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From Their Own Mouths

Thursday, June 30, 2005
Trolling the blogosphere this morning, I discovered that the wingnuts are all in a tizzy because some pan-Islamic organization wants a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. This is a ridiculous notion, of course, but I find Dean's World's response more than a little amusing:

I say that the day that every single member of the OIC is a nation which holds free elections with universal franchise, genuine opposition parties, and free political expression enshrined in its body of law, that is a perfectly fine idea.

This coming from a conservative? The guys who want to gerrymander & suppress the the vote, eliminate (or least cripple) the Democratic Party, intimidate journalists and dissenters, and generally be illberal jerkoffs? That's rich.

P.S. I found somethings similar in Bush's speech the other day....

The terrorists who attacked us and the terrorists we face murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance and despises all dissent.

Sounds like a pretty good definition of today's Republican party to me. Except for the murder part.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:46 AM

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More of the Same

Wednesday, June 29, 2005
So I read Bush's speech. We'll stay the course, things in Iraq are great, Iraq = 9/11, blah blah blah. I'll leave it to the likes of Juan Cole to parse the details of what the Shrub said. There was very new little of substance to the speech, whatver the likes of Powerline have to say.

What I find more disturbing than the speech itself was the reaction of the press. I was watching the CNN coverage this morning. They didn't dwell on the facts of the issue: Bush's proposals and the situation on the ground. Instead there were polls and discussion about what the reaction to the speech was. When did it become the media's job to report not what is true but what is perceived to be true?

There are two items I'd like to cover. First, this issue of whether or not there should be a timetable for withdrawal. Bush & Co. think that there shouldn't be because it would send a message that we are not in it for the long haul - all the rebels have to do is wait us out. There is some logic to this, but it neglects the possibility that the citizens of Iraq might like to know when we are leaving, if ever. The talk of permanent U.S. bases may not be on the radar screen here, but I'm willing to bet it's a little bigger of an issue over there.

Second, I want to reply to Captain's Quarters, a conservative blog that went at the editorial criticisms of Bush's speech. Hargues that 1) there is a link between Iraq and 9/11, given Saddam's links to terrorists, and 2) that building a democratic Iraq and fighting terrorists are part of one overall strategy.

I find this persistent confusion between Iraq and terrorism bizarre. The links between Saddam and terrorist were tenuous at best. If this is your criteria, why not go after countries with a much closer relationship to Al Qaeda, like Iran or Syria? And if your goal is to reduce terrorism, why inflame anti-American passions in an attempt to create what may be a democratic regime that might be supportive of the U.S.? It's an awfully circuitous route to a nearby goal.

And of course there Captain Ed's failure to point out that the link between Iraq and 9/11 has an important domestic political purpose for Bush. Do he just not think of it, or does he not want to mention it?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:45 AM

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Something's Gotta Give

Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Riddle me this dear readers: How do you reconcile the following trends?

1) The war in Iraq, and U.S. military involvement elsewhere, shows no signs of ending any time this decade. Anyone who suggests as much is demonized as "un-American."

2) The army's recruiting figures are in the toilet. There just aren't enough people willing to die for the Neocon's imperial dreams.

3) The American people are overwhelmingly against a re-institution of the draft.

This is the basic flaw in the design of Bush & Co. for a Pax Americana. Successful empires are motivated by the spirit of domination. But America is motivated in large part by the spirit of acquisition. We'd rather make a buck than beat it out of someone. There's just not enough popular support for militarism once the price tag is known.

So what are they going to do? Get us out of Iraq and scale back their aggressive foreign policy? Or try to ram through a draft by hook or by crook to keep their ambitions alive?

You tell me.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:44 AM

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Pre-emptive Warfare

Monday, June 27, 2005
Today is the last day of the Supreme Court's 2004-05 session, and it may also be the first day of the rest of our lives. It is quite possible that one of the Supreme Court Justices will resign in the next couple of days. If that happens, we will all be tossed into a crapstorm the likes of which we haven't seen since the 2000 election fiasco.

No matter who resigns (although it would less intense were it Rehnquist), there is going to be a first-class political battle over the next Supreme Court Judge. Bush, if he is smart, will appoint a young, archconservative Latino. That way he can force liberals to either swallow another Clarence Thomas or risk alienating a swing constituency. I can hear it now: " Democrats are racist, anti-Hispanic bigots." Under this sort of pressure, enough Democrats in the Senate will then defect to prevent a filibuster, and we will have 30 years of a lunatic on the Court. Ugh.

So what can we do to avoid this clever (but telegraphed) play by the Theocons? I think we should do something unexpected: let'snominate our own judge to the Supreme Court . Let's try to put the "advise" back in "advise and consent. "We should pick a moderately conservative judge in his late fifties with impeccable judicial credentials. Hell, let's come up with a whole list of judges. And a few of them will just happen to be from demographics we like - women, blacks, latinos, etc.

What this does is give us a nice contrast to whatever wingnut Bush is going to nominate. We can say: "Look, we don't expect the President to select a liberal. We just want a sober, experienced judge who believes in restraint and has the right kind of temperment. Take these excellent judges for example..." This maneuver not only eliminates the whole "Democrats are just obstructionists" theme, but it provides cover for Democrats wanting to oppose a radical judge who happens to be a minority. It present us as agents of compromise, and as people who are interested in restoring the prerogratives of the Senate. This last point is important because it sets up any new debate over the "nuclear option."

Will any of the people we name be put on the Court? Of course not. But it just might stop Bush from appointing any outright psychotics.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:43 AM

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Don't Know Much About History...

Sunday, June 26, 2005
Anne Applebaum has evinced a major concern at the lack of historical knowledge exhibited by today's youth, a problem that Kevin Drum notes is not limited to children. On the other hand, Philip Klinker argues that such ignorance is actually good, since countryies obsessed with history can be a little psychotic.

I'm not not so sanguine as Klinker. Not just becaue of the hoary old Santayana line about being doomed to repeat what we don't learn from the past. Political demagogues can manipulate that ignorance to their own ends - just look at the "Lost Cause" rhetoric coming out of the South.

Democracies need educated citizens. If all we lacked was history, perhaps Klinker would have a point. But does history represent the only hole in the voters' knowledge? I'm not so sure.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:42 AM

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Bad Media! Bad Bad Bad!

Friday, June 24, 2005
A lot of smart people are being taken in by some very shoddy reporting. The Mainstream Media and pundits & bloggers left and right are howling over the Supreme Court's decision in Kelo vs. City of New London. The spin on this court ruling has really been something. You'd think that Wal-Mart would be knocking on your door in the middle of the night telling you to pack your bags.

But a careful examination of the case should reveal that, all in all, this is a good decision by the court. We liberals should support it. The fact that the left wing of the Court was in the majority and the right wing in the minority should tell us something about where we should stand.

First of all, we can't get bogged down in the specifics of this case. You can't set broad legal principle based on narrow circumstances. That's where the phrase "bad facts make bad law" comes from. An effort to justice in this instance may establish a precedent that does injustice in many other situations.

So let' s look at the legal principles that are being upheld in this case: that state and local governments have the right to regulate and claim private property for public purposes, and that public purposes includes economic development.

That's it. Revolutionary, isn't it? This is in fact a very basic principle of government - that communities have claims on private property owners. You don't have to like how New London exercised their powers, but that doesn't mean you need to strip them of it. To paraphrase Alexander Hamilton, the abuse of a thing does not amount to a criticism of the thing itself. We don't ban hammers because someone gets murdered with one.

The minority tell a very different story. O'Connor, Thomas, Scalia, & Rehnquist argue that a) private property rights are rendered vulnerable to seizure, b) that this is an illegitimate expansion of the "public use" provision, and c) that corporations will manipulate the process to drive smallholders off their property. Let me respond to these in turn:

a) Private property rights are not absolute. Governments regulate property all the time. It's what we do whenever we zone an area, or pass an environmental law, or regulate a corporation. No big deal.

b) The minority is making a distinction without a difference. If "public use" doesn't mean economic development, then how did NYC get rid of smut in Times Square? They did it to revive the local economy, which everyone thought was great. Unless the right wingers are suggesting that the inviolability of private property only applies to residential property and not corporations. This would vitiate the conservative argument that we should treat corporations as "persons" and and that any regulation of them amounts to a "takings." I can't believe that this is really their position.

c) Big companies will not be driving people off their land unilaterally. They will have to persuade local elected officials, who are ultimately accountable the voters. If the electorate doesn't like a land use plan, they can throw the bastards out. Now we could argue that the wealthy and powerful have too much influence over government, but this is nothing conservatives have every cared about before. We should all be suspicious that they are making such a to-do about it now.

To clarify the issue, let's see what would be the outcome if the decision had been the reversed. Right away we'd have to get rid of all zoning regulations and environmental laws. You see, those are public claims on private property, which according to O'Connor are inviolable. This means that corporations will be able to do anything with property which is defined as theirs. That's right - anything. If we accepted the logic of O'Connor et al, we would go to bed thinking we had defended my right to keep my home and wake up breathing smog from the nearest factory, eating poisoned fish, and realizing that my wages had been cut to $1.50/hour because the minimum wage is a "violation of the right of contract."

The wingers on the court aren't fighting to protect smallholders. They are simply continuing a campaign to deprive governments of any legal right to regulate big companies. These nuts are trying to overturn the Great Society, the New Deal, and the Progressive Movement so that their corporate benefactors can do anything they like without consequences.

Don't be fooled.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:42 AM

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The Man Who Should Have Been President

Can you really imagine George Bush doing this?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:41 AM

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Unrigging the System

Thursday, June 23, 2005
There have been a series of posts/articles stemming from a Mother Jones piece by Steven Hill on the institutional disadvantage faced by the Democratic Party. Hill argues that in all national elections, Democrats face major hurdles in recovering political majorities. Because Democrats are more urbanized (and hence more compact), they are easier to gerrymander in the House. In the Senate, the equality of representation by state amounts to a pro-Republican gerrymander, since it effectively districts by geography rather than population. This small-state bias also gives the Republicans an edge in the electoral college. These pro-Republican biases in the electoral system are compounded by the compactness and contiguity standards adopted by the Supreme Court, as well as the provisions for majority-minority districts in the Voting Rights Act (which pack minority..i.e. Democratic...voters into supermajority seats), as noted by Stirling Newberry.

But should we worry? Newberry and Billmon both believe that a major backlash against this gaming of the system is inevitable. Ruy Teixeira recognizes the difficulty of pushing institutional change, particularly when we are in the minority (which is sort of the whole problem, isn't it?) and basically argues that we do the best we can with what we have.

First, I am essentially an institutional conservative. I am very uneasy in tinkering with basic constitutional design, because you never know what the unintended consequences would be. So I am hesistant about any thorough-going reform.

Second, I'm not sure that the obvious reforms to this problem would be all that desirable. Hill in other work has come out in favor of a multi-member district/proportional representation system with multiple parties, and his attack on the pro-Republican gerrymander irresistably pushes in this direction. A direction to which I am unalterably opposed, since I think it would make conservatives even stronger (not weaker).

Third, fundamental political change to eliminate these problems is probably impractical. You would have to amend the Constitution, which would mean you'd have to get the small states to agree to their very political dimunition. Not going to happen. Changing districting lines is one thing - that happens all the time. Rewriting the rules of the entire political system is something else altogether.

And finally, I don't think such a massive overhaul is really necessary. If the Republican biases are so great and permanent, why is it that Democrats held such a durable political majority for fifty years (sixty in the House) following the New Deal? If the advantages are so mighty, why have the Republicans held on to only a very tiny majority? These guys are only barely winning! It's not like we're getting drubbed by 20 points every election!

The fact is that these biases are not pro-Republican, they are anti-urban. Those are very different things. If the biases are partisan, then they are inescapable. If they are demographic, then we can do something about it: namely focus on winning more rural votes. One of the major causes of the Democrats' political failure in the last few cycles is our total collapse in small towns and rural areas. If we begin to improve our standing in those regions, then suddenly the apparent Republican advantage will evaporate. We don't even have to win these areas - we just have to do well enough to make our margin in urban areas decisive.

The other solution to our gerrymandering problem is also something we should be doing anyway. The reason that the racial gerrymandering happened in the 1990's (which created a bunch of majority-minority seats AND a Republican majority) is that constituent elements of the Democratic party decided that their short-term political interest was more important than the fate of the party. It is long past time that we realized we are all in the same boat. Labor unions, environmentalists, feminists, blacks, gays, latinos - we are all going to sink or swim together.

It is long past time we got our act together. Fostering internal cohesion and organization and reaching out to swing constituencies is what is going to get us back in the majority. Whining about how the political system is unfair is just a big waste of time.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:40 AM

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Durbin Caves

Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Why Dick, why?

And in other news, it seems there are religious extremists of all stripes here at home. But can someone please point to the relevant difference between them and the garden-variety Christian Taliban?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:39 AM

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Torture Bad

I Can't Believe I Have to Write This

You wouldn't think you’d need to explain to conservatives why torture is wrong. But you'd be wrong. The reaction on the right to Dick Durbin's comments (from the likes of William Kristol and Tim Blair, among many other wingnuts) reveals this.

So I am going to explain why torture is bad. And I'll use very small words, so I can be sure they understand. I'll start off with practical arguments against torture, since moral objections don't seem to matter to them very much (shiver).

First of all, torture doesn't work. When you are boiling someone in oil, they will tell you anything they think that you want to hear just to make you stop. There is no evidence that torture gets good information.

Second, it might get Americans tortured too. If we torture them, they are more likely to torture us. Since there are a whole lot of American G.I.'s trooping around the globe, we are much more at risk than other people.

Third, it makes us look bad. Torture is not popular. Part of our effort to "win" the "War on Terror" is to convince the folks who live in the 3rd world (in particular the Middle East) that America isn't such a bad place, and would you please not bomb us. Pictures in the newspaper of us humiliating Arab men really doesn't do much to advance this agenda.

But even if torture did work - if we got good information, if it didn't put Americans at risk, if it didn't make them hate us - we still shouldn;t torture people. Because the moral stuff does matter, however the right tries to ignore it.

It is wrong to torture in part because you might be torturing the wrong person. When you torture someone for information or a confession, you might get what you want, but you might also be punishing someone who is innocent: who simply didn't do anything but be in the wrong place at the wrong time. You have to allow room for human error. No matter how convinced you might be of something, you might be wrong. When you torture terror suspects, you are taking a pretty big risk. How will you sleep at night if you learn that the person you inflicted pain on did nothing?

Even if someone is guilty, torture is wrong. When you inflict pain on another, you are treating them like a thing. You are taking away their basic humanity. Part of what we as Americans are supposed to be fighting for is the idea that everyone, no matter how much we dislike them, is still a person who deserves basic respect.

And even if you don't care about others - if you are convinced that someone is a criminal, and that criminals have given up any claims to be in the human race - torture is still wrong. Torture not only demeans them; it lessens us. Torturing another human being makes us evil. It makes us the bad guys. It erases the differences between them and us. The instant we decide that torture is okay, the terrorists have already won.

This is why we don't torture others out of revenge. Some on the right have excused what we have done because the other side does it too. But this is exactly the wrong conclusion to make: we hate them in part because they have tortured us. If we do it too, It makes us exactly like them: willing to do anything in pursuit of an idea, no matter what the cost to others.

What Dick Durbin said was exactly right. He was pointing out the danger of engaging in torture, or even of just abusing prisoners. He was warning us not to become that which we hate. He was not saying that "U.S. soldiers are NAZIS" but that "We are doing what the NAZI's did. We are doing what we hated the NAZI's for doing."

Anyone who doesn't understand the truth of what Durbin is saying is either lying, delusional, or too far gone to save.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:39 AM

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Jumping On Your Sword

Monday, June 20, 2005
They really do make it too easy.

National Review columnist Deroy Murdock argues that if liberals think that they pay too little in taxes, they should be permitted to pay more. So he ironically proposes a voluntary higher tax rate. If the left thinks that we should pay more in taxes, they can choose to do so themselves.

Now I realize that Murdock isn't seriously suggesting any such thing. He is aware, I'm sure, of what we call collective action problems. It's why we don't fundraise for the military. Public goods are by nature enjoyed collectively. The army can't choose to defend only the people who pay taxes - everyone automatically receives protection. As a public good, if we raise money on a voluntary basis no one would pay. Everyone would expect someone else to do so. If they did choose to pay, they would simply be chumps for those that don't. It's what we call free riding, and it's one of the main reasons why governments were created in the first place. In short, you can't apply the logic of individuals to social situations, or vice versa.

Which gets me to the real problem with Murdock's sneering proposal. He thinks that anyone who believes in the public good is somehow a “statist.” Murdock cannot conceive of any options other than total government central planning and a libertarian anarchic utopia. Of course, there are many other possibilities- civic liberalism, the welfare state, feudalism, corporate domination, etc. But to admit the existence of any other systems of government causes the entire libertarian project to collapse.

As it should.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:38 AM

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The Republican Agenda

Sunday, June 19, 2005
Just in case you haven't been paying attention, our Great Leader and his cronies have a political platform that contains the following priorities:

1) Iraq is just fine
They're just grunts, right?

2) The Federal Court system needs to be destroyed
Time to overturn that pesky Constitution!

3) Torture is patriotic
And anyone who says differently is un-American!

4) Teenage girls must be tested for pregnancy
'Cause they can't be trusted not to have an abortion, y'know.

5) Respecting your wife's wishes results in persecution..uh prosecution
Brought to you by the Family Party

6) We should borrow billions to create private accounts
Which means that people who are young now will be paying off huge federal debts when they
retire to pay for a program designed to enhance retirement savings. Circular much?

7) 16-year old Bangladeshi immigrants are a threat to national security.
Evidence? What evidence? We don't need no stinkin' evidence!

8) Credit cards companies should be able to lose your information to hackers, but you still have to pay for it!
I have nothing to add to this. It speaks for itself.

All of this has had a predictable result: Bush & Co.'s numbers are falling like a rock. Better late than ever, I suppose.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:37 AM

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The Money Pit

Friday, June 17, 2005

I don't own my own home. I'm a renter. Every time I see family members, they tell me I'm crazy. The Washington Post seems to think they're right, since in its recent story it compares 2 women with equal incomes. One owns a home and is doing quite nicely as a byproduct of rising housing prices. The other rents and has a large pool of savings, but has a much more modest lifestyle. Buying a home seems like a pretty good idea.

On the surface, homeowners have it pretty sweet in America. They can deduct their mortgage payments from their taxes, build wealth because of rising housing prices, and live in a nice place. At the same cost, renters pay more in taxes and are gaining nothing in the long term. According to the Washington Post and others, anyone who doesn't buy a home is a just a fool, aren't they?

Maybe. Maybe not.

It is certainly the case that people who rent are getting screwed. The mortgage deduction in effect subsidizes homeowners at the expense of renters. And the rising housing prices that so benefit homeowners just jack up the cost of renting. Public policy tries to increase housing prices; but for a renter, flat housing costs are the ideal. Combined with the decline of government-subsidized affordable housing, and renters are getting a pretty raw deal.

So if renting is such a bad deal, why don't these people buy?

Not everyone can buy a home. If you are just scraping by financially, or live in an urban area with very high housing prices, you will never, ever be able to own your own home. It's simply impossible. People who rent tend to be at the lower end of the income ladder and live in cities, so all those pro-housing policies amount to a massive redistribution of wealth to affluent suburban zones.

But are renters really so dumb? Not necessarily. First, homeowners have a lot of costs that renters don't, like maintenance. More importantly, the housing advocates just assume that housing prices will rise indefinitely. But how are 10-15% annual gains sustainable with flat median incomes and only a slow population increase? And what happens to the value of these homes when all the boomers retire at the same time? I think we know.

Homeowners refuse to accept the existence of a housing bubble, because bubbles burst. Investing in a home is, in fact, an investment. In other words, it is a gamble. There is no guarantee of future gains. And investments that everyone is engaged in are frequently bad ones - that's why we call them bubbles.

So if the housing market collapses, will the woman with a valueless home and large debts be better off than the renter with savings and no debt? In that situation, renting doesn't seem like such a bad idea after all. At least you know what you're getting.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:36 AM

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Can We Fix Kansas?

Thursday, June 16, 2005
Why do working class people in rural America vote Republican? Are they voting "values"? Do Democrats not have any real concrete economic message to sell them? Or are they just being duped? There's probably some truth to all three.

Probably the least constructive of the three possibilities is the last. While Frank Furedi (via Andrew Sullivan) is certainly being slanderous when he claims that the left in Europe and America looks down on regular people, it is certainly offensive to say that people are too dumb to know how to vote. It's sort of inconsistent with the idea of popular government, don't you think? This isn't to say that clever demagogues can't deceive or flatter the people. It's just that we have to believe that we can awaken them.

Nevertheless, it is difficult come come to grips with the "culture war," since the substance of the conservative position is that gays and women should be oppressed and that we should all become baptists. I am STILL waiting for a constructive solution to this problem that doesn't amount to selling out, looking wishy-washy, or making meaningless gestures.

The most hopeful argument is that the basic economic argument of the left can work, provided we speak to the specific economic concerns of "middle america." To quote DHinMI at The Next Hurrah:

Democrats could benefit greatly by framing a populist policy and message that sides with farmers and consumers against the heavily consolidated food processing industry that demands farmers follow increasingly industrialized and factory-like ranching and farming. Food safety is an important issue that the Bush administration is largely ignoring. It touches on anti-terrorism, on the rural economy, consumer protection and the overall issue of the government's responsibility in providing safety to all citizens. It's something that almost nobody would resist. And it provides a great contrast with Republican policies against just about any regulation of any kind.

Democrats need to remember that big business isn't just the enemy of labor, it is also the enemy of small towns and small businesses. We musn't miss a real political opportunity. John Edwards' talk about poverty is a good idea too, since it rests explicitly on real values like compassion and responsibility. I just wish the Post would allow for the possibility that he actually means what he says.

P.S. Dynasty Watch: Check out the South Carolina Lt. Governor's Race. It's just ridiculous.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:35 AM

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Betraying Your Origins

Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Yeah, yeah, I know attacking a position by criticizing its source is a poisoning the well fallacy, but this is just too easy....

You might have heard about the report a few months ago that students who took "virginity pledges" had equal or higher rates of STD's, unprotected sex, etc. was those who didn't. Upset by this conclusion, the Heritage Foundation has published research claiming the opposite. According to them abstinence education really does work. They don't get into many details, but the NYT reports that there are serious flaws with Heritage's paper.

The article doesn't get into many details, but you must agree that the results are suspicious from an organization full of people who want to work as corporate lobbyists when they grow up(as pointed out by David Sirota and Paul Waldman). It' s not surprising that an organization dedicated to pursuing an ideological agenda might abandon good science in the name of politics.

So while we set up this liberal infrastructure we've been talking about for months, can we be careful not to become as bad as they are? Let's preserve room for uncomfortable truths. Pretty please?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:34 AM

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Speaking of the South...

Sunday, June 12, 2005
Congressman Glen Browder (via EDM) is telling Democrats that they need to stop analyzing the problem of the South and come up with concrete strategies for dealing with our persistent weakness there. Then he proceeds to do precisely what he is criticizing: discuss the nature of the Southern problem for pages (and pages) without giving us anything new. The only specific advice he does give is to look to the example of politicians like Brian Schweitzer, who has crafted a rural-friendly brand of liberalism. This after he has been emphasizing the uniqueness of Southern politics, and how solutions developed elsewhere are inappropriate to Dixie. Oh well.

Browder does cogently describe the basic strategies for dealing with the Republican Solid South: pretend there's no problem (i.e. it's not that distinct from other rural regions), ignore it to focus on the West, try to grow the liberal base there, and pursue moderates. Browder embraces the last strategy, without really saying how.

What I fail to appreciate is why we can't pursue all of them simultaneously. First, I doubt that we are going to win over the arch-conservative white Southerners, but we may be able to win over those moderates with the same small town, rural strategy that would work in the West. Second, we should surely cultivate liberal infrastructure and candidates - it gives us a bigger base to work with. Third, we shouldn't obsess about the South when there are golden opportunities to win votes in the West. The South is important, but we can't be obsessed with it.

What we should do is build up Democratic institutions everywhere - since they are weakest in the South at present, there would be slightly more emphasis in that region. This approach should be complimented with a New Liberal message directed at moderate, populist voters in more rural regions. That message would probably pay bigger dividends in the West, but it would also likely limit our losses among Southern moderates. Speaking to the white working class is a Democratic imperative everywhere. Southern exceptionalism might mean that we get less out of that region, but it would surely improve our overall position.

So we focus on those Southern voters who are similar to voters we are targetting elsewhere, while fostering a broader liberal base in the region and picking riper fruit. What's so hard about this? Surely we can walk and chew gum at the same time.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:34 AM

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The South Has Risen

Friday, June 10, 2005

Pundits and Republicans have insinuated (not too subtly) that Democrats are overly reliant on black voters to win elections. The implication of course is that blacks are not "real" Americans. As an argument this is pretty insulting, but it also ignores the extent to which Republicans are reliant on the South. You know, the part of the country that didn't want to be American at all. So just for fun, I ran the numbers to see how the Republicans would do if the 11 states of the Old Confederacy had won their bid for independence.

Looking first at the Presidential election, George Bush defeated John Kerry with 51.2% of the 2-party popular vote (i.e. if you ignore the 3rd-party vote). If you remove the South from the election, then the results are a mirror image of reality: Kerry wins with an identical 51.2%. And the world would be a better place right now.

The results for the Electoral College are simply spectacular. In 2004, Bush won the electoral college 286-251, with 53.2% of electoral votes cast. If the Southern electors are excluded, then Kerry crushes Bush 251-133, a whopping electoral landslide of 65.2% of the vote. All hail President Kerry!

But what about Congress? Well, the House is currently 232-203 Republican (if you include Bernie Sanders as a D), for a 53.3% majority. The Republicans dominate the House seats in the Old Confederacy 84-47. Only in Arkansas and Tennessee to Democrats control a majority of the seats. Exclude the South, and the Democrats hold a narrow 156-148 edge, with 51.3% of the seats. Congratulations Speaker Pelosi!

The Senate would behave similarly. Right now the Republicans have a solid 55-45 majority (caucusing Jeffords with the D's). Here again the Party of Lincoln relies on Southern seats for a majority: they hold 18 of 22 Southern seats. Remove them from the Senate, and the D's have a 41-37 majority (52.5% of the seats). Say hi to Majority Leader Reid!

To put it simply: No South, no Republican majority. The Republicans are utterly reliant on Southern votes, so it is no surprise that their leadership largely speaks with twang. In many respects the Republican party has become a vehicle for Southern political ambition.

The South hasn't had this much influence since the Virginia Dynasty. Remember, the Southern nationalists only turned to secession after they lost their ability to dominate the union from within (to steal a line from Shelby Foote). Now they have accomplished what they set out to do in the first place: win control of the destiny of the nation. God help us.

So no more talk about the South rising again. It has already risen.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:33 AM

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Freedom Is Slavery

Let's play "Spot the hypocrisy"!

1) any requirement for corporate responsibility is tantamount to slavery (see Janice Rogers Brown)


2) throwing someone into the gulag without a trial is a defense of freedom (see George Bush)

Those people only seem to care about liberties until there are some real liberties at stake. Orwell should sue for copywrite infringement.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:32 AM

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Urban Dreams

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Although most of my experience growing up was in small southern towns, I have grown to love big cities. Not the sunbelt monstrosities, sprawled out and dirty as they are. When I mean "city" I'm referring to the older metropolises created before the creation of the car, like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. I love the bustle, the sophistication, the diversity, and (of course) the liberalism. I believe that city-living is the best kind of living. For me, but not for everyone.

Which is the problem with the Nation's current pieces on the centrality of cities for the liberal project (see here and here). While I agree that cities are the heart of 20th century liberalism, we cannot obsess about them. From a theoretical point of view, we cannot impose our urban preferences on others. Cities are not the only appropriate way to live. Small town and suburban life have (or can have) real virtues. They can offer things that cities just can't, qualities that are deeply important to many people. By relying on our urban experiences to develop public policy, we are privileging a way of life that others don't want. Doing so would be no better than forcing me to become a Southern Baptist.

Another objection is practical. In electoral terms, cities are not our problem. Cities are the only regions where we do have huge majorities. Our focus should be in those areas where we are weak. We probably can't squeeze much more out the city vote, and cities do NOT have a majority of the population. We simply aren't going to win without a large share of the vote in small towns and suburbs, and a continued focus on cities will turn those areas against us.

Finally, I think that we have a responsibility to address the problems of small town America. Yes cities have struggled over the last few decades, but small towns have suffered as well. In many places they are quite simply disappearing. We have a responsibility to help these communities. They have problems too.

The difficulties in small towns present the Democrats with not just a moral obligation, but also a political opportunity. Their difficulties may make them ready to hear a liberal message. But it cannot be the same old city-centric liberal story. The solutions for the city may not necessarily be appropriate to solve these problems. We need to think from more than one point of view. If we are going to be a national party, we must serve more than one constituency. We need to be a city party, but we need to be a country party too.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:31 AM

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Democracy Needs Democrats

Wednesday, June 08, 2005
I don't know why people are surprised by Hezbollah's victory in the Lebanese elections.

Did you really think that the U.S. and Israel would be popular in the Middle East? Any Arab politician identified with either would be like someone tainted with Communist sympathies in 1950's America: dead, dead, dead.

The reason that Neocons and Libertarians are so confused by the course of events in Lebanon, Iraq, etc., is that they think that democracies are the natural forms of government. All you have to do is set up the right kind of constitution, and everything will work fine. Which is of course a load of crap. It's the worst kind of formal structuralism. On paper, the Roman Empire was still a Republic. Like beauty, democracy is more than skin deep.

Democracy is both a process and a substance. The process is one of simple majority rule, the substance is one that respects individual rights and autonomy. One of the essential preconditions of any popular government is that there are enough people who are willing to accept the substance of democracy. Without this sort of citizenry, democracy is meaningless. You can't just put in place the formal structure of a democracy (elections, etc.) without a population that is willing to accept the spirit of democracy. You can't have democracy without democrats (and these days in America, Democrats).

This is why every time a developing nation without a middle class, a tradition of law-abidingness, or a culture that tolerates dissent tries to set up a liberal constitution the result is a total mess. Because the country is simply not ready for democracy. You can't have a liberal democracy in a poor, socially stratified, religiously factious nation. It just isn't possible. In short, you can only have a democracy is the people there want one. Otherwise elections are simply a method for ratifying majority tyranny. They pass a bunch of laws institutionalizing their domination, the minority gets fed up and rebels, and you're right back to the civil war/tyranny cycle.

What's most amusing about all this is that the very people who are such legalists abroad have done so much to pervert the spirit of the Constitution here at home. They invest unrealistic faith in the socializing power of formal institutions, even while they dump the filibuster, neuter the courts, impose a radical cultural agenda and wipe out the middle class. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:29 AM

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Olympics: Bah!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005
It looks like the West Side Stadium, and with it New York's 2012 Olympic bid, is kaput. Good riddance, I say. Not that the Olympics aren't neat and all, but Mayor Bloomberg's obsession with hosting the games bordered on the monomanical.

For those of you who aren't New Yorkers or just don't know what I'm talking about, yesterday a key supervisory panel rejected the building of a new Jets stadium on the West Side of Manhattan. The people who lived there didn't want it, and there weren't adequate public transportation facilities or parking to make the project viable. But the real sticking point is that once again the taxpayers were expected to foot the bill: this time to the tune of $600 million plus tax abatements and favorable zoning. The folks in Queens, who do have a transportation network, wanted the stadium built there, but the Mayor only cares about Manhattan.

So this is a really insular, right? Why should you care? Because if you live in a major metro area, you deal with this stuff all the time, whether you pay attention to it or not. Sports teams are forever threatening to move their teams to another state if the citizens of a town don't agree to fork over another wad of cash for a new luxury stadium with ever-higher ticket prices. And city and state politicians are constantly lauding the benefits of athletics in their communities, much like universities. The biennal Oiympic sweepstakes are just the most egregious form of this sort of boosterism.

So do I hate the Olympics? Do I hate sports? No. I like sports, particularly baseball and basketball. I don't object to a team locating in a town, or even a city trying to win an Olympic bid. What I do object to is the millions of dollars of taxpayer money going to these White Elephants when school budgets are being slashed every year.

The sports boosters claim an economic benefit: stadium construction creates jobs and the Olympics attracts international attention to a town. The problem is that there is not one shred of evidence that any long-term jobs have ever been created by these projects. Most towns lose money on the Olympics, and stadium construction is a very short-term benefit. Many of the contracts go to out-of-town companies, are there is little support for any sports-centered “ripple effect.” The best example of this problem, which built a new Turner Field and hosted the 1996 summer games with no evidence economic return.

So the next time some sports owner wants you to help him build a new stadium, tell him to pay for it himself. It's his friggin team.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:29 AM

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Toppling the Ivory Tower

Monday, June 06, 2005
Now they want to restrict access to higher education.

I have called the extreme right "Unreasonables" and asserted that they are waging a war on rational thought. The "conservative" attack on the university is probably the single best piece of evidence for this argument.

The right-wing effort to destroy the academy is well underway. First there is the infamous "student's bill of rights" to guarantee that theocon ideas have a privileged place in the university, no matter how absurd. Then there is the attempt to abolish tenure, to end freedom of thought and make a PhD economically irrational. There are cutbacks to public education, forcing schools to raise tuition costs.

And now the right wants to make it more difficult for students and families to receive financial aid by changing eligibility requirements. As the costs go up and aid declines, fewer and fewer middle class families will be able to attend universities. When grants & loans are restricted to the very poor, the program will of course be abolished as a welfare program.

Given the recognized importance of a college education for social mobility and America's economic competitiveness, why would the right make such a determined effort to undermine the university? There are two complimentary objectives. First, to eliminate one of the last bastions of "liberal" (i.e. independent and rational) political power. While they would prefer to co-opt the academy into the right-wing propaganda machine, they will settle for destroying it entirely.

The second objective is more unconscious. For the right, the entire project of the academy is insidious. The purpose of university education is to develop critical thinking capacity, which is inherently questioning of authority and tradition. This goes against the essence of the conservative political project. And because it is a vehicle for social advancement by the middle class, it creates competition for the scions of the rich and powerful. Giving money to universities amounts to a subsidy to the middle class at the expense of the elite, which is anathema to conservative political ideology.

The right's strategy is quite clear: bully, de-fund, and de-staff the academy in order to restore its 19th century role as a finishing school for "gentlemen." It is just one more way in which the right is demonstrating that it hates America - the America of the 20th century, anyway.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:28 AM

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Propaganda as Persuasion

Saturday, June 04, 2005
Matt Miller believes that the art of persuasion is dead. For once, I agree with him. Sort of.

If by persuasion, Miller means the use of logic and evidence to convince others of your opinion, then he is absolutely right. Even a cursory examination of today's political debate reveals how devoid of substance it is. The minute you mention a number, people go right to sleep. And many politicians engage in fallacies the way kids eat candy.

But rational discourse is not the only means of persuasion. It can also just mean the art of getting others to go along with you, whatever the means. And this art of alive and well. Every moment of every day we are bombarded with messages trying to get us to buy a product, acquire a service, or support a candidate. These messages have little to do with rational persuasion or dialectic, however. Instead they they make direct appeals to emotion (fear, nostalgia) in order to bypass the intellect. This is certainly a form of persuasion, albeit an insidious one.

One could argue (although I wouldn't) that the use of propaganda in commerce is harmless. But Miller rightly points out how corrosive it is in politics. Without reasoned debate, democratic politics is impossible. Citizens think critically. Consumers (and Subjects) just respond. The more our people are incapable of dialectic, the more that emotion rather than reason dominates our politics, the less democratic we will be.

So whose fault is it? Miller typically adopts the SCLM "pox on both your houses" attitude. This is convenient for him, because it allows him to adopt an above the fray style. Atrios rightly suggests that the media itself is partly to blame, since it pays so little attention to substance and is so unwilling to criticize falsehoods. One could also argue that as our culture has become more consumer-driven, it is inevitable that the tactics of marketers would infect politics. People have become conditioned to respond to emotional appeals in the marketplace, so some spillover into politics in inevitable.

But I believe that the factor most responsible are the Republicans. For the last few decades, they have consciously built a "message machine" whose function is not to convey ideas but to push propaganda. I think that Democrats would love a political debate that focused on substance. But it takes two to tango. Republicans have refused to enter the realm of true debate, so there can be none.

One of the original aims of this blog, to rebut conservative arguments, has proved largely abortive precisely because the right doesn't use rational arguments. It got boring listing all the fallacies, distortions and outright lies of the opposition. They didn't make many real arguments, and when they did they were pretty easy to rebut.

Why is the right so devoid of rational arguments? Why are they so desperate to use emotional appeals and propaganda? Because they are in a minority position - in a straightforward debate they will lose. Hence their avowedly Leninist tactics. I think the reason why the Republicans have become steadily more authoritarian and anti-democratic is not just that the substance of their position is conducive to these tendencies (which they are), but out of frustration that they can't seem to win any other way. Their only chance for success has been to pervert the substance and process of democracy, and so fanatical are they that they have chosen to do so. Which is what makes them so scary, and what makes it so necessary to stop them.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:27 AM

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When the Political is Personal

Friday, June 03, 2005

Or, What the Godfather Can Teach Us About Politics

Politics is about people. I don't mean this in the mundane sense that politics should focus on the interests of the citizenry. I am referring instead to the best and worst thing about political activism: it involves human beings. Working with others can be very rewarding, but it can also be extremely frustrating. You have to learn to deal with the myriad personalities of public life, and unfortunately politics and personality doesn't always align. I've met (a few) very nice people who are conservatives, and there are some liberal Democrats who drive me crazy.

This is not a question about corruption or political sleaziness. Those sorts of folks are (thankfully) fairly uncommon. I'm referring to the problem of when you are on the opposite side of candidates from your friends, or when you like a candidate personally but don't think she can win. Politics ain't beanbag, as the saying goes, and personal relationships can be undermined by political necessity. We can all claim that we aren't going to get nasty, but the heat of debate tends to escalate over time. What began as civil discourse turns into a food fight.

My ideal is that we approach politics the way Michael Corleone approached the Mob: it's not personal, it's strictly business. Politics should not exclude every other affiliation. Political fellow-travellers should be able to part ways on one candidate or one issue and remain allies. Poliitcal opponents should resist the urge to demonize one another. And we have to accept the fact that sometimes we are allied with people who irritate opposed to people we like. We must learn to accept that because it involves people, politics is rarely a simple matter of good and evil.

Having said all that, I still think that George Bush is a Sith.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:26 AM

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What Now For Europe?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005
First France rejects the new EU Constitution, and now Holland. The Neocons are probably thrilled, because the disaggregation of a large power bloc can only make them happy. But for Americans of the more enlightened sort, and for those of us on the left generally, this is a very worrisome sign.

From a strategic point of view, the right's concern with an American-European rivalry is just silly. Western democratic nations that are generally benefitting from the status quo have no reason to start bickering in any serious way. With the rising specter of China, you' d think the U.S. would like Europe to be as integrated and powerful as possible. Frankly we're going to need all the help we can get.

And the EU is in many ways an important model for us - its difficulties can only demonstrate our own problems. As I have written before, globalization is really nothing new. It is just the next step in the expansion of economic activity to larger and larger economic units. When economic activity shifted from the local to the national level, the center of policy had to shift to meet it: otherwise corporations would just have their way with tiny and weak governments. Today's analogy is irresistable: trade has gone global, and the only way that living wages and environmental standards are going to be preserved, much less extended, is to create international economic institutions. So the failure of a regional effort to do so is discouraging.

The failure of the EU should offer some real lessons for those of us trying to construct a new center-left political majority in America. The EU constitution has failed because of concerns about a "democratic deficit." Egalitarian social reforms require greater avenues for popular accountability. The technocratic leanings of the social democratic left in Europe and American liberalism has led to similar political outcomes: political defeat.

The EU debacle also underlines very real power of identity politics. We have forgotten that the left succeeded when it emphasized the common purpose of a given political community, when it pointed to the mutual obligation arising from common citizenship. We are fooling ourselves if we think that some kind of over-rationalized notion of economic self-interest is going to inspire broad political support. Pace Marx, there really is more to politics than economics. The sooner we remember that, the better.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:24 AM

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