, revised Obama.”

It’s unclear whether Kristol is joking, but given the idiocy we keep hearing along these lines, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume he isn’t. So allow me to point out that Obama has been using these phrases for literally years now.

In his breakout speech at the 2004 Dem convention, Obama hailed the “greatness of our nation” and the “true genius of America.” And he’s repeatedly stated as president that we live in the greatest country evah. Way back in August 2009, Obama described America as “the greatest nation on Earth.” In October of 2009, Obama declared that “we live in the greatest country on Earth.”

In January of 2010, Obama described America as “the greatest nation in the world.” He called America the “greatest country on Earth” on September 25, again on September 29th, and still again on October 21st. And so on.

Jennifer Rubin:

Bill needs no defense from me, but let me explain the joke to Greg. It is not Obama who is the target of Bill’s humor, but the left and its disinclination to project American power and values. Bill, like many conservatives, has supported the president’s policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s been quite generous in his praise of a number of Obama speeches. The point of the barb is to make clear that not even the liberal icon Obama adopts the left’s disdain for American exceptionalism, nor its desire to retreat from the war on Islamic terror. Conservatives, me included, are prone to marvel at the left’s propensity to sneer at George Bush’s formulation of American exceptionalism while remaining mute as their liberal hero does the same.

The point, you see, is not to discredit the president, but to discredit those that would pull him ever leftward on matters of national security. To the degree Obama sounds much like his predecessor and conducts a robust foreign policy (e.g. use of drones in Afghanistan, a continued presence in Iraq) conservatives will applaud and, candidly, take some glee in recognizing that a president cannot adopt a leftist world view and hope to successfully defend U.S. interests.

Paul Gottfried at The American Conservative:

Unfortunately, I can’t resist pointing out minicon stupidities, and the latest example of this problem came to my attention in a recent syndicated column by Rich Lowry. In what is intended to be a discourse on American exceptionalism, Lowry goes through the anti-democratic evils of continental countries and then gets to England, which is awarded a clean bill of health. England previewed our “liberal democracy,” practiced “benign colonialism,” and was in many ways a “jumping off” point to our “exceptional nation.” “It was a bulwark against the dictatorships of the Continent, from Napoleon, to the Kaiser, to Hitler.”

Let me point out some of what is wrong with such hyperbole. The English bear many of the same “black marks” that Lowry ascribes to continental countries, and as the descendant of Irish peasants, Lowry might recall at least some of England’s many misdeeds. English rule abroad was not always “benign colonialism,” and in the Boer War, which the Salisbury government launched against the Afrikaners to grab their land, the English practiced naked aggression and engaged in atrocities against their fellow Northern European Protestants, as opposed to such customary English victims as Highland Scots, Irish Catholics, and the inhabitants of Chinese coastal cities.

It is also ridiculous to see all English entanglement in wars against continental powers as driven by a democratic struggle against dictatorship. As an insular empire protected by a large navy, the English had an interest in keeping hegemonic powers from emerging on the continent and pursued this interest with whatever allies they could find. What the English typically practiced was Realpolitik, which meant siding with some undemocratic, feudal regimes against other more powerful states. During the Napoleonic wars the English allied themselves with a reactionary Russia against a much more progressive France, which abolished serfdom and proclaimed religious liberty wherever its armies went. English Tories feared the rise of Germany from the time of its unification not because they viewed it as a “dictatorship” but because it was becoming a continental powerhouse. Later, in order to defeat its rival, England pulled the U.S. into the First World War, thereby setting the stage for playing second fiddle to England’s American cousins.

Doug J:

There was a lot of chest-thumping, or weasel-whacking or monkey-strangling or what have you, about the awesomeness of the United States among the wingerati over the past few days. Rich Lowry declared that the United States is the best because we are the best, no one rocks as hard as we do, bitch.

Our greatness is simply a fact. Only the churlish or malevolent can deny it, or even get irked at its assertion.

Bill Kristol then gave Lowry some kind ironic boo-yah about the fact that Obama talked about how great the US is right after Lowry wrote his column.

The exchange was fairly typical of what passes for high-brow conservatism these days. And yet there are those who why conservatism has such little appeal for intellectually-inclined voters.

Andrew Sullivan:

Somehow Lowry fails to grasp why this kind of assertion is so, well, fatuous and irritating. Imagine that once a month or so, Michael Jordan called a press conference, confidently listed his achievements as a basketball player, and insisted, “My greatness is simply a fact.” He’d be correct: he was a spectacular basketball player, arguably the best in history. Same with Tiger Woods. Or Stephen Hawking. On the other hand, we’re put off when people announce their own greatness – experience has taught that they’re usually doing so because they’re a braggart, or a narcissist, or a bully. (In Rich Lowry’s case, it’s intellectual bullying – wielding the collective club of nationalism against genuine worries about America’s fiscal bankruptcy, academic decline, and economic stagnation).

So it goes when conservatives invoke the greatness of America. The rhetoric that follows is inevitably political. When Marco Rubio lauds the USA, we roll our eyes because we have not had our skepticism of politicians sugically removed: we understand that politicians pin on flag lapels and talk about the greatness of America because they’re calculating pols, not because they think more highly of the United States than the rest of us. Our eyes tend to roll when politicians kiss babies too. That isn’t because we object to the notion that babies are lovable – merely because most politicians aren’t. Especially when uttering fatuous platitudes.

Doug Mataconis:

Or, as DougJ at Balloon Juice put it, America Fuck Yeah.

I’ve really got to wonder what the purpose of stuff like this is. The GOP has been obsessed in recent years with the idea of national “greatness” and conservatives are quick to condemn and political leader who doesn’t make the appropriate statement about how the United States of America is the greatest country ever. It all strikes me as rather silly schoolyard boosterism. It doesn’t inform policy decisions, and it tends to lead to the rather dangerous idea of “My country, right or wrong.”

This is what passes for political insight from the right these days, apparently.

Rich Lowry and Glenn Loury at Bloggingheads

Leave a comment

Filed under Go Meta

Shave And A Haircut, Two Bits And A Whole Lot Of Red Tape

Karl Smith:

For example, in most jurisdictions cutting hair at home can legally be done with a vacuum cleaner but cutting it for pay requires schooling, examination and a licensing fee.

Matthew Yglesias:

The way I’ve been getting my hair cut for the past six months or so is that I bought a pair of hair clippers and I do it myself. I normally trim about twice a week, and this lets me keep the hair short at an acceptable cost. Once I screwed it up, then my hair looked funny for like a day until I figured out how to fix it.Meanwhile, meet the District of Columbia Board of Barber and Cosmetology:

The DC Board of Barber and Cosmetology (Board) regulates the practice of barbering and cosmetology while working diligently to raise the standards of practice; ensure quality service; establish accepted codes of ethical behavior, and protects the health, safety and welfare of the citizens and visitors of the District of Columbia by upholding the city’s Barber and Cosmetology laws and regulations. The Barber and Cosmetology license law (pdf) is defined in the Barber and Cosmetology Municipal Regulations, which took effect on May 2001.

The Board consists of eleven members appointed by the Mayor. The Board consist of three (3) barbers, three (3) cosmetologists, threes (3) specialists, all license and practicing for at least three (3) years. There are two (2) members (non-license) representing consumers. Six members of the Board constitute a quorum.

Regulation of this sort seems totally unnecessary. People don’t die of bad haircuts, and since hairstyle is a quintessential matter of taste there’s absolutely no reason to think consumers can’t figure out for themselves who has a decent reputation as a cutter of hair. You can cut your own hair perfectly safely in your own house, and if you screw it up all that happens is you need to find a real professional to fix it. But what’s more, even if regulation were somehow a good idea, the composition of the board couldn’t possibly serve a legitimate consumer protection function. It’s overwhelmingly composed of people from the industry whose incentive is to limit competition and raise prices.

Don Suber:

Congratulations, Matthew Yglesias, you have just discovered what my economics professors used to call Barriers To Entry, in much the same way Charlton Heston discovered the secret ingredient for soylent green.

All those business lobbyists in Washington? They are not there to stop legislation. They are there to write legislation. Of course BP endorsed tougher regulations on oil drilling. It helps their side businesses in alternative energy and keeps wildcatters from drilling for oil.

Those tough regulations on Wall Street? Goldman Sachs wrote them. Hey, it paid Obama a million bucks for that seat at the table.

When I get time, I will explain why Bill Gates and other billionaire liberals create tax-free — er, non-profit — foundations. A hint: John D. Rockefeller V was born a millionaire.

James Joyner:

Matt Yglesias figures that, since he’s able to cut his own hair, it’s silly to license barbers.

His commenters point out to him, fairly rudely, that people who handle straight razors probably ought to have some training and prospect of inspection from the authorities for health reasons.  And that beauticians, who handle dyes and other chemicals, really need to be regulated.   Apparently, they’ve explained this to him once or twice before, and hence their irritation.

Mostly, I think the commenters are right.  While the free market would probably regulate simple barber shops — as opposed to beauty shops — with reasonable efficiency, we’d hate to have barbers routinely cutting people with infected implements.   Let’s just say that the signaling mechanisms for that sort of thing are too slow for comfort.

Further, in terms of arguing by analogy, if Matt is an unlicensed barber, I’m an unlicensed taxi driver and restaurateur.  The idea that because people can be trusted to do something for themselves, they should therefore be allowed to do the same things for the public on a professional basis is rather thin.

Kevin Drum:

You’ll be unsurprised to know that I don’t have a lot to add on this subject. But I did get into a conversation about this with my haircutter once, and she pointed out that there’s more to this business than you might think. It’s true that clipping hair — which is the only side of the business that Matt and I ever see — isn’t especially dangerous. But for more complicated jobs, hair professionals handle a lot of dangerous chemicals and they need to know how to use these properly to insure that they don’t do some serious damage to their customers. That, apparently, is part of what they teach you at cosmetology school.

That’s what she said, anyway. Alternatively, maybe it’s all just a big scam. After all, plenty of women give themselves home perms and seem to survive the experience. Hair professionals should feel free to school us in comments.

Alex Massie:

Matt’s critics say that anyone using sharp objects or chemicals such as peroxide needs to be regulated and inspected. This, my friends, is a reminder that the American mania for credentialism (cf journalism) frequently travels well into the realm of the absurd.

Happily, this sceptered isle is a freer place entirely. No surprise then that the British Hairdressing Council is not happy. From their FAQ:

But surely everyone must be qualified before being allowed to practise?
Alas, not so; in fact, quite the opposite. Here in Britain, anyone is free to practise as a hairdresser without registration, without qualification, even without proper training. In short, hairdressing is totally unregulated.So is there no yardstick by which to judge hairdressers?

Yes, there is. In 1964, Parliament passed the Hairdressers Registration Act to give status to hairdressers and assurance to consumers. Under the Act, the Hairdressing Council (HC) was created to establish and maintain a register of qualified hairdressers. Hence, every State Registered Hairdresser (SRH) is officially recognised as qualified to practise hairdressing on the public.

Are most hairdressers registered?

Sadly, they are not. The 1964 law left registration a voluntary option. Only about ten per cent of hairdressers have ever exercised their right to a place on the official register. At the same time, with the industry unregulated, many unregistered operators might not be eligible for inclusion on the register.

Where does this leave the consumer?

In a far from ideal position. Choosing a practitioner in any unregulated industry is tricky; in an industry where part of the human person is being treated, it truly can be a lottery. While many consumers no doubt chance upon good stylists, others stray into the hands of incompetent operators and have experiences ranging from overpriced and unsatisfactory services to damaged hair and even injured scalp and facial tissue.

Surely all hairdressers are accountable for their professional actions? Isn’t this the role of the Hairdressing Council?

Had registration been mandatory, the Hairdressing Council would indeed regulate hairdressing much as the Medical and Dental Councils, for instance, regulate their sectors. However, so long as the Act remains voluntary, the HC has jurisdiction over SRHs only – complaints against whom are very few and far between.

Something must be done! To be sure…

If it can, why won’t Parliament take action?
Action by government ministers, rather than back bench MPs, is what’s needed. For the record, ministers are requested, regularly, to amend the Act. This campaign for a tightening of the law, spearheaded by the Hairdressing Council, is supported by the industry trade bodies, consumer groups, much of the media and, not least, consumers. A great many individual MPs also support the regulation of hairdressing.
And where does government stand on the regulation of hairdressing?
To begin, a few facts: First, no government is going to commit parliamentary time to bringing in legislation it feels to be unnecessary*. Second, no government is going to introduce what it regards as unnecessary regulation. Third, regulation, of pretty well any sort, is increasingly viewed at best with suspicion and at worst with contempt by business interests, including many salon owners.
Fourth, governments tend to be wary of introducing laws viewed unfavourably by large or significant sections of the community. 
As to the stances adopted by recent governments on hairdressing regulation, when in power the Conservatives refused, consistently, to contemplate action. Their argument, repeated many times, was that “market forces are a sufficient regulator”. The current Labour government has listened to and acknowledged the merits of the case for regulation but has, at least so far, declined to act on the matter.
Have other measures been tried, through ordinary MPs in Parliament to bring in regulation?
Since the voluntary registration law was introduced in 1964, initiatives such as Early Day Motions, Ten Minute Rule Bills, Ministerial Questions and Private Members’ Bills have all been tried by helpful and supportive MPs. But lacking government support, none of these has succeeded. However, be sure efforts will continue.

I’m sure they shall! Somehow, however, the country has survived an unregulated hairdressing and barber-shop industry all these years and may yet, with god’s providence, do so in the future.Mind you, Sweeney Todd was a Londoner…

*If only this were true…

More Yglesias:

A number of people, including many commenters here and even alleged conservative James Joyner think you should need a professional license to become a barber because you might hurt someone with a straight razor. Uh huh. At best this would be an argument for regulating people who do shaves with a straight razor, which would be considerably narrower than current comprehensive regulation of hair stylists.

Meanwhile, though “torts and the free market will take care of it” isn’t the answer to everything, it’s surely the answer to some things. Getting some kind of training before you shave a dude with a straight razor is obviously desirable in terms of strict self-interest. If you screw it up in a serious way, you’ll face serious personal consequences and the only way to make money doing it—and we’re talking about a very modest sum of money—is to do it properly. People also ought to try to think twice about whether their views are being driven by pure status quo bias. Barbers are totally unregulated in the United Kingdom, is there some social crisis resulting from this? Barber regulations differ from state to state, are the stricter states experiencing some kind of important public health gains?

Last you really do need to look at how these things play out in practice. If you just assume optimal implementation of regulation, then regulation always looks good. But as I noted in the initial post the way this works in practice is the boards are dominated by incumbent practitioners looking to limit supply. One result is that in Michigan (and perhaps elsewhere) it’s hard for ex-convicts to get barber licenses which harms the public interest not only by raising the cost of haircuts, but by preventing people from making a legitimate living. States generally don’t grant reciprocity to other states’ licensing boards, which limits supply even though no rational person worries about state-to-state variance in barber licensing when they move to a New Place. In New Jersey, you need to take the straight razor shaving test to cut women’s hair because they’re thinking up arbitrary ways to incrementally raise the barrier to entry.

Mike Konczal at Rortybomb:

It’s worth noting that Barack Obama, back when he was a state senator in Illinois, pushed against some of this when it came to jail sentences and prohibitions on getting regulatory licenses:

Town Hall Meetings: On August 15 and 16, 2003 the North Lawndale Employment Network sponsored the annual Town Hall meeting for Congressman Danny Davis at Malcolm X College in Chicago. Brenda Palms Barber was one of the distinguished speakers for the Congressman’s opening address. Ms. Barber and Anthony Burton participated on a panel with State Senator Barack Obama and State Representative Constance Howard to discuss the federally funded Going Home program and several new laws that were passed by the state lawmakers. The lawmakers introduced to the audience several bills that had been passed, including one that would change some of the expungement laws in the State of Illinois and one bill that would allow formerly incarcerated individuals to seek regulatory licenses in several fields including barbering, nail technicians, cosmetology and dead animal removal. Under this bill, the formerly incarcerated individual would have the opportunity to seek a license once they have served their time in prison and have been given a certificate of good standing by the State of Illinois. NLEN also set up a booth at the Town Hall meeting to highlight its program and accomplishments.

Back then if you had a jail record you couldn’t receive most regulatory licenses. So if you were trying to escape from a life of crime, or even if you were tagged with a minor crime during a wayward period in your life, you would automatically have a wide variety of occupations immediately shut off from you. You couldn’t be a barber for instance. (You also probably couldn’t be a licensed fortune teller.) Whatever the idea behind this, in practice it’s going to take people at the edges and shut off a number of crucial options to them. I don’t know if this exists in most states, but it’s an obvious way to begin to push back against the worst excesses of license overkill.

So beyond just being a hassle these licenses can be a major form of explicit job segregation and can have major distributional problems associated with them.

UPDATE: Doug J.

Jonathan Adler

UPDATE #2: More Yglesias

Conor Friedersdorf here and here

Kevin Drum

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect

UPDATE #3: Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist

2 Comments

Filed under Economics, Go Meta

When A Town Called Homer Contains A Sign With The Words “Worst Governor Ever” On It, You Know The Simpsons Have Conquered The World

Shannyn Moore at The Huffington Post:

I’m really proud of my home town. When I say, “I’m just a girl from Homer” on my blog, radio or television show, I like to think it’s not so much self-deprecation as it is a friendly warning. When Palin signed off on her Facebook blog bashing Obama on Friday with “Sarah Palin in Homer, Alaska”, I laughed. Lady, if you think I give you a hard time, hang on.

Palin posted:

And here I am, thousands of miles away from DC out on a commercial fishing boat, working my butt off for my own business, merely asking the Democrat politicos and their liberal friends in the media: “What’s the plan, man?”, and they seem to feel threatened by my question. So, I’ll go back to setting my hooks and watching the halibut take the bait, and when I come back into the boat’s cabin in a few hours…

Strange. The Palin’s fishing business doesn’t include IFQ’s (Individual Fishing Quotas) necessary for commercially harvesting halibut. Her baiting hooks and keeping a manicure is laughable. Halibut are on the bottom of the ocean, hard to watch them “take the bait”. I hope she’s got a crew license. (Shrug).

Sarah Palin & company spent several days in Homer filming her “Sarah Palin’s Uh-laska” show. (Eyes rolled).

[…]

Risking accusations of being all “Wee-Wee’d Up“, one Homer woman made a sign in her shed. She then took the 30-foot-by-3-foot banner out to the boat harbor. It said “WORST GOVERNOR EVER“. Kathleen Gustafson is a teacher married to a local commercial fisherman. She felt like Sarah Palin had let the state down by becoming a dollar-chasing celebrity and ignoring the oath of office she’d sworn on a Bible.

Kathleen was motivated by the fact Palin was using the very place where her family makes a living to fortify the Palin personality cult — pretending to do the very thing they worked so hard to sustain. Initially, Kathleen just wanted to waste a little of the camera crew’s time, since Palin wasted so much of her time purporting to represent Alaska’s interests.

She didn’t imagine Palin would be so easy to draw out.

Saturday morning, Billy Sullivan helped Kathleen tape the banner up on his place of business at the top of the boat ramp. Then here she came. Sarah.

She couldn’t just walk by. Only a few fishermen and tourists would have seen the banner, but Sarah had to stop and protest. I spoke with Kathleen. She said she wanted Palin to know how she felt, but never dreamed she’d get the chance to say to her face, “You’re not a leader, you’re a climber!” Early in the conversation, Sarah actually winked at Kathleen in what seemed to be a case of eyelid Tourette’s Syndrome.

At one point, a Palin daughter chanted, “You’re just jealous”. Kathleen told Sarah she was disappointed that she dropped her responsibility to the state to became a celebrity. Palin said incredulously, “I’m honored. No, she thinks I’m a celebrity!” Really? So the camera crew wasn’t an indicator? How many times do you have to be on magazine covers to gain celebrity status? Something about camping with Kate Plus Eight in rain slickers seems, well, a little celebrity.

Billy Sullivan caught much of the interchange on his cell phone camera. The back of her security guard’s head and Todd Palin attempted to block Billy’s view, continually rotating like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. What were they afraid of? I guess that’s what happens when you’re filming a “celebrity”. He was even told by one of the Palin daughters, “You’re an A-hole”. Charming family values.

I asked both Billy and Kathleen which Palin daughter said what. Neither knew. They don’t have televisions and aren’t interested in Palin’s personal life and dramas.

In what has become typical tragic irony, Sarah initially claimed to support Kathleen’s First Amendment Rights. But as soon as Billy Sullivan walked toward the dock, one of Palin’s entourage tore down the sign to great applause from her group.

Todd Palin approached Billy (who owns a business called Dockside Fish and buys halibut on that dock) and asked him to get out of the Discovery crew’s shot. “You just can’t get enough of her, can you?” he asked. An Alaska State Trooper told Billy he should call the Homer Police Department and report the trespassing and destruction of property.

What the Palin folks don’t seem to understand is simple; if Fred Phelps gets to hold his hateful signs up at military funerals, Billy should be able to put Kathleen’s “WORST GOVERNOR EVER” banner on his building and not have a Palin goon tear it down.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic

Michael Scherer at Swampland at Time:

In the new issue of Vanity Fair, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer is quoted making the following observation: “What they teach you on the first day of press-secretary school is to worry about blowing something up by giving attention to it. … ‘Don’t blow something up.’” He goes on to explain that those rules no longer apply. With the Internet, the story will blow up anyway. You have to respond.

Sarah Palin, apparently, agrees. Sarah Palin’s Facebook page is now promoting this video, which I was alerted to because of her Twitter feed.

This is exactly the sort of low-information, high-emotion, tracker gotcha carnival act moment that plays really well in the political entertainment media–cable, internet and talk radio. If Palin was a Democrat, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity could fill their Tuesday shows ranting about nothing else. As it happens, I’ll place my money on MSNBC for the most replays, and will bet on well more than 100,000 YouTube views by tomorrow at noon.

Warner Todd Huston at Publius Forum:

This supposed “eye rolling” occurs after the woman told the Governor that she was a teacher (about 1:10 into the video). Many of the left-media are claiming that Palin rolls her eyes and gives a “knowing glance” to her supporters as if to say, “oh, a teacher, now we know this constituent is a left-wing, loony.”

But if you look at the video closely there is no “eye rolling.” The Gov. does look at her supporters and does give a sort of shrug-like look, but one has to assume and read into what that all means because the Gov. does not actually say anything to inform anyone of what she was thinking at that moment. Nor does she make an obvious face to inform. A look and a slight grin does not adequately reveal her thinking. One has to read her mind to really know what she was thinking at that instant.

But then, the Old Media are experts at mind reading, right? They are also experts at creating the news instead of reporting on it. One has only to remember the “fake but accurate” news as reported by Dan Rather of G.W. Bush’s AWOL. It never happened, of course, but Rather had all the fake documents to prove it regardless.

For that matter, we have the story of Palin’s non existent book-banning in Wasilla and the thousands of Trig-truther stories that continue to be circulated by the Old Media to prove the BS that is treated like fact among these writers of fiction.

But, above all, this shows the pettiness of the Old Media. The fact that the Old Media is attacking Gov. Palin for “eye rolling” is evidence of this.

William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection:

These deranged people now are creating a fauxtroversy over whether Sarah Palin — when contronted with a protester who identified herself as a teacher — rolled her eyes.

Really.

Even Politico, proving that it too leaves no eye rolling unturned, describes the encounter as such:

“What do you do here?” Palin asked.“I’m a teacher,” Gustafson responded, to which Palin appears to roll her eyes.

Here is part of Palin’s response:

The LSM has now decided to use this brief encounter for another one of their spin operations. They claim I – wait for it – “appear to roll my eyes” when the lady tells me she’s a teacher. Yes, it’s come to this: the media is now trying to turn my eyebrow movements into story lines. (Maybe that’s why Botox is all the rage – if you can’t move your eyebrows, your “eye rolling” can’t be misinterpreted!) If they had checked their facts first, they would have known that I come from a family of teachers; my grandparents were teachers, my father was a teacher, my brother is a teacher, my sister works in Special Needs classrooms, my aunt is a school nurse, my mom worked as a school secretary for much of her professional life, we all volunteer in classrooms, etc., etc., etc. Given that family history, how likely is it that I would “roll my eyes” at someone telling me that they too work in that honorable profession? Stay classy, LSM.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit:

The poor little unhinged leftists had their panties in a bunch today after Sarah Palin confronted a far left loon for her rude and aggressive sign in Homer, Alaska.

The leftists were outraged that Sarah Palin had the nerve to confront this angry “teacher.” Teachers should be respected.

It’s just too bad she’s not a teacher.
Kathleen Gustafson is a singer in a drag queen band.

(HOMER TRIBUNE/Randi Somers) – Director Kathleen Gustafson (left) steps in to provide harmony as Hedwig (Atz Lee Kilcher) polishes up his performance at Pier One on Aug. 28.

Kathleen Guftafson is not a teacher. She’s a theater tech… And a liar.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

UPDATE: The Palin-haters now claim that “theater tech” is the name of some class they teach in Alaska.
Sure it is… Keep spinning libs.

Doug J. on Hoft:

The CountertopBoating (or is it SwiftCountertopping?) of that Palin protester continues at Gateway Pundit (via). During the Frost debacle, after it was revealed that the countertops were concrete, not granite, we were told that was even worse since concrete is more expensive than granite. If it had been alleged that they were marble, we would have learned that concrete is more expensive than marble too. This time, we will likely learn that teaching Theater Tech is worse than singing in a drag band, since Theater Tech teachers earn more than drag band singers, at least in Alaska.

Leave a comment

Filed under Political Figures