Later On

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How Morality Shapes the Presidential Contest

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Kevin Drum has a very interesting post in Mother Jones. Here’s the first part of the post; at the link you can read the rest and see a chart.

A few years ago Jonathan Haidt wrote The Righteous Mind, an attempt to understand the way different people view morality. I won’t say that I bought his premise completely, but I did find it interesting and useful. In a nutshell, Haidt suggests that we all view morality through the lens of six different “foundations”—and the amount we value each foundation is crucial to understanding our political differences. Conservatives, for example, tend to view “proportionality”—an eye for an eye—as a key moral concern, while liberals tend to view “care/harm”—showing kindness to other people—as a key moral attribute. You can read more about it here.

So which presidential candidates appeal to which kinds of people? Over at Vox, Haidt and Emily Ekins write about some recent research Ekins did on supporters of various presidential candidates. I’ve condensed and excerpted the results in the chart on the right. As you can see, Democrats tend to value care but not proportionality. Republicans are just the opposite. No surprise there. But were there any moral values that were unusually strong for different candidates even after controlling for ideology and demographics?

Yes. Sanders supporters scored extremely low on the authority axis while Trump supporters scored high on authority and low on the care axis. Outside of the usual finding for proportionality, that’s it. Hillary Clinton supporters, in particular, were entirely middle-of-the-road: “Moral Foundations do not significantly predict a vote for Hillary Clinton; demographic variables seem to be all you need to predict her support (being female, nonwhite, and higher-income are all good predictors).”

So there you have it. Generally speaking, if you value proportionality but not care, you’re a Republican. If you value care but not proportionality, you’re a Democrat. Beyond that, if your world view values authority—even compared to others who are similar to you—you’re probably attracted to Donald Trump. If you’re unusually resistant to authority, you’re probably attracted to Bernie Sanders. The authors summarize the presidential race this way: . . .

At the end of the post, Drum notes:

So which moral foundations define you? If you’re curious, click here and take the test.

I did do that (you have to register—no cost—to take the test and they collect some demographic information and obviously use the results to further their research, which is doubtless better than having all research results derived from undergraduate college students, a common target of research surveys: inexpensive and right at hand.

It’s an interesting test, although some of the questions cannot be reliably answered without further definition—e.g., “If I were a soldier and disagreed with my commanding officer’s orders, I would obey anyway because that is my duty.” — to answer that question one must know whether the order is a legal order. One has a duty to disobey illegal orders, the way I see it. Another tricky question: “Justice is the most important requirement for a society.” Obviously, it depends on what is meant by “justice.” One idea of justice is a kind of revenge: an eye for an eye. Another definition of justice is based on fairness and equal treatment.

At any rate, I—surprise!—turn out to be fairly liberal:

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 11.19.08 AM

The site has many surveys on offer—lots of research going on, apparently. This one is called “Moral Foundations Questionnaire.”

My low loyalty score stems from my observation that quite often “loyalty” means covering up crimes or misconduct committed by other members of the group to which one belongs: if you report a member of the group for committing a crime or immoral act, you’re not “loyal.” This leads to things like the large-scale cover-up of the pedophile scandal in the Catholic church: the bishops who concealed the crimes and protected the criminals were being “loyal.”

Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2016 at 1:56 pm

Judgment calls in evaluating Bernie’s healthcare plan: single-payer

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Kevin Drum gets down into the nitty-gritty of evaluating costs of proposed plans. And it’s quite interesting, showing how two people looking at the same plan can differ greatly in their estimation of costs—and thus in answering two key questions, “Is it worth it? and is it fiscally sustainable?”

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2016 at 6:15 pm

The Clinton System explained

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Simon Head writes in the NY Review of Books:

On January 17, in the final Democratic debate before the primary season begins, Bernie Sanders attacked Hillary Clinton for her close financial ties to Wall Street, something he had avoided in his campaigning up to that moment: “I don’t take money from big banks….You’ve received over $600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs in one year,” he said. Sanders’s criticisms coincided with recent reports that the FBI might be expanding its inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s emails to include her ties to big donors while serving as secretary of state. But a larger question concerns how Hillary and Bill Clinton have built their powerful donor machine, and what its existence might mean for Hillary Clinton’s future conduct as American president. The following investigation, drawing on many different sources, is intended to give a full sense of the facts about Clinton and not to endorse a particular candidate in the coming election.

It’s an axiom of Washington politics in the age of Citizens United and Super PACs that corporations and the very rich can channel almost unlimited amounts of money to candidates for high office to pave the way for later favors. According to the public service website Open Secrets, in the 2016 campaign, as of October, in addition to direct campaign contributions, Jeb Bush had at his disposal $103 million in “outside money”—groups such as PACs and Super PACs and so called “dark money” organizations that work on behalf of a particular candidate. Ted Cruz had $38 million in such funds, Marco Rubio $17 million, and Chris Christie $14 million.

Yet few have been as adept at exploiting this big-money politics as Bill and Hillary Clinton. In the 2016 campaign, as of October, Hillary Clinton had raised $20 million in “outside” money, on top of $77 million in direct campaign contributions—the highest in direct contributions of any candidate at the time. But she and her husband have other links to big donors, and they go back much further than the current election cycle. What stands out about what I will call the Clinton System is the scale and complexity of the connections involved, the length of time they have been in operation, the presence of former president Bill Clinton alongside Hillary as an equal partner in the enterprise, and the sheer magnitude of the funds involved.

Scale and complexity arise from the multiple channels that link Clinton donors to the Clintons: there is the stream of six-figure lecture fees paid to Bill and Hillary Clinton, mostly from large corporations and banks, which have earned them more than $125 million in the fifteen years since Bill Clinton left office in 2001. There are the direct payments to Hillary Clinton’s political campaigns, including for the Senate in 2000 and for the presidency in 2008 and now in 2016, which had reached a total of $712.4 million as of September 30, 2015, the most recent figures compiled by Open Secrets. Four of the top five sources of these funds are major banks: Citigroup Inc, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase & Co, and Morgan Stanley. The Clinton campaign meanwhile has set a goal of raising $1 billion for her Super PAC for the 2016 election.

Finally there is the nearly $2 billion that donors have contributed to the Clinton Foundation and its satellite organizations since Bill Clinton left office. It may seem odd to include donations to the foundation among the chief ways that corporations and the super-rich can gain access to the Clintons, earn their goodwill, and hope for future favors in return. The foundation’s funds are mostly spent on unequivocally good causes—everything from promoting forestation in Africa and helping small farmers in the Caribbean to working with local governments and businesses in the US to promote wellness and physical fitness.

Moreover, . . .

Continue reading.

He doesn’t pull his punches, does he? And certainly we’ve seen in the Obama administration just how very gently an administration can treat Wall Street: no criminal convictions, fines and fees inflated for headlines but in fact much lower—and no criminal convictions and sometimes Wall Street or big corporations are explicitly given blanket immunity in civil suits for any past wrongdoing (GM doesn’t have to pay for the many deaths caused by its ignition switch, for example). Of course, admittedly you see the same thing on the criminal side: innocent prisoners who have been locked up for four or five decades, living out their prime years in prison, are more or less forced to sign an Alford plea, which disallows any subsequent lawsuits for what was done to them. Innocent foreigners get shorter shrift yet: those innocent men who were abducted and tortured by the US, as is well known and recognized, cannot even get a court hearing: “state secrets.” Yeah, it’s a big secret that they kidnapped and tortured these guys. Not.

That may be why I find myself supporting Bernie Sanders. We tried Bill Clinton, we tried Barack Obama. Some things got better, but the looting of America continued unabated (and in the Obama administration the government went on a kind of information lockdown, slow-walking FOIA responses, classifying everything, keeping as much secret as possible (TPP negotiations, anyone?), viciously persecuting whistleblowers who pointed out government waste (the billions NSA blew away for nothing: Thomas Drake) or government lawbreaking (the illegal wiretaps of GWB: the Department of “Justice,” as it’s quaintly called, is right now going after a DOJ employee who released that to the public. The charge is, I suppose, failure to cover up illegal acts.). The US government overtly becomes more authoritarian as we watch it. And we read many stories about, for example, how the Chicago PD on the whole breaks their dash cams and/or do not turn them on—and Chicago is not alone: it’s a national problem. Police departments really do think that outsiders should just accept what they do, and civilian review panels are treated with contempt in some cities.

So I think people are sort of fed up and do not want, “Steady as it goes.” I think a lot of people think that, if the game is rigged, as it truly is (see the Michael Lewis book (and now movie) The Big Short), then for the love of Pete, let’s change the game.

Bernie is talking about changing the game. Hillary thinks she can give us a slide edge on the house, maybe. But see article above: Hillary is not going to be able to disrupt that rigged game: it is that on which the Clinton System depends.

So Bernie for me.

UPDATE: See also this Salon post by Curtis White.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2016 at 1:07 pm

Jane Mayer on the method behind the Koch brothers’ brilliant madness

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David Daley in Salon interviews Jane Mayer about her book about the Kochs, Dark Money:

Jane Mayer is the best reporter we have, period. In one truly essential book after another, she gets behind the scenes and to the real truth of the most important stories — and the hardest stories to cover — in American politics today.

Her latest book is Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, and damn if Mayer doesn’t unpack — clearly, tenaciously, intently — every tentacle of the Koch brothers’ megamillion-dollar operation to reshape politics and policy, no matter how brilliantly the Kochs tried to bury and disguise its roots. (Or, as she shares in this book, no matter how much digging private investigators believed to have Koch ties did into her personal and professional life.)

The book’s roots emerged from Mayer’s brilliant New Yorker stories on the Kochs, including this political thriller about the “billionaire brothers who are waging a war on Obama,” and this masterful look at how the Koch network and other wealthy and often secret GOP donors remade North Carolina politics after Citizens United.  Go order a copy right now, then come back.

We sat down with Mayer last week in New York to talk about the Kochs, the audacious Republican plan to remake state and national politics, the impact that conservative money has had on the media and universities, and much more.

I loved your history of the Powell Memorandum, which feels like the clarion call in many ways that started billionaires and big business thinking seriously about how to use their money to influence the political process. Lewis Powell had been a lawyer for the tobacco industry, and would become a justice on the Supreme Court, but in the early 1970s he sounded the alarm to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That’s almost the starting line for the decades-long process of building think tanks and foundations and conservative media — but you dug out new information on what Powell was up to. How influential was he, and what did he help create?

I think it was the Rosetta Stone in some ways. It was 1971 and Lewis Powell had been a lawyer for the tobacco industry. He had felt firsthand the sting of the modern-regulatory state as the government began to crack down on tobacco for health reasons and he was trying to defend it. What I found that was new and interesting came when I got ahold of Richard Mellon Scaife’s unpublished memoir. It tells this story of how he’s in this little tiny club with Lewis Powell; they call it “The Committee to Save Carthage.” And what they want to do is be an elite that will get together and save America by really sacking American politics. They want to have basically a surprise attack on American politics — and they plan it. Richard Mellon Scaife’s got the money and Powell’s got the ideas. And what they build very deliberately is a counter-intelligentsia. What’s so interesting about Powell is that what he sees as the enemy is not the hippies, or the yippies, or even the anti-war movement necessarily, which was sort of still going in 1971.

He identified the enemy as the universities and the educated elite.

Right, the enemy for big business in America was the intelligentsia. The educated elite, the media, the scientists specifically, judges were very key. They wanted to change the whole judiciary and influence opinion-makers. And so they set out to build this counter-intelligentsia and Scaife describes in his memoir how he put — what he reckons by modern dollars — $1 billion into this project, which is a stupendous amount of money. It comes from the Gulf Oil fortune that he inherited and he’s working with Powell. Powell then gets on the Supreme Court, but they build the early foundations, literally, that created, and they use private philanthropy, which gives these families huge tax deductions to essentially propagate theories that serve their personal interests, their personal financial interests.

Let alone the specific regulatory interests they have in front of Congress.

Right — it’s almost like a lobbying operation disguised as a charity. They build up the think tanks that we all know, the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute — which already existed but they pour more money into it — the Cato Institute becomes the special think tank of the Koch family, and several others. And these counter-intellectual centers start waging a war of ideas. Then they very deliberately move on into the universities too.

What’s so impressive to me is the ruthless efficiency of the right’s strategy. They had a plan in 1971. Year after year, they have stuck to and refined the script. They keep executing on all of these fronts — whether it is pouring money into judicial races, funding  free-enterprise professors at business schools, supporting the conservative media. Over 40 years, all of these projects have taken shape and paid dividends.

Exactly. And I think one of the things that’s most important that the Kochs have done is to subsidize programs in universities and colleges all over the country. It’s hard to count because they’re not transparent particularly, but there’s somewhere between 220 and maybe 300 universities and colleges now that have Koch-funded programs.

What they would say, of course, is, well, the universities are left-leaning and liberal — but the thing is what they’re doing is subsidizing one point of view, whereas the others have grown organically because it’s academic freedom, and that happens to be what the scholars are teaching and believing. They instead are waging a war of ideas, but one in which they push their own point of view by paying for it, and paying universities to push it. And it’s growing at a very fast clip at this point.

One of the things in the final chapter of the book, there is a tape of them talking about all of this, at one of the secret meetings the Kochs hold, with the donor group that they’ve assembled. And their operatives are saying, “We’ve created something that the other side (meaning the liberals) can’t compete with, it’s unrivaled.” And they say, “What it is is a pipeline, a talent pipeline.” And they describe it: You take the most promising students that you can convert to your point of view and you move them on through the other institutions that they’ve got, which are political think tanks, advocacy groups, turning them into people who work in their campaigns, authors, media personalities.

They talk about this in such an amazing way and openly, because they’re talking in front of their own group, that they’ve created an integrated network. And it is an integrated network.

Did you ever step back and just marvel at both the audacity and the success of what they imagined and what they pulled off?

It’s kind of astounding when you look at the thing all together. You understand when you look at it, that of course it’s been designed by engineers.

And what’s interesting is — it’s not what people often write about, in the daily press they talk about it as something that’s just about winning elections. They are aiming at elections, and they’ve won many and they’ve lost some. But it’s much more comprehensive than that, it’s much more ambitious than that. It’s aiming at shaping the whole conversation of the country. They want to be the gatekeepers for policy, what’s decided, how it’s talked about.

What’s the back story of this book? You’ve covered Washington for decades — how did you begin to realize this network existed and had such tentacles? . . .

Continue reading.

And definitely read the whole thing. It’s a startling story she tells, and it’s well-founded in facts.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2016 at 2:17 pm

Bernie Sanders Gets Group Endorsements When Members Decide; Hillary Clinton When Leaders Decide

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Interesting finding: elites speak to (and support) elites and control things, and the rest of us have to shift for ourselves.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 January 2016 at 9:54 am

The Seven Stages of Establishment Backlash: Corbyn/Sanders Edition

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Glenn Greenwald comments in The Intercept:

The British political and media establishment incrementally lost its collective mind over the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the country’s Labour Party, and their unravelling and implosion shows no signs of receding yet. Bernie Sanders is nowhere near as radical as Corbyn: they are not even in the same universe. But, especially on economic issues, Sanders is a more fundamental, systemic critic than the oligarchical power centers are willing to tolerate, and his rejection of corporate dominance over politics, and corporate support for his campaigns, is particularly menacing. He is thus regarded as America’s version of a far-left extremist, threatening establishment power.

 For those who observed the unfolding of the British reaction to Corbyn’s victory, it’s been fascinating to watch the DC/Democratic establishment’s reaction to Sanders’ emergence replicate that, reading from the same script. I personally think Clinton’s nomination is extremely likely, but evidence of a growing Sanders movement is unmistakable. Because of the broader trends driving it, this is clearly unsettling to establishment Democrats – as it should be.A poll last week found that Sanders has a large lead with millennial voters, including young women; as Rolling Stone put it: “young female voters support Bernie Sanders by an expansive margin.” The New York Times yesterday trumpeted that, in New Hampshire, Sanders “has jumped out to a 27 percentage point lead,” which is “stunning by New Hampshire standards.” The Wall Street Journal yesterday, in an editorial entitled “Taking Sanders Seriously,”declared it is “no longer impossible to imagine the 74-year-old socialist as the Democratic nominee.”

Just as was true for Corbyn, there is a direct correlation between the strength of Sanders and the intensity of the bitter and ugly attacks unleashed at him by the DC and Democratic political and media establishment. There were, roughly speaking, seven stages to this establishment revolt in the UK against Corbyn, and the U.S. reaction to Sanders is closely following the same script:

STAGE 1: Polite condescension toward what is perceived to be harmless (We think it’s really wonderful that your views are being aired).

STAGE 2: Light, casual mockery as the self-belief among supporters grows (No, dears, a left-wing extremist will not win, but it’s nice to see you excited).

STAGE 3: Self-pity and angry etiquette lectures directed at supporters upon realization that they are not performing their duty of meek surrender, flavored with heavy doses of concern trolling (nobody but nobody is as rude and gauche online to journalists as these crusaders, and it’s unfortunately hurting their candidate’s cause!).

STAGE 4: Smear the candidate and his supporters with innuendos of sexism and racism by falsely claiming only white men support them(you like this candidate because he’s white and male like you, not because of ideology or policy or contempt for the party establishment’s corporatist, pro-war approach).

STAGE 5: Brazen invocation of right-wing attacks to marginalize and demonize, as polls prove the candidate is a credible threat (he’s weak on terrorism, will surrender to ISIS, has crazy associations, and is a clone of Mao and Stalin).

STAGE 6: Issuance of grave and hysterical warnings about the pending apocalypse if the establishment candidate is rejected, as the possibility of losing becomes imminent (you are destined for decades, perhaps even generations, of powerlessness if you disobey our decrees about who to select).

STAGE 7: Full-scale and unrestrained meltdown, panic, lashing-out, threats, recriminations, self-important foot-stomping, overt union with the Right, complete fury (I can no longer in good conscience support this party of misfits, terrorist-lovers, communists, and heathens).

Britain is well into Stage 7, and may even invent a whole new level (anonymous British military officials expressly threatened a “mutiny” if Corbyn were democratically elected as Prime Minister). The Democratic media and political establishment has been in the heart of Stage 5 for weeks and is now entering Stage 6. The arrival of Stage 7 is guaranteed if Sanders wins Iowa. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 January 2016 at 9:53 am

Interesting post on Donald Trump’s lack of business acumen

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Kevin Drum lays it out in his blog post “Donald Trump is a Mediocre Businessman.”

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2016 at 2:11 pm

Posted in Business, Election, GOP, Politics


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