Category Archive: Politics

Jan 19

Thank You Trump Voters!

Donald Trump VotersI want to take a quick moment to thank everyone who voted for Donald Trump. I am not thanking you for voting for him, of course. Regardless of what you think of Hillary Clinton, voting for Trump was an incredibly stupid thing to do. So I’m not thanking you for that — especially since most of you have been falling for this same Republican con for years. “I’ll fix the economy! Ooops! I guess yet another round of tax cuts for the rich didn’t work this time, just like it didn’t work every other time over the last 35 years! Who could have known?”

No, I want to thank all you Trump voters for not telling me that you regret voting for him. It’s already happening. But I assure you, it will happen in a big way soon enough. The fall is coming, as it always does. And it would be really unkind to try to save face with me by admitting fault. In fact, doing so could potentially land me in jail for assault. So I’m really thankful for all you Trump voters who are just going to remain quiet as you see your salaries decline and your healthcare vanish.

Now, it would be one thing if Donald Trump were something new. But what he is offering is no different from what George W Bush, George HW Bush, and Ronald Reagan offered. Oh, sure: the economy has improved. Productivity goes up! Dividends go up! But somehow, salaries don’t. There’s a reason for this. Economics is pretty simple: if you take money away from poor people and give it to rich people, the poor get poorer and the rich get richer.

So those people in rural Pennsylvania who voted for Donald Trump thinking he was going to bring the manufacturing jobs back? You should have known better. And that’s why I know I can thank you now for not saying you regret voting for him when the con is so obvious that even you can’t deny it. You’ve saddled America with this dangerous embarrassment for four and likely eight years. It would just be wrong for you to try to get on the right side of history once all the damage has been done.

Besides, you know that you’re just going to vote for the next Republican con man who comes along. You always do.

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Jan 18

Great for Chelsea Manning; Not So Much Democracy

Chelsea ManningAs has been widely reported, President Obama has commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning. And it’s great news. All the way back in November, James wrote, Chelsea Manning: Obama Should Pardon Her Now — a long an passionate argument on the matter.

But there are things that bug me about this. On the top of the list is that Manning is being set free because the administration thinks she has suffered enough. No, no, no! Chelsea Manning shouldn’t have been put in prison in the first place. Neither should the many other leakers who the Obama administration oppressed (as well as general whistleblowers like John Kiriakou).

(Of special note is the abuse of the Espionage Act of 1917. As many of use have been saying for years, Obama was setting a bad new norm and he wouldn’t always be president. Imagine what President Trump will do with this law? Breaking norms matter — perhaps especially when Democrats do it, because it legitimizes the norm breaking so much more.)

The Case Against Manning

But I think the case can be made that Manning should have been punished — although not to the extent she was. The truth is that her release of documents was reckless. I would counter that she tried to work with reporters and was ignored and dismissed. She could have done some culling before giving the material to Wikileaks, but I think that’s asking quite a lot from one so young.

You can disagree with me, of course. But I don’t think anything close to a reasonable argument can be made for a 7 year sentence — much less the 35 year sentence she was assigned barring commutation. The idea that “Manning had served enough time” just shows that the government has learned nothing from this. It isn’t interested in having a well-informed public. The question isn’t whether those who inform the public of our dirty deeds should be punished; it is just a question of how much they should be punished. According to Obama, 7 years is about right for an American hero like Chelsea Manning.

Edward Snowden

Here’s where we get into troubled waters: the Edward Snowden comparison. I am sick to death of hearing the official Democratic Party line on Snowden coming out of the mouths of dozens of liberal friends and acquaintances. Manning is the Good Leaker and Snowden is the Bad Leaker. Let me quote from an administration official, “Chelsea Manning is somebody who accepted responsibility for the crimes she committed. She expressed remorse for committing those crimes. She began serving the sentence that was handed down.”

So the distinction here is that Manning was a good a little girl and took her punishment. And Snowden was the bad little boy who ran away. Please! Think about this in a different way. Think about Harriet Tubman. After breaking the law by helping slaves escape, should she have turned herself into the Maryland police to see that justice was done? Of course not. Doing so would have been beyond naive. Yet that is what I am constantly told Snowden should have done.

I think the single biggest difference between Manning and Snowden is naivete. And I say that as someone who used to be very much like Manning. I used to think that if you did what was right, everything would be okay. But that’s not true. And I suspect if you could get inside Chelsea Manning’s head, you would find that she has had second thoughts about that. Those in power are not interested in right and wrong. They are interested in power and weakness. People like Manning and Snowden are the weak and must be destroyed.

Edward Snowden, with his libertarian politics, did not believe all the “home of the brave, land of the free” propaganda that Manning and I did. So he did the rational thing: he ran.

The “Screw You Snowden” Theory

I believe that a good part of why Manning’s sentence was commuted is because of Snowden. If the government didn’t have Snowden to hold up as the Big Bad Leaker, there would be far less pressure to release Manning. The message from the administration could not be clearer, “We’ll treat you right [Ha!] if you hang around, but don’t run!”

(Also: the idea that Snowden’s real crime is that he ran to our enemies is a joke. If he had run to the UK, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, or whatnot, he would have been handed over to the US. He clearly doesn’t want to be in Russia; that’s the choice of the US — not letting him move around. Had he gone to Venezuela, people would make the same arguments against him. In addition, there’s a good chance the US would have invaded Venezuela. Remember the invasion of Panama? Yes, the US is that sick a country that it would kill thousands of innocent people just to get one guy who pissed it off.)

Chelsea Manning’s Remorse

I also hate this idea that Manning “expressed remorse” for these “crimes. First, the whole idea of criminals showing remorse is a joke. No judge or jury can say that anyone is remorseful. Psychopaths are notably really good at showing remorse, even while feeling none. And everyone shows remorse — and every other emotion — differently. A couple of years ago, I was reading about a guy falsely convicted of killing his wife. It all stemmed from the fact that the police didn’t think he showed the proper emotion. So they railroaded him, as they are wont to do.

The other issue is that I don’t think Manning should show remorse. She’s a hero. Okay. She could show remorse over little things. She could have dealt with the leak better. (More like Snowden!) But that’s not what the Obama administration is on about. They are saying that she has shown remorse for doing it at all. And she shouldn’t be remorseful about that. And I suspect after she’s out — hopefully being something like an advocate for open government — she’ll be clear that it was right to release those documents.


So it’s great that Chelsea Manning is getting out of prison. But from a political standpoint, it isn’t a good thing. In fact, it’s only going to get worse. This is what happens to empires. They get too big. Those who lead them become too powerful. They will brook no disobedience. If America isn’t a dictatorship in a century, I’ll be surprised. If it is one in 20 years, I won’t be shocked. All Obama did yesterday was adjust a prison sentence. He didn’t make a stand for open government. Why would he? He isn’t for it.

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Jan 18

Chelsea Manning’s Sentence Commutated by Obama

Chelsea ManningPresident Obama commuted the 35-year prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, an Army private convicted of taking troves of secret diplomatic and military documents and disclosing them to WikiLeaks, after deciding that Manning had served enough time…

Officials said the president thought that in Manning’s case, seven years behind bars was enough punishment and that she had been given an excessive sentence — the longest ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction. The administration has contrasted her case with that of Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified documents in 2013 and then fled the country, pointing out that Manning did not try to avoid facing the US justice system for her crimes.

“Chelsea Manning is somebody who accepted responsibility for the crimes she committed,” a senior White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House. “She expressed remorse for committing those crimes. She began serving the sentence that was handed down. The president’s concern was rooted in the fact that the sentence handed down is longer than sentences given to other individuals who committed comparable crimes.”

–Ellen Nakashima and Sari Horwitz
Obama Commutes Sentence of Chelsea Manning, soldier Convicted for Leaking Classified Information

[I will have more to say about this, most likely this afternoon. I’m very pleased for Manning’s sake. But I don’t like the reasoning and I don’t like the claims about Edward Snowden. -FM]

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Jan 17

Intra-Group Fights More Common Than Inter-Group Fights

Fredrik deBoerScott Alexander wrote a piece in the middle of last year that I think is as essential as anything I’ve read in ages about how we argue now. His point is pretty simple: as political segregation increases, with people from dramatically different political camps less and less likely to interact, the really bitter political arguments are intra-group, not inter-group. That is, the battles that are most personal and toxic stop being Democrat-Republican but left-liberal, alt-trad, insurgents-establishment…

Here’s an extension to Alexander I want to make, which I’ll relate to my own experience. As internecine warfare against the neargroup intensifies, the regulation of who is in and who is out becomes more and more important. That is, the more that politics becomes about battling the neargroup instead of the fargroup, the more essential self-identification with a given faction becomes. As the really bitter fights become those between people who are close on the spectrum, the regulation of one’s space on the spectrum becomes even more essential.

So look at my experience. For a long while I was just kind of a fringey voice; perceived by many people as kind of annoying but not in any sense someone to be careful not to be associated with. Now, to the minor degree that I am discussed by progressives (being a low-traffic and low-attention figure generally), it is almost always accompanied by this laborious process of distancing themselves from me even while agreeing with me. Most endorsements of my work, by liberals and some leftists, involve endorsing what I’ve said while performing a dance to show everybody they know I’m Bad. It is the perpetual “I know Freddie’s problematic, but he’s right here” phenomenon. At some point or another I was given the mark of Cain, and I’ve never been clear on when or why…

The attitude that grownups should constantly be in the business of saying “This person is good/bad” instead of discussing specific arguments and ideas is contrary to how democracy is supposed to work. But it’s all people care about…

–Fredrik deBoer
I Know My Own Group by Defining Who’s Not in It

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Jan 16

Cory Booker: Neoliberal Hater of Typical Americans

Cory BookerBernie Sanders introduced a very simple symbolic amendment Wednesday night, urging the federal government to allow Americans to purchase pharmaceutical drugs from Canada, where they are considerably cheaper. Such unrestricted drug importation is currently prohibited by law…

The Senate voted down the amendment 52-46, with two senators not voting. Unusually, the vote was not purely along party lines: 13 Republicans joined Sanders and a majority of Democrats in supporting the amendment, while 13 Democrats and a majority of Republicans opposed it.

One of those Democrats was New Jersey’s Cory Booker, who is considered a rising star in the party and a possible 2020 presidential contender.

In a statement to the media after the vote, Booker’s office said he supports the importation of prescription drugs but that “any plan to allow the importation of prescription medications should also include consumer protections that ensure foreign drugs meet American safety standards. I opposed an amendment put forward last night that didn’t meet this test.”

This argument is the same one offered by the pharmaceutical industry. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which lobbies against importation, maintains that it opposes importation because “foreign governments will not ensure that prescription drugs entering the US from abroad are safe and effective.”

The safety excuse has long been a refuge for policymakers who don’t want to assist Americans struggling with prescription drug costs. Bills to legalize importation passed in 2000 and 2007, but expired after the Clinton and Bush administrations refused to certify that it would be safe. The Obama administration also cited safety concerns when opposing an importation measure in the Affordable Care Act.

–Zaid Jilani and David Dayen
Cory Booker Joins Senate Republicans to Kill Measure to Import Cheaper Medicine From Canada

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Jan 16

Democratic Party Unites and Looks to Future at DNC Forum in Phoenix

DNC ChairOn 14 Janary 2017, the DNC hosted the first of four announced candidate forums for the DNC chair as well as the vice chairs, treasurer, and secretary. It started more or less on time at 9:00 am with remarks from the current interim chair, Donna Brazile. She spoke about Phoenix being a deliberate choice for the location — referring to the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes of its previous form. She is expecting the Democrats to do the same thing.

The Party just went through a bruising year. From the fairly rancor-filled presidential primary to the unrelenting attacks by a foreign government to the final heartbreaking loss of the presidential race, much has been made of what the Democratic Party is going through. Yet there were successes last year as well. Unfortunately they were drowned out by the loss at the top of the ticket.

The Party is dealing with the aftermath by having some internal struggles for what it is going to be. This is why there are so many candidates for DNC Chair. All of them have very good ideas, agree on almost everything, and are willing to stand up for what party-members care about most. This is one of those elections where the DNC committee-members are absolutely spoiled for choice.

DNC Chair Panel, left to right: Tom Perez, Jaime Harrison, Sally Boynton Brown, Keith Ellison, Jehmu Greene, Pete Buttigieg, and Ray Buckley

Morning Session

For the morning session, it was mainly speeches from various party people and elected officials. Arizona Democratic Party Chair Alexis Tameron spoke briefly before introducing Phoenix’s Mayor, Greg Stanton. I had a chance to speak with her a couple of times during breaks in the forum. She told me some interesting things. In particular, the future of the Party is definitely in the southwest. Arizona was not given much assistance from the national party last election ($100,000). Yet the Democrats lost the state by only 3% for the president’s race, a better result than North Carolina. I heard similar sentiments from the Texas Democratic State Party Chair, Gilbert Hinojosa. Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and possibly even Utah have a good shot to flip.

Speaking of things from a state party chair, Hinojosa noted something extremely important: there has to be better fundraising coordination between the national and state party leadership. If the federal party is holding a fundraiser for, say, Barack Obama, don’t hold it the same night the state party is holding its main fundraiser! It’s counterproductive.

Lunch Break

After the morning session, they threw us out of the main ballroom to go mingle with each other. There was a minor shouting war as the Ellison and Perez sides yelled out the names of their candidates. It wasn’t like the problems that plagued the Nevada State Caucus, but there was some push back between the sides.

I spent the time chatting with the various different staff members of the candidates and talking to people such as Chairman Hinojosa about how they picked their candidates to support. The Chairman explained that the DNC chair needed to be ready to welcome all Americans into the Democratic Party tent. He also said that the chair needed to be reflective of the best that the Democrats are. So people know why they should join it.

Shortly after that, I was snagged by a person from the Nurses Union to talk to me about the same thing. Jean Ross is the vice-chair and she mentioned the good legislation that Representative Ellison has introduced to help all Americans. She also pointed out that he understood that healthcare isn’t merely doctors and nurses; it is things like having a decent basic income.

Tom Perez and Staffmembers

I also spoke with the staff members for Tom Perez, Pete Buttigieg, Ray Buckley, and Jahmu Greene. They were friendly, cheerful, and excited about the leaders they had decided to support. That was especially notable since they all traveled to Arizona on a chilly winter’s day. Of special note were the people in New Hampshire who had an especially long trip. I’m pretty sure it was on their own expense too. That takes a lot of dedication.

Afternoon session

This session started with the candidates giving a brief introduction about themselves. Surprisingly, everyone stayed in their two minutes. Good start.

The first question was pretty simple, “How will they unify the Party?” Based on the way that they talked about this question and other issues, they will unify by being friendly opposition. The mood of the room stayed upbeat throughout the discussion. In fact, there was lots of cheering.

Otherwise, the answers were along the lines of, “Oh, I have lots of experience putting up with warring factions.” And that’s true of them all to one extent or another, based on their positions and offices held.

The next question was about working to bring more people up through the leadership pipeline. I literally don’t remember anything anyone said because I was tweeting. [Lesson 03: Notebook discipline and record keeping. :-) -FM]

Audience Questions

The first question from the audience was about the perennial problem in politics: money. Should the party get rid of corporate donations? Do they support a resolution that states that? The moderator, the always amusing Jon Ralston, said that was a yes or no question so it should be quick. He was wrong.

The first candidate to respond, Sally Boynton Brown, said in a roundabout way she did support eventually getting rid of the corporate donations. So did Representative Keith Ellison, who added that we must not hamstring ourselves by not having a replacement ready for the money. Jehmu Greene stated that she agreed with Ellison.

Ralston broke in with another request for yes or no answers. Perez made the excellent point that this isn’t a simple question to answer. When Jaime Harrison had his opportunity to speak, he pushed back a bit on the original question since he recognizes that most candidates do not get the kind of response that Sanders and Obama did in terms of small donations.

Other Questions

Next was a question on effectively using our allies in other groups. As Secretary Perez put it: all of the candidates have experience with coalition building.

The final question was about voter suppression efforts. This is where there was the first actual visible disagreement between the candidates. Only as a minor point. This was when Greene proposed what is to most people a startling and revolutionary idea: there simply shouldn’t be voter registration. Other options include taking what Oregon has done (automatic registration, vote by mail) and exporting it nationwide. Ellison was alone in speaking about the restoration of civil rights to convicted felons.

All of the candidates gave excellent answers and would be great chairs. Each one brings something to the table and differ only in where their priorities lie for the Democratic Party going forward.

After the Official DNC Conference

After the candidates for chair portion, I and my friend Donna Gratehouse had a chance to speak briefly with two of the candidates.

Attendees Milling Around Before the Forum Starts

Jaime Harrison

I asked Jaime Harrison if he would be willing to support an Arizona style Clean Elections law for each state’s legislative and statewide races. He said he would be willing to support that. I followed up, asking if he was also willing to have a legislative drafting team to help give candidates proposed legislation to run on — something concrete they could get right to work on if they win. He said unfortunately that isn’t something the DNC could do but he would support having an organization to do the drafting of said legislation. Then he had to rush off because CNN was waiting.

Jehmu Green

Donna and I ran right into Jehmu Greene after that and she was a delight. Donna asked her about the media’s pernicious influence on the people we are trying to win over. Greene said we need to stop being friends with those who wish us harm — and that would definitely include much of the media. She also said that she wants the party to return to being a lot more aggressive in how we manage our push-back. The Democrats need people who do not spend their entire lives working in the political process to be in charge of the party.

I followed up with a question about bringing back the kicking donkey from the current corporate logo that we have. She smiled and said that the donkey probably wasn’t coming back, but that definitely something with more pep will be looked at. I was impressed: there is a woman who knows how to get out of a question she doesn’t want to answer. The party may need more of that to thrash the Republicans.

Vice-Chair Discussion

I briefly paid some attention to the vice-chair discussion. The only answer that really stuck out for me was when Adam Parkhomenko gave a good answer to how the national party can help those who want to get locally involved. He said that if you do, calling the DNC should make it easy to find out what you need to do by being a one stop clearing house of answers and information on who to get a hold of locally.


The big take away from the Phoenix DNC forum is that people are extraordinarily hungry for something to do in the face of Trump and total Republican control of Washington. They are, for the first time in a long time, reaching out to the Democratic Party to get active. The party can harness this energy. The room was packed for something that really isn’t that big a deal overall. The fact a number of people stuck around for the lesser-known races was pretty high for something that is even less well known than the DNC chair race.

The final thing is that the people currently running the party, Donna Brazile and her team, are excellent organizers. It was smooth flowing, it didn’t get bogged down in fights between the factions, and it was actually fun. I will miss her when she retires from active politics.

Cross-posted at Crooks & Liars.

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Jan 15

There’s Very Little Free in Free Trade Policy

Dean Baker on Supposed Free Trade PolicyReporters always complain about not having enough space to give the full story, which makes it a mystery as to why they so frequently add the word “free” to references to trade policy. We got an example of this wasteful wordiness in a NYT article on Donald Trump’s decision to ignore nepotism and conflict-of-interest rules and appoint his son-in-law Jared Kushner as a top adviser.

The piece told readers that Kushner, along with other responsibilities, would work on “matters involving free trade.” The use of “free” in this context is misleading since much of the US trade agenda is about increasing protectionism in the form of longer and stronger patent, copyright, and related protections. These protections are equivalent to tariffs of many thousand percent in the economic distortions they produce. They are 180 degrees at odds with free trade. There also has been little, if any, effort to remove protectionists barriers that benefit highly paid professionals, such as the ban on foreign doctors who have not completed a US residency program.

For these reasons, it is inaccurate to include the word “free” in reference to US trade policy. It is difficult to see why the NYT and other news outlets feel the need to do it.

—Dean Baker
Does NYT Require Reporters to Needlessly Add “Free” to References to Trade Policy?

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Jan 14

What About the People Who Don’t “Make It”?

Chris Hayes on the People Who Don't Make ItAfter the election, I conducted a kind of exit interview with retiring Senate minority leader Harry Reid. I asked him what the Democratic Party stands for, and after speaking of his own upbringing in deep poverty in the rural town of Searchlight, Nevada, he said: “People have asked me the last year, ‘What message do you want to leave with people?’ And here’s the message: I want everyone in America to understand, if Harry Reid can make it in America, anyone can. And I want those young men and women out there who are looking for a way out to realize, if Harry Reid can make it, anybody can. That’s what America is all about.”

This is, in some ways, a perfect summation of the Democratic Party’s message in the Obama era: in America, anyone can make it out, anyone can rise to the highest heights. Immigrant, native-born, black, white, disabled, gay, straight, male, or female — no matter your background, there’s a place at the top for you. Even if this were perfectly true (and it’s not), we’re now seeing what happens when the Democratic Party is perceived, by white working-class people at least, as the party for those who make it out. But millions didn’t make it out — so who champions them?

The answer is that someone came along and more or less said, “Fuck all that. You won’t have to go to college to live your dreams; I’ll deliver them to you myself. I’ll reopen the coal mines. I’ll wave a magic wand, and this place that’s been pummeled will be restored. You can stay here and live your dreams. Your town can be great again.”

I think Obama recognized the need to speak to the dislocation and alienation of the Americans who didn’t make it out as well as anyone. There’s a reason he won all those counties that Trump flipped: it was Obama’s extraordinary political talent to connect with citizens from all walks of life that made him one of the greatest figures in American history. A century from now, schoolchildren will be celebrating his birthday.

But I’m left to wonder what it must be like inside his head now. Does he have a blissful moment every morning where he wakes up with no memory of what happened in November, a sweet morning calm before remembering the catastrophe? And I also wonder if that blissful moment before reality sets in is how we’ll remember his presidency.

–Chris Hayes
How Will History Judge Barack Obama?

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Jan 13

Republicans Fear and Enable Trump

Brian Beutler - Repeal ObamacareTrump can enforce discipline on congressional Republicans almost effortlessly, with a combination of carrots and sticks that are fixed aspects of his relationship with them. The carrots are the points of policy consensus between Trump and Republican members of the House and Senate. The sticks are the ways that Trump can credibly threaten the careers of many House Republicans, and even some Senate Republicans, if they challenge him.

Set aside the frighteningly real concern that Republicans who cross Trump will see their emails plastered all over the Internet. Trump’s unpopularity masks the powerful effects of partisan polarization. His overall approval rating may be a dismal 37 percent, but in a polarized environment, that level of support means he is overwhelmingly popular among Republican voters and beloved by the GOP base. For most Republicans, opposing him would invite bigger political problems than they’ll willingly accept…

By abandoning even the pretense of congressional oversight, Republicans are leaving it almost entirely to reporters to scrutinize Trump’s ethical and legal conduct. But as he demonstrated on Wednesday, he has no misgivings about slandering news outlets (or any institutions really) that reveal unflattering things about him.

And the same polarization that makes him broadly unpopular, but enduringly popular with GOP voters, will insulate him from the political consequences of scandal. The result is that Trump will be able to operate with impunity for the foreseeable future. If he becomes so reviled that Republicans are no longer scared of him, they might finally arrest the damage — but we’ll have to wait until then to know the full toll.

–Brian Beutler
Trump Is Exactly the Monster We Feared, and Republicans Are Enabling Him

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Jan 12

Vanity Sizing Racism

Jenée Desmond-Harris - Vanity Sizing RacismPublic discussions of racism are notoriously frustrating, but there’s one especially aggravating related trend that took off during the election season and that I’d love for people to commit to eliminating in 2017: a push for vanity sizing.

Yes, vanity sizing for racism. The original term applies to the way clothing manufacturers have gradually adjusted their sizing in a way that appeases the growing number of large-bodied shoppers who, because of societal shame around weight, would rather see a label that says 6 than one that says 16…

As the vanity sizing debate proved, adjusting labels so that “bad” ones apply to fewer people is seductive. But even for people who associate thinness with health and virtue, it’s a superficial solution — it doesn’t change what we see when we look in the mirror.

We should all resolve to stop this vain, avoidant practice and focus on critiquing the beliefs and behavior that inspire the label “racist” instead of changing the rules so that the label doesn’t apply.

–Jenée Desmond-Harris
The Vain, Counterproductive Myth That There’s No Way Most Americans Can Be Racist

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Jan 10

Real America: Get Ready to Be Screwed

EJ DionneThe Urban Institute studied the impact of the partial repeal of the ACA through the budget reconciliation process — precisely what Republicans are proposing to do. By 2019, the study found, this would increase the number of uninsured in Pennsylvania by 956,000 over what it would be if we simply kept the law…

In Tennessee, 526,000 more people would be uninsured… Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is threatening to hike the uninsured figure in Kentucky by 200 percent, or 486,000 people.

In Arizona… the number without coverage would rise by 709,000. In West Virginia… the ranks of the uninsured would go up by 208 percent, more than twice the national average, from 88,000 if the ACA were left in place to 272,000.

These are real Americans, and they all live in states carried by Trump.

Now Republicans will dispute data of this sort and claim that their “replacement” of Obamacare will take care of these folks. It will be, Trump has said, “something terrific.” Okay, if it’s so terrific, let’s see it and discuss it before we threaten the insurance coverage of so many of our fellow citizens.

But they don’t want to do this because they have no plan to replace it with, only fragments of partial solutions and a lot of empty words. Their un-Jeffersonian haste is part of a coverup, a con game in which voters are told to give up something concrete in exchange for — well, we’ll tell you later, maybe.

–EJ Dionne
Republicans Don’t Want to Hurt “Real America.” By Repealing Obamacare, They Will.

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Jan 09

Only Marxists See the Water

Capitalism - Marxists See the WaterI was talking to a friend yesterday. He’s a smart guy. We almost never talk about politics, however; but the subject came up. And he mentioned that he was a centrist. He made what is, in some contexts, a valid point: that extremism in political ideology leads to catastrophe. But he mentioned Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians. (He was most critical of the last.) But that’s a shockingly small Overton window. What about communists and fascists? What about the only political group I know of that takes our economic system seriously: Marxists.

From a more practical standpoint, did the Democratic Party having complete control of Washington really lead to catastrophe? The country barely changed. Was that extremism?!

I see the situation totally different. The libertarians are irrelevant — except that they give intellectual credibility to the others. The Democrats are a center, even center-right, party in a global perspective. And the Republicans are proto-fascists. A centrist should love Barack Obama, and actually, I believe my friend does. It isn’t my intention to indict him. Indeed, he is in favor of Universal Basic Income.

What’s Water

But his extremely limited notion of the political landscape is what pretty much everyone shares in America. Let me illustrate with a story that David Foster Wallace famously told in his commencement speech, “This Is Water.” (I’m sure most people have heard the story at one point or another in their lives):

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys! How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit and eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

To me, capitalism is the water that we swim in. And I find it really frustrating that most people can’t see it.

Oh sure: they know the word. They think it is shorthand for freedom and democracy. The slightly more sophisticated think that it is about economic markets and the profit motive. Capitalism is none of these things. And the way that capitalism normally operates, it is the enemy of these things.

Marxists Understand Capitalism

When I was a libertarian, I was struck by the fact that it was only when I talked to Marxists that I found people who seemed to understand capitalism. Of course, I thought they were wrong in their analysis, but they understood what it was. I thought that I was very knowledgeable, of course; I thought I understood capitalism too. But the truth is that I didn’t. Because, while they saw the water, I didn’t. My study of intro economics in college, if anything, made it harder to see the water.

Capitalism is a system where ownership entitles you to profit. And I’m not talking hammers here. It’s not a question of using capital to build things. It is rather more like the fallow land across the street from me. Someone could be farming it, but instead, it is just being held by someone who inherited it, waiting until the city expands to the point where they can sell it to someone else who will build condos.

See the Water

Now, I understand the arguments in favor capitalism. And I’m not completely against it. But unlike the average American who thinks they are centrists because they don’t see the economic waters they swim in, I side with the Marxists. They see the water. And that means they are able to see beyond the water.

Each year, roughly a third of our income comes not from creating things but from owning things. A third! That’s capitalism. That’s water.

You don’t have to agree with my beliefs about capitalism. But things will only get worse as long as you don’t see that capitalism is a choice that is mandated by the government. There’s nothing natural about it. Rape, theft, and murder are natural. Getting thrown in jail for trespass is not.

Be like the Marxists to the extent that you see the water. Then we all might be able to make some progress.

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