Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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Also from Crossen

May 26, 2011

Well, really Benjamin Barber via Crossen.

Contrast these two questions:

1. Do you want a drug rehabilitation center in your neighborhood?

2. Do you think that the community needs drug rehabilitation centers, and if so, would you accept one in your neighborhood if you were persuaded that the policy process by which the locations were chosen was participatory and fair?

Pollsters assume that people can only answer questions of private preference.  If people are constantly asked to evaluate public polices in terms of their prejudices, they unlearn the art of civic judgment.

I don’t really blame polls for the questionable quality of our collective civic judgment, but I do find it persuasive that our questions are probably incorrectly oriented, that we would be better of if we’d explicitly require people to separate out what they believe to be best for society from what they believe to be best for themselves.

Jonas

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The real “other side”

May 26, 2011

Every now and then, there are rumblings about passing a law that would prohibit unions from using member dues to make political contributions without the written permission of the member.  For those of us who’ve been exposed to the portrayal of unions as corrupt special interests (think The Wire, Season Three), this makes some sense.  I admit to thinking that I could see where the impulse for such legislation might come from when I first heard of it.  For me, the two sides were: constrain political contributions or don’t.

Flying Whale, not surprisingly, was able to put it in context much more quickly, responding, “Are we going to require shareholders to sign something before corporations can make political contributions too?”  For Flying Whale, the two sides were: constrain both opposing powers or neither.

Initially, I was confined to a narrower scope, that of limiting union corruption, when imagining the other side of the argument.  Flying Whale was working from a broader and, I think, more robust understanding–that the other side was really about keeping opposing powers balanced.

The conversation reminded me that I really do think it’s a skill to be able to see the real “other side,” not the one embedded in the frame someone else is using.

Cynthia Crossen’s book, Tainted Truth, of which I’ve admittedly only read a few chapters, really made this point for me.  In her discussion of polling, she explores how poll results are affected by question wording.  Old news, right?  But I was surprised by how difficult it was for me to spot the less egregious slants.  For example, in Chapter Five, Crossen explores the public opinion polling that surrounded the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill scandal/accusation.  Regarding a question from a New York Times/CBS News poll:

“Some people say Anita Hill’s charges should not be taken seriously because she did not make them years ago at the time she said the incidents happened.” (So far, so good.  That, indeed, was a popular argument against Anita Hill’s case.) The question continues: “Other people say the charges should be taken seriously even though they were made for the first time just recently.”  This second sentence is supposed to be the other side of the coin–the reason Anita Hill should be taken seriously.  Instead, it simply restates the negative point–she took a long time to complain.  But what would the results have been if the second part of the question had read, “Other people say the charges should be taken seriously because women sometimes have reasons to delay reporting such behavior?”

Once Crossen points it out, it’s so clear.  But just the “Some people say…other people say” structure had me fooled into taking it as an even-handed question.

Knowing that you’re susceptible to being duped certainly helps, but I’m finding this to be a slow skill to acquire.

Jonas

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Neoliberalism’s newest foe: Orrin Hatch?

March 10, 2011

The Hill is reporting that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is threatening to package together the South Korea, Colombia and Panama FTAs into a single giant toxic loogie of awful. As the ranking member of the Senate Finance committee, which has jurisdiction over trade issues, Hatch is not in a powerless position, so this might actually matter.

While Hatch is doing this ostensibly to force the passage of all three FTAs, this action might also give opponents of the deals their best possible chance to stop their passage:

While the AFL-CIO and other big unions oppose all three deals, the South Korean deal has won support from the United Autoworkers. And while other unions oppose the Korea and Panama pacts, they would see movement on Colombia by the administration as almost an act of war. For years, unions have drawn a line in the sand over Colombia, which they say has not done enough to stop violence against union organizers.

The article concludes, “Trade was supposed to be a winning issue this year for Obama and the GOP. Wednesday’s move shows it will be a victory that is hard to achieve.” So, “Obama and the GOP” don’t win; who else loses? Let’s see… multinational corporations looking to hide behind generous Panamanian tax-haven laws; banks looking to hide behind Panamanian bank secrecy regulations; Colombian resource extraction companies looking for new markets for their products, created at the expense of millions of displaced indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples; any companies in the U.S., Korea, Colombia or Panama hoping to be able to sue against public health, environmental or labor protection laws that infringe on their expected profits…

Those are the regular folks “Obama and the GOP” are fighting for with these trade deals. Don’t you feel sorry for all of them already? Luckily, Orrin Hatch has our back.

It’s a strange world.

Flying Whale

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Gotta say it

February 5, 2011

In an earlier comment, I wrote that:

we tend to view history through dual lenses of linearity and progress, forgetting that many of our greatest fights suffered deep, deep set-backs–even after we thought they were won.  Given the turn in our nation’s politics as evidenced by last November’s elections, studying up on the South’s reversals after Reconstruction seems unfortunately timely.

I wasn’t expecting rape to be up for redefinition.

For those who missed the uproar this past week, House Republicans introduced the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, the aim of which is to ban federal funds from being used to subsidize abortions, with a few exceptions.  While not a policy move I agree with, I can respect the effort.

The exceptions are the normal ones–incest, life of the woman is in danger, or forcible rape.  Wait, what?  Forcible rape, you say?  What’s that?

Does that mean that statutory rape or coercive rape–when the victim is underage or unconscious or it can’t be proven that she fought back “quite hard enough”–are no longer always considered “real rape?”

Yep.  But thanks to the quick response of many organizations and individuals from all over the country, the modifier on “rape” has been dropped from the bill.  But the fact that it was up for debate at all is a wearying reminder of the non-linearity of progress.

Rape is defined by lack of consent.  Period.  We shouldn’t ever need to return to that discussion.

The effort by this bill’s authors to create a hierarchy of rape in their attempt to limit abortion is completely unacceptable.

Work on the legislation you feel like you need to work on, friends.  But find another way to do it.  This tactic is not ok now, and it never will be.

Jonas

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Today the Supreme Court will decide whether AT&T is people, too.

January 24, 2011

From my view of the world, corporate personhood (and its continued expansion) causes serious problems–not least of which is it’s application in the Supreme Court decision Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission.

That said, Dahlia Lithwick does a great job of tracking a small setback in the advance of corporate personhood at the Supreme Court this week.  The whole thing is worth reading; here’s a taste:

But AT&T felt, passionately, that turning over these materials would violate the corporation’s “personal privacy.” One of the exemptions to FOIA—exemption 7(C)—provides that records may be withheld if their release would represent an unwarranted invasion of “personal privacy.” But since this exemption has only ever been invoked to protect human privacy rights, never corporate ones, AT&T has to persuade the courts to extend the right to “personal privacy” to corporations as well as people. So it’s a big day: Because today the Supreme Court will decide whether AT&T is people, too.

Speaking of, I’m interested in all this enough to read more than the Wikipedia article on it.  Does anyone know of a respectable defense of corporate personhood?

Jonas

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USTR throws a bone to the Steelworkers

January 3, 2011

By petitioning the U.S. government to sue China at the WTO for its “unfair” clean energy subsidies, the Steelworkers gave the Obama administration the perfect opportunity to appear labor-friendly without actually having to be progressive at all, or challenge any entrenched domestic economic interests. I wrote about this impending disaster a few months ago, and late last month it came to fruition.

The United States on Wednesday accused China of illegally subsidizing the production of wind power equipment and asked for talks at the World Trade Organization, the first step in filing a trade case.

“Import substitution subsidies are particularly harmful and inherently trade distorting, which is why they are expressly prohibited under WTO rules,” Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement. “These subsidies effectively operate as a barrier to U.S. exports to China.”

So not only is this an attack on efforts to move the world towards a greener economy, it’s also a broad attack on industrial policy in general (the sort of broad attack, of course, that is part of what the WTO is designed to do). Even more, it’s a political win for the centrists in the Obama administration, who can now point toward this as a supposedly pro-labor move while they simultaneously push heavy-handedly anti-labor policies like lobbying for the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

Great move, USW!

Flying Whale

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That election

November 3, 2010

Went to a post-election analysis event today with a former staffer for Minnesota Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, Brian McClung, and the current Speaker of the Minnesota State House, Margaret Anderson Kelliher. The state-level context here is that the governor’s race is going to a recount, although it seems to be generally accepted that the DFL candidate is likely to win; on the other hand, Republicans took control of both the state House and Senate despite the DFL having a veto-proof majority in the Senate and a near veto-proof majority in the House.

So when McClung opened the panel by gloating openly, it seemed justified and actually not annoying at all. Kelliher, on the other hand, seemed to be in total denial. This wasn’t a true “wave” election, she said; if it had been, DFLers X, Y and Z would have also lost. “This is a story of very low turnout,” she said, which as far as I can tell isn’t just a terrible analysis, it’s actually factually untrue.

The two eventually turned to talking about state-level policy moving forward, and Kelliher appeared to regain her sensibility. But then there was a question about what Obama’s reaction to this election should be. McClung put forth a fairly predictable Republican response: Obama needs to see this as a repudiation of his policies; he has overreached and people are angry at all the government spending etc etc. Clinton got this message in 1994 and changed; Obama must do the same. (Moderator Larry Jacobs made a little crack about how it’s interesting that Republicans seem to have fallen in love with Clinton recently.)

Kelliher’s response was completely ineffective and questionably coherent. She agreed that Obama has to relate to voters better. “He has to get out of the White House and talk to real people,” she said, or something completely meaningless like that. Way to defend the foundations of Democratic economic policy in a recession, Ms. Speaker!

So, I linked to this yesterday, but it’s particularly relevant with this context in mind, and worth quoting at length. Robert Reich says:

Obama shouldn’t be fooled into thinking Bill Clinton was reelected in 1996 because he moved to the center. I was there. Clinton was reelected because by then the economy had come roaring back to life.

[…]

For the next two years Republicans will try to paint Obama as a big-government liberal out of touch with America, who’s responsible for the continuing bad economy.

Obama won’t be able to win this argument by moving to the center — seeking to paint himself as a smaller-government moderate. This only confirms the Republican’s views that the central issue is size of government, that it’s been too large, and the economy can improve only if it’s smaller.

On the Republican playing field, Republicans always win.

Obama’s best hope of reelection will be to reframe the debate, making the central issue the power of big businesses and Wall Street to gain economic advantage at the expense of the rest of us. This is the Democratic playing field, and it’s more relevant today than at any time since the 1930s.

[…]

The 2012 economy won’t be as bad as the 1936 economy, hopefully. But it won’t be nearly as good as the 1996 economy. For a president running in 2012, 1936 is the more relevant.

Flying Whale