Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Rand Paul's Ferguson article is a compelling critique of private property

Rand Paul, on Ferguson:
In the search for culpability for the tragedy in Ferguson, I mostly blame politicians. Michael Brown’s death and the suffocation of Eric Garner in New York for selling untaxed cigarettes indicate something is wrong with criminal justice in America. The War on Drugs has created a culture of violence and put police in a nearly impossible situation.
In Ferguson, the precipitating crime was not drugs, but theft. But the War on Drugs has created a tension in some communities that too often results in tragedy. One need only witness the baby in Georgia, who had a concussive grenade explode in her face during a late-night, no-knock drug raid (in which no drugs were found) to understand the feelings of many minorities — the feeling that they are being unfairly targeted.
Paul is right that the War on Drugs has contributed to poverty in Ferguson, but the evidence he brings up is pointing to a bigger cause. Michael Brown was killed for violating rules about private property. Eric Garner was killed for violating rules about private property. Georgia's SWAT team used force to break into a private residence (culminating in the use of the grenade) because of rules about state access to private property.

It is profoundly stupid to rely on a handful of anecdotal examples to make a highly controversial policy argument, which Paul knows perfectly well. But as long as we're doing that, we might as well note that what every given instance of police violence has in common is an attempt to observe and enforce the rules of private property. Ergo, the obvious solution is to eliminate private property. Right?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The right's conception of power is completely upside-down

Some guy named Chip Jones, writing for some blog called Conservative Report:
When management issues arise in large corporations that are due to size, reorganization ensues. Most often, affiliates are created that maintain their own individual CEO’s, yet answer to a common board of directors, who share a common membership. But isn’t this the exact model our Founding Fathers created for this great Republic? A common board with limited powers overseeing affiliates? The Federal government, limited in its powers, over empowered States?
You could, I suppose, compare our government to a common board with limited powers overseeing affiliates - but that's not how corporations operate. The board of a corporation is absolutely sovereign. Corporations are almost always structured like absolute dictatorships, with an extremely vertical hierarchy of power and ambits that only have upper limits. If a corporation operated like American democracy, then (to take one obvious but crucial example) workers would be able to elect their managers. That is the exact opposite of what actually happens in a corporation.

The right makes this sort of error because it has become hyper-sensitive to the problems of government hierarchy - and completely numb to the problems of hierarchy, and power in general, in the private sector.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I shouldn't have to do this

And yet here we are: a point-by-point rebuttal of H.A. Goodman's ridiculous I'm A Liberal Democrat. I'm Voting For Rand Paul:

1. Rand Paul will be more hawkish in office than Clinton.

To paraphrase the Rep. Barney Frank, Senator Paul has always been able "to luxuriate in the purity of his irrelevance." He has spent most of his political career not facing election and not facing difficult votes. His two nays on defense budgets, for example, were predictably inconsequential protest gestures against bills that were always going to pass with 90+ votes.

When you look at the few times Paul has faced any kind of significant pressure or incentive to change his dovish posture, his response has been telling. Under fire by Republican hawks like Cheney and Guiliani when he sought the Republican nomination, Paul's campaign released statements like "Bottom line, Rand is not in favor of closing down Guantanamo Bay" and "He is not for wholesale withdrawal [from Iraq and Afghanistan]...now that were there we have to win." And as Paul closed in on that primary victory, the National Review noted that he avoided difficult foreign policy questions, since his opponent "Tray Grayson might have been able to paint him out of the GOP mainstream."

Now that Paul needs the GOP mainstream's support again, he is once again adopting a hawkish posture. As Olivia Nuzzi writes, "these days, Paul is publicly entertaining the idea of bombing Iraq, while his advisers have touted him as the second coming of Cold warriors like Dwight Eisenhower...George H.W. Bush....and Ronald Reagan".

The point here is not that Paul is secretly a hawk, and his image as a dove  deceptive ruse. The point is that Paul, like most politicians, is whatever the politics of the moment need him to be. On the many occasions when it's been useful Paul has railed against war and empire, and on the few when it's been useful he's sounded exactly like every other interventionist in Washington.

When we abandon the naive idea that an idealistic politician is going to single-handedly reign in US empire, a different picture of Paul emerges. He would be beholden to the same hawkish constituency and the same network of Republican warmongers that every Republican president is. Like Clinton, many of his allies will be those in Washington who are already calling for war in Iran, Ukraine, and elsewhere. Unlike Clinton, he will have few political allies calling for peace.

2. Rand Paul's position on the NSA is correct - and relatively trivial.

Goodman complains that none of the other candidates for President have made opposition to NSA spying "a top priority in their campaign." Thank god. The NSA surveillance programs may be in direct and obvious opposition to both the rule of law and liberal privacy ideals, but they are also among the least oppressive and least consequential injustices known to man. No liberal who cares about the problems of yawning inequality, increasingly violent racism, pervasive poverty, or any of the other hallmark concerns of the left can look at NSA surveillance and pretend that it hurts Americans more than those more urgent issues. Even if Clinton comes down on the wrong side of this issue, it is largely a first work boutique problem frantically hyped by Libertarians hoping to turn Americans against the government.

3. Rand Paul has teamed up...to reform the criminal justice system.

Again, it's profoundly misleading to take Paul's political maneuvers as an irrelevant Senator as precedent for his potential as president. There is no reason to believe that this kind of legislation would ever reach Paul's desk given the still-overwhelming bipartisan opposition in both chambers of Congress. To accept this as a consideration is to prioritize aspirational pipe dreams over the actual practical consequences of a Paul presidency.

4. Paul is worse than Clinton on Wall Street.

This is one of the most egregious problems with Goodman's argument, and frankly calls into serious question his credibility as any kind of liberal. Paul is a libertarian radical who believes that Wall Street can regulate itself and that problems of economic corruption / injustice are necessarily problems of government intervention. His critique of "the GOP's love affair with corporations" is transparent populist demagoguery built entirely on the right-wing premise that big corporations will spontaneously wither away in the hyper-competitive market of a laissez faire utopia.

Clinton, like Obama, is a liberal state capitalist who will maintain a corporate welfare state and turn a blind eye to financial corruption. But she will also do all of the minimal things that Democrats do to make late capitalism slightly less horrific than it could be - like promote imperfect legislation to patch systematic problems, not destroy the Federal Reserve, and so on.

5. Rand Paul thinks Edward Snowden

lol, see 3

6. Rand Paul publicized the issue of a possible government drone strike, on American soile, against American citizens.

This is if anything a great reason to vote against Rand Paul. As I wrote elsewhere, this is ridiculous for three reasons. First, there is no coherent reason why we should expect a separate legal or ideological disposition for one form of state violence as against all of the others we do accept - simply because it's delivered by a drone. Second, a related point: if we are concerned about state violence against Americans, there are much bigger and more urgent issues than drones, as anyone in Ferguson right now can attest. And third, even if we are specifically concerned about state violence via drone, drone strikes against Americans should still be at the bottom of our priority list, since the overwhelming majority of victims aren't Americans. And Paul, incidentally, is on record supporting drone strikes against them.

7. Rand Paul could bring back an era in American politics when conservatives and liberals socialized with one another.

This is crazy, utopian thinking, though it certainly reveals much of the motivation behind Goodman's endorsement. The partisan divide in America is not some superficial controversy imposed by evil or inept politicians; it is the expression of real and substantial disagreements and the collision of powerful socioeconomic interests that we're all invested in. Rand Paul is not going to magically cause racism to disappear or ameliorate class antagonisms - more than likely, in fact, he would make both worse.

8. Rand Paul will not gut the economic safety nets of this country

This is completely false; Goodman is either uninformed or deliberately misleading. For example, Goodman claims that Paul "doesn't want to dismantle Social Security," but Paul is on record calling it a Ponzi scheme, calling for its privatization and implementing other policies (like raising the retirement age) that fall under every definition of "dismantle Social Security" there is. His rhetoric mirrors the rhetoric of every Republican, and if anything he is more ambitious.

9. Neoconservatives hate Rand Paul.

This is only a half truth, since - as mentioned in point one - Paul will still be politically dependent on them. Neoconservatives are a large and influential faction of the Republican coalition, and unlike Clinton, Paul has to bargain with them. Personal rivalries with the Cheneys are mostly irrelevant.

10. Rand Paul could be the answer to our philosophical conundrum as a nation.

It's unclear what Goodman thinks this "conundrum" is, but he does take the opportunity to complain about "a Democratic Party more focused on defending Obamacare than stopping endless wars or protecting civil liberties". It's unclear why he thinks this some kind of self-evident problem. Government threats to our civil liberties are a much less pressing problem than the basic issue of affordable health care; we should be more concerned about preserving Obamacare. Regarding war, the left has clearly made a tactical calculation that its energies are best spent keeping right-wing radical hawks (McCain, Romney) out of office. This is not a great solution, but there's no reason to suppose that Rand Paul provides any kind of alternative.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Friedersdorf disappointed that Obama governs like an American president

For the paradigm example of Conor Friedersdorf's critique of the Obama Presidency, skip down to grievance number five:
Obama took...actions that set extremely dangerous precedents...he waged a war of choice in Libya without permission from Congress.
There is no universe in which this works as an Obama precedent. The military actions that presidents have authorized without Congressional approval have numbered, historically, in the triple digits. Which ones count as "wars" and "wars of choice" will depend on who you ask, but Friedersdorf has a hilariously steep hill to climb if he's going to exclude all of them, while singling out Libya as the camel's nose in the tent. There's an extensive history of critics alleging precisely this point of unconstitutionality against presidents, and if Friedersdorf is unacquainted with this it can only be because he's completely unacquainted with the anti-war left.

None of this absolves Obama, of course, from any kind of moral judgment. But as a simple matter of practical assessment, it does lay down a marker of what we can expect from a modern American president. To support Obama and approve of the job he is doing is not to endorse him as an ideal - it is to compare him to the alternatives on offer. Not in Imaginationland, but in the grim reality of 21st century American politics.

This perspective is worth consulting when critics like Friersdorf characterize Obama's defenders on the left as blinkered Pollyannas failing "to see it all with open eyes". It's precisely because we see history - all of it - that we judge Obama accordingly. When demagogues like Rand Paul float visions of world peace before us, and ask us to judge the sitting president by that standard, we think back just six years ago when another Senator said the same things. We remember.