Quotulatiousness

April 6, 2014

Obamacare, viewed from a distance

Filed under: Government, Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:16

Peggy Noonan attempts to look at Obamacare apart from the daily battles over details:

As I say, put aside the argument, step back and view the thing at a distance. Support it or not, you cannot look at ObamaCare and call it anything but a huge, historic mess. It is also utterly unique in the annals of American lawmaking and government administration.

Its biggest proponent in Congress, the Democratic speaker of the House, literally said — blithely, mindlessly, but in a way forthcomingly — that we have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it. It is a cliché to note this. But really, Nancy Pelosi’s statement was a historic admission that she was fighting hard for something she herself didn’t understand, but she had every confidence regulators and bureaucratic interpreters would tell her in time what she’d done. This is how we make laws now.

Her comments alarmed congressional Republicans but inspired Democrats, who for the next three years would carry on like blithering idiots making believe they’d read the bill and understood its implications. They were later taken aback by complaints from their constituents. The White House, on the other hand, seems to have understood what the bill would do, and lied in a way so specific it showed they knew exactly what to spin and how. “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan, period.” “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, period.” That of course was the president, misrepresenting the facts of his signature legislative effort. That was historic, too. If you liked your doctor, your plan, your network, your coverage, your deductible you could not keep it. Your existing policy had to pass muster with the administration, which would fight to the death to ensure that 60-year-old women have pediatric dental coverage.

[...]

The program is unique in that the bill that was signed four years ago, on March 23, 2010, is not the law, or rather program, that now exists. Parts of it have been changed or delayed 30 times. It is telling that the president rebuffed Congress when it asked to work with him on alterations, but had no qualms about doing them by executive fiat. The program today, which affects a sixth of the U.S. economy, is not what was passed by the U.S. Congress. On Wednesday Robert Gibbs, who helped elect the president in 2008 and served as his first press secretary, predicted more changes to come. He told a business group in Colorado that the employer mandate would likely be scrapped entirely. He added that the program needed an “additional layer” or “cheaper” coverage and admitted he wasn’t sure the individual mandate had been the right way to go.

Finally, the program’s supporters have gone on quite a rhetorical journey, from “This is an excellent bill, and opponents hate the needy” to “People will love it once they have it” to “We may need some changes” to “I’ve co-sponsored a bill to make needed alternations” to “This will be seen by posterity as an advance in human freedom.”

April 4, 2014

Welcome to the church of SSM militant

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:20

A National Review editorial on the Mozilla CEO’s short tenure after being outed as a supporter of a Californian anti-SSM ballot initiative:

In 2008, Barack Obama and Brendan Eich both were against gay marriage. Senator Obama averred his support for the one-man/one-woman view of marriage, while Mr. Eich, a cofounder of the Mozilla web-browser company, donated $1,000 to support Proposition 8 — a California ballot initiative that had the effect of making Senator Obama’s avowed marriage policy the law in California, at least until a federal court overturned it on the theory that California’s constitution is unconstitutional. Barack Obama inexplicably remains, as of this writing, president of the United States of America, but Mr. Eich has just been forced out as CEO of Mozilla because of his political views.

The various tendencies that operate under the general heading of “gay rights” have had an extraordinary run of it in the past several years, in both the political and the cultural theaters. We now have a constitutional right to commit homosexual acts (Lawrence v. Texas), while Facebook offers at last count 56 different gender options to its users (trans with or without asterisk, genderqueer, neutrois, and two-spirit among them). Having won the battle in California, the sore winners are roaming the battlefield with bayonets and taking no prisoners. Mr. Eich’s donation had been a matter of public record for some years, but Eros is a jealous god, and he will have blood from time to time. Mr. Eich’s elevation to the chief executive’s position provided occasion for critics within his firm and without to make an example of him.

[...]

Again, it is in this case a matter of culture. The nation’s full-time gay-rights professionals simply will not rest until a homogeneous and stultifying monoculture is settled upon the land, and if that means deploying a ridiculous lynch mob to pronounce anathema upon a California technology executive for private views acted on in his private life, then so be it. The gay agenda of the moment is, ironically enough, to force nonconformists into the metaphorical closet. If through the miracle of modern medicine you end up with five sets of mixed genitals, you’ll get your own section in the California civil-rights statutes; cling to nearly universal views about marriage for a few months after it’s become unfashionable, and you’re an untouchable.

Unless, that is, you’re the anti-gay-marriage candidate that all the pro-gay-marriage people voted for in 2008, in which case you get a pass, apparently on the theory that everybody assumed you were being willfully dishonest for political reasons. (That assumption provides a relatively rare point of agreement between homosexual activists and the editors of this magazine.) There simply is to be no disagreement, no dissent, and no tolerance for other points of view.

Update: In Time, Nick Gillespie says there’s both good and bad aspects of this event.

Welcome to the brave new world of socially conscious… web-browsing. In the past, consumers might patronize certain businesses (Whole Foods, say, or Ben & Jerry’s) whose stated missions extended beyond increasing shareholder value and avoided others that might have politically objectionable CEOs or reputations for being anti-abortion (Domino’s Pizza, say) or public positions opposed to certain forms of birth control (Hobby Lobby, for instance). Now we’re boycotting free products such as Firefox and demanding companies dance to the tune called by customers. I think that’s a good thing overall — but it may end up being just as difficult for consumers to live with as it will be for corporations.

Whether you care about gay marriage or politically correct web experiences, Eich’s resignation shows how businesses respond to market signals. “Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech,” writes Mitchell Baker, the organization’s executive chairwoman, in announcing Eich’s stepping down. “And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.”

Just as the Internet has empowered consumers to find cheaper prices, more-extensive reviews, and a wider variety of goods than ever before, it’s also made it easier for them to call out companies for all sorts of dastardly actions, screw-ups, and problems. I like that OKCupid’s intervention wasn’t a call for government action to limit people’s choices or ban something. Indeed, OKCupid didn’t even block Firefox users from its site — rather, it politely asked them to consider getting to the site via a different browser.

April 2, 2014

Comparing scandals – Toyota’s phantom acceleration and GM’s ignition switches

Filed under: Business, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:10

David Harsanyi offers this comparison and says it’s another reason governments shouldn’t own businesses:

In February 2010, the Obama Administration’s Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told America, without a shred of evidence, that Toyota automobiles were dangerous to drive. LaHood offered the remarks in front of the House Appropriations subcommittee that was investigating reports of unintended-acceleration crashes. “My advice is, if anybody owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it,” he said, sending the company’s stock into a nosedive.

Even at the time, LaHood’s comments were reckless at best. Assailing the competition reeks of political opportunism and cronyism. It also illustrates one of the unavoidable predicaments of the state owning a corporation in a competitive marketplace. And when we put LaHood’s comment into perspective today, it’s actually a lot worse. Not only did the Obama administration have the power and ideological motive to damage the largely non-unionized competition, it was busy propping up a company that was causing preventable deaths.

[...]

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s acting chief David Friedman testified that GM never told them that faulty switches were at the root of the airbag problem. Fine. Before plowing billions of tax dollars into saving the United Automobile Workers, did the Car Czar or any other Obama officials take extra care to review DOT records to insure that taxpayers would not be funding the preventable deaths of American citizens? Would DOT or Holder exhibit the same zealousness for safety when it came to GM as they did when it came to Toyota? In the midst of the bailout debate and subsequent “turnaround,” news of a coverup and major recall would have been a political disaster.

So it’s difficult to understand why this isn’t a huge scandal. If every obtuse utterance by an obscure Republican congressman gets the media juices flowing, surely the possibility of this kind of negligence is worth a look. Can anyone with access to the administration ask some of these questions? Because if you take credit for “saving” a company (actually, an “industry,” as no one would ever driven again if Obama hadn’t saved the day) you also get credit for “saving” the real-life unscrupulous version of the company. “I placed my bet on American workers,” Obama told union workers in 2012. “And I’d make that same bet again any day of the week. And now, three years later that bet is paying off.” Betting $80 billion of someone else’s money to prop up sympathetic labor unions isn’t exactly fraught with political risk. Unless it turns out that your administration was less concerned about the safety defects of the company you owned than the company you disliked. That would be corruption.

March 26, 2014

Secret Service upholds (recent) tradition in the Netherlands

Filed under: Europe, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:17

BBC News reports that — once again — some of the US Secret Service agents tasked with protecting the President have come to the attention of the press for reasons other than their assigned mission:

Three US Secret Service agents tasked with protecting President Barack Obama in the Netherlands have been sent home for “disciplinary reasons”.

The Washington Post reported that one was found drunk and passed out in the hallway of an Amsterdam hotel.

A Secret Service spokesman declined to give details but said the three had been put on administrative leave pending an investigation.

The service has been trying to rebuild its reputation after previous scandals.

In 2013 two agents were removed from President Obama’s security detail amid allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct.

And in 2012 several agents were dismissed following allegations that they hired prostitutes while in Cartagena, Colombia.

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said the latest incident happened before President Obama’s arrival in the Netherlands on Monday for a nuclear security summit.

He said the three had been sent home for “disciplinary reasons” but declined to elaborate.

Mr Donovan added that the president’s security had not been compromised in any way.

March 12, 2014

Senator Dianne Feinstein versus the CIA

Filed under: Government, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:52

In Mother Jones, David Corn shows the state of play between the Central Intelligence Agency and the senate committee that is responsible for oversight of the CIA:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, took to the Senate floor and accused the CIA of spying on committee investigators tasked with probing the agency’s past use of harsh interrogation techniques (a.k.a. torture) and detention. Feinstein was responding to recent media stories reporting that the CIA had accessed computers used by intelligence committee staffers working on the committee’s investigation. The computers were set up by the CIA in a locked room in a secure facility separate from its headquarters, and CIA documents relevant to the inquiry were placed on these computers for the Senate investigators. But, it turns out, the Senate sleuths had also uncovered an internal CIA memo reviewing the interrogation program that had not been turned over by the agency. This document was far more critical of the interrogation program than the CIA’s official rebuttal to a still-classified, 6,300-page Senate intelligence committee report that slams it, and the CIA wanted to find out how the Senate investigators had gotten their mitts on this damaging memo.

The CIA’s infiltration of the Senate’s torture probe was a possible constitutional violation and perhaps a criminal one, too. The agency’s inspector general and the Justice Department have begun inquiries. And as the story recently broke, CIA sources — no names, please — told reporters that the real issue was whether the Senate investigators had hacked the CIA to obtain the internal review. Readers of the few newspaper stories on all this did not have to peer too far between the lines to discern a classic Washington battle was under way between Langley and Capitol Hill.

[...]

So here we have the person assigned the duty of guaranteeing that the intelligence establishment functions effectively and appropriately, and she cannot get information about how the CIA meddled in one of her own investigations. This is a serious breakdown. And by the way, Feinstein has still not succeeded in forcing the CIA to declassify her committee’s massive report on the interrogation and detention program.

Here is how she summed up the current state of play:

    If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted. But, Mr. President, the recent actions that I have just laid out make this a defining moment for the oversight of our intelligence committee. How Congress and how this will be resolved will show whether the intelligence committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.

What Feinstein didn’t say — but it’s surely implied — is that without effective monitoring, secret government cannot be justified in a democracy. This is indeed a defining moment. It’s a big deal for President Barack Obama, who, as is often noted in these situations, once upon a time taught constitutional law. Feinstein has ripped open a scab to reveal a deep wound that has been festering for decades. The president needs to respond in a way that demonstrates he is serious about making the system work and restoring faith in the oversight of the intelligence establishment. This is more than a spies-versus-pols DC turf battle. It is a constitutional crisis.

March 5, 2014

President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:16

Jonah Goldberg thinks that Obama’s proposed “My Brother’s Keeper” should pass constitutional muster despite grumbling from the usual suspects:

The statistics are gloomy and familiar: One out of 15 black men is behind bars; one out of three can expect to be incarcerated at some point in his life.

The simplistic talk about how this is all the result of white racism misses the scope and nature of the problem. The vast majority of interracial violent crime is black on white. But most violent crime is actually intra-racial (i.e., black on black or white on white). Still, blacks are far more likely to die from homicide; half of murder victims are black, which may partly explain why black men in prison have a higher life expectancy than black men out of prison. And this leaves out all of the challenges — educational, economic, etc. — facing black men that don’t show up in crime statistics.

Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, also thinks the program is unconstitutional because there is no “compelling” government interest here: “It may be that a disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos are at-risk, but many are not, and many whites, Asians and others are. This is just another kind of ‘profiling.’”

Yes and no. Obviously there are at-risk youth of all races, but the problems facing young black men are so disproportionate, the difference of degree becomes a difference in kind. Yet, I also think Clegg is obviously right that this is another kind of profiling.

There’s an intriguing double standard that tangles up the Right and the Left. We’re told it is outrageous for government to assume that a young black male (in some contexts) is more likely to commit a crime; we’re also told that government should target young black men for help because they are more likely to commit crimes. Most liberals hate law-enforcement profiling but support — for want of a better term — social-justice profiling. For conservatives, it’s vice versa (though Clegg opposes both kinds of profiling, it’s worth noting). Yet the empirical arguments for positive and negative profiling are the same: The plight of young black men is different.

March 4, 2014

Obama’s Netanyahu media ambush claims one casualty – the peace process

Filed under: Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:14

Jonathan Tobin identifies the problem with President Obama’s pre-emptive media strike against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu:

President Obama may have thought he was being very clever ambushing Prime Minister Netanyahu with scathing comments about Israeli policies that would be published just before he arrived in the United States for a meeting at the White House and to speak at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). By slamming Netanyahu’s policies as the primary, if not the sole obstacle to peace in the Middle East, in the now infamous interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg, the president put the Israeli on the defensive and undermined his attempts to rally support for his positions with both AIPAC members and Congress. That should also have made it more difficult for Netanyahu to resist American pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to help the negotiations sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry succeed. But the president’s move had to leave those who have actually been following the talks with the Palestinians scratching their heads.

Kerry’s current objective is to get both parties to agree to a framework for continued talks. As has been widely reported, Netanyahu has already signaled his consent to the framework even though he and his Cabinet have grave misgivings about where the talks may eventually lead. By contrast, the Palestinians have repeatedly and publicly rejected the framework. The Palestinians have angrily rejected the framework’s requirement that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which is to say they agree to end the conflict rather than merely pause it. They also reject the West Bank security guarantees included in the framework even though it also contains their basic demands about a Palestinian state whose borders will be based on the 1967 borders while leaving open the possibility of territorial swaps. In other words, the Israelis have already given Kerry what he wanted while the Palestinians have done the opposite. Yet Obama still treats Israel as the truant and lauds Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as a trustworthy warrior for peace even though his government is a font of incitement for hatred against Jews and Israelis and he has repeatedly rejected every previous offer of statehood because he and his people remain unable or unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

By speaking in this manner about Israel, Obama has pleased the Palestinians, Netanyahu’s Jewish critics and Israel-bashers everywhere. But it will also do something else that perhaps the president never intended. He has killed any chance that Kerry’s peace talks could possibly succeed.

The problem isn’t Israel (although they’ve made the situation tougher to resolve in several ways): the problem is that no Palestinian leader dares to accept any proposal that explicitly accepts Israel’s right to exist. If Abbas agreed to that, Abbas himself would probably cease to exist in short order. Arafat at the height of his power didn’t dare to take that step, and no Palestinian leader since Arafat has had as much control, power, or influence among the factions and groups that loosely form Palestine politically. This is known to the American government — it can hardly be much of a secret — but for political reasons it can’t be stated. If one side cannot possibly agree, then in the looking glass world of diplomacy, you must berate the other side for their intransigence. It doesn’t matter who is President … this is the reality that must be ignored or wished away (because it’s not going away on its own).

QotD: Back to the 19th century in geostrategy

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:37

… incrementally all these tiny tesserae began forming a mosaic, fairly or not, of the Obama administration as either weak or clueless or perhaps both.

Accordingly, Mr. Putin, in empirical fashion, after factoring in the rhetoric and the facts, has decided that it is time, in the fashion of 1979–80, to move with probable impunity. Others are, of course, watching what Obama derides as Cold War chess games. Should Iran now go full bore on its nuclear program? Should China test Japanese waters and airspace a bit more aggressively? Should North Korea try to gain new concessions from its nuclear lunacy? Should the failed Communists of Latin America try forcibly exporting their miseries to neighbors? And all are operating on the shared assumption that the American reaction will be another “outrageous,” “unacceptable,” “don’t cross this line,” or another solemn Kerry lecture about the existential threats of global warming.

For some, like the now furrow-browed Europeans who once giddily lapped up the Victory Column pabulum, there is irony. For the Baltic states, Georgians, the Persian Gulf sheikdoms, the Japanese, the Taiwanese, and the South Koreans, there is increased anxiety about regional strains of Putinism spreading to their own backyards. And among our allies such as the British, Israelis, Canadians, and Australians, there is still polite bewilderment.

This will probably end in either two ways: Either Barack Obama will have his 1980 Jimmy Carter revelatory moment as something like an “Obama Doctrine,” or we could see some pretty scary things in the next three years as regional thugs cash in their chips and begin readjusting the map in their areas of would-be influence.

Victor Davis Hanson, “The Stepping Stones to the Ukraine Crisis”, VDH’s Private Papers, 2014-03-03

February 2, 2014

The “77 cents” meme

Filed under: Economics, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:08

President Obama recycled the old claim that women are systematically underpaid and only get 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Christina Hoff Sommers says this is far from the first time he’s been corrected (by the Washington Post, among others) for this hoary myth:

These and other differences in employment preferences and work-family choices have been widely studied in recent years and are now documented in a mountain of solid empirical research. By now the President and his staff must be aware that the wage gap statistic has been demolished. This is not the first time the Washington Post has alerted the White House to the error. Why continue to use it? One possibility is that they have been taken in by the apologetics of groups like the National Organization for Women and the American Association of University Women. In its 2007 Behind the Pay Gap report, the AAUW admits that most of the gap in earnings is explained by choices. But this admission is qualified: “Women’s personal choices are similarly fraught with inequities,” says the AAUW. It speaks of women being “pigeonholed” into “pink-collar” jobs in health and education. According to NOW, powerful sexist stereotypes “steer” women and men “toward different education, training, and career paths.”

Have these groups noticed that American women are now among the most educated, autonomous, opportunity-rich women in history? Why not respect their choices? For the past few decades, untold millions of state and federal dollars have been devoted to recruiting young women into engineering and computer technology. It hasn’t worked. The percent of degrees awarded to women in fields like computer science and engineering has either stagnated or significantly decreased since 2000. (According to Department of Education data, in 2000, women earned 19 percent of engineering BA’s, and 28 percent in computer science; by 2011, only 17 percent of engineering degrees were awarded to females, and the percent of female computer science degrees had dropped to 18.) All evidence suggests that though young women have the talent for engineering and computer science, their interest tends to lie elsewhere. To say that these women remain helplessly in thrall to sexist stereotypes, and manipulated into life choices by forces beyond their control, is divorced from reality — and demeaning to boot. If a woman wants to be a teacher rather than a miner, or a veterinarian rather than a petroleum engineer, more power to her.

The White House should stop using women’s choices to construct a false claim about social inequality that is poisoning our gender debates. And if the President is truly persuaded that statistical pay disparities indicate invidious discrimination, then he should address the wage gap in his own backyard. Female staff at the White House earn 88 cents on the dollar compared to men. Is there a White House war on women?

January 24, 2014

President Obama in hot water for not lying about marijuana

Filed under: Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:34

Politicians get into trouble for shading the truth, being “economical” with the truth, or just flat-out making shit up. It’s what politicians do. In this case, however, President Obama is taking flak because he didn’t lie:

Prohibitionists were outraged by President Obama’s recent observation that marijuana is safer than alcohol — not because it is not true but because it contradicts the central myth underlying public support for the war on drugs. According to that myth, certain psychoactive substances are so dangerous that they cannot be tolerated, and the government has scientifically identified them. In reality, the distinctions drawn by our drug laws are arbitrary, and marijuana is the clearest illustration of that fact.

“As has been well documented,” Obama told The New Yorker’s David Remnick in an interview published on Sunday, “I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.” When Remnick pressed him to say whether marijuana is in fact less dangerous than alcohol, the president said yes, “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.”

Judging from survey data, that is not a very controversial position. According to a recent CNN poll, 87 percent of Americans think marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, and 73 percent say it is less dangerous. Yet Obama’s statement does seem inconsistent with his administration’s stubborn defense of marijuana’s placement on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a category supposedly reserved for drugs with a high abuse potential that have no recognized medical value and cannot be used safely, even under a doctor’s supervision.

[...]

You can see why pot prohibitionists reacted with dismay to Obama’s comment — not because it was false but because it was true. As measured by acute toxicity, accident risk, and the long-term health effects of heavy consumption, marijuana is clearly safer than alcohol. That does not mean smoking pot poses no risks, or that drinking is so dangerous no one should ever do it. It simply means that the risks posed by alcohol are, on the whole, bigger than the risks posed by marijuana. So if our drug laws are supposed to be based on a clear-eyed evaluation of relative risks, some adjustment would seem to be in order.

January 15, 2014

President Obama’s speech shows his fear of “a backlash from national security agencies”

Filed under: Government, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:38

Is the national security “tail” wagging the national “dog”?

President Obama will issue new guidelines on Friday to curtail government surveillance, but will not embrace the most far-reaching proposals of his own advisers and will ask Congress to help decide some of the toughest issues, according to people briefed on his thinking.

Mr. Obama plans to increase limits on access to bulk telephone data, call for privacy safeguards for foreigners and propose the creation of a public advocate to represent privacy concerns at a secret intelligence court. But he will not endorse leaving bulk data in the custody of telecommunications firms, nor will he require court permission for all so-called national security letters seeking business records.

The emerging approach, described by current and former government officials who insisted on anonymity in advance of Mr. Obama’s widely anticipated speech, suggested a president trying to straddle a difficult line in hopes of placating foreign leaders and advocates of civil liberties without a backlash from national security agencies. The result seems to be a speech that leaves in place many current programs, but embraces the spirit of reform and keeps the door open to changes later.

Emphasis mine.

January 14, 2014

Noam Chomsky – TPP is an “assault” that furthers corporate “domination”

Filed under: Economics, Government, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:59

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is perhaps the most secretive “free trade” deal ever negotiated. It’s apparently so important that the details be kept from the electorate that even our elected representatives are not being given much information on what has been discussed or agreed. It’s not just libertarian and free market advocates that find this lack of transparency disturbing, as this piece in the Huffington Post shows:

The Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is an “assault,” on working people intended to further corporate “domination,” according to author and activist Noam Chomsky.

“It’s designed to carry forward the neoliberal project to maximize profit and domination, and to set the working people in the world in competition with one another so as to lower wages to increase insecurity,” Chomsky said during an interview with HuffPost Live.

The Obama administration has been negotiating the TPP pact with 11 other Pacific nations for years. While the deal has not been finalized and much of it has been classified, American corporate interest groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have already voiced strong support for the TPP, describing it as a free trade deal that will encourage economic growth. The Office of U.S. Trade Representative has also defended the talks, saying the TPP will include robust regulatory protections. But labor unions and a host of traditionally liberal interest groups, including environmentalists and public health advocates, have sharply criticized the deal.

Chomsky argues that much of the negotiations concern issues outside of what many consider trade, and are focused instead on limiting the activities governments can regulate, imposing new intellectual property standards abroad and boosting corporate political power.

“It’s called free trade, but that’s just a joke,” Chomsky said. “These are extreme, highly protectionist measures designed to undermine freedom of trade. In fact, much of what’s leaked about the TPP indicates that it’s not about trade at all, it’s about investor rights.”

January 11, 2014

Proportionality in media coverage

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:41

Jonah Goldberg makes a good point about what the media chooses to focus their attention on, and how it can downplay or amplify the actual importance of a given issue:

You have to wonder how some of the folks in the media can look at themselves in the mirror. The three network news shows have devoted orders of magnitude more coverage to a story about closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge than they have to the IRS scandal. I know this is not a new insight, but WHAT THE HELL!?

The sheer passion the New York Times-MSNBC mob is bringing to a partial road closure is a wonder to behold. What about the children! The chiiiiillllldrennnn!!!!!

But using the IRS to harass political opponents — one of the charges in the articles of impeachment for Richard Nixon — well, that’s complicated. The president didn’t know. The government is so vast. I had a flat tire! A flood! Locusts! It wasn’t his fault! Besides Chris Christie joked about putting down the cones himself! The cones, man! The cones!

But forget about the IRS scandal. Obama’s whole shtick is to pretend that he’s above politics while being rankly political about everything, including his stated desire to “punish our enemies.” By comparison, Chris Christie looks like Diogenes and Cincinnatus rolled into one. From inauguration day forward, this whole crew has behaved like Chicago goons dressed in Olympian garb, and the press has fallen for it.

We don’t need to recycle the whole sordid history of the sequester and the shutdown to remember that this White House sincerely, deliberately, and with malice aforethought sought to make things as painful as possible for millions of Americans. Traffic cones on the George Washington Bridge are a stain on the honor of New Jersey. (Stop laughing!) But deliberately pulling air-traffic controllers to screw with millions of people is just fine? Shafting World War II vets and vacationing families at National Parks is something only crazy right-wingers on Twitter would have a problem with? And keep in mind, it is at least plausible Christie didn’t know what his staff was doing. It is entirely implausible that the president didn’t know about the WWII memorial closure, after the news appeared in the president’s daily briefing (a.k.a. the New York Times).

I’d say I just don’t get it, but I do get it. For the mainstream media, skepticism comes naturally when a Republican is in the crosshairs. It comes reluctantly, slowly, and painfully — if at all — when it’s a Democrat.

The press would be much more useful to the country if it was equally critical of politicians regardless of party affiliation, rather than acting as a propaganda arm for one side. In Canada, replace “Chris Christie” with “Rob Ford” and the story is pretty much the same … everything Ford does goes under the microscope to detect evil intent, wrongdoing, malice, and (blatantly hoped-for) criminality. Other politicians, both on city council and at the provincial level, get so much benefit of the doubt that the press sometimes acts as unpaid PR staff.

Update: David Friedman points out the only evidence in Christie’s favour and does a bit of quick math to point out the costs imposed on New Jersey commuters by this little flexing of the arm of power:

There is only one piece of evidence that I can see in Christie’s favor—the fact that he would have had to be terminally stupid to think he could get away with it.

Of course, that leaves the conclusion that the two people known to be responsible, a high up Christie aid whom he has just fired and the Port Authority official actually responsible for closing down the lanes who has now resigned, both close to Christie, were terminally stupid as well as criminally irresponsible. [...]

One other point is suggested by the story, not about Christie but about the Port Authority and government actors more generally. Average weekday traffic volume eastbound on the bridge, found with a little googling, is a bit over 150,000 vehicles. Assume a third of them got delayed by the traffic jam for an hour each. Assume their occupants value their time at ten dollars an hour. Assume one person per vehicle. On those very conservative assumptions, a single Port Authority official, acting in effect on a whim, imposed a cost of two million dollars on New York commuters and it took four days for anyone else in the organization to notice and do something about it. More generous assumptions could easily push the number up to five or ten million.

January 8, 2014

Inequality and the American elite

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:25

Victor Davis Hanson diagnoses what he calls the “Modern Psychological Disorder of Elite Liberalism”:

The result of cosmic disappointment in the ability of progressive politics to correct human disparities has given birth to the modern psychological disorder of elite liberalism, which is mostly about squaring the circle of maintaining privilege while deploring inequality. Say America is unfair ten times a day, and the BMW in the garage and the new putter are no longer sins.

Barack Obama cannot finish a sentence without lamenting unfairness; but he proves to be no Jimmy Carter in scouting out the most exclusive of golf courses, and the richest of fat cats to putt with. Elizabeth Warren talks of oppressed minorities, but then invents a pseudo-Native-American identity to get a leg up on the elite competition in order to land at Harvard. The fact is that the elite who champion the poor and the poor themselves are not the players of the 1930s; the former usually make about the same amount of money and enjoy the same privileges as those they damn, while the latter have access to appurtenances and privileges denied the royalty of old.

The wealthier and more secluded an Oprah, the most desperately she searches for evidence of bias and inequality, finally reduced to the caricature of whining about racially driven poor service over a $38,000 crocodile handbag. If most in California don’t care what people do in their bedrooms, or if gays have on average higher incomes than non-gays, or if gay marriage is now de rigeur, the search for cosmic equality continues at an even brisker pace, resulting in transgendered bathrooms in the public schools (crede mihi: the ten-year-old daughters of the Yahoo elite will not encounter transgendered fifteen-year-old boys in the female Menlo School restrooms).

It is not perverse, but logical that Obamacare architects don’t want Obamacare coverage. It is understandable that Washington young-gun liberals know exactly where DuPont Circle or Georgetown gets iffy. Modern liberalism provides the necessary mental mechanisms to ensure the enjoyment of privilege. Al Gore was the classical liberal of the age, crafting an entire green empire predicated on opposing the very values that he later embraced to become, and preserve staying, very rich.

[...]

It is past time to forge a new populist approach without the theatrics of shutting down the government or playing on the same keyboards as Pajama Boy Obamacare spivs. The liberal elite runs the culture, from universities and entertainment to government bureaucracies and the media, but it nonetheless is predicated on loudly condemning in the abstract the very creed that they embrace in the concrete.

December 26, 2013

The limits of redistributive politics

Filed under: Economics, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:19

Wendy McElroy on the economic redistribution problem in politics:

A friend is celebrating the season by visiting her children in the States. Like many millennials, her 20-something son is working brutal hours for minimum wage at an unfulfilling job. After visiting with him and his girlfriend, my friend emailed, “These kids are SO stuck in not being able to even pay their rent that they have no energy left to dream anything.”

A similar story is playing out in family after family across America. Twenty-somethings are holding down two minimum wage jobs because no one wants to hire full-time people for whom they might have to provide health insurance. In a stagnant economy, their unemployment tops the chart. Meanwhile, they are saddled with debt and taxes for entitlements they will probably never receive, like social security.

As I moved through the day, my friend’s words haunted me. They perched at the back of my mind as I read a New York Times article that was an odd combination of proclaiming the obvious and writhing to avoid it. One quote captures the dance: “These days the word ["redistribution"] is particularly toxic at the White House, where it has been hidden away to make the Affordable Care Act more palatable to the public and less a target for Republicans…. But the redistribution of wealth has always been a central feature of the law and lies at the heart of the insurance market disruptions driving political attacks this fall.” The obvious: The core goal of Obamacare is the redistribution of wealth. The writhing: Obama lied, only he had to lie because of those wretched Republicans.

And, then, it occurred to me. It wasn’t just wealth. The dreams and future of my friend’s son have been systematically redistributed away over the last five years. As a white, male, 20-something, he is in a particularly hard-hit category of people. He is likely to work unfulfilling, low-paid jobs for as far in the future as he can see. And, as diligent as he may be, it is far from clear that he will be able to rise through merit.

From the onset of his presidency in 2009, Obama’s domestic policies have revolved around distributive justice. That is, he uses the force of law to forcibly wrench wealth, political pull, opportunity and dreams themselves from those in so-called ‘privileged’ classes and transfer them to so-called ‘disadvantaged’ ones. As his popularity sinks, Obama is returning to the theme of redistributing wealth, which has been a vote winner among his constituents. On December 4, he delivered a speech that foreshadowed policy in 2014. The White House called it a speech on “economic mobility”; the press called it his “inequality speech.” It was a call for egalitarianism, especially in terms of income and opportunities. In other words, a greater redistribution of wealth and further regulation to guarantee that everyone has access to money and upward mobility.

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