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Defining Exploitation

Wednesday, August 31, 2005
So the economy is growing, but wages are flat and poverty is rising. Simple math tells us that the money being created must be going somewhere. Where do you imagine that is?

Now when exactly was Republican economic policy supposed to work? When do we see the glorious benefits of untrammeled pro-corporate globalization? When do we get the "Bush boom" that was supposed to be created by tax cuts on multi-millionaires? Hey, maybe it will be after we gut environmental laws!

On a happier note, go check out the excellent writing of Zola at In the Trenches, if for no other reasons that he says such nice things about me.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:48 AM

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We're Not Bigots. Really.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005
The state of Georgia has take some heat for passing a law requiring voters to present a photo id. Since African-Americans are less likely to have such I.D., it is tantamount to a method to bar blacks from voting. Given the long history of discrimination in the South and the recent tendency of the Republicans to suppress minority turnout, you can guess why we might be concerned.

Well now we have a rebuttal from Frank Strickland and Anne Lewis, two Republican lawyers. They make a number of claims in defense of the law. First, the intent of the law is not to discriminate, but to limit fraud. Of course, it really doesn't matter what the intent of a law is, but its results. They then throw the burden onto critics, asserting that we have to prove that the intent of the law is to discriminate. They know better than that - civil rights law and numerous Supreme Court rulings have labelled African-Americans a "suspect classifcation." This means that it is up to the accused to demonstrate that they are not discriminating, if there is prima faciae evidence that they are. This standard is applied whenever there has been a long, systematic, and pervasive system of discrimination - which is certainly the case for African-Americans.

Of course discrimination might not be the only reason to oppose the bill. What happens to people who are in a hurry to vote before or after work and just forget their id at home? And Georgia already has a big problem with long lines and short hours in which to vote. Gee, it's almost like Republicans don't want working people to be able to vote!

Next let's examine their argument that we need such a law to prevent fraud. They point to a history in Georgia of "dead" voters participating in elections. They cite an Atlanta Journal study which discovered 5,000 such voters since 1980. 5000 in twenty-five years? That's hardly a major problem - it averages out to 200 a year. If they can point to a single election in which such votes have changed the outcome, they might have a point. But there are certainly better methods for addressing such questions than a law which might disenfranchise thousands of voters. Does Georgia require a signature to match up with voter registration cards, for example? Those are certainly much harder to fake that just knowing someone's name. And the Republicans are misidentifying the real problem with voting today - it's not voter fraud but voter suppression. But the Theocons don't want to talk about voter suppression, since they're doing so much of it.

Strickland & Lewis argue that just because black legislators were against the vote doesn't mean that there's something fishy going on. This is because the breakdown was by party affiliation, not race. That's a pretty cute argument, since there are zero black Republicans in the Georgia Assembly. Not exactly sound statistics. Could it be a coincidence that Republicans (who are white) were for the bill and that blacks (all of whom are Democrats) were against it? Is there a reason why Democrats would be opposed to the bill if there was no discriminatory effects? Are you really suggesting that Democrats are in favor of fraud? Because the old "courthouse Democrats" who once routinely engaged in voter fraud are now all dead or Republicans.

I'm going to skip their statistical arguments, since they don't provide any data. All they claim is that their opposition's position is "unsupported." They don't give any supporting information.

Finally, our Republican friends claim that even if there are some people who don't have id's, there will be roving "ID vans" to help people. What I'd like to know is whether the money to appropriate a large number of these vans is in the bill. If it isn't, then how can we know that there will be one such operation for the entire state? Legislative promises without built-in enforcement aren't worth the paper they're written on, as we have learned from the No Child Left Behind Act.

So nice try, guys, but no dice.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:47 AM

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Another Look at Fusion Voting

Monday, August 29, 2005
Fusion voting is the use of 3rd parties to endorse major-party nominees, the idea being to force the big guys to "stick to their guns" in favor of liberal causes. Scott Shields at MyDD has suggested that they have had a positive influence on New York politics, and that it might behoove us to implement this system elsewhere.

My opinion is that fusion voting is a bad idea whose time has come and gone. While theoretically they might serve a purpose, in practice they have had a baneful effect on New York politics. They have been the tail wagging the political dog, with factions of the liberal coalition holding the major candidates hostage. The principal result has been to fracture the organizational structure of the Democratic party, which is our biggest problem as it is. Each group can claim "hey, if you don't pick our candidate & our issue, we'll put him on the ballot anyway." While this may not be much of a threat in a region as politically lopsided as NYC, it could be disastrous in more competitive regions.

Besides, minor third parties are obsolete. It's not like the major parties select their nominees in smoke-filled rooms. The reality is that these groups get a chance to fight it out in political primaries. So general election 3rd party ballots are really just a case of sore losers.

So, to repeat (yet again) - third parties are BAD.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:46 AM

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Beggar Thy Neighbor

Friday, August 26, 2005
You probably haven't heard about Bronx Democratic Party Chair Jose Rivera's interview about the construction of a filtration plant. What could be more boring? Well, the fact that he made a bunch of anti-semitic remarks while he did so. Rivera admits that he built the plant where he did in order to "stick it" to the Jews of Riverdale. In other words he used his institutional power to pursue a private vendetta. What's absurd about this is that the thing wasn't even built in Riverdale, but Norwood, which is primarily working class black and latino - the constituencies Rivera claims to champion.

What makes Rivera's remarks even more disturbing is that he makes it perfectly clear that his primary political loyalty is to his own ethnic group (Puerto Ricans), and that he is perfectly willing to marginalize every other group, even ones in his own party. He is also perfectly willing to engage in race-baiting to win consolidate his personal political position. And here I thought only Republicans played this game.

In my view, the number one political problem faced by this country, and by our party, is ethnic tribalism. Far too many Americans view politics as a game of "us" against "them." They are ready, no eager, to enhance their group's status at the expense of others. If someone else has to suffer for their victory, so much the better. It doesn't matter if these group distinctions are drawn along ethnic, racial, religious, or gender lines - it's all the same thing, and all disgusting. Screwing over some other group isn't going to educate my kids or pay my bills.

With the recent discussion over what role the anti-war movement had in the rupturing of the New Deal coalition, we should never forget what really drove white southerners into the arms of the Republican party (and blacks to the Democrats): civil rights. Call it an "ideological realignment" if you will. More than a little of ideological loyalties seem to be driven by what ethnic group someone belongs to.

Until we can get past this evil and counterproductive brand of beggar they neighbor politics, we are never going to deal with our real problems.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:46 AM

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There Are Other Words For It

Thursday, August 25, 2005
Some call it originalism. Others call it literalism. I call it simple-mindedness.

A "strict adherence to the text" is one of the few principles held in common by libertarians and cultural traditionalists. Of course they differ as to which text - the bible or the constitution. But both claim that we should read foundational documents in straightforward ways, and in a manner which is consistent with the the "framer's intent" (or, if you will, the Will of God).

On the surface this appears to be a perfectly respectable approach to exegetical analysis. Unfortunately it's also a silly approach. Deconstructionist literary criticism has taught us that there really is no simple reading of texts, so powerful is the human mind able to project its beliefs onto the written word. So the idea that you can read the text literally is a snare and a delusion. You can see this in the obsession that the Christian right has with homosexuality, which is of marginal importance in the New Testament, and their neglect of poverty, which is pretty much at the center of it. They see what they want to see.

That's annoying enough, but it gets worse. Because we aren't reading Chaucer or E.E. Cummings. This ain't literature, which ultimately is only of aesthetic value. These are documents that conservatives are attempting to use as sources of authority. They believe that if it says so there, it must be true. So their literal interpretation is in fact a social theory being applied to the present. And frankly I think the present should have a vote too.

So let's look at the real social consequences of "restoring" the Constitution (and American life) to its 1789 form:

1) Restore slavery
2) Repeal women's right to vote
3) Bar poor people from voting
4) Eliminate the standing army
5) Give states carte blanche to ignore civil liberties
6) No social safety net
7) Child labor
8) Women banned from inheriting property
9) No minimum wage
10) No workplace safety

Not exactly David Letterman's top 10, is it?

I could go on to economic and cultural "reforms" that would have to take place, like getting rid of factories and electronics and returning to subsistence farming, but you get the point. The next time a Theocon suggests that we adhere to the original intent of the framers, ask him why he doesn't want women to vote or blacks to have citizenship.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:45 AM

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Keeping Women In Their Place

Wednesday, August 24, 2005
The saddest sort of misogyny is the kind propagated by women on their daughters.

(Via Pandagon)

If Rebecca Hagelin really wants to promote female modesty, why mess around? Why not go the whole way?


Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:45 AM

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Some Investment Advice

Tuesday, August 23, 2005
And the award for most amusing op-ed of the week goes to Chris Harris at the NYT.

It's really something how bubbles work. The first principle of investment is to buy low and sell high. But some market gets hot and everyone loses their sense of reality. They're all buying high and guaranteeing that they will sell low. The greed for the maximum return is a fatal delusion that afflicts many. Asked why he got out of the stock market just before the Great Depression, Joe Kennedy said "Only a fool holds out for top dollar."

Words to live by.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:44 AM

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Blogging Like A Conservative

Monday, August 22, 2005
In the war of ideas, we are faced not with men but with midgets (not that I don't like midgets). For a visual perspective, try this out.

Liberal arguments:

Conservative arguments:

You really can't argue with these people. Not because they don't like to argue, but because the substance of their arguments are flabby, feeble, and flaccid. As opposed to the great puissance of liberal blogs like Pandagon, Arbusto de Mendacity and Let's Talk Politics .
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:43 AM

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The Iraq Quagmire

Fact 1: Iraq is a mess.
Fact 2: We made the mess.
Fact 3: There is very little we can do to clean the mess up.
Question: What do we do now?

The answer to this question has broken into three camps. There is Dear Leader, who thinks that we just need to keep at it and everything will be okay (denying Fact 1). There is the "Hawk" wing of the Democratic party, who think that we can still salvage the situations (denying Fact 3). And there is the "Dove" wing that thinks we should just cut and run (ignoring the responsibility stemming from Fact 2).

I've been following this debate with a great deal of interest. On the one hand, the Doves have a lot of good arguments as to why we should cut our losses. The Iraq war is a diversion of U.S. resources (and a waste of lives), it has made us hated, it has accomplished none of its aims, and Iraq is likely to end up in civil war, an islamic state/Iranian puppet, or under the ruler of another Saddam. Therefore there are good humanitarian and prudential reasons for getting out as soon as possible.

On the other hand, the Hawks are not without a viable position. The U.S. bears some responsibility for what is going on, and an outright retreat would seriously damage U.S. prestige and cripple the Democratic party politically. The very people who opposed the war as foolhardy are now in danger of being blamed for its failure. It's not fair, but there it is.

I think there is some room for agreement. We can all agree that the Iraq adventure was a mistake, that it was badly bungled, and that the U.S. needs to extricate itself as soon as possible. We need to recognize that what we are fighting about are tactics. The reality is that we are not arguing about how to win the war, but what kind of defeat will do the least damage. And we need to keep reminding people who lost the war - not the people who opposed it, but the people who conducted the bloody thing.

The Hawks need to realize that the Doves were right about the war, and the Doves need to realize that this fact has no bearing on what we are facing now - we have to stop pretending we can turn back the clock. As such, the New Donkey manifesto seems like a workable compromise between the factions. It's not going to be implemented, but it would least remind the country that a) Democrats were against the war and how it was run, and b) make sure that the focus remains on the Republicans.

As for a fixed timetable for withdrawal, I'm afraid that it is the Republicans who are most likely to embrace this position - for October 30, 2006.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:42 AM

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What A Joker

Friday, August 19, 2005
So the White House has finally come forth with Roberts' memos from his time under Reagan. There are some priceless gems in the documents. Roberts mocked gender equality, attacked the Civil Rights revolution in the Courts, minimized AIDS, criticized affirmative action, proposed a national i.d. card, ridiculed anti-crime spending, and made racist remarks.

The White House response? He was only joking.

Oh. Well that's all right then. Gee.....women should be barefoot and pregant? All Latinos are just "amigos" of illegals? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! That's hilarious!


This dude is a right-wing freak and must be opposed. He might make it on the Court anyway, but he should do so without a single Democratic vote and with the American public knowing precisely what the Republicans think of women and civil rights. Sometimes you can win for losing.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:42 AM

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Just In Case You Needed Any More Evidence

Thursday, August 18, 2005
Both from the front page CNN webpage:

For a coming programming.....

Is going hybrid really worth it? Gas and electric vehicles are more
expensive than similar makes and models, so where are the savings?

From an article on their site....

Hitting the gas: Prices set new record

You'd think the left hand would talk to the right hand. But you'd be wrong.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:41 AM

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How To Destroy a Republic & An Economy

Wednesday, August 17, 2005
From the New York Times:

Only about half of this year's high school graduates have the reading skills they need to succeed in college, and even fewer are prepared for college-level science and math courses, according to a yearly report from ACT, which produces one of the nation's leading college admissions tests. The report, based on scores of the 2005 high school graduates who took the exam, some 1.2 million students in all, also found that fewer than one in four met the college-readiness benchmarks in all four subjects tested: reading comprehension, English, math and science.

I can speak to this question from personal experience: college freshman don't have the basic intellectual training needed to succeed. The ones who do flourish are heroes, as far as I'm concerned. What is most horrifying is that these are the best students to come out of the K-12 system.

The question remains: Who do we blame? It would easy to find fault with the laziness of students, or the disinterest of parents, or poorly prepared teachers. But the fact remains that you can't hold a few "bad apples" responsible for a system-wide problem. What we have is a structure of education that virtually guarantees failure. We've passed the "crisis" stage; we are now in the realm of full scale disaster.

And what do school boards spend their time on? Why, creationism of course. I hope that when the Theocons wake up in a 3rd world country, they're very happy with what they've wrought.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:41 AM

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Subtle, Subtle, Toil & Trouble

Tuesday, August 16, 2005
David Brooks is pretty sneaky. In his latest op-ed, Brooks attempts to resolve one of the biggest quandries in the Republican party: how to maintain the loyalty of white southern nationalists while also cultivating the Latino vote and making big business happy. Immigration drives the populist base of the Republican party nuts, but the party leadership can't restrict it because a) Latinos might get mad if you engaged in race-baiting, and b) big business loves immigration, particularly the illegal variety, because it enables them to break up unions, hold down wages, and maintain the upper hand over their sweatshop employees.

Not that Brooks comes out and says any of this, of course. What he does say is that 1) people who are mad about all this immigration are right, and 2) there's nothing that can be done, because you can't stop immigration without crippling the economy. So what we should be doing is creating a guest worker program. That way the immigration will be legal rather than illegal. Okay?

This policy attempts to thread the needle by maintaining high levels of immigration (presumably making Latinos happy), keeping them in a subordinate economic position (making business happy), and keeping them on a lower social rung (supposedly making white nationalists happy). Ta-da! Peace in conservative-land.

This is a pretty incoherent position, of course. In reality it will satisfy neither of the voting blocs concerned. Latinos will see their bretheren continue to be oppressed (and compete with them for jobs) while white nationalists will still have to deal with the fact that "his neighborhood now has homes with five cars rotting in the front yard and 12 single men living in one house" and that "there are loud parties until 2 a.m. and gang graffiti on the walls." Unless they're going to be keeping the guest workers in special camps, I don't see how this alleviates their angst. You can't really validate someone's concerns and then expect to marginalize them in this way.

So since the guest-worker plan won't make either Latinos or white nationalists happy, why does Brooks push it? Partly because it's an attempt at a compromise between the two, but also because of the third group it would please: big business. They don't care what the law is, as long as they can keep bringing in more cheap labor that they can control. And big corporations being the only group that the Republicans are really interested in helping, that's good enough for David.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:40 AM

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Demography as Destiny?

Friday, August 12, 2005
So the nation as a whole will be majority-minority by 2050, which provides further evidence to "emerging democratic majority" thesis. But the aging of the Democratic activist base will render these potentially favorable political winds nugatory, since we won't have the manpower to exploit them. Right?


You see, demography is not necessarily destiny. Present trends may not continue, or there may be something about the trends that we haven't thought about. Take the "no ethnic majority" argument forwarded by the NYT. Closer examination will reveal that the nation hasn't had a majority ethnic group since the English lost their dominance around 1880 or so. The hidden assumption of their analysis is that white, latinos, asians, and blacks will remain self-segregated, homogenous groups. Except they're not homogenous - they're each very diverse. And they won't remain isolated populations because of intermarriage. Already something around 50% of minorities born in American marry outside their ethnic group. This has always happened. I'm not "white." I'm irish-german-cherokee-welsh-scottish-scots irish- and maybe english too. Tell a german and an englishman they're the same ethnic group. I dare you. So in 2050 we'll continue to be what we are right now: mutts. And good for us.

Secondly, the "emerging democratic majority" hypothesis simply presumes that the voting structure of each constituency will remain unchanged over the next generation. Which is a hell of an assumption, particularly given the full-court press the Republicans are giving Latinos. As Clinton was always eager to say, the only constant is change. Sure there's the potential for big Democratic electoral gains, but as a sports writer once said - potential is a French word meaning you haven't done anything yet.

Finally, Shaula Evans is right to be concerned about the very "mature" Democratic activist base. We certainly need to rebuild Democratic institutions and bring more people in. But to a certain degree these institutions are always going to be dominated by older people, for the same reason that they are dominated by affluent people. Political participation tends to require a lot of time, which people in their 30's don't have. And it takes a lot of commitment, which people struggling to pay the bills can't give.

So demography is interesting, and certainly insightful, but it is hardly inevitable.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:38 AM

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Did David Brooks Go to College?

Thursday, August 11, 2005
David Brooks thinks it would be neat if there were a field of academics that studied the relationship between geography and culture & behavior.

Good idea. Let's create some new disciplines. How about history, political science, anthropology (and its many subfields - as I was instructed to included by my anthropologist wife), sociology, psychology, women's studies, african-american studies, middle eastern studies (takes breath), asian studies, medieval studies, art history, a strain in economics, parts of philosophy, lots of literature, oh yeah geography, urban planning, and math? Okay, not math.

Tell me again why we should take this boob seriously?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:38 AM

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Why Should We Oppose the Roberts Nomination?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Well, how about this?

1. We're seeing the rise of corporate feudalism, in which employers regulate every facet of their employees' personal lives.

2. The Washington Post reports that we are about to witness the "first-ever lobbying campaign for a Supreme Court nominee by the corporate lobbying elite."

What exactly does big business know about Roberts that we don't?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:37 AM

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005
First of all, in case you heard that the Horowitz bill (via pandagon) had gone national, you can check out my old blog for a response to the "merits" of his argument. If you haven't, then follow the link and then check out my old post.

Speaking of pandagon, Amanda Marcotte made a good series of arguments on feminism, but I was surprised when she didn't focused on this fact:

The problem is that conservative Christian families have a divorce rate just as high as the rest of America.

Now this is a much bigger problem for the Theocons than Amanda seems to pick up on. The basic position of social conservatives is that the proper laws and social conditioning can create a society with "stronger families," i.e. fewer broken homes. But if social conservatives can't reduce the divorce rate among people who agree with them, then how likely is it that they can do so with the society at large? In an alternate universe where the right accepted rational argument, the Theocon position would be seriously damaged by this fact. But we don't live in that universe. So we'll have to listen to those hypocrites blithely assert their moral superiority.

Finally, I have a guest blog from Ben Ross....

False Consciousness

Your next-door neighbors, a retired couple in their seventies, tell you that they have decided to invest their life savings in a penny stock that a stranger recommended over the telephone. What are you, a sociology professor who has never given stock-market advice, to do?

You might say to yourself, "I have no right to stigmatize my neighbors' sincere beliefs as false consciousness" - and tell them that any investment choice they might make must be in their true interest as they understand it.

Or you might suggest to them that while the investment sounds very attractive, the stakes are so high that they ought to take a little extra time to make sure - and prolong the discussion until they promise not to sign anything before you get the opinion of a colleague in the economics department.

Now suppose your neighbors on the other side, a much younger couple, tell you that they want their social security contributions to go into a private account. This scheme is no more likely to yield the advertised financial returns than the penny stock. But the neighbors are convinced of its merit because, they say, the president who recommended it is a godly man.

Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? addresses fraud of the latter species. It does so, to be sure, in the language that you would use to describe your elderly neighbors' investment to your economist friend, not the words you would address to the neighbors themselves. It is this language that critics have seized upon, accusing Frank of ascribing "false consciousness" to the working class. The accusation is ridiculous.

False consciousness was a concept used by the New Left of the late sixties to explain why the working class lacked the revolutionary convictions they thought it ought to have. The function of this idea was to justify the abandonment of democratic politics - the working class has been deceived, so a vanguard of radical students must take action in its place.

Frank's point is just the opposite. He wants liberals to engage with the working class, not to bypass it — to listen to its opinions and sentiments, to champion its grievances, and when disagreements arise, as they must, to deal with them by honest argument and reasonable accomodation. This is, as Frank argues, the way to rebuilding a liberal majority — and more than that, it is the democratic way.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:36 AM

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How Liberal Should Democrats Be?

Monday, August 08, 2005
I took a little mini-vacation over the weekend because it was my birthday. Not a vacation out of NYC, because I couldn't afford to go anywhere, but just from politics. No TV, no internet, and definitely no blogging. Doctor's orders.

So I come back and what do I find? A fascinating little discussion over ideology and partisanship. The debate developed over two different posts. The first was Michael Lind's argument (via Kos) that as America is culturally conservative and economically liberal, Democrats should moderate their social liberalism and advance economically-oriented populism. Digby and Atrios have pointed out that America is more socially liberal than you might think - just look at stem cell research and abortion. Chris Bowers notes that income is now a better predictor of voting than it was during the New Deal - in other words we never could win elections based on economic populism. Economic populism just ain't enough. (Although the study Chris cites does indicate that while the extremes have become less polarized by income, the middle incomes have become less polarized. Republicans are now at parity with Democrats among middle income voters.)

The second debate is over whether we should imitate Norquist and Rove and build a "movement liberalism." Matt Yglesias thinks this is a bad idea because there are simply more conservatives than liberals, and the right is easier to organize anyway. Paul Waldman responds, noting the difference between ideology and partisanship - a lot of self-proclaimed moderates are really Democrats. He also notes that Republicans have NOT been winning based on issues, where they are still in the minority. Sirota, on the other hand, thinks that Yglesias is silly to suggest that we shouldn't imitate a successful political strategy.

Okay. What are we to make of all this? Well, first of all we shouldn't abandon social liberalism. That's just giving in to the most cynical kind of political calculation. Democrats fight these battles because they are right, not because we're trying to harvest votes. That's what the other side does. If we have to take a hit for championing the rights of minorities, or the poor, or women, then so be it.

But Lind is making an important point. Cultural liberalism has cost us a ton of middle & working class votes. While abortion rights, stem cell research, etc. might be a majority opinion, it's a majority formed by an alliance with the affluent. It's not exactly a recipe for long-term political success.

So what do we do? First, we need to recognize that cultural liberalism really isn't all that liberal. The Democratic position is one of cultural moderation, and I would suggest that the majority of middle class voters are in no more a hurry to be oppressed by the government on privacy issues than they are in any other way. Let's just look at the record, shall we? Democratic candidates have come out in favor of civil unions, not gay marriage. Of abortion rights, but not federal subsidies for abortion. While I personally may not agree with these positions, it is certainly the case that the position of Democratic candidates for President can only be described as mainstream.

Second, we must recognize that the Republicans have not abandoned their economic conservatism, however unpopular it is. So why should we abandon cultural liberalism? The issue isn't one of abandoning our positions on these issues, it's more a matter of emphasis. We should be talking about the problems of middle class economic anxiety because it is our primary concern (and will help us win enough power to do cultural liberalism too). That doesn't mean we have to sell out, only that we need to focus the argument on subjects where we are strongest.

Finally, I would say that abandoning any kind of organized "movement liberalism" would be a serious mistake. The conservatives have been using their political institutions and megaphone to engage in a massive project of public persuasion. Thirty years ago they had the same positions, but they couldn't get a hearing because the right's ideas were perceived as terribly radical. Now privatizing social security and the like has gone mainstream. Why? Because for the last generation or so they have molded public opinion. They weren't in the majority, but they managed to move a large group of voters in their direction through a prolonged period of public education (really propaganda, but you get the point).

So my advice would be to develop liberal political institutions as a way to shift the public debate back in our direction, remind people of how moderate our positions on culture issues really are (in part by defining the right as a bunch of loonies on the issue), and to keep our focus on the economic concerns of middle class America.

This is a very simple strategy, and one I thought was pretty well settled during the 2004 campaign. Just because it didn't work in that one case doesn't mean it should be abandoned. The Wright Brothers didn't exactly get off the ground their first try either.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:35 AM

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Nuke Mecca?

Thursday, August 04, 2005
Not exactly a rational sentiment. Which is why I get concerned when I hear such comments from liberals. I expect it from the frothing variety of Republicans, but not from the members of the "peacenik" party.

The argument I was presented with was that the U.S. should hold Islamic holy sites hostage for the actions of terrorists. Now this might work if Al Queda had some sort of respect for the lives of their own (ha!) or if they were an instrument of some nation-state or another (like Hamas's relationship with Iran). Then we would indeed have some leverage.

Unfortunately, neither of these positions holds true. I don't think the first even deserves comment. And the second is precisely the mistaken assumption that the Bushies have been peddling, without result. Al Queda is not sponsored by any muslim government - in fact its whole agenda is to overthrow those governments.

In reality, Osama bin Laden would do a happy dance if we made such a threat. He would then immediately hit some western city somewhere, and we would be faced with the choices of either a) killing millions of people and turning millions more into Al Queda recruits, or b) backing down and being a paper tiger. Osama's entire strategy is to polarize the world into pro- and anti-muslim forces, so that he can rally the latter and re-create the Caliphate. Nuking Mecca would be a wonderful way to accomplish this.

Holding the whole of the Muslim world accountable for terrorism might be emotionally satisfying to some, but it has no moral or rational justification. You can't throw me in jail because some other white guy knocked over a liquor store. Lobbing bombs in retaliation is immoral and counterproductive - a pretty good description of a bad idea.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:35 AM

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Emperor Rove

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Machiavelli has long exerted a considerable influence on political strategists, and Sun-Tzu has been something of a fad for the last decade or so, but Karl Rove's adherence to the maxims of Napoleon is something new. E.J. Dionne remarked in a recent op-ed that Rove follows the French emperor's maxim that the whole art of war consists of a cautious defense followed by an audacious attack. Now military history is something of a hobby of mine - Napoleonic warfare in particular. So hearing of Rove's Napoleon inspiration, I decided to do some reading. And I was fascinated by what I saw.

Consolidate your own position of strength. Distract your opponent with threats against what he believes to be his vulnerabilities. Skirmish in all directions, concealing your own intentions and causing him to divide his attentions. With this done, concentrate all of your power on where he is strong, because with the mass of his strength broken, the rest will fall of its own. Cut him off from his base of supply. Force him to fight on ground not of his own choosing, off balance and demoralized. Everything should be dedicated to breaking the enemy's equilibrium. And with the battle won, never for a moment give up the pursuit.

This summary of Napoleonic warfare amounts to a description of every one of Rove's campaigns. As a doctrine of political warfare, it has been very successful. As a practice of democracy, it risks destroying the essence of popular government. Why? Because politics is not war by other means. The principles of war define an opponent which must be destroyed. It recognizes no inherent limits, and presses ever toward escalation. Napoleon said it best: when thunderbolts are available, they are preferable to cannon.

Democratic politics is supposed to be different. It requires that there be limits to politics; that rational debate, compromise, and the acceptance of differences be held by all parties. In democracy, there are in fact no permanent winners and no permanent losers. Democratic conflict should stop short of the cutting off of heads.

So what we have is a doctrine of political strategy which is profoundly antithetical to the requirements of democracy. Which is why it should be no surprise that as time has passed the Republicans have become less and less interested in democracy. Their only consistent goal is the acquisition of power. This single-minded, amoral dedication to personal aggrandizement is consistent with type of politics, but that politics is not democratic - it is tryannical.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:34 AM

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Sweatshops = Bad.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005
What's controversial about that? Apparently a lot. In response to an article on international labor activist Charles Kernaghan, Matt Yglesias suggests that 3rd world sweat shops really aren't so bad, at least in comparison to the other work they might be doing. Josh Marshall argues that the wage levels & working conditions in the 3rd world might be better without union-busting and other forms of intimidation, which is probably true. But I'd like to take another angle in criticizing Yglesias's piece.

Matt's certainly correct in arguing that working in a 3rd world sweatshop is certainly better than working on a 3rd world farm, but I would argue that Yglesias is committing the fallacy of the false dilemma (or the fallacy of binary opposition). He is asserting that the alternatives are 1) sweatshops or 2) farms. But surely Kernaghan's entire campaign is based around the premise that manufacturing work need not be so horrible? These factories are dangerous, abusive, and low-paying not out of any inherent market logic, but because the owners of these companies have chosen to make them duhumanizing in order to extract a few more pennies of profit. Yglesias is inadvertently accepting the prevailing orthodoxy that the business managers should be solely concerned with maximizing profit, even at the expense of their employees and customers, and that they may do anything they like in the process. He is also falling into the trap of assuming that which exists now is all that could exist.

But there are other, better alternatives out there. The world could in fact be a better place than it is. That's sort of the whole point of liberalism.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:33 AM

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Taking Candy From Babies

Monday, August 01, 2005
Just when I get sad about how the Theocons are trying to destroy America they do something that makes me laugh. It's partly so I don't cry, but it still gives me the chuckles.

In today's Washington Post, there is an article about how a Texas public school is going to start a Bible study course. I'll spare you the outrage or observations about the 1st Amendment, since they are self-evident and you'll get plenty of them from other bloggers. Instead I'm going to focus on one line that made me giggle:

In one teaching unit, students are told, "Throughout most of the last 2,000 years, the majority of men living in the Western world have accepted the statements of the Scriptures as genuine."

This statement is a combination of 2 different sorts of of fallacies: appeal to common belief and appeal to tradition. These are two of the most amusing fallacies. You see, there are about 7000 years of recorded history in "Western Civilization," so we can come up with a lot of other wonderful things we should be doing based on this line of "reasoning".....

For 6,950 of the last 7,000 years, the majority of men living in the Western World have accepted the subordinate status of women

For 6,850 of the last 7,000 years, the majority of men living in the Western World have accepted the legitimacy of slavery

For 6,500 of the last 7,000 years, the majority of men living in the Western World have denied the existence of the Western Hemisphere

For 5,000 of the last 7,000 years, the majority of men living in the Western World have accepted the practice of infanticide

For 6,500 of the last 7,000 years, the majority of men living in the Western World have believed that the earth was the center of the universe

For 5,700 of the last 7,000 years, the majority of men living in the Western World have been pagans.

For 6,800 of the last 7,000 years, the majority of men living in the Western World have rejected democracy in favor of absolute monarchy

And my personal favorite, for 7,000 of the last 7,000 years, the majority of men living in the entire World have not been christians.

So according to the Theocons, we should all be misogynistic, slave-holding, geographically ignorant, baby-killing, scientifically wrong-headed, authoritarian, polytheistic non-christians.

But then we already knew that, didn't we?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:32 AM

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