Category: Politics

A Big Deal on Climate

The details are barely in, but it seems, at long, long last, that the number 1 and number 2 world economies – also the number 2 and number 1 world polluters – have finally come to an agreement on carbon emissions. This is such a big deal, and such good news, that conservatives are tripping over themselves to take a giant dump on it – as a preemptive first strike, since this deal is poised to take a giant dump on them.

That’s because conservatives for years have used China as a shield to avoid serious discussion of the issues related to climate change. Cap and trade, the subsidization of renewable energy sources, new EPA standards on greenhouse gases: name a climate-change initiative, and you can line up conservatives around the block to oppose it, with China the first and last word they utter. They’ve been telling us for years that the US would be a sucker to work toward any reduction in emissions, because the US would merely be encouraging Chinese polluters – with the logic that whatever the US doesnt pump into the atmosphere, the Chinese will pump extra to compensate, taking American jobs and profits along the way.

China, for their part, have long opposed adhering to a common set of standards with the developed West, reasonably asserting that (1) present atmospheric CO2 levels are chiefly attributable to the past activity of Western economies, not China; and (2) unfettered Chinese development has lifted hundreds of millions of people from poverty, and promises to lift hundreds of millions more – just as it did in the West over the past two centuries.

The rest of the world has thus been held hostage to the intransigence of the world’s two largest economies and polluters. After all, any deal on climate change that doesnt include the US and China leaves out nearly half the world’s emissions and half the world’s economy.

But everything changed when US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that they reached agreement on greenhouse gas emissions. China has finally agreed to capping emissions, while the US has agreed to steeper reductions. And now there is every reason to be optimistic that the US, China, and the rest of the world can hash out the deal that has long eluded them, when the climate summit meets in Paris in late 2015.

Obama seems ready to do an end-run around the US Senate, which is now controlled by conservatives, and headed by Mr. Coal himself, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell. Any further international deals on climate are likely to be styled as “Agreements” – as opposed to “Treaties” – further to a 1992 treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Treaties require 67 votes in the Senate, where even 50 are now impossible. In past decades, what was once the world’s preeminent deliberative body could have been relied upon to see past partisan posturing on the most critical issues of the day, to at least have an intelligent debate. No more: the cancer that is conservatism has made the US Senate so dysfunctional that it cannot even meaningfully address matters concerning the planet’s long-term ability to support life.








Quit Sulking and Party Like It’s 2016

There comes a time when circumstances demand a people, party or ideology to pull back and reconsider its premises and positions. For liberals, this is not that time. The so-called Republican Wave of 2014 was a perfect storm that is not likely to be repeated anytime soon. In fact, 2016 stands to be a Liberal Wave of even greater magnitude. So quit sulking, and get ready to fight the family fascists over Thanksgiving dinner. The election past was disappointing, but many of its specifics point to good things ahead.

We begin by observing that the change in Senate leadership changes nothing. Before the election, the two parties had to compromise to pass any legislation. Since legislation requires the president’s signature, that has not changed. Looking at the individual Senate seats that went red, surely the losses in North Carolina, Iowa and Colorado are a concern, because they are swing states. But when you step back to consider that North Carolina and Colorado only became swing states in the past decade, you realize that the long-term strongly favors liberals. That’s why the fight occurs primarily in conservative country, as states in traditionally conservative areas trend toward liberalism. Democrats held onto seats in Virginia and New Hampshire, for example, which used to be reliably conservative.

Then you have¬†Arkansas, South Dakota and Nebraska: all of whom went strongly for conservative candidates, but nonetheless passed ballot initiatives raising the minimum wage, which would surely be opposed by the conservative candidates on the same ballot! This schizophrenia drives home the longstanding point that conservatives fundamentally fail to recognize the candidates who support their self-interest. The electorate’s backing of conservatives is significantly based on ignorance and misapprehension, and as such it can be readily turned.

Other liberal ballot initiatives also succeeded, including the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Oregon and Alaska, as well as the legalization of marijuana possession in DC. Another measure in Florida that would have legalized medical cannabis received 57% of the vote, though it ultimately failed, since Florida requires 60%. In California, where Jerry Brown was reelected by a wide margin, a ballot initiative changed several non-violent crimes from felonies into misdemeanors, including possession of most kinds of illegal drugs. It’s expected to help ease the incarceration rate.

Liberals should look forward to 2016, where a disproportionate number of vulnerable Senate Republicans come up for reelection (Iowa, North Carolina, Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin), during a presidential election cycle when turnout among traditional Democratic voters (minorities and young people) typically surges. Further, as the GOP continues to rely more and more heavily on white male voters, that demographic is shrinking as a share of the electorate. In 2014 the GOP got 35% of the Latino vote – less than the 38% it got in the 2010 midterms.

But the 800 pound gorilla for conservatives is the electoral math for presidential elections. Since 1992, of the 50 states and DC, 19 have voted every time for the Democratic candidate, and 13 for the GOP candidate. The problem for the GOP is that those 19 solidly Democratic states contain 242 electoral votes – while the 13 GOP states contain only 102. Putting aside the fact that Democrats have won the popular vote in 5 of the past 6 presidential elections, a Democratic presidential candidate may need just 28 electoral votes in swing states to win – while the Republican needs practically every swing state. A Democratic victory in Florida, with its 29 electoral votes, may by itself be enough to secure the presidency.

So, fellow liberals, get up off the mat, and get ready for the big stakes game just around the corner. In the long-term, the 2014 midterms will be looked back upon as a statistical blip in a trend that will, inevitably, bring liberalism to every corner of the US.




Hope on Election Day

Conservatives have spent the past 6 years doing everything they could to wreck the US economy – from obstructing stimulus programs, to slashing valuable government services and education at the state and local level, to opting out of Medicaid expansion, to delaying appointments to crucial executive branch positions, to hamstringing Congress on critically needed pieces of legislation, like immigration – even when there was strong bipartisan support for a solution. And now instead of receiving the electoral flogging they’ve earned, they are almost certain to gain seats in the House and Senate, and perhaps even win a majority in the upper chamber.

Obama stands to reap a whirlwind not of his making – and that’s because the great swath of America’s electorate that stumbles, misinformed, into voting booths on Election Day is sometimes large enough to carry the day. This is why it’s critical that liberals turn out and vote, to ensure that the voice of reason is heard above the din of ignorance.

In the end, a lot of good may come out of it. Several truly nasty GOP governors may be shown the door, paving the way for new states to expand Medicaid, which will be of enormous benefit to millions of working poor.

In Florida, the defeat of incumbent Republican Rick Scott will likely lead to a change in Florida’s absurd, regressive and anachronistic felony disenfranchisement law, which currently prevents about one-third of adult black men in Florida from voting in state or federal elections. Such a change would transform Florida overnight from a swing state to one that is solidly democratic, just in time for the 2016 presidential election.

Four years ago Sam Brownback became governor of Kansas with more than 63% of the vote. But in his campaign for reelection, he’s trailing Democratic challenger Paul Davis – and rightly so. Brownback’s massive tax cuts for the rich have forced the state to reduce public services, including deep cuts in public education. The state’s fiscal crisis is so bad that Kansas has seen its credit-rating downgraded, with red ink projected far into the future. Many Kansas Republicans have come out in support of Davis, whose election would be a big win for Kansans, but perhaps an even bigger win for sanity.

People in Wisconsin have grown disaffected with the extremist right wing policies of Governor Scott Walker, and the deficits that follow conservative policies whenever and wherever they’re put into effect. His defeat by Democrat Mary Burke would be a big win for Wisconsin’s working poor, who might at last gain access to Medicaid; and as well to Wisconsin families who stand to see reductions in education spending reversed.

While Brownback, Walker and Scott have all earned voters’ scorn through their terrible policies, Pennsylvania’s Republican Governor Tom Corbett is simply a poor politician. While he holds a conservatives’ typically medieval views on gay marriage and marijuana legalization, his administration has not been very effective at doing much of anything, good or bad – his reelection campaign’s failure is part of Corbett’s larger ineffectiveness. Heading into Election Day down double-digits, Corbett will almost surely lose to Democratic challenger Tom Wolf, to become the first incumbent Pennsylvanian Governor to lose a reelection bid since 1854.

On the Congressional level, winner-take-all elections suck because they diminish the marginal value of each individual vote. Imagine if a party gaining n% of the vote for Congress actually got n% of the seats. That style of election obviously correlates with much higher turnouts, because every last vote – and failure to vote – makes a difference. But whether you’re in a state or district that’s close or not: please, if you’re a liberal, get out today and make yourself heard. At least you can spend the next two years reminding everyone you know that at least you tried.

The Liberal Field Guide eschews the politically correct position that everyone should vote. Surely everyone reading this post should vote – such people are almost surely much better informed than the ordinary voter. The unfortunate fact is that the price of careless, uninformed voting falls on everyone equally – if its effects were concentrated on the individual malfeasor, people might be more diligent about researching candidates and issues. And so if a conservative asks you today – do your nation a favor and tell them that the election is next week. They’ll believe anything.


This is a special Election Day dispatch – the Field Guide will return on Friday.






Texas Needs UN Observers

A newly released UN report expresses concern over the high number of executions being carried out in Iraq. The report found implementation of the death penalty in Iraq to be particularly problematic because “many… convictions are based on questionable evidence and systemic failures in the administration of justice.”

You must be thinking – wow, the Iraqi Government must be offing folks left and right to be the target of this kind of UN criticism. After all, conditions in Iraq are dire. There’s a civil war, headed by an armed insurgency, now ongoing across much of the country. Terrorist bombings in Baghdad have become so commonplace that they frequently go unreported. So how many people has Iraq put to death so far in 2014? Answer: 60.

Hmmm. Iraq has a population of 33 million. Assuming Iraq continues on its execution-rampage, they will have put 80 people to death by year’s end, making for an execution rate of 2.4 per million. Texas, by comparison, has a population of 26 million, and has put 39 people to death so far this year, putting them on track for about 42 by year’s end. That gives Texas an execution rate of 1.6 per million. Not sure whether congratulations are due – Texas has managed to be only two-thirds as brutal to its peacetime population compared to wartime Iraq.

Iraq may be bad now, but it’s much improved much since when Saddam Hussein was in power. However you can say the same about Texas, which has also come a long way since the dark days of Governor Bush Duh, who in 1999 oversaw 98 executions for a population of 20 million, for an execution rate of nearly 5 per million, double that of present day Iraq. Bush Duh’s Texas had no civil war and no terrorist bombings – it was just folks killin’ folks, Texas style – with nary a UN monitor in sight.

As the UN report points out, the problem in Iraq isnt just the sheer number of executions – it’s the shoddy system of justice that produces them. The Texas comparison is here, again, unavoidable, where people are put to death without competent legal representation, and where many have been found to be innocent while on death row – others, after their execution has been carried out.

All modern, civilized people should oppose the death penalty under all circumstances. In fact, the reason why it’s virtually disappeared in the West is that it is inconsistent with all modern political ideologies – except fascism. The comparison with war-torn Iraq serves to show just how backwards are certain parts of the US, where an extraordinary degree of barbarism is brought into higher relief when it occurs in a relatively affluent, peacetime population – without enough of an outcry from human rights organizations, foreign or domestic.





Kansas Voodoo

Perhaps even conservatives can only be fooled so many times before they get wise. In Kansas, Democrat Paul Davis has pulled even with Republican incumbent Sam Brownback in the race for governor. Davis has even received the endorsement of numerous Republican officials across Kansas, who find Brownback’s dalliance with Voodoo Economics too spooky for their taste.

Credit for the term “Voodoo Economics” goes to George Bush. While he was competing for the 1980 GOP presidential nomination, he applied it to describe Ronald Reagan’s economic proposals, which relied on the notion that tax cuts pay for themselves. To George Bush, and to most of us, Reagan’s policies seemed like a crackpot idea at the time. Our experience over the past 30 years have borne out Bush’s skepticism.

Fiscally, the US never recovered from Reagan’s tax cuts. Deficits remained sky high for twelve years, right through the departure of his successor from the White House in 1993. That not-so-grand experiment only ended with Clinton’s tax increases, which, instead of bringing the disasters predicted by conservatives, delivered the longest economic expansion in US history, and replaced Reagan and Bush’s deficits with surpluses projected far into the future.

Under Bush Duh, the US again endured the folly of Voodoo Economics. His tax cuts gave away the surplus to the very rich, and left the country’s fiscal health permanently compromised. The cure only came via Obama’s tax increases on the wealthy – and the sustained economic recovery that’s (again) happened with conservatives (again) predicting gloom and doom.

But these experiences werent enough to deter Kansas from embarking on the very same, failed supply-side Voodoo. Conservative Sam Brownback was elected governor in 2011, and in 2012 pushed through a massive tax cut, slashing the top income tax rate by 25%, and eliminating income taxes on small businesses entirely. Brownback was hoping for a little of that ol’ black magic: to see state tax revenue grow, even though almost all Kansans were going to be paying a lower tax rate.

For all its voodoo, Kansas is now in deep budgetary doo-doo – because Voodoo Economics has failed Kansas too. With tax receipts falling short of expenses by hundreds of millions of dollars, education, along with other government services have been slashed, and the state’s credit rating has been downgraded. And in addition to all that red ink, Kansas is adding jobs at a slower pace than the national average. With inept governance, deficits, and weak job growth, one might regard today’s Kansas as a time capsule of the Bush Duh years – from which even Kansas Republicans seem eager to escape.







Voter ID Laws: More Conservative Shenanigans

No sooner do conservatives come to power, but they begin chipping away at voting rights. What choice do they have, after all, given their lack of electoral support. Democrats consistently win more votes than Republicans in congressional elections – the Republican House majority is a creature of gerrymandered districts, and nothing more – it is not the result of greater popularity.

Preventing votes has long been a favorite conservative pastime, going back to Reconstruction, when black men had only recently secured the right to vote through the 15th amendment. The US South had a 100 year tradition of denying suffrage to blacks when the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. That law created a special class of states, which were to be subject to special scrutiny because of their poor record of voting rights abuses.

In 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts and the Supreme Court’s four other conservatives decided that the South had grown up, and no longer needed special oversight to ensure that they would not mistreat minorities. In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg predicted that abuses would immediately resume. She thought the majority’s reasoning was foolish, and asserted that close scrutiny was precisely what kept miscreant states in line – that getting rid of “preclearance” (their special statutory regime) was akin to throwing away an umbrella in a thunderstorm because you werent getting wet.

As if it were a scripted comedy routine, Texas and Mississippi responded within hours by implementing voter ID laws that adversely impacted minority voting. In the year since that decision, voter ID laws have multiplied. And the Supreme Court has decided to leave the Texas law in place for the coming election.

Voter ID laws invariably function as a poll tax. Such laws take away your constitutional right to vote, and substitute it with a limited right, conditioned upon obtaining particular documents – a process that’s never free, and whose costs tend to be greater for the young, poor, elderly and minorities because they are less likely to have the needed documents readily at hand, and because they are more burdened by efforts to obtain them.

These laws are offered as a means of protecting society from the crime of voter impersonation. However numerous investigations have found that crime to occur so infrequently that it has virtually no chance of impacting an election, even if it were to somehow spike in frequency by a factor of one hundred! On the other hand, voter ID laws powerfully reduce the turnout of legitimate voters. It’s sort of like adopting a new police procedure to reduce homicides – which has the side-effect of killing one thousand people for every homicide it prevents.

And that is precisely why these laws exist, and why they are almost always passed by Republican legislatures and signed into effect by Republican governors. Voter ID laws serve no purpose other than to prevent the young, poor, elderly and minorities from voting – all of whom are more likely to vote democratic. You’d think these laws might set off conservative alarm bells, because they require ordinary citizens to obtain government-issued ID cards as a prerequisite to voting – conservatives, after all, are prone to whining and complaining about the threat posed by Big Government. But lacking any principles whatsoever, conservatives are content to expand government power whenever its convenient.





How Jim Crow Holds Florida

In denying the right to vote to criminals, even after they have been released from prison, the US is an outlier with respect to much of the world. Let alone allowing ex-cons to vote, numerous countries permit inmates to vote from prison, including Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Sweden. Among US states, only Maine and Vermont let everyone vote, including prisoners.

With America’s skyrocketing prison population, felony disenfranchisement affects an increasing fraction of the US population. While it denied suffrage to about 1 million Americans the in the early 70s, 3 million were disenfranchised by the mid-90s, and nearly 6 million are disenfranchised today. Across much of the south, upwards of 7% of the adult population cannot vote because of past convictions.

Relative to the irrevocable, lifetime disenfranchisement that the Constitution permits (for the moment), states are generally much more liberal about allowing convicted criminals to vote after they’ve completed their sentences, if not parole or probation. As usual, it’s regressive southern states who are the most unforgiving, with a few effectively disenfranchising convicted criminals forever.

Disenfranchisement disproportionately affects blacks. Across the country, about 8% of blacks, and some 13% of black men cannot vote – compared to about 2% of all other adults. Florida is the worst case of all. In 2011, its GOP governor gave the state the most extreme felony disenfranchisement law in the country. With just 6% of the US population, Florida is home to 25% of all of America’s disenfranchised. 20% of all blacks in Florida – and about 35% of all black men – cannot vote. One neednt wonder at the GOP’s zeal for felony disenfranchisement. In its absence, Florida would not be a swing state – it would be solidly democratic.

US AG Eric Holder has been pressing states to reform these outmoded laws – many of which date back to Reconstruction, a living remnant of the Jim Crow south, whose purpose was, then and now, to suppress the black vote. Felony disenfranchisement is an ugly anachronism, with no place in a modern law or governance.



The Constitutionality of Felony Disenfranchisement:

In the aftermath of the US Civil War, with southern states excluded from Congress and yet subject to military rule, northern states changed the Constitution to protect its citizens’ voting rights – somewhat. The 15th amendment, which became law in 1870, is short and simple:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

18 months previously, northern states had ratified the 14th amendment. Section 2 is a fine bit of 19th century prose:

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

It sprawlingly ties together many areas of law, including apportionment, the legal status of “Indians”, federal and state elections, voting rights and criminal disenfranchisement. That’s a good thing, because it mutually binds, one to another, numerous rights, capacities and effects, forcing courts to interpret them with respect to one another. The bad of it is that it implicitly allows for the unfettered disenfranchisement of convicted criminals. The 15th amendment meanwhile only prevents states from denying the right to vote for 3 specific reasons – leaving other bases for disenfranchisement valid, including not just crime, but gender.

There is hope. See:

n.b. The Reconstruction amendments were drafted, voted up by 2/3 majorities in both houses, and passed on to the states for ratification while southern states had no representation in Congress, were yet subject to military rule, and were effectively territories – not states – governed from Washington, D.C. Their readmission to the Union – and with it, the restoration of their Congressional delegations – was conditioned on their ratification of the these amendments.