The Difficult Early Republican Primaries

Martin LongmanMartin “Felonious Frog” Longman wrote a bit of a scattered but very insightful article yesterday, Republicans and Reality. He started by quoting a bit of troubling polling data for the Republicans. According to Republican pollster Whit Ayres, only 18% of Americans want to repeal Obamacare and replace it with the great Republican alternative: nothing. Similarly, 60% of Republicans under the age of 30 are in favor of same sex marriage. (Don’t applaud too much; the number is roughly 90% young Democrats.) The problem is that the early primaries don’t exactly provide a lot of room for the Republican candidates to be moderate.

The first race in the 2016 primary will be in the reasonable state of Iowa (28 delegates). But that’s just an average. It is reasonable overall, but the Republicans there are crazy. Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum won the state in 2012. New Hampshire (12 delegates) provides a reasonable opportunity for moderation, and Mitt “Self Deportation” Romney did win there. But then comes Colorado (36 delegates) and Minnesota (40 delegates) — both won by Santorum. That same day will be the primary in New York (95 delegates) — doubtless an effort on the part of Republicans to inject some sanity in the primary. That primary was at the very end of the race and Romney won big because he was the only one still running. Just the same, he would have won regardless. And finally, there’s Utah (40) — which Romney won but I don’t think that means anything for obvious reasons.

For those not keeping count, that’s 107 “moderate” delegates and 144 crazy conservative delegates during the first three days of voting. A week and a half later, South Carolina gets to vote. And who did they vote for last time? Newt “Yay, child labor!” Gingrich! It does create a bit of a problem for the Republican Party. It isn’t that the candidates hold truly vile opinions — which they all do. It is that as long as they don’t make a big deal out of those vile opinions, the mainstream media will give them a pass. But people like Steve King in Iowa is not going to want to let them get away with that.

I’m still of the opinion that the economy trumps all else. But that doesn’t mean that candidates don’t matter at all. Even during a total economic meltdown in 2008, John McCain still managed to get 173 electoral votes. And I’m fairly convinced about what Jonathan Chait wrote last week, How “Negative Partisanship” Has Transformed American Politics. More and more, people decide which party they will not vote for. And in the south, we’ve seen this for a while — because of bigotry. But now this same thing is affecting other states — now to the advantage of the Democrats — because of the bigotry of the Republican Party.

As I noted regarding the move of the New York primary, the Republicans (and the Democrats) are trying to front load the election to get the most “electable” candidates for the general election. But the schedule doesn’t create any problems for the Democrats. The Democrats in Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, Minnesota, New York, and Utah are not going to push the candidates heavily to the left. I wish they would. But the Republicans are going to have to pander in a big way — even with New York’s 95 delegates. And even there, I suspect they will appeal to the electorate there primarily by talking about how we really need to start bombing Iran.

It’s Not Just Class: Race in America

Eric AltermanFor decades now, I’ve been arguing that when it comes to politics, liberals and leftists need to stop talking about race and focus instead on class. It’s not that racism doesn’t exist and cause genuine suffering, I would argue, but race divides the majority from the minority, while class could, and should, unite them. The way to help poor black and Latino people is to help poor people, period. (Wealthy black and Latino people can help themselves.) I still believe this, but I’ve also come to believe it’s hopeless.

Initially I understood the primary roadblock to be identity itself. People of color insisted on identifying themselves first and foremost as people of color, and they looked to leaders who served as reflections of their ideal selves. On those rare occasions when transracial and transethnic movements succeeded in America, they did so through the paradigms of race and ethnicity rather than by transcending them. Many responses are possible to Werner Sombart’s famous 1906 question, “Why is there no socialism in the United States?” The most obvious, however, is that the patch-quilt racial and ethnic composition of the US working class has made it easy for capitalists to divide and rule.

But another reason — one whose power and resilience I admit to have underestimated — is the problem of institutional white racism. Events of the past year or so — together with some of the research I did on inequality for my recent Nation eBook, Inequality and One City: Bill de Blasio and the New York Experiment, Year One — have convinced me that people of color, especially black males, live in a different country from the one in which whites live, whether rich or poor.

—Eric Alterman
Race Matters (but Not To Conservatives)

Obamacare Hatred Is Destroying Red States

Medicaid Expansion Cartoon

On Friday, Ezra Klein reminded us, The Anti-Obamacare Movement Is Making Red States Sicker and Poorer. I understand what the Republican elites tell themselves. By doing the maximum amount of damage to the law, it will become untenable. People will not sit by and watch the health insurance industry in Arizona be destroyed. They will demand action. But given that over half of the people in the United States will be doing just fine, I don’t see people rising up and saying, “Let’s get rid of Obamacare!” I see them saying, “Let’s get rid of these jerks running the red states who don’t care at all about their people!”

Of course, this is in reference specifically to King v Burwell. But the truth of the matter is that it applies to everything. The refusal to accept the Medicaid expansion in 22 states only hurts those states. It not only deprives many of their working poor of health insurance, it deprives the states themselves of billions of dollars in economic stimulus. This is all, once again, in the name of symbolism: they won’t accept any help from that communist in the White House. But it does those states no good. All that such symbolic measures do is allow the politicians to fight with each other for the mantle of Most Conservative. And when they all qualify for the award, none of them get any benefit from it.

The other side of this is that these red states are still bound by the healthcare law. They still pay taxes for it. They just aren’t getting all of the benefits — and if King v Burwell is upheld, they won’t be getting any benefits. Ezra Klein is exactly right when he summarized the situation, “In effect, the Republican plan to destroy Obamacare has become a plan in which red states subsidize Obamacare in blue states.” Very effective, guys!

According to estimates of the Kaiser Family Foundation that were quoted by Klein, the Republican petulance regarding Obamacare has resulted in five million extra people going without health insurance and foregoing a staggering $37 billion every year. That’s roughly the total GDP of Wyoming. So Republicans are causing enormous amounts of pain to themselves for a very low probability of getting rid of the hated healthcare law.

And let’s remember, Obamacare is about as conservative an approach as there is to healthcare reform. The one part of it that Republicans most complain about — the individual mandate — was the basis of the very conservative Heritage Foundation plan. Now it is true that the Democrats added — Oh, the horror! — subsidies to help middle and lower class workers. But the truth is that the plan never would have worked without these subsidies. This, above all, is why the Republicans have been unable to come up with something to replace the law with: Obamacare is the conservative replacement. This has gone along with conservative healthcare “wonks” looking all over the world to find a conservative plan that works. And they always end up embarrassing themselves, because the other plans always turn out to be more liberal than Obamacare.

It’s all just a mess. And I am absolutely certain that in ten years, all the states will have fully embraced Obamacare. Republicans will even run against Democrats claiming that they want to make workers pay more for healthcare. But in the meantime, huge amounts of suffering will have gone on — both directly in terms of fewer people being covered and indirectly by harming the economy. But by then, it will all be forgotten. American politics really isn’t ideological anymore. The question that workers have to answer is simply, “Which party will govern with even the most basic competence?” And the answer is the Democrats. The Republicans don’t even try.

Typical Lying Law Enforcement

Sonoma County Sheriff's DepartmentHere in my hometown of Santa Rosa, we have a case of a police officer brutalizing a suspect and then lying on the witness stand in a very important case: jaywalking. Celeste Moon is a 51 year old single mother and culinary student at Santa Rosa Junior College. She was walking home one afternoon when she heard someone shout at her about waiting for the light. When she heard a car door slam and someone coming toward her, she ran. She was afraid it was one of our many local thugs. It turned out to be Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Blount. But what happened next makes one wonder if there is much difference between our local thugs and our sheriff’s deputies.

When Blount caught up to her, he arrested her and hurt her while trying to put handcuffs on her. That’s pretty standard. The police are not known for being very gentle or, frankly, caring in the least about it. As you can see in the video below, Blount puts Moon in a headlock and slams he to the ground where she begins screaming. Five police vehicles were then called in for “back up” because of this dangerous 51 year old single mother. Even though you can only see the two from about shoulder height, the video is quite upsetting.

This seems a pretty typical case. Law enforcement officers have a perpetual chip on their shoulders. The worst thing you can do to one is not treat them with all the respect that they think they deserve — and never think they have to earn. So this whole case has nothing to do with jaywalking and everything to do with the bruised ego of Deputy Blount. But the story here is not about what seems obviously excessive force. There apparently is no such thing in modern America. Moon ought to be thankful that Blount didn’t just shoot her in the back and then drop a taser at her feet.

The story here is that the video surfaced after Blount did what law enforcement officers do every day when they go to court: lie. According to The Press Democrat, “The video, taken by a neighbor, contradicts Blount’s court testimony earlier this week that he placed both of his hands on Moon’s shoulders and pushed her down, said Moon’s lawyer, Izaak Schwaiger.” Well of course it did. If sheriff’s deputies like Blount said what they really did on a daily basis, the world would be a much different — and more just — place.

But the truth is that as a society, we don’t want to know. Most people will never find themselves in Moon’s situation. So they figure that all the police brutality and lying is just fine. It is all in the service of keeping us all safe. But of course, it isn’t. The fact that Blount felt the need to treat this middle aged woman this way is a good indication that he’s not in the habit of having to deal with truly dangerous situations. In his mind, “keeping order” has probably fully merged with “people respecting me.”

Blount is a “17-year law enforcement veteran.” According to a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department, Blont was was probably just testifying to the best of his memory. I kind of doubt that. The description — placed both hands on Moon’s shoulders and pushed her down — sounds too “edited for sensitive viewers.” But there is little doubt that the deputy didn’t think much of it at the time.

The real problem is not Blount, of course. What really amazes me is that given this clear evidence that Blount either knowingly lied on the stand or doesn’t remember the case clearly enough to testify, Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite didn’t throw out the case. Now I don’t know, but I assume that the only evidence against Moon is Blount’s testimony. Instead of throwing it out, the judge “directed prosecutors to consider whether the gap between his testimony and the video affects the deputy’s credibility.” So justice is left up to the DA — as usual. And no groups are closer than the DA and police. I would assume that the DA will try to strike some deal where they drop charges in exchange for Moon not suing the county.

The injustices in this country are so many. This isn’t a case of law enforcement murder. But it is part of the same system and the same problem. And all of us are culpable for allow it to continue on.

Morning Music: Shakira

Shakira - Animal CitySome time back, I was working for a very ambitious Latina who was doing very well selling make-up and clothes to other Latinas in the area. And she was a really big fan of Shakira. I’d never heard of her before, but of course, she was huge. I didn’t especially care for her music, but there was one song that immediately captured me, “Animal City.”

I like the cynical lyrics. “It’s an animal city, it’s a cannibal world.” And: “Your family got bigger when they thought you were rich.” But mostly, it is the music. I love the use of semitone major chord changes. It’s very punk, but done with far more sophistication. For example, there is a riff after the chorus that goes back and forth between a D major and a C# major 7th. Very effective!

Anniversary Post: Intentional Use of LSD

Albert HofmannBack in 1938, Albert Hofmann synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD. I remember a story (possibly apocryphal) dating back to the 1970s. On the first day of Introduction to Chemistry, a certain professor would walk in and write on the calk board:


He would say, “This is the chemical formula for LSD. I don’t want to be asked for the rest of the year!” Of course, it would take at least another year of chemistry to gain the skills in organic chemistry to actually make it.

On this day in 1943 — almost five years later — Hofmann intentionally took the drug for the first time. It wasn’t the first time that he had taken the drug. The thing about LSD is that it is super potent. Most drug doses are measured in milligrams, but LSD is measured in micrograms. So all you have to do is get some on your skin and you will probably absorb enough of it to get high.

In his way, Hofmann was as much an advocate for the drug as was Timothy Leary. And he was an advocate right up to his death a few years ago at the age of 102. I’m ambivalent about the drug. I remember a music teacher of mine saying, “When we first started taking LSD, we thought we were learning a lot of spiritual lessons. But gradually, we learned we were just getting high.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But LSD does rather have a reputation for being more serious than it is.

Happy birthday intentional use of LSD!