Thursday, August 21, 2014

Eric Cantor’s Big Payoff

Don't worry about Eric Cantor, who resigned as House leader shortly after losing the Virginia Republican primary to an even more right-wing candidate. He'll be just fine. Cantor's "public service" career, in fact, epitomizes America's political corruption. He stood for the interests of Wall Street and, in turn, received their campaign donations. Now he's about to collect, as the New York Times put it in an editorial, his "big payoff" as he enters the financial industry and cashes in on the favors he's done:

Mr. Cantor, who was the House majority leader and clearly didn’t want to spend four months as a backbencher, is about to embark on the next phase of his life, which inevitably involves making a lot of money. His aides and colleagues told Politico that he is already looking for a job in the private sector, ideally with a hedge fund, a private equity firm, or a big bank. So let the favor-trading begin.

“He’s got a lot of private-sector friends he has done favors for,” Tom Davis, another former Republican congressman from Virginia, told The Times Magazine a few weeks ago. “I think it would be easy for him to become Eric Cantor Inc. and make a few million dollars a year.”

His attractiveness to the hedge-fund crowd is not, of course, because of his proven acumen managing big money. Before his first election as a state legislator in 1991, he practiced law in his family’s real-estate development firm in Richmond. What he brings to that world are the connections he built in what is still known, innocently enough, as public service.

From his first assignment on the Financial Services Committee, Mr. Cantor courted the favor and the donations of Wall Street. He opposed raising the absurdly low income taxes for private-equity managers, and personally eliminated a requirement that hedge funds disclose how they gather market-sensitive intelligence. He stopped other Republicans from taxing Wall Street banks to pay for tax reform ideas. And he correctly fought Tea Party conservatives who were trying to eliminate the Export-Import Bank and limit terrorism risk insurance, two business priorities that actually do some good.

He has been well rewarded, raising more than $3 million since 1999 from the securities and investment sector. (In the last few years, he has been the top congressional recipient of its generosity.) His close ties to big money were one of the reasons he was defeated by a little-known candidate, but, in the modern calculus of Washington, his work for his patrons is about to produce its real payoff.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Charles M. Blow: "War Against Whites? I Think Not"

Considering Rep. Mo Brooks' (R-AL) argument that the Democrats are waging a "war on whites," Charles M. Blow writes that it is actually the Republicans who have pursued racially divisive strategies for decades. He corrects the historical record with a summary of GOP racist strategies since the 1970s:

Republicans have been digging a trench between themselves and racial minorities for decades. One could argue that it began when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and reportedly lamented that, in doing so, he was assuring that Democrats had lost the South for a generation, a kind of political white flight of Southern whites to the Republican Party.

The racial divisiveness became part of the party plan in the 1970s with the “Southern Strategy,” when Richard Nixon’s political strategist Kevin Phillips told The New York Times Magazine: “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”

...The racial divisiveness continued in 1988, when George Bush’s supporters used the Willie Horton attack ad against Michael Dukakis.

It continues as Republicans trade racial terms for culture-centric euphemisms. Newt Gingrich, in 2011: “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,” although most poor people of working age work. Paul Ryan, earlier this year: “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.” And Bill O’Reilly said recently in a discussion about legalizing marijuana that the left’s position was that marijuana was harmless and “It’s blacks, you know, you get, you’re trapping the blacks because in certain ghetto neighborhoods it’s part of the culture.”

Add the Obama birthers, voter suppression laws, congressional obstruction and Republicans in the House voting to sue the president, and it becomes clear: Democrats didn’t drive a wedge between Republicans and blacks; Republicans drove blacks away. Blacks have voted more than 80 percent Democratic in every election since at least 1972 and that percentage was over 90 percent in both of Obama’s elections.

And in the Obama era — despite what Mo Brooks says — Republicans are not only solidifying their division with blacks but solidifying a divide with Hispanics as well.

...we have seen further anti-immigrant legislation like Arizona’s Show-Me-Your-Papers law, Congress’s failure to move on comprehensive immigration and opposition to efforts to help the Dreamers. It has now culminated in an ugly conservative reaction to the humanitarian crisis of undocumented children from Central American arriving at our southern border.

...Whites are not under attack by Democrats; Republicans like Brooks are simply stoking racial fears to hide their history of racially regressive policies.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

GOP Rep.: Democrats Are Waging A "War On Whites"

Speaking to conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) accused the Democrats of waging a "war on whites." Brooks was responding to comments by National Journal's Ron Fournier, who said to Fox host Chris Wallace regarding Hispanic voters, "the fastest growing voting bloc in this country thinks the Republican Party hates them. This party, your party, cannot be the party of the future beyond November if you’re seen as the party of white people.” Brooks told Ingraham, “This is a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else. It's part of the strategy that Barack Obama implemented in 2008, continued in 2012, where he divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare, all those kinds of things. Well, that’s not true.”

This is a classic right-wing argument: Democrats and liberals are blameworthy by just talking about a real issue. By this logic, talking about income inequality means one is waging class warfare and talking about racial inequities means one is divisive. In the words of Rep. Brooks, "Well, that's not true."

Monday, August 18, 2014

America's Police Rapidly Militarized Since 9/11

How did we get to the point that a militarized police force confronted crowds in Ferguson protesting a police officer's shooting of Michael Brown? Ferguson is part of a nationwide phenomenon in which the federal government, since 9/11, has provided a vast array of military gear for the police in the name of fighting terrorism. A New York Times analysis finds that "Terrorism is exceedingly rare...and the equipment and money far outpaced the threat." Further, there is little in the way of training with the equipment or limitations on its use:

...the federal government has spent more than a decade paying for body armor, mine-resistant trucks and other military gear, all while putting few restrictions on its use. Grant programs that, in the name of fighting terrorism, paid for some of the equipment being used in Ferguson have been consistently popular since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. If there has been any debate at all, it was over which departments deserved the most money.

...While the major Homeland Security grants do not pay for weapons, Justice Department grants do. That includes rubber bullets and tear gas, which the police use to disperse crowds. A Justice Department report last year said nearly 400 local police departments and more than 100 state agencies had bought such less-lethal weapons using Justice Department grant money.

The grants also paid for body armor, vehicles and surveillance equipment. It was not immediately clear if those grants had paid for equipment being used in Ferguson.

The military also sent machine guns, armored trucks, aircraft and other surplus war equipment to local departments. Compared with other urban areas, however, St. Louis County has received little surplus military equipment.

All these programs began or were expanded in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, when the authorities in Washington declared that local police departments were on the front lines of a global war on terrorism. Terrorism is exceedingly rare, however, and the equipment and money far outpaced the threat.

...In most instances, the government did not require training for police departments receiving military-style equipment and few if any limitations were put on its use, he said.

The increase in military-style equipment has coincided with a significant rise in the number of police SWAT teams, which are increasingly being used for routine duties such as conducting liquor inspections and serving warrants.

For years, much of the equipment has gone unnoticed. But as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have drawn down, police departments have been receiving 30-ton, mine-resistant trucks from the military. That has caught the attention of the public and caused controversy in several towns.


AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Garry Winogrand At The Metropolitan Museum


The Garry Winogrand retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art presents a generous sampling of the photographer's work, which was first centered around New York City before encompassing the Midwest and California. His NYC work, shot in midtown Manhattan in the 1950s and 1960s, captures the city at a time when its inhabitants were more formally attired and less culturally diverse than they are today (see above, from 1962). He also portrayed the turmoil of the late 1960s with portraits of anti-Vietnam war protests in Central Park and construction worker riots against peace demonstrators. When Winogrand went west, he depicted a country adrift: faceless suburbs, self-absorbed pedestrians, a legless veteran at an American Legion convention, a woman who is a hit-and-run victim lying in the street as a car drives by. Similar to his peers Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand's black-and-white photos have a haunting power.

"Garry Winogrand" continues through September 21 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave. at 82nd St., NYC; (212) 535-7710, metmuseum.org

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Elvis Presley Live



Elvis Presley died 37 years ago today, at age 42, in Memphis. Above, "The King of Rock and Roll" performed "Hound Dog" on the Milton Berle Show, June 5, 1956. "Hound Dog" was written by the famed songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1952. Scotty Moore, cited by Rolling Stone as 29th in its list of the 100 greatest guitarists, accompanies Elvis. Elvis's gyrations during this performance outraged conservative opinion and led to his being dubbed "Elvis the Pelvis." I recommend Peter Guralnick's two-volume biography, "Last Train To Memphis" and "Careless Love," covering Elvis Presley's rise and decline, as well as the birth of rock and roll.

Jelani Cobb: "The Race-Tinged Death Story Has Become A Genre"

Jelani Cobb (left) writes in "The Anger In Ferguson" (The New Yorker, 8/13/14) that the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer evokes bitter ironies and the grim familiarity of "the race-tinged death story," which "has become a genre itself" leading to an "unsatisfactory resolution of the central problems":

...The story that witnesses tell is disturbing not only in its details but in the ways in which those details blur into a longer narrative. It’s one we’re all familiar with if we have paid even passive attention, and yet, despite its redundancy, we have yet to grasp its moral. A trivial incident sparks a confrontation, followed by a disproportionate response, then the tableau of grieving parents struggling to maintain composure and the social-media verdicts rendered in absentia, many asking about the culpability of the deceased. Invariably, some self-ordained truth teller will stand up to quote non sequiturs about black-on-black violence.

...after dark on Monday, police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. The ironies of race and policing were readily apparent: law enforcement using force to suppress outrage at law enforcement’s indiscriminate use of force.

Three weeks ago, Eric Garner died as the result of N.Y.P.D. officers placing him in a choke hold, a banned tactic, following a confrontation over selling loose cigarettes. His death echoed that of Renisha McBride, the nineteen-year-old who was killed when she knocked on a stranger’s door following a car accident, which in turn conjured memories of Jonathan Ferrell, who was shot ten times and killed by officers in North Carolina soon after the death, in Florida, of Jordan Davis, shot by a man who wanted him to turn down his music, which in turn paralleled the circumstances of Trayvon Martin’s demise. For those who have no choice but to remember these matters, those names have been inducted into a grim roll call that includes Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, and Eleanor Bumpurs. These are all distinct incidents that took place under particular circumstances in differing locales. Yet what happened on Staten Island and in Dearborn Heights, Charlotte, Jacksonville, and Sanford have culminated, again, in the specific timbre of familial grief, a familiar strain of outrage, and an accompanying body of commentary straining to find a novel angle to the recurring tragedy.

Despite all the variables, there’s a numbing constant. ...Brown was a large eighteen-year-old—six feet four inches, according to his mother—and, in the image that circulated in the media immediately following the shooting, his size is highlighted. He flashes a peace symbol that, in conjunction with his imposing stature, could predictably be assailed as a gang sign. The hashtag was an overt riff on the way a jury, for example, might decide that a slight teen-ager like Trayvon Martin could be justifiably seen as a threat to George Zimmerman, a man with a gun. Imagery counts as a kind of unspoken forensics, with the power to render someone an innocent victim or a terrifying menace. Implicit is a question: Would you be afraid of this person, too?

The truth is that you’ve read this story so often that the race-tinged death story has become a genre itself, the details plugged into a grim template of social conflict. The genre is defined by its tendency toward an unsatisfactory resolution of the central problems. Two years ago, I visited St. Louis to give a talk at a museum. My visit fell in the wake of a rally in which hundreds of local residents turned out to demand an arrest in Martin’s death. (Brown’s family has now retained Benjamin Crump, the attorney who represented Martin’s family.) Martin was killed nearly a thousand miles away, but when I spoke to people about the rally they conveyed the sense that what had happened to him could happen anywhere in the country, even in their own back yards. For those people in Ferguson pressed against the yellow police tape separating them from Brown’s remains, the overwhelming sentiment is that it already has.

Friday, August 15, 2014

5 Unarmed Black Men Killed By Police In A Month

Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen planning to attend college, was shot by a police officer on Saturday in Ferguson, Missouri. Mother Jones reports that Brown is one of five unarmed black men to be "killed by police in recent weeks under disputed circumstances." The other four, from New York, Ohio and California, include:

Eric Garner, Staten Island, New York / July 17: Eric Garner, a 43-year-old asthmatic father of six, was confronted by New York City police officers for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. When he resisted being cuffed, an officer appeared to put him in a chokehold—a tactic banned by the department since 1993. A video of the arrest, first obtained by the New York Daily News, shows Garner gasping,"I can't breathe!" while officers relentlessly smother him. The city medical examiner later ruled Garner's death a homicide, saying neck compression from the chokehold killed him. But the officers involved in the arrest may not face charges if the homicide is found to be justifiable. Staten Island district attorney Daniel Donovan is investigating the case.

John Crawford, Beavercreek, Ohio / August 5: Two police officers responded to a 911 call about a man waving a gun at customers inside a Walmart store. According the Beavercreek police department, 22-year-old John Crawford disregarded officers' orders to disarm before being fatally shot in the chest. Crawford's gun turned out to be a .177 calibre BB rifle that he'd picked up from a store shelf. Walmart surveillance camera footage was turned over to the police but hasn't been released to the public or Crawford's family. "Why did John Crawford, a Walmart customer, get shot and killed carrying a BB gun in a store that sells BB guns?" asked Michael Wright, the family's attorney, during a joint press conference with the NAACP. "All the family demands is answers." The Ohio Attorney General's Office is investigating the case.

Ezell Ford, Los Angeles, California / August 11: When police conducted an "investigative stop" of 25-year-old Ezell Ford on a Los Angeles sidewalk, he "wheeled around and basically tackled the lead officer," then went after his weapon, an LAPD spokesperson told the LA Times. But in an interview with KTLA News, a woman who identified herself as Ford's mother said he was lying on the ground, complying with the officers' orders, when he was shot in the back. On Sunday afternoon, a handful of people protested the shooting outside LAPD's headquarters. The LA County District Attorney and the department's Force Investigation Unit are looking into the shooting.

Dante Parker, Victorville, California / August 12: A Victorville resident told police that a robbery suspect had fled on a bicycle. The police detained Dante Parker, a 36-year-old pressman at the Daily Press newspaper, apparently because they found him nearby on a bike. Though Parker had no criminal record (other than a DUI), a scuffle ensued and Parker was tased repeatedly when he resisted arrest, according to witnesses. He began breathing heavily and was taken to a hospital, where he died. The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department is conducting an investigation.


Photo: Police confront protestors in Ferguson - AP

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Paul Krugman: "Libertarians Are Living In A Fantasy World"

Paul Krugman writes that libertarians live in a fantasy world, crusading against non-existent problems. He cites libertarian objections to government spending, regulations and monetary policy:

...when it comes to substance, libertarians are living in a fantasy world. Often that’s quite literally true: Paul Ryan thinks that we’re living in an Ayn Rand novel. More to the point, however, the libertarian vision of the society we actually have bears little resemblance to reality.

Mike Konczal takes on a specific example: the currently trendy idea among libertarians that we can make things much better by replacing the welfare state with a basic guaranteed income. As Mike says, this notion rests on the belief that the welfare state is a crazily complicated mess of inefficient programs, and that simplification would save enough money to pay for universal grants that are neither means-tested nor conditional on misfortune. But the reality is nothing like that. The great bulk of welfare-state spending comes from a handful of major programs, and these programs are fairly efficient, with low administrative costs.

Actually, the cost of bureaucracy is in general vastly overestimated. Compensation of workers accounts for only around 6 percent of non defense federal spending, and only a fraction of that compensation goes to people you could reasonably call bureaucrats.

And what Konczal says about welfare is also true, although harder to quantify, for regulation. For sure there are wasteful and unnecessary government regulations — but not nearly as many as libertarians want to believe. When, for example, meddling bureaucrats tell you what you can and can’t have in your dishwashing detergent, it turns out that there’s a very good reason. America in 2014 is not India under the License Raj.

In other words, libertarianism is a crusade against problems we don’t have, or at least not to the extent the libertarians want to imagine. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the case of monetary policy, where many libertarians are determined to stop the Fed from irresponsible money-printing — which is not, in fact, something it’s doing.

And what all this means in turn is that libertarianism does not offer a workable policy agenda. I don’t mean that I dislike the agenda, which is a separate issue; I mean that if we should somehow end up with libertarian government, it would quickly find itself unable to fulfill any of its promises.

So no, we aren’t about to have a libertarian moment. And that’s a good thing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

McCain Criticizes Obama: We Should Have Stayed In Iraq

For the past two decades, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has consistently called for the military escalation of international conflicts. Speaking to CNN's Candy Crowley, McCain criticized President Obama for leaving Iraq; once again, McCain distorts history by ignoring the fact that it was the Bush administration that signed the Status of Forces agreement with Iraq to extract American combat forces. In addition, McCain said that we should conduct airstrikes in Syria and warned against U.S. forces leaving Afghanistan:

On CNN's "State of the Union," McCain blamed the deteriorating situation in Iraq on America's failure to leave forces behind in Iraq.

The senator said Obama's targeted strikes in Iraq aren't enough.

“That’s not a strategy. That’s not a policy," McCain said. “That is simply a very narrow and focused approach to a problem, which is metastasizing as we speak.”

McCain called for airstrikes in Syria and for the U.S. to give weapons and supplies to the Kurds in order to fight ISIS.

“There’s a vacuum of American leadership all throughout the Middle East," he said.

CNN host Candy Crowley asked McCain to respond to the widely-held belief that he opposes everything Obama does when it comes to foreign policy.

“I predicted what was going to happen in Iraq," he said. "And I’m predicting to you now, that if we pull everybody out of Afghanistan, not based on conditions, you’ll see that same movie again in Afghanistan."