America’s Doomed One Way or Another

Matt YglesiasBack on Monday, Matt Yglesias wrote an article that got a surprising amount of attention, American Democracy Is Doomed. It was based on the idea of Juan José Linz that presidential systems are inherently unstable. Linz argued that there is a tendency for them to turn into, well, exactly what we are seeing today in America. A good example is Mitch McConnell’s claim that the Republicans’ “top political priority… should be to deny President Obama a second term.” Check out the video of him saying it — he can hardly keep from laughing, he’s so pleased with himself.

I’ve lately heard “serious” political commentators claim that there was nothing wrong with saying that. It is what all political parties should do. I think it is important to note that this was said when the country was still in bad shape. What’s more, he and the rest of the Republicans had been acting that way from the very start when we were in crisis. I certainly think that that kind of behavior is understandable and expected. But not acceptable. The ultimate question for the Yglesias’ article, however, is whether it is inevitable.

Jonathan Chait wrote a response the next day, There’s a Chance American Democracy Is Not Doomed. That sounds like typical Chait snark, but based on the article, I would have to say that he means it literally. He’s arguing that we aren’t necessarily doomed, but most likely we are. This hardly makes me feel better. But let’s think about his argument.

Chait thinks that the problem is not the system but conservatives themselves. While I accept this, it doesn’t much help. If you look at the the following graph of filibuster use, you will notice something interesting:

Filibuster by Party

The increased use of the filibuster was almost exclusively a Republican thing. But once the Republicans pushed up the rate of filibuster use, the Democrats followed along with it while they were in the minority. I expect that the Democrats will act the same way under the next Republican president as the Republicans did under Obama. So the Republicans manage to poison the entire political system. So I’m not too encouraged by the fact that it is primarily a Republican problem.

Jonathan ChaitThe ultimate American example of partisan dysfunction is the Civil War. Chait counters this idea by noting that the problem wasn’t what Linz described. I don’t think it much matters. We can expand the model. But I think it already is part of Linz’s model. The Civil War was not the result of a disagreement about slavery. Lincoln didn’t do anything about slavery — he only got elected. It was effectively just that the southern states had given up on democracy. I don’t see much difference between the way that the Democrats responded to the election of Lincoln and the way the Republicans responded to the election of Obama.

None of this means that the American system is doomed to fail. I happen to think that it is, but I’m not especially concerned about this mechanism. America is just well into its imperial phase and we are on the way out because we have too many vested interests with far too much power. The modern corporation doesn’t feel like it has to earn market share; it can just buy it through political means. But what’s going on with the Republican Party is quite frightening, and I can well imagine the US turning into a fascism long before our empire crumbles.

One thing is for certain. This argument of Chait’s will not save us:

American conservatism’s power is deeply rooted to white American racial identity. That identity formed a plausible national majority for much of America’s history, but its time is rapidly slipping into the past. The steady growth of racial minorities is projected to continue for decades. Eventually Republicans will adjust to the new demography, which means they will have to abandon conservatism as we know it, which has only appealed to white voters in the context of racial polarization.

This is a common fantasy of liberals. It is totally ahistorical. The definition of “white” is fluid. Once Italians were not considered white. Once Jews were not considered white. The Japanese may not be considered white today, but they aren’t used as an example of “those people” as they once were. Latinos may not be considered white, but certainly within two generations at the most, they will be. The conservative movement has always been great at slicing and dicing groups of people. It is more or less what their movement is all about. So increasing diversity will not save us from conservatives, because they will find a way to divide the people into the “deserving” and the “moochers.”

And in the end, Linz may well be right. There may be no way to limit this kind of racist power other than by allowing many political parties to flourish as they do under a parliamentary system.

Afterword

This has nothing to do with the rest of the article, but I thought it was funny. Chait wrote in his last paragraph, “It’s conceivable that the p.c. left, which refuses to recognize the legitimacy of opposing views, will one day take control of the Democratic Party (in which its influence remains marginal).” Still banging that drum! It’s also conceivable that the Marxist left will one day take control of the Democratic Party (in which its influence remains marginal). How ridiculous, Chait; let it go!

Union Busting as Terrorism

Confessions of a Union BusterUnion busting is a field populated by bullies and built on deceit. A campaign against a union is an assault on individuals and a war on the truth. As such, it is a war without honor. The only way to bust a union is to lie, distort, manipulate, threaten, and always, always attack. The law does not hamper the process. Rather, it serves to suggest maneuvers and define strategies. Each “union prevention” campaign, as the wars are called, turns on a combined strategy of disinformation and personal assaults.

When a chief executive hires a labor relations consultant to battle a union, he gives the consultant run of the company and closes his eyes. The consultant, backed by attorneys, installs himself in the corporate offices and goes to work creating a climate of terror that inevitably is blamed on the union.

Some corporate executives I encountered liked to think of their anti-union consultants as generals. But really the consultants are terrorists. Like political terrorists, the consultants’ attacks are intensely personal. Terrorists do not make factories and air strips their victims; they choose instead crippled old men and schoolchildren. Likewise, as the consultants go about the business of destroying unions, they invade people’s lives, demolish their friendships, crush their will, and shatter their families.

—Martin Jay Levitt
Confessions of a Union Buster

Bloody Sunday Bridge Named After KKK Leader

Edmund Pettus BridgeThere is a common complaint among conservatives that African Americans should just “get over” slavery. In fact, I think that they have gotten over it. As Ta-Nehisi Coates has noted, systemic oppression of African Americans is much more recent than that, and it continues to this instant. What I think is that southern whites need to get over the Civil War. And the rest of us need to get over pandering to their hurt feelings over having lost their treasonous rebellion. I’ve discussed the issue a number of times. For example, No More Confederate General Bases! And, Southern Pride Rotting Our Republic.

With the fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, we have yet another example of this problem. Edmund Pettus was not on the right side of history. He was a Confederate general in the Civil War — and very much in favor of slavery and the Confederate cause. And like almost all of those guys, after gleefully committing treason against his country, he was welcomed back by that very same country. He went back to the life he had before the war. And eventually made it into the United States Senate (when it was still a corrupt appointed gig). God bless the US, because if you are rich and white, it doesn’t matter what you do — they will treat you like a hero.

But the other notable thing about Pettus is that in 1877, he became Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama. And this was no secret. In fact, when the bridge was named after him in 1940, this was probably a selling point. It is part of that whole sick southern inferiority complex that claims that only things Confederate constitute the true soul of the south. And for 75 years, the name of a bigot and a traitor has been displayed proudly on that bridge. Perhaps it is time to change the name.

This morning, Jenée Desmond-Harris at Vox reported on a group of students who are trying to do just that, Inside the Fight to Strip a KKK Leader’s Name From Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. It is about a Change.org petition, Remove Selma’s KKK Memorialization: Rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The message is clear, “It’s time for the state of Alabama, the city of Selma, and the National Park Service to remove a KKK leader’s name from the historic bridge.” Of course, this isn’t the first time such a request has been made and nothing has changed yet.

I think this really ought to be an issue for whites — but I say that as a white person. I know that power concedes nothing without a demand. But is there no shame among us? Must we be beaten over the head about every obvious offense? The name on that bridge should make every white person cringe. And trust me, I know what many people will say, “You want to hide our history!” But that’s not it at all. I am fine with our history — it is what it is. But I have a major problem with celebrating men of history like Edmund Pettus.

Indeed, Tony W Harris of the Alabama Department of Transportation made exactly the same “history” argument. And a white resident of Selma said, “I think it’s going to be more divisive than unifying.” But I think it is really just a matter of people accepting the fact of past wrongs. Bloody Sunday will always be associated with the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And changing the name of the bridge would be a nice continuation of that — an acknowledgement that treasonous KKK leaders are not people we honor.

Jobs Report Always Brings Calls for Fed Tightening

YachtHave you seen the great jobs report this month? The economy added 295,000 jobs. The unemployment rate went from 5.5% to 5.3%. Wow! Happy days are here again! There is literally a chicken in every pot. Unfortunately, most Americans lost their pots when the bank foreclosed on their houses. All right, maybe not. It isn’t a bad jobs report. It’s a mixed bag. That 295,000 number is impressive, but it is still less than the number of people who gave up looking for a job last month. And it is still true that we need a lot more months of job growth like this to get back to our pre-crash levels of employment.

Job reports these days are very much a double edge sword. We want to see good numbers — more job growth. But the better the numbers, the more it brings out all the austerity fools who claim that the Federal Reserve must raise interest rates because inflation is going to increase. This is said based entirely on theory. There is no indication that inflation is actually increasing. As I’ve noted many time before, the reasoning here is that it is better to deprive workers of jobs than to allow the rich to face even the threat of inflation.

So the lower the unemployment rate gets, the louder the screams from the finance types will be that the Fed must raise interest rates. But here’s the thing: the Federal Reserve has a 2% inflation target. I think this is too low. It is basically just something that Alan Greenspan pulled out of the air. And now it has become some kind of iron law of economics — which should tell you a lot about just how scientific economics is. But the target is 2%. The problem is that more and more it isn’t even a target — it is an upper bound. In a really good blog post yesterday morning, Paul Krugman cautioned the Fed:

Maybe full employment really is 5.3 percent unemployment, and by the time that’s clear the inflation rate will have ticked up a bit above the Fed’s target. But that would not be a large cost, whereas sliding back into the liquidity trap would be very, very costly.

He is making the case that inflation that is too low represents a much more serious threat to the economy than inflation that is too high. But it is pathetic that he has to remind these people of this. If the Fed’s target is 2%, then it should be above 2% about half the time. But that hasn’t been the case since 2009. And the power elite love this. It’s just a reflection of the fact that working people are doing really poorly. But the rich don’t care about that. Their piles of money are worth a lot and they want it to stay that way. Deflation would be even better for them.

This is the problem with an oligarchy. Our leaders are not, in general, doing what is best for the economy. Or at least, not what a reasonable person thinks is best for the economy. They’ve defined what is best for the economy as what is best for the rich. And so every month we have this fight about the jobs report. If it’s good, the rich tell us the Fed must do something because they will get very slightly less rich. And if it’s bad, well, it’s bad. Of course, even when it is bad there are some who argue for raising interest rates. Who cares if American workers have jobs? Have you seen the price of yachts recently?!

Morning Music: Don’t Let’s Start

They Might Be Giants - Don't Let's StartBack in 1987, my once and future girlfriend told me that I must check out this band They Might Be Giants — partly because I too had a high tech duo with weird ideas, but sadly almost completely lacking on the talent side. So I bought their first album, They Might Be Giants, which I loved immediately and from then on. Apparently, she knew of the band because she had seen their music video for “Don’t Let’s Start.” I hear that it was kind of a hit on MTV, but it has never really been clear to me if videos ever create radio hits. But I’ve read in Wikipedia, that the song never made it to the Hot 100.

Anyway, I did go to see the band at the The Kennel Club during that tour. Now that I look back, I saw a lot of bands at that place. It was great — or at least it got a lot of great acts. They featured well known but small acts. I mean, They Might Be Giants would never play there now. Of course, The Kennel Club is long gone now. And I am much too old and agoraphobic.

Anyway, here is the song that started it all. It’s weird that I tend to find music of that period almost unlistenable because of the synth sounds. But somehow, it works with this stuff — probably because it is the basis of it and not a featured instrument. Besides, it’s all so silly, how can one not love it? Even if everybody dies frustrated and sad:

Birthday Post: Bloody Sunday 50 Years Later

Selma MarchOn this day fifty years ago, the first Selma to Montgomery march took place. It became known as “Bloody Sunday” after the marchers were attacked by state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It is one of the iconic moments of the Civil Rights Movement. It reminds me of something I read yesterday by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Gangsters of Ferguson. In it, he wrote, “The residents of Ferguson do not have a police problem. They have a gang problem.” And that’s exactly right. But don’t expect to hear anyone say that on the nightly news.

But I’m sure you already have heard people on the television news saying roughly the same thing about the troopers and the “county posse” who committed those unconscionable acts of violence fifty years ago. By that time, the Civil Rights Movement was highly advanced, so it got covered and it outraged a lot of people. Two years earlier, I wonder. And I further wonder how today’s media would cover it. Over the last forty years, I’ve seen such a trend in this country toward accepting anything done by someone with a badge.

Future Congressman John Lewis Beaten in SelmaThere was to be no one from the Republican Congressional leadership attending the Selma fiftieth anniversary this weekend. But apparently, at the last minute, even the Republicans realized that it wouldn’t fly — that the questions would continue to be asked. So they send the House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. I’ve noted this before about various attempts by the Republicans to woo minority groups. What is the point of doing anything when it is clear that you only go kicking and screaming?

With McCarthy coming, that puts the entire Republican contingent at 24. There are expected to be over a hundred members of Congress at the event. Let’s have some fun with our old friend arithmetic. That means there will be at most 24% Republicans at the event. And they represent 56% of the Congress. That means that 8% of their caucus is going and at least 32% of the Democratic caucus is going. That seems about right: a four-to-one ratio.

Edmund Pettus BridgeBut I’m glad so few Republicans are going to the event. I hate to see hypocrisy. Every time I hear some Republicans going on about Lincoln and how terrible slavery was, all I can think is, “You would have been a slavery supporter if you had lived back then.” Conservatism is a relative thing. It isn’t that modern conservatives are just smart and they would have been liberals if they had lived in the 19th century. No. It is an attitude. They are against the powerless. And that’s also true of Bloody Sunday. They would have been the ones saying, “Well, they were ordered to disperse; they got what they deserved.” So they are right to stay away now. The less hypocrisy, the better.

As for the march itself, all I can say is that those people had a lot more courage than I do. But maybe I can be forgiven. The thing about great social movements and unions is that they give us courage. The power elite since that time have gotten much better at defining dissent as unthinkable. But as we see in Ferguson, the same problems exists. And the same people are there to claim that it is nothing. African Americans would be fine if they were just “twice as good”; women would triumph if they only “leaned in”; and workers would be rewarded if they just worked like dogs without a peep. But it isn’t true. And it seems to be a constant struggle just to stand still.

But just imagine where we would be if they hadn’t succeeded fifty years ago.