How the Deal Went Down

Here’s the story, according to Richard Reeves at truth[sic]dig:

Taking a few moments away from their normal business of stopping progress, those dastardly teabaggers held speaker of the house John Boner hostage (presumably at musket-point) and “blackmailed their opponents” into accepting a debt deal that nobody in America, save for this gaggle of “know-nothings” nostalgic for the 18th century, wanted.  And Obama, president of the United States, most powerful man ever, just went along with it.  Why?  Because, poor trusting sap that he is, he believed Boner could “deal with the hostage-takers,” but tragically he was wrong.

I think some of the folks at truthdig need to keep digging.

Manning the Gate

Matt Yglesias on why it’s bad that Kentucky voters nominated a “lunatic” like Rand Paul to run for the Senate, even though it helps the Dems’ chances of winning the election:

My view of how politics works is that there are very strong forces at work in the two party system driving it toward long-term equilibrium. Ideological extremism, tactical blundering, bad luck, etc. can hurt a party and reduce its odds of gaining power. But ultimately the odds don’t ever stray all that far from 50-50. So it matters a lot what’s going on. I’m sure David Axelrod is hoping Sarah Palin gets the Presidential nomination in 2012 since she’ll be somewhat easier to beat than the alternatives. I’m hoping the GOP nominates someone who stands some chance of doing a decent job if he or she wins.

First off, of course he doesn’t bother elaborating on just what exactly makes Rand Paul a “lunatic”; this is supposed to be self-evident, I guess.  (In fairness, I don’t read Yggie very often, so he may well have gone into this before.  Also, I’ll admit I don’t know much about Paul either—I’ve seen a video of one of his campaign ads, which was peddling the usual conservative mix of jingoism and xenophobia—so Yglesias’ assessment may well be correct.)  However, my suspicion, based in part on the passage quoted above, is that what makes Paul a nutjob is that his views fall outside of the pathetically narrow confines of “acceptable opinion,” which, when you get down to it, is the line of shit that people like Yglesias are peddling—“long term equilibrium,” “odds [that] don’t ever stray all that far from 50-50”—in other words, a mushy, middle-of-the-road, vanilla-flavored centrism that eschews any even slightly controversial position for fear of being viewed as some kind of “extremist.”  This is the way things are, and the way things ought to be.  Opposition to imperial wars and the national security state?  How about idiotic drug laws that imprison thousands of people for a victimless crime?  Nah, those are positions that only a nutbar would take.  Back to the center folks, between the painted lines.  I mean, why not dispense with the charade altogether and just come out and say it: What we need is a one-party system—of an enlightened, “progressive” variety, of course.

Why Regulations Are a Joke

This is sort of a companion piece to my teabagger post–more specifically, an expansion on my suggestion that maybe regulations themselves are part of the problem when dealing with corporate crimes.  I’ll let Kevin Carson explain (emphasis added):

Interestingly, an Alternet commentator on the Tea Party story wrote:  “I’m sure those people cheering every insane thing he [CEO Don Blankenship of Massey Energy] said at that rally will blame the government for failing to stop him, thus proving once again that it can’t do anything right.”

Well, yeah.  The mine safety and anti-pollution regulations, in this case, are a good illustration of why the corporate state replaced traditional tort liability standards under the common law with a regulatory state in the first place.

Now, you’d think tort liability for the full damages of wholesale devastation of the entire countryside, the poisoned water and coal dust, the deaths from gross negligence, and all the rest of it, would seriously undermine the profitability of mountaintop removal.  And you’d be right.

That’s exactly what the regulatory state was created to avoid.  Let’s look at a little history.  I can’t recommend strongly enough “The Transformation of American Law,” by Morton Horwitz.  According to Horwitz, the common law of tort liability was radically altered by state courts in the early to mid-19th century to make it more business-friendly.  Under the traditional standard of liability, an actor was responsible for harm that resulted from his actions — period.  Negligence was beside the point.  Courts added stricter standards of negligence and intent, in order to protect business from costly lawsuits for externalities they might impose on their neighbors.  The regulatory state subsequently imposed far weaker standards than the traditional common law; the main practical effect was to preempt what remained of tort liability.  A regulatory standard amounts to a license to commit torts below the threshold of that standard, and lawsuits against polluters and other malfeasors can be met with the defense that “we are fully in compliance with regulatory standards.”  In some cases, as with food libel laws or product disparagement laws, even voluntarily meeting a more stringent standard may be construed as disparagement of products that merely meet the regulatory standard.  For example, Monsanto has had mixed success in some jurisdictions suppressing the commercial free speech of those who advertise their milk as free from rBGH; and conventional beef producers have similarly managed in some cases to prevent competitors from testing for mad cow disease more frequently than the law mandates.

So a class action suit against a coal mining company for the public nuisance created by mountaintop removal could be thwarted by simply demonstrating that the operation met EPA regulatory standards, even if such operations caused serious harm to the property rights and quality of life of the surrounding community.

This is why I have to laugh whenever I hear some politician–or, worse yet, some d0-gooder “progressive”–braying about the need for more stringent regulations of this or that industry.  I mean, shit.  Who do you think is going to be in the room, campaign donation check in hand, when these things get written?

Back to Carson:

I think it’s fair to say that Mr. Blankenship is one of the most loathsome pigs ever to contaminate the Earth with his presence.  And the dumbed-down regulatory state — by offering wrist-slap fines worth a tiny fraction of the harm caused by his terrorism, as a substitute for free juries of his neighbors nailing his scrote to the wall for his crimes — has played a key role in enabling him.

Whole article here.

There’s a Teabagger Under My Bed

Over at True/Slant, Allison Kilkenny is worried about the teabaggers.  It’s not so much the would-be Travis Bickles or Rupert Pupkins who’ve made the news lately (and who may or may not have anything whatsoever to do with the tea party movement, but nevermind), although they are a cause for concern; no, the real worry is that the teabaggers “will convince and/or provide the federal government with the excuse to withdraw from the public at a time when the country badly needs government-provided services and regulation.”

But, as Kilkenny herself notes, the government is already not doing such a great job, teabaggers or no, of providing those badly needed services and regulations:

First, there actually aren’t enough independent regulators to cover all industries. Second, the criminals who get caught violating codes and breaking laws don’t get punished very seriously — if at all. Finally, there has been zero effort to seriously reform the worst-offending industries like the financial sector. Too Big To Fail and the complex derivatives, which created the Economic Armageddon, are both still in place — untouched by the government or regulators.

And she acknowledges that this has something to do with campaign contributions and the “revolving door” between jobs in the government and jobs in the industries being regulated.

At this point you might think that it would be at least worth considering the possibility that there’s something inherent in government regulation itself that’s the problem, and that the anti-government folks, misguided as a lot of them may be, might have a point.

But no. 

That could undermine the entire progressive myth about how the function of government is to protect the little guy from the rapacious capitalist fat cats (rather than being a tool used by the fat cats to keep the little guy in his place).  The more plausible scenario, apparently, is that a bunch of yahoos wearing fuzzy tricornered hats, who yearn for the freedom to “roam the woods, chopping their own firewood and stitching together clothing made from deer hide” are discouraging the government from doing its job and allowing the bankers and corporate CEOs to plunder and pollute with impunity.

I have an alternative theory: That people like Kilkenny, by focusing their ire at a bunch of nobodies who are aware, no matter how dimly, that the system does not exist to serve their interests, are helping to divert people’s attention from the government’s role in screwing them over.