Sunday, July 31, 2011

I Think We've Hit Disloyalty (or THIS is What I Was Afraid Of)

Looking back at some of my old posts on dangerous polarization, they seem to come from an age of innocence. That innocence is no more.

New Zealand columnist Paul Buchanan compared the Republican/Tea Party/Fox opposition to Obama to conservative Chilean opposition to Salvador Allende, seeking to make the country ungovernable, and preferring a military coup to compromise. I was somewhat dismissive at the time. Clearly the Republican Party was not calling for violent insurrection or a military coup, and I was not sure if one could stick strictly to legal opposition and be disloyal.

Well, now we have it. The Republican Party has clearly overstepped the boundaries of loyal opposition and moved into what I would consider disloyalty. Refusal to cooperate on legislation -- fine. That's hardball but still loyal. Whipping up paranoia and hysteria -- that can go too far and become dangerous, but the line between normal hyperbole and incitement is not always clear. But threatening to default on our obligations with unknown ramifications for the economy that could stretch into the indefinite future -- now that's disloyalty.

Something more is going on here, too. Originally, Republicans insisted that they would not raise the debt ceiling past the next election unless they got spending cuts equivalent to the amount they raised the debt ceiling and no tax increases. There is no particular reason this should be so. Raising the debt ceiling has never been linked to equivalent cuts in spending before, but no matter. The point is that after extensive wrangling, Democrats have agreed to all these terms and the Republicans still won't agree to raise the debt ceiling. In fact, they have made fairly clear that no matter what Obama endorses, they will oppose. In other words, it is not enough to achieve what they want, only forcing over something Obama will not agree to will do.* And, after all, Congress has the Constitutional power to do that -- if they have the 2/3 majority in both houses to override a Presidential veto. Given that they have a majority in only one house (and not the 2/3 needed to override a veto), some sort of compromise is necessary. But large portions of the Republican Party would rather default on our obligations with unknown damage to our economy than get what they want in a manner insufficiently humiliating to the President.

THAT'S disloyalty.

Since I was worried about about polarization tearing apart our democracy, I grappled with what exactly I was afraid would happen. What was my model of failure. I ruled out Germany and Italy (an anti-democratic party being elected and abolishing democracy from within), Chile (military coup), Spain (civil war), the US in 1860 (civil war). So what was my model I feared we would become? At the time, I said California, a government so dysfunctional as to be non-functional. Since then we can add Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida. But watching Republicans who don't have the 2/3 majority to get their way by the accepted constitutional process preferring default to any sort of compromise, I have a new model of what to fear. The United States in 2011.
*This is the concept set foth by Machiavelli when he said that it is better to be feared than loved because love depends on others and fear depends on the ruler. Or Orwell in 1984, saying that to get someone to do your will is to make him suffer, or how will you know the other person is doing your will and not his own. That is the mindset the Republican Party has reached.

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

On a More Personal Note

I've finally graduated from law school. Hurray! And I took the Bar Tuesday and Wednesday. If all goes well, I will be sworn in as a lawyer in September.

That just leaves one problem. Once I become a lawyer, I will no longer be an Enlightened Layperson (at least on legal matters). So if any of you still read my blog, do you have any suggestions for a new name for myself?


I Could Almost Wish . . .

If the Republican Party were sane, I could almost welcome its coming to power in 2012 (or sooner). If I believed we could recover quickly, I would almost welcome a default. But it isn't and we won't, so I have to hold on, closing my eyes and wishing for the best.

Why would I want to Repoublican Party to come to power in 2012? The answer is simple. Up till now we have been fighting the recession with fiscal and monetary expansion and, at the least, have not succeeded in achieving a strong recovery. Is a stronger stimulus called for. Maybe so, but the political will for one is not present. Republicans have made the case that the deficit is causing the recession and what is needed is deep spending cuts to free up resources for more productive uses.

If the Republican Party were sane, I would say fine. The "spend more" party has not brought about an economic revival, so let's give the "spend less" party a chance. One of two things will happen. Either it will work and the economy will recover, or it will not and the economy will get worse. If the economy gets better -- well, that's what we want after all. It would require rethinking a lot of my economic beliefs, but that seems a small price to pay for a real recovery. If the economy gets worse, then austerity will be discredited and stimulus will get a second chance. Granted, there will be a lot of personal hardship along the way, which I would prefer to avoid. But apparently the only way to discredit austerity is to try it and watch it fail. It worked with the US in the Great Depression. It worked in Asia and Latin America in the 1990's. And apparently nothing less is going to work today.

As for a default, well Megan McArdle has an excellent post up on why any attempt at an overnight 40% cut in government spending would discredit the concept VERY rapidly and probably dampen enthusiasm for spending cuts for quite some time. She thinks Republican will get the blame for such a catastrophe and be swept from office. I'm not so sure.

Be that as it may, either way the human costs will be considerable, and, as a liberal, such things upset me. But either way, if the damage could be rapidly repaired, I would consider it worth while to discredit austerity once and for all.

Unfortunately, I have no such confidence. I don't fully understand the implications of what a default will mean -- and neither does anyone else, really. But by all accounts, it will deliver a shock to a very weak economy and cause a downturn. Quite possibly, it might damage our credit rating to the point of forcing austerity and preventing any further stimulus. Almost certainly, when the economy turns down, the President will get blamed, and the Republicans will sweep in 2012.

I suppose dealing with the realities of power might eventually sober them up, but who knows how much damage they can do in the meantime? Maybe I'm letting my imagination ru away with me. Maybe President Bachman, with her newly elected Tea Party Congress won't decide that a second Great Depression is a small price to pay for getting rid of the New Deal. Maybe they won't decide that a Great Depression without a safety net is better than a Great Recession with a safety net. So maybe they won't try to force overnight 40% spending cuts, or elminate unemployment insurance, food stamps and Medicaid. Maybe they won't end Frank-Dodd, the SEC, the FDIC, and possibly the Federal Reserve. Maybe they won't sell off the national park system to timber and mining companies. Maybe they won't consider the end of 80% of all home mortgages an acceptable price for ending Fannie and Freddie. Maybe they won't revive the gold standard. But given the current mood of the Tea Party, I don't want to bet the nation's future on any of these things.

And even if the newly empowered Tea Party do only one or two of these things and are ridden out on a rail at the next election, it will be very difficult to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

About That Intuition --

Okay, I didn't see that coming. I have argued before that when terrorists attack, first intuitions about who they are are usually good. This latest one in Norway is an exception. My initial intuition was exactly the same as most people's -- that these were jihadis, probably with Al-Qaeda. Why?

Well, going over old attack , my intuitions have generally been sound. With the first attack on the World Trade Center, I (like most Americans) had no idea who it would be and did not expect and answer for months. It came within a week -- Mideastern Islamic terrorists. Okay.

With the Oklahoma City Bombing, a lot of people immediately assumed Mideastern terrorists, now in the Heartland. I didn't. I was working for the state legislature at the time and the right wing was in the midst of a freakout over having a Democrat in the White House. We were getting inundated with their literature.* So they were very much in my mind at the time of the bombing. But there was more than that. The Oklahoma City Federal Building just didn't seem like a "sexy" enough target to interest Mideastern Terrorists. An attack on the World Trade Center is an attack on America. An attack on the Oklahoma City Federal Building is an attack on the federal government.** Granted, jihadis probably don't make the distinction -- but our own domestic militias certainly do. (Besides, how many Mideastern terrorists could find Oklahoma City on a map?)

The 9-11 attacks were something different altogether. That had to be the work of Mideastern terrorists, probably Al-Qaeda. First of all, it was manifestly an attack on America, something our homegrown militias would never do. Second, it was unthinkable that our domestic terrorists would do anything that big. And third, well, Bin Laden had been in the news a lot lately, so he seemed like the obvious choice.

Much the same applies to the Madrid bombings of 2004. The Spanish government tried to blame them on the Basques, but it just wasn't credible. The Basques just didn't do anything on that scale. Jihadis did.

My intuitions have usually been sound. When a gunman shoots up Virginia Tech, I assume a crazed loner because almost all mass shootings are the work of crazed loners. When a bomb goes off at the Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane, Washington, I assume white supremacists because (1) there is a lot of white supremacist activity in the Spokane area and (2) Mari tn Luther King Day is an obvious target. When a bomb is found in Times Square, I don't pay much attention to people who think it is someone opposed to Obamacare because (1) Manhattan isn't exactly militia central, but it has a lot of Muslims, who may include at least some extremists and (2) a bomb in Times Square bears no apparent connection whatever to Obamacare. It looks more like an attack on America. When a gunman shoots down an Arizona Democratic Congresswoman meeting with constituents, I dismiss all thought of jihad and assume either a lone crazed nut or an angry constituent. (Admitted, I thought his anger would be over something a little more substantial than her inability to explain the meaninglessness of language).

So, when I read that a gunman in Norway is mowing down teens at a youth camp, I would assume lone crazed nut. Hearing it happened within an hour of a car bomb in Oslo that targeted the prime minister's office, I assume the attacks must be connected, and further assume Mideastern terrorists, probably Al-Qaeda. Why? Because although the shooting could be a crazed loner, a bomb outside the Prime Minister's office just screams terrorist. Because the two events happening so close is too neat to be a coincidence. They have to be coordinated, and that type of coordination is a hallmark of Al-Qaeda. Both the bombing, which looks like an attack on Norway's entire system of government, and the senseless slaughter of innocents at the youth camp reek of Al-Qaeda. I was surprised that the attack was in Norway instead of Denmark, land of the cartoons, but the newspapers gave plenty of possible Islamist connections. Even the news that the gunman was a blond, Nordic-looking fellow with an east Norwegian accent was not conclusive. He might be a convert, after all, chosen so as not to look suspicious.

But now it appears he is a right-wing anti-immigrant nationalists. I didn't know Norway had right wing anti-immigrant terrorists. Learning that there are doesn't really surprise me. What utterly surprises me is his choice of target. I would expect an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant terrorist to hit a mosque, or an Islamic cultural center or maybe an immigration office, but not the Prime Minister's office, and definitely not a youth camp. I can only assume he staged the attacks in hopes that Muslims would be blamed.

Update: So, it appears he chose his targets as an attack on the liberals who are enabling Muslim immigration. I realize it is a mistake to project too much about a general movement from the actions of one deranged member. But it suggests a radicalization of at least the more extreme members of the anti-immigration movement, a willingness to move away from attacks on immigrants to attacks on the core of the political establishment. (In US lingo, to move from mere hate crime to real terrorism). This is the sort of thing that is going to make authorities take right-wing threats much more seriously than in the past.
*With the sole exception of one petition signed by the John Birch Society, they were all prepared literature from out of state and not from constituents.
**Also, the bombing took place on April 19, which seasoned militia watchers says is a sacred day to militias. I did not know this at the time.