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“Plutocrats Against Democracy”: Don’t Let The Bottom Half, Or Maybe Even The Bottom 90 Percent, Vote

It’s always good when leaders tell the truth, especially if that wasn’t their intention. So we should be grateful to Leung Chun-ying, the Beijing-backed leader of Hong Kong, for blurting out the real reason pro-democracy demonstrators can’t get what they want: With open voting, “You would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month. Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies” — policies, presumably, that would make the rich less rich and provide more aid to those with lower incomes.

So Mr. Leung is worried about the 50 percent of Hong Kong’s population that, he believes, would vote for bad policies because they don’t make enough money. This may sound like the 47 percent of Americans who Mitt Romney said would vote against him because they don’t pay income taxes and, therefore, don’t take responsibility for themselves, or the 60 percent that Representative Paul Ryan argued pose a danger because they are “takers,” getting more from the government than they pay in. Indeed, these are all basically the same thing.

For the political right has always been uncomfortable with democracy. No matter how well conservatives do in elections, no matter how thoroughly free-market ideology dominates discourse, there is always an undercurrent of fear that the great unwashed will vote in left-wingers who will tax the rich, hand out largess to the poor, and destroy the economy.

In fact, the very success of the conservative agenda only intensifies this fear. Many on the right — and I’m not just talking about people listening to Rush Limbaugh; I’m talking about members of the political elite — live, at least part of the time, in an alternative universe in which America has spent the past few decades marching rapidly down the road to serfdom. Never mind the new Gilded Age that tax cuts and financial deregulation have created; they’re reading books with titles like “A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic,” asserting that the big problem we have is runaway redistribution.

This is a fantasy. Still, is there anything to fears that economic populism will lead to economic disaster? Not really. Lower-income voters are much more supportive than the wealthy toward policies that benefit people like them, and they generally support higher taxes at the top. But if you worry that low-income voters will run wild, that they’ll greedily grab everything and tax job creators into oblivion, history says that you’re wrong. All advanced nations have had substantial welfare states since the 1940s — welfare states that, inevitably, have stronger support among their poorer citizens. But you don’t, in fact, see countries descending into tax-and-spend death spirals — and no, that’s not what ails Europe.

Still, while the “kind of politics and policies” that responds to the bottom half of the income distribution won’t destroy the economy, it does tend to crimp the incomes and wealth of the 1 percent, at least a bit; the top 0.1 percent is paying quite a lot more in taxes right now than it would have if Mr. Romney had won. So what’s a plutocrat to do?

One answer is propaganda: tell voters, often and loudly, that taxing the rich and helping the poor will cause economic disaster, while cutting taxes on “job creators” will create prosperity for all. There’s a reason conservative faith in the magic of tax cuts persists no matter how many times such prophecies fail (as is happening right now in Kansas): There’s a lavishly funded industry of think tanks and media organizations dedicated to promoting and preserving that faith.

Another answer, with a long tradition in the United States, is to make the most of racial and ethnic divisions — government aid just goes to Those People, don’t you know. And besides, liberals are snooty elitists who hate America.

A third answer is to make sure government programs fail, or never come into existence, so that voters never learn that things could be different.

But these strategies for protecting plutocrats from the mob are indirect and imperfect. The obvious answer is Mr. Leung’s: Don’t let the bottom half, or maybe even the bottom 90 percent, vote.

And now you understand why there’s so much furor on the right over the alleged but actually almost nonexistent problem of voter fraud, and so much support for voter ID laws that make it hard for the poor and even the working class to cast ballots. American politicians don’t dare say outright that only the wealthy should have political rights — at least not yet. But if you follow the currents of thought now prevalent on the political right to their logical conclusion, that’s where you end up.

The truth is that a lot of what’s going on in American politics is, at root, a fight between democracy and plutocracy. And it’s by no means clear which side will win.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 23, 2014

October 24, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Plutocrats, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Suppressing Votes Just Another Day At The Office”: Republicans Are Treating The Right To Vote As Discretionary

When I said yesterday that the right to vote was increasingly being treated as a partisan political game, I had no way to know that a very prominent Republican politician would supply an instant illustration, per a report from the Bergen Record:

Governor Christie pushed further into the contentious debate over voting rights than ever before, saying Tuesday that Republicans need to win gubernatorial races this year so that they’re the ones controlling “voting mechanisms” going into the next presidential election….

“Would you rather have Rick Scott in Florida overseeing the voting mechanism, or Charlie Crist? Would you rather have Scott Walker in Wisconsin overseeing the voting mechanism, or would you rather have Mary Burke? Who would you rather have in Ohio, John Kasich or Ed FitzGerald?” he asked.

Brother Benen commented archly:

I’m not sure which is worse: the prospect of Christie making these remarks without thinking them through or Christie making these remarks because he’s already thought this through.

In theory, in a functioning democracy, control over “voting mechanisms” shouldn’t dictate election outcomes. Citizens consider the candidates, they cast their ballots, the ballots are counted, and the winner takes office. It’s supposed to be non-partisan – indeed, the oversight of the elections process must be professional and detached from politics in order to maintain the integrity of the system itself.

So what exactly is Chris Christie suggesting here?….

[P]olitical scientist Norm Ornstein paraphrased Christie’s comments this way: “How can we cheat on vote counts if we don’t control the governorships?”

Yep, Republicans are treating the right to vote as discretionary, depending on their party’s needs, which makes voter suppression just another day at the office.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, October 22, 2014

October 24, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Republicans, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Issue People Understand”: What Republicans Don’t Get About The Minimum Wage

Republicans don’t like talking about the minimum wage, which is only natural given that their position is one that is extremely unpopular (raising the minimum to $10.10 an hour, the level advocated by Democrats, regularly polls at 70 percent or more). But while their political problem on the issue stems from their policy stance, the way they do talk about it, when they absolutely have to, makes the problem worse. Witness what New Jersey governor and likely presidential candidate Chris Christie now has to say about it:

“I’m tired of hearing about the minimum wage,” Christie said in a keynote speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “I really am. I don’t think there’s a mother or a father sitting around the kitchen table tonight in America saying, ‘You know, honey, if our son or daughter could just make a higher minimum wage, my God, all of our dreams would be realized.’ “

“Is that what parents aspire to for our children?” Christie continued, “They aspire to a greater, growing America, where their children have the ability to make much more money and have much great success than they have, and that’s not about a higher minimum wage.”

That is some weird logic. We need to keep the minimum wage low, because everybody wants to make a lot more than minimum wage, and an increase won’t make anyone’s dreams come true. It’s kind of like saying to a hungry person: “I could give you a sandwich, but I know what you’d really love is an eight-course meal at the Four Seasons. So no sandwich.” Or saying to the public: “It would be great if we could magically eliminate 100 percent of crime, but since we can’t, we’re not going to bother to have a police force.”

Christie’s exasperation is no doubt widely shared among Republicans. They just can’t seem to grasp why anyone would care about the minimum wage. No matter how many times you explain to them that it isn’t just teenage kids working their after-school jobs who make it, but people trying to raise families (the Economic Policy Institute estimates that increasing the minimum wage would directly or indirectly give a raise to 27.8 million American workers), that fact just doesn’t register.

I could make a conjecture about the psychological underpinnings of that, which would have something to do with the natural contempt many on the right feel for people who are economically struggling. But let’s look at what Florida governor Rick Scott said in a debate last night:

Q: Do you support the concept of a minimum wage?

Scott: Sure.

Q: What should it be?

Scott: How would I know? The private sector decides wages.

Right, and the point of a minimum wage is that the government is setting the minimum, because we have collectively decided what the minimum should be. Either you think there ought to be a minimum wage, or you think the private sector should decide the minimum. You can’t believe in both.

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker got asked the same question last week. “I’m not going to repeal it,” he said. “But I don’t think it serves a purpose because we’re debating then about what the lowest levels are at. I want people to make, like I said the other night, two or three times that.”

I suppose this is now the standard Republican dodge to questions about the minimum wage — we shouldn’t raise it, because it would be even better if people made more! — and it’s so transparently dumb that even voters can see through it. For her part, Walker’s opponent Mary Burke has been pushing the issue hard ever since Walker ran into trouble on it, and the race is currently close to tied.

There’s no question that Republicans aren’t helped by the simple fact that this is an issue people understand and have clear ideas about, and most voters are at odds with the GOP position. But the Republicans’ scorn for the idea that anyone cares about raising the minimum wage seems particularly misguided, given that the GOP is already widely seen as the party of the rich.

This year there are initiatives to raise the minimum wage on five state ballots, including three — Arkansas, Alaska, and South Dakota — where there are close Senate races. Because the federal minimum wage was last increased in 2009 and its value erodes every year, there has been tremendous momentum to increase it at the state and local level. In 2014 alone, bills to increase the minimum wage have been introduced in 34 states, and increases have been enacted in 10 states plus D.C. Minimum wage initiatives that appear on the ballot almost always win. If nobody cared about what the minimum wage is, that wouldn’t be the case. You’d think by now Republicans would have figured that out.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, October 22, 2014

October 24, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Minimum Wage, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bullets Outweigh Ballots”: Joni Ernst And The Right To Revolutionary Violence

The picture of IA GOP SEN nominee Joni Ernst that’s emerging from exposure of her pre-2014-general-election utterances is of a standard-brand Constitutional Conservative embracing all the strange and controversial tenets of that creed. There’s Agenda 21 madness. There’s Personhood advocacy. There are attacks on the entire New Deal/Great Society legacy–and perhaps even agricultural programs–as creating “dependency.” And now, inevitably, there’s the crown jewel of Con Con extremism: the belief that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to enable “patriots” to violently overthrow the government if in their opinion it’s overstepped its constitutional boundaries. Sam Levine of HuffPost has that story:

Joni Ernst, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa, said during an NRA event in 2012 that she would use a gun to defend herself from the government.

“I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere,” Ernst said at the NRA and Iowa Firearms Coalition Second Amendment Rally in Searsboro, Iowa. “But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

Now this is a guaranteed applause line among Con Con audiences, for reasons that have relatively little to do with gun regulation. The idea here is to intimidate liberals, and “looters” and secular socialists, and those people, that there are limits to what the good virtuous folk of the country will put up with in the way of interference with their property rights and their religious convictions and their sense of how the world ought to work. If push comes to shove, they’re heavily armed, and bullets outweigh ballots. It’s a reminder that if politics fails in protecting their very broad notion of their “rights,” then revolutionary violence–which after all, made this great country possible in the first place–is always an option. And if that sounds “anti-democratic,” well, as the John Birch Society has always maintained, this is a Republic, not a democracy.

This stuff is entirely consistent with everything we’ve been learning about how Joni Ernst talked before she won a Senate nomination and decided upon an aggressively non-substantive message based on her identity and biography and one stupid but apparently irresistible joke comparing the kind of treatment she’ll give to the pork purveyors of Washington (presumably those who support obvious waste like food stamps and Medicaid) to hog castratin.’ Issues are absolute kryptonite to her campaign, so it’s no surprise she’s decided abruptly to cancel all meetings with editorial boards between now and November 4, according to Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu:

Is Joni Ernst afraid of newspaper editorial boards? After much negotiating, she was scheduled to meet his morning with writers and editors at The Des Moines Register, but last night her people called to unilaterally cancel. She has also begged off meetings with The Cedar Rapids Gazette and The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald.

Is Ernst that sensitive to the kinds of criticisms that invariably will come in such a high profile U.S. Senate race? Is she afraid of the scrutiny? Sure, it’s stressful, but all the other candidates for Congress are doing it to get their messages out, including Steven King, the target of frequent editorial criticism.

Maybe Ernst’s cynicism will be justified by the results, but I dunno: Iowans are pretty old-school about this kind of thing, and the Register actually influences votes, probably more than any newspaper I can think of. If she does win, nobody in Iowa has any excuse to be surprised if she turns out to be Todd Akin or Sharron Angle with better message discipline. As I said in another post recently, that’s pretty much who she is. Knowing she’s played the “I have the right to overthrow the government with my gun” meme makes that even clearer.

Still, somebody should ask Joni Ernst: “Since you brought it up, exactly what circumstances would justify you shooting a police officer or a soldier in the head?” Oh yeah: that would require her taking questions, which I doubt we’ll see in the last days of this campaign.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, October 22, 2014

October 24, 2014 Posted by | Iowa, Joni Ernst, Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Face Of The McConnell Campaign”: Should Chuck Todd Be ‘Disqualified’ For Saying The Midterm Elections Don’t Matter?

A few developments today in the all-important Kentucky Senate race: Bill Clinton is expected to draw large, enthusiastic crowds for Alison Lundergan Grimes in Owensboro and Paducah; Mitch McConnell is on day two of his three-day fake-enthusiasm bus tour (the state GOP party is giving all-expenses-paid trips to volunteers as long as they “contribute to an enthusiastic atmosphere” at his events, according to an e-mail obtained by The Hill); and Chuck Todd continues to defend his now-infamous declaration that Grimes “disqualified herself” by refusing to say whether she voted for Obama.

As you’ve probably seen by now, McConnell put footage of Todd in a heavily rotated TV ad, and, from what I could tell after spending two days in Kentucky, Chuck Todd has become the face of the McConnell campaign.

Now, I don’t know if this exactly disqualifies Todd from moderating the New Hampshire debate tonight between Jeanne Shaheen and Scott Brown, but the host of the storied Meet the Press and a self-described political junkie has said that it really doesn’t matter which political party wins the Senate. He made that case in an interview with President Obama on his debut MTP last month, saying, A couple more extra red or a couple more blue seats, what’s the diff? Three billion dollars, he said, is being spent merely “to see if it’s Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell that’s in charge of gridlock in the Senate.”

Todd then turned to panelist John Stanton, from Buzzfeed, to pooh-pooh Obama’s argument that party control of the Senate is actually, uh, important:

TODD: You know, Stanton, he was trying to make the rationale for why the midterms matter. And when you have to say, “I know some people don’t think, but they really do matter.”

JOHN STANTON: You’ve already lost…..

in terms of legislation passing. If Democrats keep the Senate, and they have, what, a two-seat or a one-seat majority, or if Republicans take it and have a two-seat or one-seat majority, you still are left with essentially the same dynamic in Washington.

But surely Todd, if not also Stanton, knows that even if no legislation passes (presumably the Dems would filibuster and Obama would veto GOP bills), a McConnell-led Senate would still affect the lives of millions of people. A one- or two-seat majority would give Republicans all the committee chairmanships, and that, as Norm Ornstein writes, “would undoubtedly stop confirmation on virtually all Obama-nominated judges, and probably on most of his executive nominees. And we would see a sharp ramp-up of investigations of alleged wrongdoing, with Benghazi and IRS redux. If you like Darrell Issa, you will love having his reinforcements and doppelgängers in the other chamber.”

Even Politico says, “No one should underestimate the significance if the GOP captures the Senate in November…”

Mitch McConnell, who would become majority leader if the Senate changes hands, is already promising to load up the appropriations bills with policy restrictions that could raise the risk of another government shutdown if Obama doesn’t sign them.

With both the Senate and the House in their hands, Republicans could put Obama on defense on everything from Obamacare to the administration’s greenhouse gas regulations, the Keystone XL pipeline, education policy and spending priorities.

And even with gridlock, McConnell could reach his dream of repealing Obamacare “root and branch.” Robert Reich warns in a MoveOn video that the R’s could use the Senate maneuver of “reconciliation,” which requires “only 51 votes to pass major tax and budget legislation instead of the 60 votes usually required.” That means, he says, that Republicans could win tax cuts for the wealthy and loopholes for Wall Street and pay for them with cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and education. (The Dems used reconciliation to pass the Affordable Care Act in the first place.)

But issues that matter to real people often evaporate in the heat generated by horse-race pundits like Todd. Grimes is “disqualified” for not answering a question (“By dodging the question, did she cast a spell on herself that reverse-aged her to be ineligible for service in the U.S. Senate?” Jim Newell at Salon asks. “Did her incantation strike names from her ballot petitions, putting her below the threshold to qualify for ballot placement?”). But McConnell lies by claiming he can repeal Obamacare while letting Kentuckians keep their Kynect—without acknowledging that Kynect is Obamacare.

As The Nation’s Reed Richardson writes: “When confronted about his specious reasoning in a subsequent Facebook Q & A, Todd backed off his judgment a bit (‘disqualifying for some voters’ was his new formulation), but still defended his over-the-top analysis as reflecting ‘political reality.’ But for all his cynicism, Todd still tries to have it both ways. For, later in the same Facebook chat he said he was ‘sick’ over the fact the McConnell camp had already stuck his Grimes-bashing soundbite into a campaign ad.”

Todd goes into still longer explanations with Media Matters, saying his wording was “sloppy.” It seems like his judgment that it doesn’t matter who runs the Senate was, at best, sloppy, too.

 

By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, October 21, 2014

October 24, 2014 Posted by | Mitch Mc Connell, Chuck Todd, Midterm Elections | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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