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Liberal Outrage

Quote of the day

Via Kevin Drum, regarding the electoral vote distribution schemes i mentioned earlier:

"The last election, constituents were concerned that it didn't matter what they did, that more densely populated areas were going to outvote them."

Drum infers the racial connotation, but dude! In every election, some people are going to outvote some other people. You don't get to vote on a curve.

By fnord12 | January 25, 2013, 2:40 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Football? I thought we were playing badminton.

While the Senate Democrats had to pull out the smelling salts over the thought of challenging Republican abuse of the filibuster (you have to love this quote from Carl Levin: ""Look, we just can't have a situation in the Senate where the majority can decide what the rules are at any time," Levin told reporters. "Those aren't rules. ...That just becomes like the House of Representatives." Perish forbid!), because they must preserve Senate tradition, harumph harumph!, Republicans will of course continue to use the filibuster at historically unprecedented levels.

Ah, tradition.

More importantly, Republicans have already used their wins at the statehouse level in 2010 to re-write congressional districts, ensuring Republican control of the House even when Dems win the popular vote. And they're continuing to do so. You've probably heard by this point about what happened in Virginia, where Republicans took advantage of the fact that a black civil rights veteran went to see the second inauguration of our first black president on Martin Luther King day to push through a redistricting on a 20-19 vote.

And they're continuing that on a national level, including changing the way electoral votes are distributed - only in states where Dems usually win - so that they are proportional instead of winner takes all.

To review, here's how it works. The US electoral college system is based on winner take all delegate allocation in all but two states. If you get just one more vote than the other candidate you get all the electoral votes. One way to change the system is go to proportional allocation. That would still give some advantage to the overall winner. But not much. The key to the Republican plan is to do this but only in Democratic leaning swing states -- not in any of the states where Republicans win. That means you take away all the advantage Dems win by winning states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and so forth.

But the Republican plan goes a step further.

Rather than going by the overall vote in a state, they'd allocate by congressional district. And this is where it gets real good, or bad, depending on your point of view. Democrats are now increasingly concentrated in urban areas and Republicans did an extremely successful round of gerrymandering in 2010, enough to enable them to hold on to a substantial House majority even though they got fewer votes in House races than Democrats.

In other words, the new plan is to make the electoral college as wired for Republicans as the House currently is. But only in Dem leaning states. In Republican states just keep it winner take all. So Dems get no electoral votes at all.

I don't fault Republicans for any of this (well, except the Virginia thing). They're using all their powers within the rules and aggressively pushing forward for their agenda. The Democrats, however, don't seem to understand the rules, or even what game they're playing. So they get sacked every time (i'm really out of my element using sports metaphors here but i think a Halo/Mario Party comparison wouldn't work as well).

If you want to get a sense of the outrage over this, here's a letter a Senate staffer sent to TPM trying to spin the filibuster "reform" as a win. And here's two pages of reader reactions to the letter. As some of the writers point out, the letter is semi-incoherent, combining "we could never get those reforms but we did the best we could and you should see this as a step in the right direction" with "those reforms would be bad for the Senate and we didn't want them anyway". And here's more commentary from TPM writer Brian Beutler, with the key sentence for me: "Weakening the filibuster would make the Senate a more democratic institution, and give Democrats more power -- and that's precisely why filibuster reform is so problematic for individual senators."

If you're a conservative you might not believe it, but TPM is actually more of a center-left, partisan Democrat website than a liberal one. That's why i'm focusing on the reaction there instead of, say, Digby (who has actually been more sanguine about this, thanks to lower expectations (not unlike someone else who blogs here)).

One of the arguments the anonymous staffer throws out is that we wouldn't like filibuster reform if the Republicans controlled the Senate. First, that ignores the fact that Republicans have threatened to use the "nuclear option" in the past and could do so again (and managed to initiate two wars and pass the Patriot Act and the Bush tax cuts with little resistance when they were in control), and that Republicans planned on getting around the filibuster using reconciliation if Romney had won and Republicans took back the Senate. They've already got this covered. But more importantly, i think that if Republicans took over the Senate, they should be allowed to pursue their agenda. That's what the country voted for, so that's what they should get.

Actually, this is why now was a good time to pass real filibuster reform. Republicans control the House, so nothing was getting through Congress for the next two years (at least) anyway. Reforming the filibuster now does it in a neutral way where no party gains anything.

Ok, that's the Friday morning political rant. Let's just hope the outrage over this leads to primary challenges for Reid, Levin, and the other saps who torpedoed this.

By fnord12 | January 25, 2013, 9:39 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Filibuster not reformed

As min predicted, the Dems have folded again, this time on filibuster reform:

Progressive senators working to dramatically alter Senate rules were defeated on Thursday, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and his counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), set to announce a series of compromise reforms on the Senate floor that fall far short of the demands.

...the deal still requires Democrats to muscle 60 votes to invoke cloture on that motion, despite Reid's earlier suggestion that he would bar a filibuster on that motion entirely.

An alternate route to get past the motion to proceed will be implemented as a change to the rules, and a filibuster on the motion would be barred if the majority can find eight members of the minority, including the minority leader, to sign a petition. But Democrats already have 55 members in their caucus, five short of the 60 needed to end a filibuster, so it's unclear what the purpose of getting three additional Republicans would be.

Brilliant! You can either find 5 Republicans to vote to break the filibuster, or you can find 8 Republicans to vote to break the filibuster! Your choice! Nice win, Harry Reid. You make the good deals.

By fnord12 | January 24, 2013, 1:20 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (1)| Link

False equivalency alert: the liberal war on science

Scientific American has an article called The Liberals' War on Science. After pointing out that some liberals believe in Creationism (a very legitimate concern: 41% of Democrats apparently believe this) and don't accept global warming as fact (19%), the author says:

On energy issues, for example, the authors contend that progressive liberals tend to be antinuclear because of the waste-disposal problem, anti-fossil fuels because of global warming, antihydroelectric because dams disrupt river ecosystems, and anti-wind power because of avian fatalities. The underlying current is "everything natural is good" and "everything unnatural is bad."

(For what it's worth, min and i use a power provider that uses wind, hydro, and a little solar.)

Maybe worrying about avian fatalities and river ecosystems is extreme, but i think the disposal of nuclear waste is a legitimate concern, and certainly one hopes the author agrees that global warming is. I also think that more liberals would accept nuclear power if an adequate answer to "what happens to the radioactive waste" is provided.

The (short) article then goes on to mention liberal opposition to GMOs. I've also seen similar articles reference people who don't give their children vaccines due to fear that it causes autism. I think both of these are more about distrust of corporations (Monsanto has heavily resisted the idea of the FDA testing their food products, and the pharmaceutical industry weirdly snuck the provision into the Homeland Security Bill that prevented parents from suing them over autism links) but more importantly, the author is comparing fringe views on the left with very mainstream views on the right. There are members of Congress, and even more in the state houses, who don't believe in evolution, believe in Creationism, and deny global warming (and that's not getting into "legitimate rape" biology). I don't think you can find any such equivalent among elected Democrats (just look at the FDA's lack of interest in testing GMOs during the Clinton and Obama administrations; whatever opposition to GMOs there has been, it's a far cry from blocking all efforts to deal with global warming).

I think Scientific American has a legitimate interest in combating all anti-science beliefs. And as liberals we shouldn't just pat ourselves on the back and mock the other tribe; clearly we ought to be doing something about that 41% number! But i think running quotes like "if it is true that conservatives have declared a war on science, then progressives have declared Armageddon" is really counter-productive.

By fnord12 | January 23, 2013, 9:46 AM | Liberal Outrage & Science | Link

An end to gridlock?

Min will say i'm like Charlie Brown with the football here, but it looks like the Senate is moving to some (watered down, but still some) weakening of the filibuster and the House is considering eliminating the rule that requires a majority of the majority (e.g., a majority of Republicans, instead of just a majority of all members of the House) to bring a bill up for a vote. In theory that could mean a majority of elected representatives in both houses might be able to pass a bill.

By fnord12 | January 17, 2013, 3:41 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

The not-so-poor huddled masses

This made the rounds yesterday but i can't pass it up.

No wonder these people want to cut social security if they think the average retired couple has $180,000 in annual income.

I understand the Wall Street Journal's problem. They want to show the devastating impact of the tax increase (really just expiration of the Bush tax cuts) that was included in the Fiscal Cliff deal, but in order to show anyone who was actually impacted, we have to find the single mother struggling to raise children on a mere $260,000 a year.

The irony is that part of the Fiscal Cliff deal was that the payroll tax breaks expired too. That has an impact on everyone who works, so this infographic could have shown real impact on people not making six digit salaries, but it's a separate category from "income tax". So admitting that those people pay taxes defeats their "47% of the country doesn't pay taxes" claim.

By fnord12 | January 17, 2013, 12:22 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Lead and crime

For a while now, Kevin Drum has been putting forth a really remarkable theory regarding lead levels in the environment (from gasoline and paint) and how that correlated with a rise and fall in crime rates. He's now helpfully compiled a sort of link-index to his writing on the subject. I really recommend at least reading through the first (long) link he's got there.

If you accept the theory (and the evidence seems strong) it's really humbling to realize how much we are products of our environment. And for more on that see this little blurb from Atrios which may sound snarky but really isn't.

By fnord12 | January 15, 2013, 3:13 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

No free time for you

Matthew Yglesias points to a possible new drug that will reduce the need for sleep. But if you were thinking that means i could stay up all night doing comic reviews, Yglesias has a wet blanket of you:

People in certain kinds of high-status professions--CEOs and Ezra Klein and such--will presumably be de facto required to work 18 hour days if they can get by on two hours of sleep. All the way at the other end of the spectrum, people like migrant factory workers in China (or whatever the new China is in terms of sweatshop work) will probably do the same, working super-long workweeks in order to save up money and go back home.

If anything, i think Yglesias underestimates who would have to work longer hours. The advent of cell phones and telecommuting and "work-life balance" initiatives really just resulted in more working hours for people in my non-high status but also non-sweatshop job category, and i have no reason to think this latest innovation would be any different.

By fnord12 | January 15, 2013, 1:26 PM | Liberal Outrage & Science | Comments (1)| Link

Don't Be Pregnant in South Carolina

Or Florida. Or Ohio. Or Oregon. Or D.C. (at least two of those should have been obvious without me having to point them out)


In the first study of its kind, to be published on Tuesday, researchers from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) identified 413 criminal and civil cases across 44 states involving the arrests, detentions and equivalent deprivations of pregnant women's liberty between 1973 and 2005. NAWP said that it is aware of a further 250 cases since 2005. Both figures are likely to be underestimates, it said.
It found a wide range of cases in which pregnant women were arrested and detained not only if they ended a pregnancy or expressed an intention to end a pregnancy, but also after suffering unintentional pregnancy loss.

The cases of detention and forced medical intervention varied widely and included one in which a judge in Ohio kept a woman imprisoned to prevent her having an abortion.

Another involved a woman in Oregon who refused a doctor's recommendation for additional testing for gestational diabetes. She was held in a locked psychiatric ward. Another case involved a court in Washington DC, which ordered a critically ill woman to undergo caesarian section over her objections. Neither she nor the baby survived.


The study found that police, prosecutors and judges relied directly and indirectly on foeticide statutes that create separate rights for the unborn, claiming to protecting pregnant women and the eggs, embryos and foetuses they carry from third-party violence, on state abortion laws that include language similar to personhood measures and to "misinterpretation of Roe v Wade as holding what personhood measures propose - that foetuses may be treated as separate legal persons".

To conclude:

  • Fetuses are people with rights.

  • Women aren't.

  • And babies out of the womb better get their lazy asses to a job instead of bleeding this country dry with their constant requests for handouts.

By min | January 15, 2013, 11:27 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Yes, the Platinum Coin means that our political system is hopeless

If you don't know about the Platinum Coin, i envy you, but not for long because i'm about to 'splain it to you.

I can't even believe that we're here talking about this. I really can't. You see, back at the end of 2012, we had a "Fiscal Cliff" (please assume scare quotes around all use of this phrase going forward). And as i've described here before, that Fiscal Cliff was the last time that Obama was going to have any leverage with the House Republicans. Because if nothing was going to be done, the Bush Tax cuts were going to expire and automatic cuts to the military were going to happen. And Republicans didn't want those things to happen. So Obama should have been able to demand a few things in return for preventing those things from happening.

The right way to do it was to wait until after we went over the cliff, wait till everyone was in a panic about these things happening, and then say "Ok, i want A, B, and C in return for not letting all the tax cuts expire and not letting all the military cuts happen." "C", by the way, was eliminating this debt ceiling nonsense once and for all. But that didn't happen. Obama aggressively pursued a weak-sauce compromise before we went over the cliff, and got very little in return. And more importantly, kicked "B" (the sequestration cuts) down the road three months, which coincides with when we'll reach our next debt ceiling. So he's coming into this new crisis with no ammo to fight with.

Now, what is this debt ceiling business? Congress passes laws. Those laws direct the government on how much money to spend, and on what. The Treasury department pays for that spending, and if the spending costs more than we have in revenue (e.g. taxes), it borrows the difference. Separately, we have a law that sets the maximum amount we can borrow. So you can see the disconnect here. If Congress doesn't want the government to spend more than X dollars, it shouldn't pass laws telling the government to spend more than X dollars.

This is important, because the perception a lot of people seem to have is that the Obama administration is out there spending all this money on its own accord, and that's not the case at all. Obama doesn't get to decide how much money to spend. Congress does. Obama (or his Treasury Secretary) just has to pay for it.

So it's very weird that we have this debt ceiling that Congress votes on separately from their spending bills. But we do, and Congress has routinely increased the limit when we reach it (usually after a little grandstanding). But the last time this came up, the Republicans refused to vote to increase it unless concessions were made, and the Obama administration complied. Now they are doing so again, and this time the Obama administration is saying they won't comply. If anyone has faith in Obama's steely resolve on this though, i'll just point you to the Fiscal Cliff agreement.

Remember, raising the debt ceiling isn't about increasing spending. It's about paying for things you already bought. Congress bought stuff on the credit card and now they won't let Timothy Geithner pay the bill.

If we don't pay our bills, our economy will collapse. This isn't like the Fiscal Cliff where we really could (and should) have went over it with some minor disruptions here and there. This will be a signal to the entire world that our Treasury bonds are not guaranteed. Treasury bonds are where people put money when the economy is risky or fragile. They are the risk-free choice. If suddenly that safety net is gone, then nowhere is safe, and we are in economic free-fall. Every investor pulls their money out of everything and stuffs it under their mattress, and every business in America is out of capital. That means layoffs, recession, disaster.

So Obama has two choices to avoid economic collapse: agree to Republican demands and agree to major cuts to Medicare and Social Security (and, by the way, agree to them again the next time we reach the debt limit and every time after that. Because once you show that you can be pushed around this way, it's no longer an outrageous one-off thing; it's a regular occurrence), or find some way to circumvent the debt limit.

In the "circumvent" column are a few possibilities, all tenuous, but the one that is gaining momentum is the Platinum Coin. Due to an obscure law, the Treasury is allowed to mint coins and assign values to them. So the idea is that the Treasury mints a coin, stamps $1 trillion on it, and then deposits it at the Fed and withdraws regular money to pay its debts.

Remember, again, the Obama administration can't do anything they want with that coin. Biden can't take it to Hooters. The government can only spend money on things that Congress has approved. So this can only be used to pay our existing obligations.

Also, and this really seems to be difficult for some people to grasp, but you don't need the coin to be made out of $1 trillion worth of platinum, any more than your $20 bill is made out of $20 of paper and cotton.

Now we get to the title of my post. It's really the only reason i'm going through this agonizing explanation. But Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler raises an important point here. This debate is between people who are "in the know", so to speak. People who understand that the debt ceiling crisis is absurd, and so the Platinum Coin works as an equally absurd response for someone with no other options (and some, including some liberals, who think it's too crazy or wouldn't stand up in court). But as the Howler points out, if Obama actually did this, the average person would assume that Obama was coining money and spending it of his own accord.

Somerby wonders why liberals are wasting time coming up with crazy counter-strategies to the Republicans' crazy strategies. Why find some absurd solution? Why not go to the public and say "Here's the facts. Go yell at your Republican congresscritter!"

In all these discussions, we continue to be struck by the dog that doesn't yelp or howl. We see no one wondering how Obama might persuade the public that the debt limit has to be raised.

Could liberals actually go to the public and win a public debate? The possibility doesn't seem to enter our liberal heads! In the current case, this is especially strange, since many major business interests, not being crazy, don't want to go down the road of default or its' like again.

Could Obama go to the public and win? We liberals don't even seem to consider that possibility. It doesn't seem to enter our heads that we could state a case in the public square and come away with a win.

And he's absolutely right. But i put it to you that even if Democrats had the necessary infrastructure in place to get a message out to the public (and they are woefully inadequate in that regard), and even if it worked and they were able to explain all the intricacies of the debt ceiling and they got the public on their side... it still wouldn't make a difference.

First, we just had an election. People in Congress right now are feeling pretty safe; an election two years from now isn't going to be a pressing concern.

Second, the Republicans in the House are pretty safe no matter how close we are to an election. Democrats won the popular vote in the House by more than half a million votes in the last elections, and yet the Republicans still have a 54% majority in the House. It's said that Democrats would have to win the popular vote by a 7% margin to regain the House. That's because of gerrymandering. These Republicans are safe. They can't be kicked out. So they've got nothing to be afraid of.

So that means (legal) chicanery and gimmicks are our only hope.

By fnord12 | January 11, 2013, 3:55 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

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