Ordinary World

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Ordinary World
14 January 2019

As always, all linked pieces are for discussion and consideration, not as implied endorsement of the author’s views by Ordinary Times

[OW1] Referenda Delenda Est: Brexit shows how direct democracy can be dangerous By George Will: “It is dismaying that most of the binding law in Britain comes from the European Commission in Brussels. But why, with its primacy at stake, did Parliament punt one of the most momentous decisions in British history to a referendum? The bedrock principle of representative government is that “the people” do not decide issues, they decide who shall decide. And once a legislature sloughs off responsibility and resorts to a referendum on the dubious premise that the simple way to find out what people want is to ask them, it is difficult to avoid recurring episodes of plebiscitary democracy.”

[OW2] Jair Bolsonaro Is Not the New Trump. He’s Worse. By Ruth Ben-Ghiat: ““Bolsonaro is as much an apparition from Brazil’s past as a harbinger of its future,” historian Kenneth Serbin wrote at Foreign Affairs the day of the inauguration: Only a “politics of forgetting” about the violence of the military dictatorship has made his ascent possible. I’d go further: Bolsonaro advances a new phase of remembrance that rehabilitates the people and causes of that terrible time. During the 2016 congressional proceedings leading to Rousseff’s impeachment, Bolsonaro dedicated his vote against her to her torturer—Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, de facto chief of army intelligence services, which ordered Rousseff, then a leftist guerrilla, tortured for three weeks in 1970 (she was then a political prisoner for two years). Sympathizers like Bolsonaro publicly honor those who subjected Brazilians to torture methods such as “the barbecue,” where victims were tied to a metal rack and given electric shocks on and inside their bodies.”

[OW3] New Congress Should Target Tariffs, Not Tax Reform by Ross Marchand: “Where Republicans see an encroachment on the free market, Democrats see executive abuse by the president. By tackling the tariff issue, both parties can gain credibility with the hundreds of millions of American consumers who have seen their taxes gone up since the start of the trade war. One important place to start is the reassertion of congressional authority over trade matters. When the president raised tariffs last year, he invoked the little-known section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 which allows the chief executive to raise import taxes in the name of “national security.” Congress can take this broad, vague power away by insisting that “national security” tariffs be tied to an actual authorization of military force or a (vanishingly rare) formal declaration of war.”

[OW4] What Makes A Refugee? by Gary Brooks “Creating an image of false refugees, foreigners invading the UK when it’s full up and taking opportunities from the natives, is an appeal to a sense of victimization and grievance which is easily exploited. Six-hour queues for a doctor at the surgery is one example people rail against, and it’s “because of all these refugees we let in.” Rather than examine strains on the NHS due to private tendering policies or any other cause, it’s much easier to adopt the populist notion that this is only a problem because foreigners are here clogging up the system and taking the rightful place of the natives. People are upset when there is a woman in a niqab in front of them in the doctor’s office, but they rarely notice when the same hold-up is caused by Doris from flat 4B down the road.”

[OW5] Sweetheart deals for big companies aren’t what Florida needs by Alex Muresianu: “It’s hard to think of a more wasteful use of taxpayer money. For every dollar the state gave to film production companies, the state economy only grew by 18 cents. Even worse, an analysis from the University of Southern California found that film tax incentives nationwide have had a minimal — even negative — impact on economic growth. Furthermore, a report from Michigan’s state senate found that each job created by film tax incentives only lasts an average of 23 days.”

[OW6] The World Isn’t Laughing at Just Trump: American allies are laughing at the whole country by Rachel Donadio: “The moment was a silly one, a bathetic expression of competitive dominance-signaling, that nonetheless revealed something real: People confident in their own power don’t often feel the need to demonstrate it so theatrically—and for all Trump’s attempts to showcase his might, global confidence in his ability to handle international affairs is low and sinking, according to the Pew Research Center. Tellingly, whereas Macron later revealed an ironic awareness of the absurdity of The Handshake, Trump did not. The world was laughing with Macron, at Trump.”


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Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire.

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45 thoughts on “Ordinary World

  1. Semi OT but I have been getting annoyed at the stylistic tone of the Atlantic. I don’t think they know what to do in the age of Donald Trump and everything comes across as having a stroke to stay “above the fray” or “high minded”

    Recently they had an article on how 5 billion could be better spent on tightening security at legal points of entry and reforming the immigration system. All so very white paper and high toned rhetoric.

    The problem though is that articles like this don’t convince anyone but the choir. Policy and moral wise, the article was correct. As a piece of writing it was anemic.

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      • On a more charitable level, there are many people that try to reduce everything to a policy disagreement because they believe to do so otherwise would turn politics and a lot of life into a never ending war between ideological forces that can’t be reconciled. Purely technocratic policy debates about border security, immigration, healthcare, and transportation can be something you can reach compromise on. Existential debates on the whether America is a White Person’s country or a multicultural land not so much. Same with debates on whether as much should be provided through the market because the government is wrong or whether the government can and should provide certain services.

        A week or so ago I linked to an article about how the cure to the current populism rush is to return to politics as play as an anecdote the never ending apocalyptical battles. Technocratic politics is much more in line with politics as play because the stakes are a lot smaller. Losing a technocratic policy debate can be seen as losing a game. An existential issue not so much.

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        • It would be nice, except that is how the two sides end up talking past each other.

          Like:
          “We need to cut off the supply of cheap immigrant labor so as to help wages increase!”
          “Here are 5 other things that can increase wages.”
          “No, I really just want this one, that cuts off immigrant labor.”

          This is the Atwater Principle, where the real issue is kept unspoken, and proxy issues are trotted out as code words.

          I’ll keep saying it, that the modern Trump base can’t be analyzed in conventional political terms, since there is no straight line that connects all the applause lines, except racial and cultural animus.

          A $70K/ year white male electrician is a part of The People, but a $70K/ year black female community college professor is an Elite.

          Subsidy for solar power is a violation of market principles, but forcing utilities to purchase coal power is not.

          Stop and frisk is part of getting tough on crime, while pressuring Manafort to testify is akin to the Stasi.

          Really, there is no connecting tissue here, except asserting the cultural and aesthetic preferences of white, older Americans.

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          • Atwater was right but partially because so many people just don’t want to accuse someone (more like tens of millions of someones) of racism/xenophobia/bigotry because it seems like bad form.

            Or mainly because if critiques of the wall just say that wall supporters are motivated by racism and xenopobia, it might as well be an admission to never ending politics as struggle.

            What is to be done once you state this? The reason I roll my eyes at the border security article is that it is useless, not because I disagree with the reforms mentioned. No Wall supporter wants those reforms. Why bother bringing them up until Democrats control a majority?

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  2. OW 1,2,4,6
    <blockquote" The middle-class reaction to the yellow vests has been telling. Immediately, the protesters were denounced as xenophobes, anti-Semites and homophobes. The elites present themselves as anti-fascist and anti-racist but this is merely a way of defending their class interests. It is the only argument they can muster to defend their status, but it is not working anymore.

    Now the elites are afraid. For the first time, there is a movement which cannot be controlled through the normal political mechanisms. The gilets jaunes didn’t emerge from the trade unions or the political parties. It cannot be stopped. There is no ‘off’ button. Either the intelligentsia will be forced to properly acknowledge the existence of these people, or they will have to opt for a kind of soft totalitarianism.

    A lot has been made of the fact that the yellow vests’ demands vary a great deal. But above all, it’s a demand for democracy. Fundamentally, they are democrats – they want to be taken seriously and they want to be integrated into the economic order."

    -Christopher Guilluy, spiked 1/11/19

    Yellow vests, Brexit, Trump, Duterte, Five Star, Bolsonaro, Chinese Marxist clubs, the list goes on and on. I think now we are seeing a globalization of… something? And it isn’t the globalization that the chattering class was expecting.

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    • I don’t know what the yellow vests want, but I do know that the Trumpists, Brexiteers, and followers of Bolsonaro do NOT want democracy, and don’t hate the elites, at all.

      Their enemies are their fellow working class citizens, and the economic refugees and immigrants.

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      • So these people, the “Trumpists, Brexiteers, and followers of Bolsonaro” weren’t the products of a vote? How do they not want democracy? And how do they not hate the elites, as they keep electing things those elites hate?

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        • People who vote for someone who promises to put their political opponents in prison just for their politics – no, they don’t really want democracy. They’re happy to use the tools of democracy to set up its replacement, if those are the tools that are at hand.

          When voters go “Yes, please, we endorse your platform of crushing all the opposition parties so that in four years’ time if we don’t like you, there won’t be anyone left for us to replace you with” – I mean, I don’t understand it, but they are voting to have their freedom to choose taken away.

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            • No, none of those things are harming the elite.

              The massive tax cut for billionaires overcomes any loss of SALT, and the supply of cheap labor has scarcely changed.

              Beyond all the surface tweets and bizarre antics, the GOP is delivering solid returns on investment for their financial backers.

              Of course, there are collateral damages; Trump’s shutdown is going to inflict pain on the elite as the wheels of commerce slow down, and his trade wars will create pain in some sectors as they create opportunity in others.

              But at this moment, the same people who picked up their phones and ordered the Senate to pass the tax cut, haven’t yet picked up the phones to order an impeachment vote.

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              • “On December 22, 2017, President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It cuts individual income tax rates, doubles the standard deduction, and eliminates personal exemptions. The top individual tax rate drops to 37 percent.

                The Act cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent beginning in 2018. The corporate cuts are permanent, while the individual changes expire at the end of 2025.”

                https://www.thebalance.com/trump-s-tax-plan-how-it-affects-you-4113968

                So an across the board tax cut that lands the gov’t 13% more tax revenue is now a billionaires tax cut? Oh.. OK…

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                • Well it is since the billionaires get more money both in absolute terms and as a percentage terms than any other class. Also the billionaires money is in permanent tax cuts while the pennies to the poorer classes are set to expire. So sure if you hand out nickles and bucks to most people and then the 1% gets thousands it’s an across the board cut while still being a billionaires cut. And landing the government 13% more tax revenue, as opposed to what; the much bigger than 13% revenue they’d have gotten had they not done a pointless tax cut? Let us not forget how Ryan and Mitch then promptly started saying they needed to cut Social security and medicare to deal with the deficits. Gosh, big surprise on that one.
                  I mean, hell, it is and was an unpopular billionaires tax cut. The GOP couldn’t even make electoral hay out of it and keep congress.

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            • They hurt upper-middle class people who tend to vote Democratic because it is socially liberal. They don’t hurt the ultra-wealthy like Betsy Devos who can afford multiple houses and yachts.

              IIRC there were Republican congresscritters on record basically saying they were trying to stick it to blue state upper-middle class liberals and some of the resistance to the tax cuts from within the GOP came from Republicans who knew they would be toast in their districts if those deductions went out.

              You seem to be using a Republican-friendly definition of elite where elite equals the lawyer or engineer with one nice house in Lafayette or Orinda or Walnut Creek but not the really rich industrialist or other multi-millionaire who can afford several really nice houses, each of which is much more expensive than the house owned by the engineer in the East Bay.

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            • Also tightening at the border doesn’t hurt the elites cheap labor at all since it is entirely ineffective at preventing illegal immigration. It just gives elites more leverage to hold over the head of their cheap labor and say “if you don’t keep me happy it’s INS for you bucko.”
              The elites have been making out like bandits under Trump. Maybe they’re even getting tired of winning so much.

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      • The problem with “elites” is that it is a rather slippery phase that gets defined along the lines of Potter Stewart defining obscenity, people know an elite when they see one. I’d love to be able to retire the phrase from discourse but that is not this world.

        The populist right-wing seems to use “elite” to mean “upper-middle class professionals with somewhat to very artsy aesthetic tastes.” This doesn’t need to be but often is short-hand for “Damn you Jews and your love of modern art and fancy restaurants and coffee shops.”

        I’m largely a believer that when you get far enough to the left and the right, you do see a lot of idea overlap. Both these groups seem largely to dislike modern complex economies. They both seem to have utopian ideals of small towns that are self-sufficient or largely so. At most, maybe you are trading with some towns dozens of miles a away, not trading with New Zealand or China across the globe. I basically think their ideal resembles something like the Shire or Smurf Village. Problem is that they haven’t figured out how to create Biomedical Engineer Smurf and Video Game Developer Smurf yet and they never will.

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        • What’s interesting is that the word “privilege” doesn’t have this problem.

          Would it make more sense if the word “privileged” is used instead of “elite”? And not just privileged, privileged in such a way that nothing outside of politics (or worse) could be done to redistribute their privilege?

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          • Except it is often right-wingers that hate and screech at the word privileged. Having tastes that swing towards the high-brow should never be used as a short-hand for economic status but it often is. There are plenty of old bohemians on fixed incomes that like to see arthouse movies on a Tuesday afternoon in the theatre. These people don’t have much money but the anti-intellectual tendency in American society tends to turn anyone with somewhat “highbrow” tastes into an aristocrat from the old world.

            Expand on your last sentence.

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          • You know what other word doesn’t have that problem?

            ‘Rich’. ‘Wealthy’ works to some extent also, although sometimes it gets defined down a bit too low, but that’s not really too much of a worry.

            It’s funny how much work is done by the people with money to try to make themselves _not_ fall under the category of people the poor are angry at.

            Guys, there’s a finite supply of money. (There doesn’t really have to be, but that’s a whole different discussion for a different time. The general assumption is that the government can’t just print money, no matter how iffy that ‘fact’ actually is.)

            Ergo, the reason you don’t have enough money, or that the government says it doesn’t have enough money, is that the money is distributed in ways you do not like. If there is a finite thing, and you want more of it, you want others to have less. We can argue what we’re actually going to _do_ about that fact, try to come up with policies that would be fair or fit some political framework. (Vs. just taking it.)

            But literally any proposal that would result in you or the government having more money would result in them having less money. This is pretty basic math.

            And thus your opposing side in this discussion will basically always be the rich, basically by definition. The people whose money you wish to end up with, or wish the government to end up with. There’s literally no part of this that is slightly complicated.

            Yet we make it very complicated, and decide the problem is people who hang out in coffee shops vs. people who hang out in bar, or whatever nonsense we’re arguing today. Well, we less ‘decide’ that then we are informed that by the media owned and operated by the rich. Weird coincidence.

            Man, I’m feeling super Marxist today for some reason.

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            • There is a big issue where the upper-middle class professionals have become the enemy. This isn’t exactly new. Bernard Shaw famously quipped that “Morals are for the middle classes. The rich don’t need them and the poor can’t afford them.”

              There is some truth in this quip. The educated and professional classes do need to keep up a certain level of protestant work ethic/morality/whatever you want to call it because their wealth is based on income and labor, not stock/ownership usually. Plus they tended to be the people who were just really good at school and following assignments/tasks.

              The dynamic seems to be that a lot of people in the right-leaning WWC see the owners/upper managers as good kings that they cannot reach and the professionals are evil courtiers running interference. If the professionals went away, then the WWC would reach the good kings and everything would be fine and dandy.

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              • I dunno, but the way that everyone has convinced a hell of a lot of people with negative net worth that any level of inflation is bad has been somewhat astonishing.

                Although I guess the real astonishing fact is how the Fed tries to manage interest rates instead of just…taking money in and out of circulation. Imagine a world where, when the economy was operating at too high a speed, the government would just start taking taxpayer money and sequestering it. (Which would also reduce our debt.) Then when the economy slowed again, it would just send that money to people. Or even print more.

                And, of course, spend more or less, but I’m talking a much quicker dial to turn. Instead of the interest rate controlling the supply of money, let’s literally control the supply of money.

                Instead, we just loan free money to banks when times are bad, hoping that gets out to the people, minus the profits of the banks and the investors and companies they loaned money to. Like, _eventually_ that money will get in the hands of someone who is going to buy more stuff. I’m sure that makes sense to someone.

                *checks quickly* Ah, the banks say it makes sense. Well, they’re the money experts, I guess.

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                • Well there is just everyday inflation, then there is “kill the economy inflation”. Either way I don’t see the economy coming out alive on the ‘other side’. Even with the ‘trust me with the dial’ people holding the dial.

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    • The yellow vest folks here in Alberta are emphatically NOT the yellow vest folks in France whose gimmick they’re imitating. Here it’s a full-on New World Order / Sharia Law / George Soros conspiracy theory crackpot movement.

      When the Wolves of Odin and other white supremacist gangs show up at their events, the ostensible leaders can’t come up with any but the most half-hearted “I’m saying this because I have to, but you can read between the lines” denunciations.

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  3. OW6 – Graph 1 in the link provided Donadio says a lot about the world, more than it says about Trump.

    European public opinion for the past half century always looks more favorably upon left leaning Presidential administrations compared to right wing.

    They like Donald Trump somewhat less, true, but also Donald Trump doesn’t really matter. At least upon the premise of ‘respect’ or ‘prestige’.

    The US has its huge economy and its huge military. That’s what matters. Respect and prestige make things easier on the margin, for certain. But even then, Obama demonstrated very clearly how limited having those assets can be, in and of themselves.

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    • Say what you will about Trump, but a unifying attribute of the post-WW2 order is a fundamental dislike in center-left to left Europe of America running the world.

      Casual anti-Americanism has been a thing long enough before Bush jr – I remember hearing about the ‘Canadian flag on backpacks’ thing was a thing as far back as the 80s.

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