Scott Walker and the GOP’s “Safety Issue”

Rip the last six months of headlines from all the nation’s newspapers. Boil them down to a single sentence, and here’s what you get:

The American economy is growing and the Middle East is on fire.

For the Republican Party, victory in 2016 will likely depend on the degree to which they can keep the American people focused on the flames.

Which isn’t to say the Obama economy is a triumph of corporate dynamism and shared prosperity. Republicans recognize the incumbent party’s vulnerability on wage stagnation, and a few have even been experimenting with the language of class warfare. But campaigning against income inequality is no easy task for a party committed to the abolition of the Estate Tax.

Convincing Americans that their security depends on a more aggressive foreign policy is a far simpler assignment. A wide swath of the electorate already has more faith in the GOP on military matters. The only challenge will be in teaching the middle-class to fear Islamic terrorists more than their mounting mortgage payments.

To that end, Scott Walker has decided to rebrand “national security” as “the safety issue.” Walker explained his innovation to Hugh Hewitt, on the right-wing pundit’s radio show last week:

 “I think it’s come to the forefront because ‘national security’…is on page 6A of the newspaper where only a handful of us read into that. But when people see the videos, when they see the Jordanian burned alive in a cage, when they see the Egyptian Christians who were beheaded…you can see it on your phone, you can see it on your iPad…national security, foreign policy is something over there. Safety is something you feel inside your chest, you feel in your heart.”

Walker has the poll numbers to be the GOP frontrunner. But he lacks the full confidence of his party’s establishment, not least because the Wisconsin Governor seems an odd standard bearer for a “foreign policy” election.

Last month, Walker drew attention to his own inexperience with geopolitics, by citing his battles with Wisconsin’s labor unions as adequate preparation for leading the fight against ISIS, proclaiming: “If I can take on 100,000 protestors, I can take on the Islamic State!”

The comment drew criticism from across the political spectrum. And yet with “the safety issue,” Walker appears to be doubling down on the folksy hyperbole of his alleged gaffe.

By rebranding “national security” as “safety,” Walker is recasting his ineloquence on foreign policy as plainspokenness. Walker seems to accept the premise that to win in 2016 his party will need to make national security a voting issue. But he rejects the idea that doing so requires a candidate fluent in every nuance of statecraft; in fact, he implies that command of all the details on “page 6A” may actually be a handicap. Because if you want Americans to feel the threat of radical Islam in their chests, you need to describe that threat in the simplest possible terms. In other words: You need a foreign policy message so facile, even Scott Walker could convey it.

It’s a clever gambit, and if Republican primary voters are sufficiently exhausted by the Bush family, it may even prove successful.

But in a saner world, it would be an utter failure. Because when you pretend that the goal of neoconservative foreign policy is to maintain public safety rather than American hegemony, you end up spouting a lot of paranoid nonsense.

Walker told Hewittt that Americans increasingly “feel a sense of concern, particularly if they have family members or loved ones that ever want to travel again, they see France, they see Canada, they see other places around the world, not just the Middle East, and it’s a safety issue.”

If Americans look to the shootings at the Canadian parliament and the offices of Charlie Hebdo and feel afraid to leave their country, then we are some the most irrational people on the face of the Earth.

There were 160 mass shootings in the United States between 2000 and 2013. Our rate of murder by firearm is among the highest in the developed world. If a mass shooting in Paris constitutes a profound threat to our national security, how should we describe the murder of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut? And if a politician treats the former as a greater threat to our “safety” than the latter, what do you suppose he means by that word?

Later in the interview, Walker suggests that in order to address the safety issue, the President must “call out Islamic terrorism for what it is.”

Since 9/11, Islamic extremists have killed 27 Americans on U.S. soil; right-wing extremists have killed 39. In that same time period more than 400,000 Americans died in car accidents.

The truth is America’s war on “Islamic terrorism” is only a “safety issue” for those who live in the regions we bomb.

Last week, three international physicians groups released a joint report on the foreign death toll of the American led operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, since the declaration of the War on Terror. The body count came to 1.3 million.

Towards the end of his interview, Walker explained to Hewitt that radical Islam was “like a virus. You’ve got to eradicate it. You can’t take out part of it, or it will come back.”

Maybe if we kill another million people, we’ll finally be safe from such murderous ideologies.

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Scott Walker #StandsWithOccupation

While Obama reassess his relationship with Israel, Scott Walker is planning a spring fling with the Jewish state.

On Friday, Walker announced an imminent trip to the holy land, and launched a petition asking his supporters to pledge allegiance to the Netanyahu government.

The petition, titled #StandWithIsrael, features a photo of the newly re-elected prime minister, and a large block quote from the Wisconsin governor:

“We cannot afford to be passive spectators while the world descends into chaos. America must stand with our friends and stand up to our enemies. Then and only then can our standing in the Middle East and throughout the world improve and with it our own security.”

The move comes amid increasing tension between Israel and the United States. The latest tsuris was sparked by the Netanyahu campaign’s last minute efforts to consolidate right-wing support for the Likud party. Bibi entertained supporters with his best George Wallace impression, warning that the Arabs were “voting in droves.” He then promised that so long as he remained in power, he would never allow the Palestinian people to establish a sovereign state.

The latter comment was particularly destructive, since maintaining the pretense that the Netanyahu government is sincerely interested in a two-state solution has long been a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the region.

Now, as Bibi assembles a far-right coalition, President Obama is apparently trying to figure out some way of bringing diplomatic pressure to bear on a foreign administration that enjoys more support in Congress than his own.

In this context, Walker’s sudden focus on Israel makes a good deal of sense. Israel’s rightward shift may be an immediate danger to Palestinians, and a long-term disaster for the Zionist project, but it’s pretty great for the Republican party.

The Democratic coalition is increasingly made up of African-Americans and Hispanics, the only demographic groups in the country who register significant levels of sympathy for the Palestinians. But Democrats also rely on the support of Jewish voters, many of whom oppose any diplomatic separation between the United States and Israel, regardless of their opinion of the Netanyahu government. As Israel becomes a less apologetic apartheid state, Republicans may be able to use American policy towards the nation as a wedge issue.

Walker’s announcement also comes in the heat of the Adelson primary. Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, and Mike Pence will all make the pilgrimage to the Casino magnate’s Venetian resort this month. Adelson is one of the most prolific donors in both the United States and Israel, and helped fund Walker’s 2012 re-election.

On the issue of the Palestinians, Adelson sounds like he’d be more sympathetic to a final solution than a two-state one. So it’s unlikely you’ll ever hear a major Republican candidate offer even the mildest rebuke to settlement expansion for the foreseeable future.

That said, it would be unfair to paint Walker’s motives as purely cynical. The governor has been a proud supporter of apartheid since at least since his college days, when he made opposition to divestment from South Africa a central plank of his campaign for class president.

Scott Walker: Soft on Aliens?

This week, Scott Walker hired Liz Mair to run social media outreach for his incipient presidential campaign.

Unfortunately for Walker, Mair is a pro-choice, pro-immigration, Republican-in-name-only, and she ain’t afraid to tweet so:

For these heresies, as well as some tweets disparaging Steve King’s Carnival of Xenophobia (a.k.a. The Iowa Freedom Summit), the chair of the Iowa G.O.P. called for Mair’s head.

Today, Mair resigned from the Walker campaign.

Certainly, it’s less than ideal to have a “head of social media outreach” that has used social media to ridicule some of the people she’s been hired to reach out to.

Still, The Purge of Mair feels gratuitous and indicative of one of the central challenges facing the 2016 G.O.P.: How to build a national majority off a base that prides itself on ideological exclusivity?

Officially, Mair was ousted for the tone of her tweets about Iowans, not her liberal social politics. But the conservative media pushback against her hiring seemed more concerned with who Mair is and what she believes, than by anything she might have said about the Hawkeye state.

One of the many pieces that right-wing news site Breitbart ran on Mair yesterday opened with this bombshell:

“Mair, a supporter of open borders immigration, amnesty for illegal aliens and the Senate “Gang of Eight” bill from last Congress, has dual citizenship in both the United States and the United Kingdom.”

Mair is labeled a heretic three times before the verb, after which, she’s branded a secret lobsterback.

Intrepid reporter Matthew Boyle notes that Mair was born in the United States. Therefore, her dual citizenship is no tragic inheritance but a conscious choice for which she must be held accountable. Boyle demands Mair explain,“Why wasn’t US citizenship good enough?”

Mair wasn’t hired to design Scott Walker’s policy towards Great Britain. She was hired to manage some email lists. But in a crowded primary field where everyone not named Jeb is jockeying for the title of truest conservative, every impurity must be answered for. In this environment, a candidate simply can’t have a pro-choice “dual citizen” writing his hash-tags.

It’s worth noting that when Mair tweeted, “I see Iowa is once again embarrassing itself and the GOP this morning,” she was lamenting her party’s intolerant nativism. What was embarrassing to Mair was the spectacle of her party’s would-be presidents declaring their hostility to “illegal aliens”, at an event organized by one of the country’s most transparently racist Congressmen.

The ubiquity of the word “alien” is one of the more stunning features of GOP primary discourse. The term is rarely used in written policy, where the modifier “illegal” is deemed sufficiently dehumanizing. But in the Republican primary, many candidates appear uncomfortable merely adopting xenophobic policy; they feel compelled to adopt xenophobic language as well. These candidates signal their belonging to the conservative movement by literally alienating its opponents.

And this imperative to define ideological enemies as aliens isn’t limited to debates over immigration. The tribalism that leads Steve King to deny undocumented workers the title of “immigrant,” is the same that leads Scott Walker to deny President Obama the title of “Christian.” Today, in deference to that tribalism, Walker denied Mair the title of social media director.

The view that one’s political opponents aren’t fellow citizens to be persuaded, but “unAmericans” to be defeated, was the basis of Romeny’s infamous claim that “47 percent” of the electorate were unreachable moochers.

To become President, the Republican nominee will need to find a way of sneaking a few aliens back into his party’s small-tent, after spending all primary season kicking them out.

Or, he could just try to keep them from voting.

“Right-to-work” vs. The right to work

Wisconsin is a pen stroke away from becoming the nation’s twenty-fifth “right-to-work” state. A bill bearing that Orwellian appellation will arrive on Scott Walker’s desk this Monday.

“Orwellian” because so-called right-to-work laws don’t establish employment as an affirmative right. Wisconsin’s Tea Party legislature hasn’t passed a job guarantee. Rather, the new law would provide workers in unionized shops the right to enjoy the higher wages that come with union representation, without having to pay the dues that sustain that representation.

The original right-to-work law was passed in 1947, under the less propagandistic title of “The Taft-Hartley Act.” A common misconception about contemporary “right-to-work” laws is that they prohibit unionized businesses from conditioning employment on union membership. In fact, that prohibition has been in place for nearly 70 years. Taft-Hartley ended the “closed shop” era of American labor.

But the law also required every union to provide all the benefits of union membership to the non-member employees of their shop. And these aren’t limited to contractual benefits secured through collective bargaining. As Forbes’ Rick Ungar explains, the union is also required to provide full legal representation for a non-member who alleges wrongful termination:

“So rock solid is this obligation that should the non-union member employee be displeased with the quality of the fight the union has put forth on his or her behalf, that non-union member has the right to sue the union for failing to prosecute as good a defense as would be expected by a wrongfully terminated union member.”

To compensate for this remarkable obligation, Taft-Hartley required these non-members to pay “agency fees,” which were defined as that portion of a union’s dues devoted to the costs of worker’s services, as opposed to the fraction invested in political action.

Walker’s law frees non-member employees of all obligations to their employer’s unions, while maintaining the obligations those unions owe to non-members. The result is a free-rider problem, and with it, diminishing union membership and political power.

Capital chases weak labor like lions chase arthritic gazelles. Or so the data most frequently cited by advocates of right-to-work seems to suggest. Between 2003 and 2013, the 24 right-to-work states added 2.1 million more jobs than the 26 others, and boasted a 12.3 percent greater increase in manufacturing GDP.

But there are costs to courting corporate investment through the cultivation of a pliant workforce. Right-to-work states have a higher concentration of low-wage jobs and lower median household income than other states. They also invest 31.3 percent less in education and experience a staggering 54.4 percent higher rate of workplace deaths.*

For decades, the Republican Party’s pitch to American workers has been that unions and government programs actually work against their own self-interest. By introducing uncertainty into the economy, these inefficient interlopers stymie the one true source of higher living standards: economic growth.

If America’s political system weren’t so thoroughly corrupted by the influence of moneyed donors, that pitch would need to be revised for 2016.

For the past four decades, American workers’ wages have failed to keep pace with their productivity. Since the year 2000, productivity has risen 23 percent while inflation-adjusted wages have essentially stagnated.

The financial crisis has made this divorce between workers’ productivity and wages more apparent. Virtually all the income gains produced by the last two years of economic growth have accrued to the one percent. Justin Wolfers of The Upshot finds that the average income of a one-percenter rose from $871,100 in 2009 to $968,000 by the end of 2013. That same period saw the average income of the remaining 99 percent of workers fall from $44,000 to $43,900.

The reality of elite economic domination has become so stark, even Larry Summers can see it.

A leading intellect behind the Democratic Party’s shift away from aggressive fiscal and regulatory policy, Summers now says that only government intervention can lift the struggling middle-class.

At a panel on “the future of work” hosted by the centrist Democratic think thank The Hamilton Project, Summers dismissed the idea that unemployment could be reduced through education and job training programs, arguing that the nation’s core economic problem is that:

            “there aren’t enough jobs, and if you help some people, you can help them get the jobs, but then someone else won’t get the jobs. And unless you’re doing things that are affecting the demand for jobs, you’re helping people win a race to get a finite number of jobs, and there are only so many of them.”

Summers argues that, rather than training workers for jobs that don’t exist, the government could more effectively reduce unemployment by simply paying people to do all the valuable work that the private sector lacks financial incentive to perform, like taking care of old people or repairing decaying bridges.

The Tea Party and the Teamsters may not agree on the economic ramifications of right-to-work laws, but there’s no controversy about their political consequences; by undermining unions, the laws undermine liberal political organizing and fundraising.

If Summers’ analysis is correct, and full employment can’t be achieved without increasing government investment, then the most vital function of organized labor for the American working class may be its political one. At a time when the top one percent own more than a third of the country, and a couple objectivist oil tycoons plan to spend nearly a billion dollars on our next election, workers need organized labor to counter the political dominance of organized capital.

The G.O.P. goes into 2016 seriously handicapped by its slavish commitment to the interests of America’s most sociopathic oligarchs. A Pew Poll released this week found that 62 percent of Americans believe “the economic system unfairly favors powerful interests.”

Whether Democrats are able to take advantage may depend on the capacity of an emaciated labor movement to counter the influence of the party’s own plutocratic (but pro-choice!) contingent.

On Monday, Scott Walker will make that movement a little less capable.

*All these statistics need to be taken with a dollop of soy sauce.

For one thing, right-to-work states proliferate through the south and Midwest, where wages have long lagged behind those of the more heavily industrialized northeast. Such states also boast lower land and living costs, which entice business investment irrespective of labor policy. The stronger growth of jobs and productivity in these states is less impressive when one considers the possibility that they’re merely catching up with their more urbanized peers.

Still, the data seems to broadly support the logical supposition that undermining unions weakens labor, which encourages capital investment, which creates a high number of low-paying jobs.