Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Anti-Immigrant Activists, Teachers' Unions, And Polarization: by Jonathan Chait

Prior to the Tea Party, the most influential grassroots movement on the right consisted of Minutemen and other anti-immigration activists. Like the Tea Party, they viewed their way of life as facing an existential threat, and saw themselves as carrying on the tradition of the Founding Fathers. (Unlike the Tea Party, they had little organizational support from wealthy interests.) There main cause was beefing up border security. Now, House Republicans, in their quest to save tens of billions of dollars from the domestic budget, have slashed border security. The response of the anti-immigration groups? They don't care:
You might expect anti-immigration groups to be in an uproar over spending cuts contained in the recent budget deal, like a $226 million cut to Border Security Fencing, Infrastructure, and Technology or $97 million in cuts to IT modernization programs at Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In fact, the cuts have generated barely a peep from border hawks, who have given the GOP a free pass even after years of campaigning for increased resources.
According to Rosemary Jenks, director of government affairs for NumbersUSA, her group is not protesting any of the reductions in spending. Nor will any Republicans be penalized in their annual grades for voting for them.
"For an administration that's decided it's not a priority, it doesn't make sense to throw money at them," Jenks told TPM in an interview before Congress agreed to a final spending deal.
In one sense, obviously, this is completely illogical. House Republicans have attacked the single issue that they care about! But, of course, thinking about the anti-immigration movement as an issue group misses the crux of what it's actually about. These groups have deep ethnic, cultural, and ideological ties to the conservative movement that go beyond any policy agenda. The Republicans are their people.
And the refusal of anti-immigration activists to condemn, or even notice, the GOP's straightforward assault on the heart of their agenda is hardly irrational. Consider Kevin Carey's observation that the House Republicans have adopted the position of the teachers' unions, which is that federal funding for education should come without any measures of accountability. In theory, this would provide an opening for teachers unions to forge an open tactical alliance with the GOP. In reality, teachers unions have deep cultural and ideological ties to the Democratic Party that they shouldn't be expected to break even in the face of direct policy disagreement.
One result of the sorting of the electorate into partisan camps is that many activist or interest groups simply cannot forge opportunistic alliances with different parties anymore. Their alliance with one of the parties is as much a matter of identity as it is the advancement of a particular policy agenda.
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Why Do Paul Krugman And David Brooks Hate Each Other?

David Brooks, in his column last week, bemoaned the failure of President Obama and Paul Ryan to meet over lunch and get to understand each other:
President Obama and Paul Ryan are two of the smartest, most admirable and most genial men in Washington. It is sad, although not strange, that in today’s Washington they have never had a serious private conversation. The president has never invited Ryan over even for lunch.
The assumption that a nice lunch would bride the gap between Obama's technocratic meliorism and Ryan's Randian determination to liberate hero-capitalists from social obligation can be bridged over some nice corned beef sums up everything I find endearing and frustrating about Brooks. Paul Krugman, in his column, was not so kind:
Last week, President Obama offered a spirited defense of his party’s values — in effect, of the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society. Immediately thereafter, as always happens when Democrats take a stand, the civility police came out in force. The president, we were told, was being too partisan; he needs to treat his opponents with respect; he should have lunch with them, and work out a consensus.
That’s a bad idea. Equally important, it’s an undemocratic idea.
Today Brooks begins his column with what sounds an awful lot like a thinly-veiled shot at Krugman:
Very few people have the luxury of being freely obnoxious. Most people have to watch what they say for fear of offending their bosses and colleagues. Others resist saying anything that might make them unpopular.
But, in every society, there are a few rare souls who rise above subservience, insecurity and concern. Each morning they take their own abrasive urges out for parade. They are so impressed by their achievements, so often reminded of their own obvious rightness, that every stray thought and synaptic ripple comes bursting out of their mouth fortified by impregnable certitude. When they have achieved this status they have entered the realm of Upper Blowhardia.
The column is putatively about Donald Trump. But, for as accomplished a character student as Brooks, it doesn't describe Trump all that well. "Fear of offending bosses and colleagues" isn't really what Trump lacks -- he has no boss, and he offends the general public, not colleagues. It does, however, reflect what I strongly suspect is Brooks' view of Krugman.
I have no direct knowledge of this -- honest! -- but I strongly suspect these two guys don't like each other very much. My guess is that the hostility dates back to Brooks' 2002 Weekly Standard cover story attacking the crazy hippies who opposed the Iraq War. It didn't mention Krugman, but the cover sure seemed to:

I think Krugman is supposed to be the hippie on the right, clutching the Times, as hippies are wont to do. Krugman has made repeated allusions in his column and blog to the intellectual atmosphere leading up to the war, in which anti-war voices were marginalized and mocked. (I supported the war, but I basically agree with Krugman's view of the sociology of the debate itself.)
Things haven't gotten any nicer since. The main problem here is the mismatch. Krugman and Brooks are two Jewish-American baby boomers who grew up in New York, but their intellectual style could not differ more sharply. Krugman is an acclaimed economist who thinks in rigorously empirical terms. Brooks is a journalist who tends to view policy questions through hazy philosophical prisms. On top of that, there's ideology. Brooks views Krugman as making himself a hero to the liberal choir, while he (Brooks) fearlessly challenges both sides. Krugman sees Brooks as residing comfortably within the cozy embrace of the conventional wisdom, whereas he (Krugman) risks being cast as a partisan or a radical by arbiters of respectability like Brooks for following the logic through to its conclusions. Of course, pitting Brooks against a Nobel prize winning economist in a debate over public policy is about as fair as making Krugman debate me about the University of Michigan football team.
What makes the feud somewhat pathological is the Times' convention of keeping its columnists from openly debating each other. I suppose this is designed to advance the cause of civility. But the reality is that this just creates a lot of sniping, and the inability to quote and describe each others' arguments in any detail makes it impossible to treat them seriously.


-- Jeff Rosen wonders why only conservatives want to amend the constitution.
-- Emily Yoffe explains how the end of mandatory retirement changed America.
-- Some charts for your tax day, from Mother Jones.
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Crazy People Are Everywhere

Gawker's story on Fox News president Roger Ailes has to be read to be believed. The basic story is that Ailes purchased the little newspaper of the small town in upstate New York where he planned to live. He then cleaned out its editor and hand-picked Joe Lindsley, a young editorial assistant from the Weekly Standard, to run it is a Fox News-style propaganda organ and took a strangely intense interest in its operation.
Then the story gets really weird:
Ailes confronted the three staffers and accused them of badmouthing him and Elizabeth during their lunch breaks. Small towns being what they are, Lindsley, Haley, and Panny frequently drove several miles north of the News and Recorder's Cold Spring, N.Y., office to privately have lunch in another town. When Ailes accused them, he knew which restaurant they frequented, leading the three to believe that Ailes wasn't merely bluffing and that he'd actually had them followed.
After Lindsley quit for good, things got weirder. He was driving to a deli in Cold Spring for lunch earlier this month when he noticed a black Lincoln Navigator that seemed to be following him, according to several sources familiar with the incident. Lindsley drove aimlessly for a while to make sure he was being followed, and the Navigator stayed on him. Then he got a look at the driver, who was a News Corporation security staffer that Lindsley happened to know socially. Lindsley continued on his way and later called the driver to ask if he was following him. The answer was yes, at Ailes' direction. ...
Last winter, not long before Lindsley tendered his resignation, the burglar alarm in the Ailes' Garrison estate went off while Roger and Elizabeth were away. Roger's first call after the police was to Lindsley, several sources say. Ailes asked him to rush to the home to let the police into the gate that blocking driveway, but when Lindsley arrived before the police, Ailes ordered him to enter the home in an effort to scare off the intruder. Speaking to Lindsley on his cell phone, Ailes led him around the darkened house, telling him which rooms to check and which lights to turn on to startle the burglar. It turned out to be a false alarm.
I actually think a surprisingly large number of people with prominent roles in public life are totally bonkers, not merely in their public philosophy but even in practical ways that people who agree with their ideology can recognize. Look at, I don't know, Newt Gingrich. He doesn't just have a different estimation of the efficacy of Keynesian multipliers than I do, or even merely different values than I do. He's clearly a nut. Michelle Bachmann hires chiefs of staff who agree with her ideology, but she runs through them like tissues, and they seem to come away thinking she would be a dangerous character as president. I think this holds true of every field.
I suspect, but I could never prove, that this is true on both right and left but more the former than the latter. In any case, it's not primarily a problem for liberals. There are powerful people everywhere, and a great many of them are out of their gourds.

The Flaw In Grover Norquist's Evil Plan

Matthew Yglesias points out that Grover Norquist is the most powerful ally of liberal democrats who oppose spending cuts:
I’m not sure if Norquist understands this or not, but in the current moment of institutional weakness for American liberalism, he’s the most powerful advocate we have. At the end of the day, the long-term level of taxation is determined by the level of money that’s spent. Every dollar the federal government spends will be repaid, with interest, out of taxes. And currently in Washington we have lots and lots of Democrats—from Barack Obama to Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet—arguing for reductions in scheduled spending. And the main thing standing in their way is Grover Norquist, his tax pledge, and his insistence that no Republican vote for any spending cutting bill that also includes some increases in revenue. So far, that’s denying cuts-oriented Democrats the working legislative majority they need to implement their agenda, and giving congress’ small number of hard-core progressives the ability to veto cuts in Social Security.
It's clearly true. The size of government is defined by the size of spending, not taxes. Any money that's spent will eventually be matched by taxing, whereas tax revenue does not create its own spending. A deal that increases taxes and cuts spending is a deal to reduce the size of government. It's amazing that so many conservatives, led by Norquist, oppose a deal like that.
Now, there is a way in which Norquist's twisted philosophy can work. If Republicans use their periods of majority control to implement debt-financed tax cuts, they can increase the structural budget deficit. Then, when Democrats take power, they can force Democrats to devote their resources to reducing the deficit rather than other priorities. It worked during the Clinton administration, and it's working to some extent during the Obama administration. (Obama used health care reform largely as an exercise in reducing health care cost inflation, which made it far more politically painful than the Bush-style let's just cut a check method favored by Paul Ryan and other Republicans.)
There are, however, two flaws in the Norquist plan. The first is that it depends upon Democrats playing the sucker forever, using their presidencies to clean up the GOP's mess, then watch Republicans make a mess all over again, and be willing to use their power to play janitor this way in perpetuity.
The second flaw is that the crucial clean-up role, in which the size of government really does get reduced through a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts, will inevitably run into the opposition of... Grover Norquist. Norquist's plan depends on him losing a high-stakes fight as crucial moments. That seems like a hard plan to sustain. (This also suggests that Norquist's plan is not a plan at all but rather a form of ideological megalomania.)
There's also the fact that Norquist's plan runs the risk of undermining the entire fiscal basis of the federal government and precipitating a collapse, but I'm not counting that because I'm not sure Norquist considers it a flaw.

Is Donald Trump Joking?

Maggie Haberman and Ben Smith have a nice piece on the Donald Trump pseudo-candidacy. Long story short, his campaign is not a joke in the sense of Trump being in on it, but it is a joke in the sense that his entire career is a joke:
The widespread assumption that Trump’s flirtation with the presidency is a publicity stunt is no doubt at least partly true. But that’s merely the point of departure for a man for whom almost every public move over the past 30 years has been a publicity stunt. Trump has, in the past, hinted at presidential bids, only to pull back after basking in the public interest. But in the same voraciously media-hungry spirit in which he has leveled an array of accusations — some overstated, others flatly false — atPresident Obama in recent weeks, Trump appears likely to launch a formal presidential campaign, hire staff, shake hands in Iowa, participate in debates - in short, run for president. (See also: Trump draws Obama into 'birther' fray)
Trump is making the “types of moves that one makes if they’re actually running,” said one top Republican consultant familiar with his efforts.
The real estate mogul has spoken to pollster Tony Fabrizio as well as members of Larry Weitzner’s Jamestown Associates, sources said. Three Republicans said that Florida-based media consultant Rick Wilson had been recommended to Trump as a potential hire. (Wilson declined to comment on whether he’d been approached or spoken with Trump).
He recently called pollster and strategist Kellyanne Conway, who agreed to set him up with some evangelical leaders.
Trump as a GOP candidate represents the easiest oppo hit in the history of primary races. He has advocated single-payer health care and called George W. Bush "evil." You can imagine a world in which he could win the nomination. That would be a world in which the Republican Party as an organized political force, as opposed to a collection of voters, ceases to exist. It would be like the end of the Roman Empire, when anybody who can grab some soldiers together can call himself the Emperor. But, while the GOP establishment may have lost some power, we don't live in anything resembling a world like that right now.

Nothing Says "Credibility" Like "Laffer Center"

Supply-side guru Arthur Laffer has commissioned a study, which he summarizes in today's Wall Street Journal op-ed page, showing the tax code creates massive compliance costs:
In a study published last week by the Laffer Center, my colleagues Wayne Winegarden, John Childs and I estimate that these costs alone are a staggering $431 billion annually. This is a cost markup of 30 cents on every dollar paid in taxes. And this is not even a complete accounting of the costs of tax complexity.
You may be wondering what this has to do with reducing tax rates for the rich. Laffer proceeds to explains:
A tax reform to a simple flat-rate tax with no deductions would significantly reduce the current complexity inherent in our progressive tax system, which is full of loopholes, exemptions and special interest carve-outs. Based on the estimates from our new study, if a static, revenue-neutral flat-tax reform were to reduce the tax complexity in half, the long-term growth in our economy would increase by around one-half of 1% per year.
Of course, complexity is not "inherent in our progressive tax system." It's inherent in any tax system. There's absolutely no reason to believe that, once the progressivity of the income tax is eliminated, politicians would not continue to create loopholes, tax credits and other deductions. It will probably never be possible to go through a tax day without having right-wingers attempt to convince us that we could make our taxes easier by shifting a higher proportion of the tax burden off the rich and onto the poor and/or middle class.

Trump: Kick Their Ass And Take Their Gas

Donald Trump has grabbed a lot of attention by rallying Birthers, but, notes Rich Lowry, he's also promoting a rancid ultra-nationalist foreign policy:
People doubt the war in Libya. Trump says he’d wage war there only to take the country’s oil. And he’d take Iraq’s oil, too. Obama is groping for a doctrine in the Middle East. Trump already has one: Steal its oil. In Trump, Noam Chomsky will finally have met a Western imperialist truly bent on expropriating the Third World’s wealth.
I think there's a market for both the Birtherism and the Jacksonian-imperialist foreign policy, but GOP elites will (fortunately) steer voters away from advocates of it. They like to spend their crazy dollars on economic policy.

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