David Atkins

Trump's troll presidency takes another pointlessly cruel action

There is so much news happening in the last 24 hours that it feels like drinking from a fire hose. Others like our own Martin Longman can analyze the situation around Lev Parnas better than I can—and it’s a very busy weekend for me, so apologies in advance. But I would be remiss not to highlight one of the more minor stories of the day that might otherwise escape attention, if only because it puts in sharp focus the pointless, petty cruelty of this administration.

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‘How will you pay for it’ is the new ‘but her emails’

Even as all eyes in the political world focus on the rapidly-moving impeachment process, there is a perverse phenomenon occurring around fiscal policy.

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The media won’t cover Democratic House bills ⁠— so why not subpoena and impeach?

House Democrats are frustrated, and understandably so. Despite passing a wide array of bills that would genuinely benefit people, those realities never seem to break through to the public at large. The full collection of House bills, if signed into law, would be transformative, improving lives on issues from healthcare to guns, the environment, civil rights, and even democracy itself.

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The Prisoner’s Dilemma: Why Democrats Should Block Gorsuch

In 1950, two mathematicians at the RAND Corporation created a now-famous game called "Prisoner's Dilemma." A study in the incentives of cooperation and resistance, it is now very relevant to Democrats trying to determine how to respond to President Trump's nomination of conservative jurist Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

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How Hillary Can Boost Her Standing Among Millennials

Hillary Clinton has long struggled with younger voters, but the problem now threatens to cost her the election. Clinton’s address to millennials this week underscored her awareness of how crucial they are to her chances in November. But her support from voters ages 18 to 35 has declined by double digits since August, raising an urgent question for Democrats: Why are millennial voters so reluctant to embrace Clinton?

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What a Rand Paul World Would Look Like: 6 Things You Should Know About the War-Mongering, Faux Libertarian

Many young people and progressives who are wary of a Clinton presidency are seeking potential alternatives, even outside the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, much of the attention of voters seeking an alternative to mainstream candidates of both parties has focused on Rand Paul. This is no accident: Rand Paul has carefully positioned himself as "the most interesting man in Washington" for supposedly being a different kind of Republican, hip and able to connect with younger voters. Paul has made it his mission to bring more of the increasingly progressive youth vote back to the GOP fold, and polling shows that Paul does have greater support among younger voters than older ones. Paul has also mounted the most aggressive social media campaign of the GOP hopefuls for president, again partly in an effort to reach younger voters.

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Can Cool Pope Francis Change the Catholic Church?

The Catholic Church is arguably the world's oldest non-governmental organization. It is also one of its most conservative—at least until now.

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What Happens When Conservative Ideologues Get to Run Their Own States

It would be hard to blame liberal-minded Americans for feeling a sense of despair as we begin a new year. The Republican Party is ascendant and reinvigorated after its smashing victories in 2014 at nearly every level of government. The NYPD is in near open revolt against one of America's most progressive mayors while police departments around the country seem immune to basic reforms. 

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Man Who Killed NYPD Officers Was Just Another Resentful, Mentally Ill Person With Access to Firearms

No sooner had the fatal shooting of two NYPD officers reached the newswires than the predictable partisan backlash began: conservatives  who had been on their heels as a movement grew against police brutality suddenly found their foooting from which to unleash a torrent of invective blaming liberals for the killings. Sensible people have pointed out that it is possible to mourn the brutal killings of police officers alongside the pointless deaths of unarmed civilians. 

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How Conservative Brains Are Wired Differently and What This Means for Our Politics

President Obama has famously declared that Americans are not as divided as our politics suggest. But recent discoveries about the political brain seem to indicate that liberals and conservatives may be divided from one another by intrinsic brain chemistry.

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5 Reasons the Rich Are Ruining the Economy by Hoarding Their Money

It has been nearly four decades since the Reagan revolution in supply-side economics came to power in the United States. Tax rates on the wealthiest Americans are at near record lows, asset values have been pumped up to record highs, and corporate America is sitting prettier than ever before. There can be no question but that the ideologues who promoted supply-side economics have succeeded in enforcing their vision policy on our lives. But their decades-long experiment has also proven to be structural failure at every possible level (except for padding the pockets of the top 1%.) Here are five things we know without doubt about supply-side economics today:

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How the Rich Stole Our Money--And Made Us Think They were Doing Us a Favor

If you’ve paid attention to the economy over the last few years, you’ve doubtless seen the charts and figures showing the decline of the American middle class in concert with the explosion of wealth for the super-rich. Wages have stagnated over the last 40 years even as productivity has increased, which is another way of saying that Americans are working harder but getting paid less. Unemployment remains stubbornly high even though corporate profits and the stock market are at or near record highs. Passive assets in the form of stocks and real estate, in other words, are doing very well. Wages for working people are not. Unfortunately for the middle class, however, the top 1 percent of incomes own almost 50 percent of asset wealth, and the top 10 percent own over 85 percent of it. When assets do well but wages don’t, the middle class suffers.

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Why "Fines" Don't Stop Bad Corporate Behavior

As anyone who is paying attention knows by now, the slap-on-wrist "fines" being levied against criminal corporations aren't doing much to curtail illegal behavior:

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The Awful Service Jobs Replacing Skilled Labor

We already knew it anecdotally, of course, but a new MIT studyadds further weight to the notion that outsourcing and mechanization are turning previously well-paying skilled jobs into low-paying service jobs:

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The Terrifying Future Envisioned By Libertarians

I've written often before about how much of the war between the American left and right is essentially the building of sand castles in the face of the oncoming tide of globalization, deskilling and mechanization of the workforce accompanied by catastrophic climate change. Much of what constitutes public policy battles in this country are fought between the one-percenters simply trying to loot what's left before it all crashes and burns, and neoliberals desperately trying to pump up asset prices and force everyone into engineering programs to disguise the destruction the of the regular wage economy. The far right and progressive left, meanwhile, are each trying to bring back the social and economic norms of the 1950s and late 1960s, respectively, in efforts of utter futility.

It's rare to find columnists who are asking themselves the right questions. It's rarer still to find ones who have the right answers. But it's when conservatives and libertarians ask the right questions and come up with their honest responses that we see the crippling danger of allowing them anywhere near the levers of power. Consider the example of Tyler Cowen, conservative/libertarian economist and pundit, writing in POLITICO Magazine, celebrating a future in which a few technically skilled "economic winners" in cities will lord it over a mass of rubes left behind in an era of mass mechanization:

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The Deep South -- Where the American Dream Goes to Die

David Leonhardt has a fantastic piece about social mobility in the United States. It turns out that the American Dream, while getting more and more distant across the board, is still much more possible in some places than in others. What places? Well, surprise surprise:

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How an Ayn Rand-Loving Libertarian Destroyed The Company He Runs With His Cultish Objectivist Theories

In case you thought the cult of hedge fund Objectivist free market libertarianism was just destroying government and the social fabric, never fear that it can destroy companies as well. Just look at what has happened to Sears after it hired insane free market hedge fund libertarian Eddie Lampert to run their company:

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Mitt Romney Shunned at CPAC -- Why Do Right-Wingers End Up Despising Their Standard-bearers?

Much has been made of Mitt Romney's cold reception among conservatives just a few months after being their standardbearer for the presidency. The usual reasons given are that Romney was too liberal on social issues, didn't run a good campaign, wasn't adequately charismatic, etc.

But Mitt Romney is only the latest in a long string of GOP presidents and presidential candidates to be shunned by their own party since Ronald Reagan. Let's look at them in sequence:

1992: George W. Bush loses to Bill Clinton. Between breaking the "no new taxes" pledge, losing fringe support to Ross Perot, and coming off as an out-of-touch Kennebunkport Yankee, Bush Senior was quickly shunned and forgotten by the conservative base.

1996: After a whopping defeat, Bob Dole was barely heard from again beyond making ads for erectile dysfunction. The GOPcouldn't even be bothered recently to pass a bill on behalf of the disabled in spite of his emotional presence and support.

2000-2008: Despite his lionization by the conservative establishment for years, it's important to remember that George W. Bush was dealt two major legislative defeats, largely by his own caucus. The first was his attempt to nominate Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, and the second was immigration reform. After a narrow victory in 2004, Democrats rolled into control of Congress in 2006. After the financial crisis and bailout in 2008, Bush Junior was so unpopular that he had to stay well out of the public limelight to give John McCain a chance.

2008: Speaking of John McCain, he was so ill-liked by the Republican establishment even prior to his defeat that he felt the need to rally his base by nominating the famously ignorant Wasilla Wonder as his vice-presidential nominee.

2012: Mitt Romney. No comment necessary.

Nor have the vice-presidential picks fared much better: of Dan Quayle, Jack Kemp, Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin, and Paul Ryan, only the last three have much respect among the GOP base. But Palin and Cheney are absolutely toxic to those who aren't hardcore conservatives, and Paul Ryan is well on his way there.

Democrats, by contrast, have no such problem. Progressives have been upset with Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama for various reasons. But they have remained popular not only with the majority of the Democratic base, but also among the general public. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton are rockstars in the party with high public approval ratings. Al Gore has become a respected leader on climate change and sympathetic figure given the way the 2000 election was snatched from him. And Barack Obama is still Barack Obama. Of the Vice Presidents and VP candidates, only Joe Lieberman has become toxic for his politics (Edwards would still be popular but for his personal indiscretions)--and that because he has moved so far to the right.

What does all of this mean? It suggests something rather powerful.It suggests that Republican policies are deeply unpopular and ineffective, but that the Republican base refuses to believe or acknowledge that to be true. 

Republican Presidential candidates have lost the popular vote in five of the last six elections. Their base has no choice but to blithely interpret those results as the product of inadequate conservatism. Yet those presidential candidates have usually chosen more conservative vice-presidential candidates to help rally the base--and those vice-presidential picks are even moreallergenic to the public than the presidential nominees.

Meanwhile, the only Republican to win the popular vote in the last six election cycles was George W. Bush, a presidential failure so monumental that Republicans have cleansed their memories of his very existence.

Democratic presidents and candidates have no such problems. Bill Clinton was a successful president. Al Gore's warnings about Social Security lockboxes and climate change have been proven right. John Kerry's warnings about Republican financial and foreign policy have been proven right. And despite our numerous misgivings as progressives, Barack Obama remains a largely popular president navigating the worst economy since the Great Depression.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Mitt Romney is the latest victim of the Right's capricious relationship to its standardbearers. The problem isn't their candidates. It's their ideas. But the Right is all too happy to blame the candidates when their ideas fail the test of reality and public opinion.

The GOP Has Taken America Hostage -- Is There a Downside for Them?

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the fiscal cliff "negotiations" is that there is essentially no downside for Congressional Republicans in holding the country and its economy hostage. Democrats are less than two months removed from having resoundingly won the Presidency, gained seats in the Senate, and earned over a million more votes for House candidates than did Republicans. Due to gerrymandering, however, the Republicans still have a narrow majority in the House. Due to the Senate's ungovernable filibuster rules, Republicans can also control the balance of legislation in the Upper Chamber as well.

It's true that Republicans have been taking a beating in the polling on the fiscal cliff negotiations. That's not surprising, since Republicans want very unpopular things. Further cuts to earned benefit programs and lower taxes on the rich were resoundingly rejected by voters in November, and they continue to poll poorly. In theory, fear of voter backlash should cause Republicans to think twice about holding the line on these policies. But voters already rejected Republicans by wide margins this year and it did little to weaken their negotiating position.

There is little problem for Republicans, then, in attempting to get their way through holding the economy hostage despite the clear will of the American people. The biggest danger to most individual Republicans remains a primary challenge from someone even farther to the right. The vast majority of them are so protected by gerrymandering as to face little to no danger from a Democratic challenger in the near future.

Also, since the conservative agenda depends on the notion that government itself is a failure and doesn't work, there's no issue for them in making that supposed incompetence a reality. Since the President and his party end up being blamed by voters when economic conditions are poor, scuttling the economy in the wake the President's re-election is actually a smart political move for them.

It's up to Democrats to show that government can be a force for good and to protect the economy, which means that only Democrats have the incentive to reach a deal to avert crises like the "fiscal cliff" or the debt ceiling. Republicans have no such incentive.

But there is yet another twisted irony here. Since conservatives both lack incentive to make a deal work and want deeply unpopular policies, it makes perfect sense for them to withhold any cooperation on a deal that makes sense and the American people actually want, opting instead to force most Democrats to vote for an amalgam of terrible policies while they themselves remain mostly intransigent. And why not? Since seniors tend to like their earned benefits but support Republicans because of fear that tax revenues are being spent on the "wrong" people, why not force Democrats to cut those benefits while raising taxes to avert a fiscal crisis? There's no significant backlash Republicans can expect from voting no.

From the conservative calculus, there's no reason to stop the taking of economic hostages and no reason not to push the damage of horrible votes to avert crises back onto Democrats.

So what should Democrats do? The same thing governments do when confronted by more pedestrian hostage takers: refuse to negotiate. Insist on the correct and popular policies, and if Republicans refuse to abide by them, then allow the chips to fall where they will on various fiscal crises.

There should be, then, no deal on the fiscal cliff today. Democrats should make it clear who was responsible for the failure to come to a deal and why, allow the tax increases and cuts to take place, and then do little over the next two years but force Republicans to vote against simple and popular policies like middle-class tax cuts, repeal of the most onerous sequestration cuts, immigration reform and the entire rest of the broadly popular Democratic agenda all the way until November 2014.

It may or may not be that voters will punish Republicans appropriately at that time. But at the very least Democrats will avoid the indignity of being manipulated by hostage takers into voting against the American people just to reach a terrible deal.

Some Red-State Residents Say They Want to Secede -- But Their States Wouldn't Be Able to Sustain Themselves

The drearily predictable calls for secession in the wake of the re-election of the first African-American president have already begun:

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Watch: Secret Mormon Ceremonies Revealed -- How Mormons Baptize Dead Non-Mormons

As a child of ex-Mormon parents whose blood relatives are mostly still practicing Mormons, I heard a good deal about the secret Temple ceremonies that no one was ever allowed to speak of, much less put on film. They have been described before by participants, but actual footage of the ceremonies has leaked onto the web in the last week. Well worth a peek:

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The Blue Dogs Got It Wrong: Change Never Comes From The Center

Oh how cute! The Blue Dogs are starting to realize that their brand might be getting a little tarnished, so they're remaking themselves. Behold: The "Blue Dog Research Forum" is now...Center Forward.

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