Thursday, April 24, 2014

Cliven Bundy: Nevada's Own House of Cards

Cliven Bundy: The Rancher on Horseshit Mountain.

At some point we often get a glimpse of the real man -- think Rand Paul, Anthony Weiner and, yes, even Bill Clinton -- behind or, better yet, below the public image. Famous-for-fifteen-minutes Cliven Bundy built his house of cards only to get knocked down by reporters and, yes, his own fool mouth.

And we know we're getting there when they start to say "I never said that." What? Don't these guys know the Internet wrecked 90 percent of a public figure's opportunity for pure bullshit? What part of Google or Freedom of Information Act don't these clowns get?

Point one:
"I've lived my lifetime here. My forefathers have been up and down the Virgin Valley here ever since 1877. All these rights that I claim, have been created through pre-emptive rights and beneficial use of the forage and the water and the access and range improvements," Bundy said.
Clark County property records show Cliven Bundy's parents bought the 160 acre ranch in 1948 from Raoul and Ruth Leavitt.
Water rights were transferred too, but only to the ranch, not the federally managed land surrounding it. Court records show Bundy family cattle didn't start grazing on that land until 1954.
The Bureau of Land Management was created 1946, the same year Cliven was born.
"My rights are before the BLM even existed, but my rights are created by beneficial use. Beneficial use means we created the forage and the water from the time the very first pioneers come here," Bundy said.
Every claim he makes is horseshit. Point two:
[...] What about Bundy’s claim that his forebears bought the land he is now accused of trespass grazing upon?  This land was once Mexican land, and was won by the United States after the Mexican-American War. It is part of what is known as the “Mexican Cession.” All of Nevada, California, Arizona and most of New Mexico were part of the Cession. Much of this land was privatized under various grants and laws such as the Homestead Act and the Desert Lands Act, plus mining claims. Several million acres were granted to Nevada for state lands, but those lands that were not privatized have always been Mexican lands or United States lands owned by the U.S. government. Before the Taylor Grazing Act, these government lands were called “the public domain.” They could be privatized, as mentioned, under the Homestead Act and such, but the acreage allowed per homesteader was limited to 160 acres.
[...] The result was disaster because the operator to find green grass and eat it first won out, promoting very bad grazing practices. That was the reason for Taylor Grazing Act — ranchers and others could see the public domain system led to disaster on the ground. Therefore, the more powerful ranchers with “base” private property received grazing permits. This got rid of the landless livestock operators. Taylor Grazing was administered on the ground by the U.S. Grazing Service. Now, ranchers with grazing permits had to pay a grazing fee to use their permits.
[...] In 1946 [the year Cliven Bundy was born] the Bureau of Land Management was created by executive order of President Truman to replace the Grazing Service. The Service had been defunded in a dispute between the House and the U.S. Senate. The BLM has since been affirmed by law rather than a mere executive order. It is supposed to manage the public lands for multiple uses and for sustained production (“yield”) of renewable resources such as grass. As before, you need a grazing permit for cattle, sheep, goats, or horses to legally graze. It is a privilege, not a right, and this has been firmly stated by the U.S. courts.
Bundy doesn't even know the history that proves his horseshit is horseshit. Now, point three, that he didn't say what they say he said:
Like everyone else to ever be quoted saying something untoward, Nevada rancher and new conservative folk hero Cliven Bundy, who just happens to be a huge racist, said this afternoon that his comments about black Americans being better off as slaves, as published in the New York Times, were inaccurate and taken out of context. They most certainly were not. "I didn't say nothin' about pickin' cotton," Bundy told Alex Jones on the radio today. "This is bombshell. This is bombshell," said Jones. "You're telling me you did not say 'picking cotton'?"
"No, I did not say pickin' cotton," said Bundy. Let's go to the tape.

Oops, there it is, at 1:45: "They never learned how to pick cotton ... were they better off as slaves, pickin' cotton?"
And just to finish off this trip to horseshit mountain, read this piece in Salon that lists the crap that conservatives threw together in defend of Bundy. It's hilarious, or would be if it weren't for how close to an armed insurrection we came at the insanity's peak.

More proof of Hannity's insanity?

My, how the right-wingers who took up Bundy's cause are "distancing" themselves from him today. If an armed mob shows up to defend Bundy when the feds do come again -- and they will -- they will leave themselves open to serious condemnation. Bundy has knocked down his own house of cards, leaving himself most likely alone on Horseshit Mountain.

Cliven Bundy Clarifies His Humanity

Offered without comment:

...other than to point out, if this is Bundy's humanity, where now, Sean Hannity?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Colbert Is Going to Have to Be a Lot Funnier than This to Rule the World

...or does he?

I don't think he does, so Rush is going to be very disappointed!

(totally from Atrios but you needed to see it...)

Talking Points Memo Scores Big on Princeton Influence Gap Study Interview

The home that proves the rule, Thomas Piketty-style:
Hyatt Hotel heir Anthony Pritzker's 53,000 sq. ft. mansion.

Sahil Kapur, a Talking Points Memo reporter and correspondent, got to sit down with one of the authors of the recent Princeton study that made quite a stir with its declaration that the policy debate is over and it's Oligarchy 1, Democracy 0.

The interview is here, with study co-author Martin Gilens, and it knocks it out of the park. It's marvelous. Here are a few samples. First, a summary of the paper's main conclusion:
Let's talk about the study. If you had 30 seconds to sum up the main conclusion of your study for the average person, how would you do so?
I'd say that contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe, ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. And economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence. Government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences of those groups -- of economic elites and of organized interests.
Next, on the notion that voters are dumb (love the conclusion he draws, I boldface the key point):
There are criticisms of your study within the academic community. Some say public opinion surveys are a poor measure because people don't understand policy or that their stated preferences are self-contradictory. Tyler Cowen says citizens vote retrospectively so it's better to judge on outputs rather than whether voters get their preferred inputs. How do you respond?
These are all good questions. They're questions I address in some length in my book, "Affluence and Influence." There is some truth to some of these perspectives. But in a nutshell I think citizens overall have fairly sensible policy preferences which appear not to change much if citizens have an opportunity to learn more and debate the policy and view pros and cons.
On the perceived notion that Democrats are more in tune with middle- class wishes:
Which party, Democrat or Republican, caters to the interests of the rich more? Does your research find them to be equal or is one more responsive than the other?
We didn't look at that in this paper. Other work I've done suggest it depends. There are a set of economic issues on which the Democratic party is more consistently supportive of the needs of the poor and middle class. But it's by no means a strong relationship. Both parties have to a large degree embraced a set of policies that reflect the needs, preferences and interests of the well to do.
On whether or not ordinary citizens vote against their own self-interests and whether or not it matters (hint: they do, and it doesn't):
It seems to me the paradox here is that sometimes non-rich people favor an agenda that supports the rich. For instance, middle class tea partiers want low taxes on the highest earners, just as Steve Forbes does. Isn't that still democracy at work, albeit in an arguably perverse way?
Yes, absolutely. I think people are entitled to preferences that conflict with their immediate interests -- narrowly conceived interests. That may be an example of that. Opposition to the estate tax among low-income individuals is another. But what we see in this study is that's not what this is happening. We don't look at whether preferences expressed by these different groups are consistent or inconsistent with their interests, narrowly conceived. We just look at whether they're responded to by government policy-makers, and we find that in the case of ordinary Americans, they're not.
Wow. Read all of the interview. My key takeaway is that voters aren't dumb, but they can get bamboozled into supporting policies that aren't in their best interests, and that it sort of doesn't matter anyway, except that it's possible for pendulums to swing, and it doesn't hurt if we push the pendulum if and when we get the chance. Otherwise, uh, we're sort of screwed.

Send a letter to the Roberts Supreme Court -- not that it will alter anything -- telling them their decisions are big time fucked up. Maybe the conservative members will share them with each other for a laugh over cocktails at the end of a hard day of discussing which way to hand power to the elites next.

Watch me reach into this hat and pull out absolutely nothing for the working class!

The Twisted Message That Suckers Love

The wealthy elite: They're a tribe all right...

I now define life in America, perhaps in all the developed world -- don't know the undeveloped world well enough -- as a struggle to align tribes for control of private business and public policy.

Some of you don't need schooling on this, I'm sure. But as an argument that I've come to favor, I need to repeat or perhaps restate it: American political and economic thought is shaped and harnessed by competing interests that often hide their essential tribal nature. Let's make a rule for that:
  • We are who we hang with, who we collect with. Taking Personal Responsibility™ is a ploy used to hide the fact that we're in the thrall of our chosen interest group, or tribe. An example of this, as the charade it is, is that Taking Personal Responsibility™ often means organizing to get our slice of other people's wealth or productivity at a personal cost to them. This may be called capitalism.
Okay, I'm sorry if that's pretty dense. Here's our Rule One, restated: We Are Who We Collect With But We Pretend That We Are An Individual Who Plays By The Rules.

Now, the implications of this are vast and the iterations are legion. The first and most important implication is that it's a message easily twisted for personal gain by capturing wealth, influence, and power. Why? Because it's appealing to many people on different levels, depending on how much a given person can grok the implications.

Suckers love the rule because it gives them an ethical basis for interaction within their tribe and the other tribes they interact with. I Work Hard And Play By The Rules So I'm Okay. These particular people might not notice that others may not apply Rule One the way they do.

Non-suckers apply the rule thusly: I Have So Much Money That I Make The Rules. These people, as a tribe, are smaller in number. Let's call them plutocrats or oligarchs, even kleptocrats -- because that's what they are.

The Koch brothers are examples of this elite tribe. The Kochs take one extra step that many other members of the tribe don't: They use a good portion of their fortune to create or hone the twisted message, which is what?
We oppose collectivism. We approve of individualism. We highly recommend Taking Personal Responsibility™. While people are doing that, we're taking as big a slice out of their personal wealth and productivity as we can, and take that wealth and productivity and turn it into political power. For whom? Our elite tribe, our very special collective, the one that we say we don't belong to. Because we are free, we love liberty, we are individualists, and we Take Personal Responsibility™.
This is our Wizard-of-Oz-behind-the-curtain moment. Suckers who love the twisted message -- that no one or no elite collective is pulling the levers behind any curtain -- are the patsies who Work Hard And Play By the Rules.

The Kochs and others in their collective love the rubes who say "I'm going to get mine someday." A few do get theirs and prove the rule, or the exception, or whatever. But these days, in the era of the .01 percent, damned few actually do. And the Kochs are amused as they watch the unclean masses -- also known as suckers -- who peer through the bars of the Kochs' gated communities and say, "I'll move in there someday."

The Kochs are capital and most of the masses are labor. And the Kochs love it that way. They especially love those in the masses who Work Hard And Play By The Rules. Let's realize, though, that those in the Kochs' tribe don't. They both make and fake the rules. They may do this for reasons they believe are just, given their status as society's rule makers. The key is, though, that they don't feel obliged to follow them.

But they do expect the rest of us to do so. There's a word for that: suckers.

Note. I've just offered quite a cynical view, but such cynicism is called for these days. There is, however, a limit to that cynicism, which is explained quite well in this Krugman blog post that also contains a link to the recent Princeton study that has influenced my recent conclusions on the limits of policy possibilities in an America verging on oligarchy or, at the very least, plutocracy.

Krugman's key point:
So it’s worth pointing out it does make a difference [which party is in power]. Yes, Democrats pay a lot of attention to plutocrats, and even make a point of inviting Patrimonial Capitalism: The Next Generation to White House galas (I would have missed that, even though it’s in my own paper, but for Kathleen Geier. Thanks!). But it’s quite wrong to say that the parties’ behavior in office is the same. As Floyd Norris points out, Obama has in fact significantly raised taxes on very high incomes, largely through special surcharges included in the Affordable Care Act; and what the Act does with the extra revenue is expand Medicaid and provide subsidies on the exchanges, both means-tested programs whose beneficiaries tend to be mainly lower-income adults. The net effect will be significant losses for the super-elite — not crippling losses, to be sure, and hardly anything that will affect their elite status — and major gains to tens of millions of less fortunate Americans.
It's not much, this difference between Democratic and Republican policy, but, as Mercutio said of the mortal wound he suffered in a sword fight with Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, "Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch; marry, 'tis enough."

It is enough, this policy difference, even as we resent the paltry difference it represents. It does, however, tell us why it's worth fighting for. Because, as Louis XV said, "Après moi, le déluge." In our current reality -- a democracy shifting almost without respite toward oligarchy -- le déluge, or the flood, is the transformation toward rule by the Kochs, the Waltons, the Zells, the Langones, and the Perkins and their children, and their children's children.

Walmart: a store chain the poor can work in, shop in, die in.

Final note. I'm not suggesting there's no value in living a moral, ethical life. I believe it's the only life worth living. I am, however, insisting that we not be deluded into thinking that the plutocrats and oligarchs are the guys in the white hats. They're not and they are aligned against us. So it's ever onward to obtain our slice, the morally, the ethically, the better. And don't be a sucker.

Absolute final note. I don't mean to suggest that we're either suckers or members of the Koch brothers' tribe. Many of us go to work (or not) and do just fine (or not) and come home and light up a joint (or not) and watch Survivor (or not). People live without being suckers. I've just noticed a good number who are suckers, and a key reason is that they don't know it. I don't feel good about it, but there it is.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

When Will Conservatives Stop Defending Income Inequality?

The Tea Party: White people acting white.

I've always been fascinated by the support given by conservatives to policies that would seem to run counter to their values or interests. Conservation is one such case. Another is less obvious but shouldn't be: income inequality.

Nonetheless, the usual suspects gather round the issue and behave in the usual fashion.  Thomas Picketty writes a masterful tract, Capital in the 21st Century, on income inequality, pointing out with rock solid data that a new Gilded Age is upon us, and that, additionally, incomes for the middle class has been stagnant for decades. What do the usual suspects do? They do their level best to knock down the thesis. Why?

First, let's turn it around and ask: Why don't conservatives take Piketty's message -- that income inequality is at 19th-century levels and that a growing amount of the lopsided wealth is becoming inherited instead of earned -- and scream bloody murder?

An obvious answer is that the rich love lower taxes and so do conservatives. The rich love unfettered markets and so do conservatives. The rich love consolidated political power, and so do elite conservatives. If you want to have a slice of that political power, better to buddy up to the rich than to oppose them. I get that.

Yet middle- and working-class conservatives that should be outraged by damage to our ecosystem and the widening inequities in income distribution haven't caught on to the fact that their futures are compromised, too, and that their income streams have been drying up, too.

I suppose the usual pundit suspects need to keep their jobs by finding ways to nibble around the edges of Piketty's rock-solid thesis because they're paid to do it.

The conservative dream is to have it all in grand libertarian style, with free markets, low taxes, minimal regulations. Every conservative plebe is just one big payday, one lucky break, away from eternal financial independence, while every liberal is just one welfare check away from, I don't know, having another welfare check. That supposed dichotomy has never made any sense to me. Liberals are ambitious, too, and are no more likely than conservatives to be on welfare.

Everyone in the working/middle classes is one paycheck away from noticing that they haven't been keeping up, and if that job disappears there might not be another one.

Meanwhile Ross Douthat decides that Piketty is channeling Karl Marx and that some dude from Forbes has found a sliver of a way to undermine Piketty's data and that the middle class is okay after all. This is what Douthat spends his op-ed pages on?
Piketty’s dark vision relies, in part, on economic models I am unqualified to assess. But it also relies on straightforward analysis of recent trends in Western economies, and here a little doubt-raising is in order.
In particular, as the Manhattan Institute’s Scott Winship has pointed out, Piketty’s data seems to understate the income gains enjoyed by most Americans over the last two generations.These gains have not been as impressive as during the post-World War II years, but they do exist: For now, even as the rich have gotten much, much richer, the 99 percent have shared in growing prosperity in real, measurable ways.
Douthat, with an assist from Scott Winship, in essence is saying, yeah, the rich are enormously richer than the middle class, but the middle class actually have a few more bucks and they own their own homes for heaven's sake, so don't pick on the rich because the new model -- you know, where the rich have just about all the money -- is conceivably "sustainable" for the middle class. In other words, if the middle class would just adjust to its lowered expectations, scraps will be had for all. Because it's sustainable!

Sheesh. Among other points that are sloughed over is the fact that the self-same middle class is the one that just had millions of their homes foreclosed on if not stolen by the banks. Also, millions of Americans have fallen into long-term unemployment that may be permanent. Careers shut down early, never to be revived.

Douthat says that liberals can't make hay over Piketty's new assertions because there's a powerful cultural identity component that the right has used to usurp the populist urge.
This possibility might help explain why the far left remains, for now, politically weak even as it enjoys a miniature intellectual renaissance. And it might hint at a reason that so much populist energy, in both the United States and Europe, has come from the right instead — from movements like the Tea Party, Britain’s UKIP, France’s National Front and others that incorporate some Piketty-esque arguments (attacks on crony capitalism; critiques of globalization) but foreground cultural anxieties instead.
The taproot of agitation in 21st-century politics, this trend suggests, may indeed be a Marxian sense of everything solid melting into air. But what’s felt to be evaporating could turn out to be cultural identity — family and faith, sovereignty and community — much more than economic security.
Well done, Ross Douthat. You take what little you will acknowledge as valid in Piketty's critique of capital's dominion over labor and hand it over to white nationalists who also inhabit your happy place, i.e. family and faith, sovereignty and community. I'm sure I knew that the true believers have long claimed faith and family as their own special province, but I didn't know that the extreme right wing has properly acquired ownership of sovereignty and community, as well.

If Douthat left me anything to relish from his sorry attempt to claim it's okay that the rich get richer as long as they throw us enough scraps to be "sustained," it's his possibly accidental admission that the American Tea Party rightfully belongs in the category of white power fascists like France's National Front. Ross, you really did give away the store, intellectually speaking, with that one.

France's National Front: White people acting white.

Footnote. I did want to look for other conservative writers on the subject, and Robert J. Samuelson of the Washington Post delivered:
Still, the present concentration of income and wealth instinctively feels excessive. It understandably stirs resentment. We’d be better off if the rich were less so and other Americans were more so. But it’s doubtful that political action to force this transformation would be similarly beneficial. Class warfare is bruising; today, it would degrade the confidence needed for a stronger recovery.
So Samuelson's prescription is to do nothing. After all, class warfare is bruising. Brilliant.

To finish on a positive note, Thomas B. Edsall has a good critique of Piketty here.

David Brooks Goes There with Obama "Manhood" Comment

David Brooks gained, in my view, permanent adolescent dickhead status with his comment today on "Meet the Press:"

Regardless of your view of Obama's foreign policy performance -- I like the fact that he doesn't bomb people for the sake of his "manhood" -- the thought of a numbnut like David Brooks questioning it by citing an Obama "manhood problem" only means that David Brooks is a total fucking wanker, of the day, of the week, of the month, of the year. In fact, he might qualify for the Wanker Hall of Fame for this one ridiculous comment. Well done, Brooks. Now go back to gym class.

Footnote. Notice, of course, how Brooks qualifies his statement concerning Obama as being "undeservedly" and "unfair." That's double wanker points: I don't believe it, but some people say..." Double wanker. Chuck Todd gets a single wanker rating out of his tag at the end: "...internally it's not just Bob Corker saying it."

Dudes, you're not in high school anymore.