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This is not your squirrel

Friday, March 31, 2006
This is Gatsby's squirrel. And don't you forget it.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:14 PM

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The Mysterious Allure of Karaoke

Thursday, March 30, 2006
I hate hearing other people sing. Unless they're professionals backed up by a band, the sound of another person's voice makes me want to claw out my eyes. It's a silly and hypocritical pet peeve, but there it is. It's one of the many reasons why I wouldn't be caught dead watching American Idol.

But I must confess it - I love karaoke. Last night we went to a karaoke bar in celebration of a friend's completed PhD (congratulations Stephanie!). When I showed up I was kind of down in the dumps, but a few minutes into the festivities I was happy as could be.

It's not just that I like to sing karaoke - which I do. It's that I actually enjoy hearing other people sing. It doesn't matter whether they're good at it or not. In fact, the worse a singer is, the more fun it is.

There's some sort of mystical force that takes hold when you're in a bar listening to strangers sing songs (badly). You're transformed from a self-regarding ass into a member of a community. It's a really nice feeling.

I bet conservatives hate karaoke.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:14 PM

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That's What I Figured

Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Check out this letter by La Queen Sucia to the press on the topic of immigration (via Eschaton).

The point about 3rd-generation Latinos being thoroughly assimilated is correct as far as I can tell. What's been missing in all the furor over Latino immigration is that Latino immigrants are behaving in precisely the same way that every other immigrant in the U.S. ever has - low-wage jobs, language barriers, ghettoization, and political resistance in the first generation. Partial assimilation in the 2nd generation (with 50% speaking english as a first language and marrying outside their ethnic group), and total assimilation in the 3rd generation. Germans, Italians, and now Hispanics - it's all the same story.

My only real concern is that the geographic proximity of Mexico and the decline of the American middle class economy could alter these patterns. I'm happy to hear that they're not.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:14 PM

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The Coming Realignment?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Sometimes being right about something is just no fun.

About ten years ago I identified immigration and globalization as the issues most likely to cause a realignment. The party coalitions formed in the aftermath of the civil rights revolution and the Vietnam War have been remarkably stable and seemed likely to remain so without major social, economic, or demographic changes. Given the capacity of global trade and population movements to drive those sorts of changes, how both parties were internally divided on them, and the importance of them as matters of concern, I expected that over the long term they would emerge as the dominant political issues of the day - splintering the old party coalitions in the process and forging a new political balance of power.

And after a long time of waiting and many ephemeral distractions, it looks like my expectation is finally coming to pass. The War on Terror has obscured the growing salience of immigration and trade issues. But over the last week every major (and most minor) media outlet has been consumed with the question of immigration. In the previous weeks the issue was about the foreign ownership of American ports. I'm going to risk a prediction that this complex of issues will gradually displace, or at least absorb, the old ones.

There has been a great deal of political confusion on the issue, since neither party has a consensus position. The Republicans are divided between the nationalists (who are protectionists and nativists) and the corporatists (who like open borders and free trade). The Democrats are divided between populists (who are protectionists and nativists), multiculturalists (who are pro-immigration), and internationalists (who like immigration and free trade).

Notice anything interesting? The working class base of both parties (who are the majority of the population) want us to end illegal immigration, reduce legal immigration, and protect American jobs from international competition. The upper-class intellectual/financial leadership of both parties are supportive of open trade and large amounts of immigration. In other words, the division on these issues is ultimately about class.

What complicates the picture even further is that the non-white & non-black element of the population, which is primarily Latino, and their political allies view opposition to immigration as essentially racist. And in many cases they are entirely correct. The fact that the Latino vote is the hottest political commodity in the country only makes both parties more confused.

What's going to happen? I think the ball is in the Democrats' court. My expectation is that Republicans will be entirely paralyzed by these issues. They are more ruthless about courting the working-class vote than Democrats, but they are also entirely beholden to their corporate paymasters. I expect that their position will be driven by the Democratic response. If Democrats come out in favor of greater protections from international competition and moderate restrictions on immigration, I think that you will see a mass defection of Latinos to the Republican party and a considerable return of white working class voters to the Democrats. We will then see an essentially class-based politics, with Latinos serving as an auxiliary to the right. If on the other hand the Democrats stick to an essentially free trade position and a permissive stance on immigration, then the Republicans will embrace a position of cultural nationalism. It is unclear which party emerges as the majority in either scenario. In the future there will be an internationalist party and a nationalist party - it just remains to be seen which party will be which, and whether the flavors are of the right or left.

I really have no idea of how this all going to play out. And as of yet I have no clear idea about what we should do about international trade and immigration. But it sure is going to be interesting to watch.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:10 PM

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I Told You So

Thursday, March 23, 2006
Your civil liberties, brought to you by Chief Justice John Roberts.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:10 PM

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Sad Truth

Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Partly through Dr. Brazen Hussy's influence, I have become much more of an environmentalist over the last few years. I've learned a lot about species loss, resource depletion, and global warming - how it works, and what the trendlines are. No matter how scary you think it is, I'm sorry to tell you that it is worse. The reality is that it is too late. About 100 species have been classified as hopeless cases, with more on the way. The forest cover in large parts of the 3rd world is going to entirely disappear in the next decade. And the data from ocean currents and the poles indicate that the tipping point of global climate change has already been reached.

But let's just pretend for a moment. Let's imagine that the research is too pessimistic, and that there is still time prevent catastrophe. It would be fun to think so. There are a lot of policies that would be required to ameliorate the harm of environmental decline - strict protection of national parks, much tougher conservation laws, a massive investment in alternative energies, a drive for mass transit and energy conservation, family planning & population controls, etc.

Regrettably there are 2 more problems. Alternative energies might not work - it is a real question whether they can produce sufficient power to meet the demand of current use, much less the needs of industrializing India and China. As MaxSpeak notes, wind and solar have serious problems. Nuclear power is a non-starter, and "sustainable fossil fuels" sounds more like a slogan than a technology. Barring the miraculous development of eco-technology, we are probably stuck with the energy resources that we have. If that is true, then a real reduction in fossil fuel emissions could lead to a massive cut in living standards.

Which brings me to problem #2. I know too much about politics to think that the political will exists to implement these reforms. We have made zero progress over the last generation in environmental policy, because those who "benefit" from environmental decline are busy telling people what they want to hear, and have a lot more money to push their "don't worry, be happy" message. To push the kinds of changes that would really be required would invite a political war in which the bad guys would have lots of allies and the good guys would have few. Just imagine the phrase "take your cars away" in a 30-second spot. Game over.

And even if you could convince the American electorate to make the necessary sacrifices, a U.S. - only solution i inadequate. The entire globe would have to rally around the new policies. Hell people, they couldn't even get the (very tepid) Kyoto protocol enforced! We didn't even sign the damned thing!

The most likely scenario is that we will continue along as we have, the frog being cooked alive in the proverbial pot. Nothing will be done until the consequences are undeniable, when it will be far, far too late to do anything about it.

In the meantime, I'm going to live my life in the fantasy world of unlikely impossibilities, re-arranging deck chairs and tending to my own garden. It will all be tinged with unreality, because I will never forget what is really going on. But I will muddle along well enough, I suppose, given humanity's remarkable ability to get used to anything - no matter how terrible.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:09 PM

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Herding Cats

Tuesday, March 21, 2006
The response to Feingold's censure motion tells you everything you need to know about how contemporary politics functions. A Democrat attempts to take advantage of Bush's vulnerabilities. He is assailed by Republicans as being unpatriotic. He is attacked by other Democrats who think that this position makes the party look "soft." And the media gleefully reports boths critiques, furthering the "Republicans tough, Democrats in disarray" meme. Meanwhile the substantive argument the Democrat was trying to make is entirely lost.

We have seen this story play out over and over and over. Now we know that press is partly at fault, because of their simplistic and easily manipulable character. And the Republicans are to be congratulated for their ability to dominate the agenda - although having all 3 branches of government tends to make that pretty easy. And of course the Democrats deserve some criticism for their lack of unity.

But the problem is more complicated than it might appear. The source of the Republican advantage and the Democratic disadvantage really boils down to one thing - message discipline. We were able to achieve a stalemate in the 1990's because we had the Clinton White House. Once we lost it, we lost any central leadership and have been on the rhetorical defensive every since.

It's not that there aren't good strategies proposed for Democrats. There are tons of good strategies, any of which might work. But what we have now is NO strategy, because there is no one to make the decision and then follow through. Instead we have polite requests that our party members follow along. They make a different calculation, pursue a different path, and the result is verbal anarchy.

The Republicans don't have this problem. In power or out of it, they are equally adept at crafting and implementing a rhetorical strategy, with the members of their coalition relentlessly pushing a single point of view on any issue.

What explains the difference between Democratic and Republican message discipline? One word - organization. The Republicans have built an old-style political machine, based on contract patronage & media institutions, but with a hard-core activist base. The leadership of this machine can punish any Republican who doesn't toe the line. If they resist central directives, they are punished with primary challenges are the withholding of campaign funds. Furthermore, this machine is imbued with a fanatic right-wing ideology that gives the structure internal legitimacy and pscyhological cohesion.

The Democrats have nothing resembling this kind of organization. This is not the fault of Democrats. It's been rare for a major national political party to blend machine and ideological politics - I can't really think of one, to be honest. The closest historical examples are the Bolsheviks and the Fascists. I would argue that it is not that the Democrats are particularly disorganized and incompetent. They are behaving the way most political parties have behaved at most times. What is remarkable is what the Republicans have created - a political structure without parallel in national politics.

The Republican structure is not going to just collapse on its own - it must be destroyed. Until the Democrats build a political organization of their own, we are going to continue to lose. I'm not suggesting we ape the Republicans in building a top-down, inherently corrupt, quasi-fascist party structure. What I am saying is that until we develop central institutions that enable us to develop and execute political strategy, we are going to keep getting our heads beat in.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:08 PM

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Polygamy and Gay Marriage

Monday, March 20, 2006
Charles Krauthammer has done what I was expecting some conservative to do - blame the current discussion about polygamy on the gay marriage advocates. His position makes a kind of facile sense - those proposing legalizing gay marriage do so on the grounds that it is a free choice by adults, and hence should be respected by the state. On this justification, polygamy should be legalized too, since it is the free choice of adults as well.

This is not really a new argument. During the 2004 election, wingnuts were asserting that if we legalize gay marriage, we'd have to legalize all sorts of socially aberrant relationships, like polygamy and incest.

To risk getting eggs thrown at me, I'll concede that Krauthammer is correct - sort of. If the justification for gay marriage is autonomy - that free people can make whatever free decisions they like - then there is in fact nothing in principle to stop polygamy. Which is why I never liked the autonomy argument - it would force us to legalize all sorts of other behaviors we don't like, like drug use.

The challenge for those defending gay marriage is to find a rationale that closes the door to the conservative slippery slope critique. This is not an easy task, but I'll take a stab at it. The problem centers on why one marries. It is not for the sake of procreation - if that were the case infertile couples (and those that don't want children) would not be permitted to marry. It is not a financial arrangement, since women are no longer (as) dependent on their spouses.

No, the purpose of marriage is to make a solemn oath to share one's life with another, to become truly committed in a permanent relationship. In other words, to love for life.

If we accept this proposed definition of marriage, would gay marriage be admitted as an acceptable version of it? I would say yes - in principle there is no reason why 2 homosexuals would be incapable of being committed for life. Polygamy, I would contend, does not meet this standard. It is inconceivable that one could truly to commit to more than one person. Part of the nature of marriage is its exclusivity. If one requires additional partners, then it is an implicit suggestion that no single partner is capable of meeting our emotional needs, whereas we are assumed to be able to provide all of their needs.

The existence of polygamy in history demonstrates its real social failings - why it is not a true marriage at all. Polygamy has always been one male and multiple females, and has generally resulted in massive emotional and physical exploitation of women. This is not just because of abuses of polygamy, but is inherent to it. If there is a single person of one gender and multiple members of the opposite gender, then in sexual & psychological relations there is a massive asymmetry - the one man (it's ALWAYS a man) would have all the bargaining power.

Polygamy is just another manifestation of the patriarchy, and as such must be rejected. Yes in theory it could be one woman and multiple men, but this would not solve the inherent hierarchy which exists in any polygamous relationship.

That's my tentative position on this issue - everyone is free to comment, since I haven't fully considered all the twists and turns.

P.S. Yglesias, Marshall, and others are debating Harry Reid's contention that Bush is the worst President ever. I argued that he was just before the 2004 election here. The evidence of his 2nd term only strengthens my conviction.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:08 PM

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You Can Call Me V

Saturday, March 18, 2006
I've always loved the V for Vendetta comic book series, and I was extremely excited when I learned about the movie - so excited that I sprung for IMAX tickets on opening night. And while the work lost something in translation - as is almost inevitable - I still enjoyed the film a great deal.

Which is why I was so surprised at the harsh criticism the film received from the NYT and Washington Post movie reviewers (as usual the Onion was closer to the mark). They though the film was boring, unoriginal, typical big-budget action/adolescent power fantasy fare. Yes of course there are flaws in the movie - that some of the dialogue was overwritten and that there were some annoying hollywood flourishes. But on the whole I believe that the film remained true to the spirit of the original.

One thing should be clear to anyone who really watches the movie: it is most decidedly NOT about teenage rebellion. And it's only partially about resistance to oppression. The emotional core of the movie lies in the reading of the "Valerie" letter, where Evey Hammond (Portman) realizes the importance of personal integrity. The criticism of V's cartoonish inhumanity are wildly off base. He is supposed to be inhuman, because he is personifying an ideal - the movie goes astray when they make V too human, not too abstract.

And the political message, while superficially attacking tyrannical governments, is in reality directed at the citizenry themselves. When V assigns blame, he does not place it with the leaders, but with the people who gave them the power. Like Evey, they had let fear get the best of them. V's task both for Evey and for his countrymen is to teach them that fear need not control their lives - and that if it does, it is no one's fault but their own. It is the this refusal to let people off the hook, either for their own personal fear or for their collective irresposibility, that makes the ending of the film so powerful - superior, I believe, to the comic version.

V is an ode to popular rule and personal responsibility, to the idea that as individuals and societies we are are ultimately responsble for our own destiny. It's the stoic insight that while we may not be able to control the events in our lives, we are entirely free to choose how to respond to those events. There is only an inch between what happens to us and what we choose to do, but "within that inch, we are free."
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:07 PM

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Happy St. Patrick's Day

Friday, March 17, 2006
In honor of the greatest of drinking holidays, I will reveal what I wish my life were like:


Big surprise, huh?

I was planning to write about the censure vote, but since I didn't blog yesterday (computer problems - curse you PC's!), I will refer this discussion to Rude Pundit.

Yesterday was the worst in a long series of sucky days, but at least tonight I'm going to go see V for Vendetta in IMAX. Nothing like a little bread and circuses to take your mind off your problems.

Have a great party day!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:07 PM

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Fighting Gender Roles For Real

Wednesday, March 15, 2006
So I was having lunch yesterday, and two female co-workers and I were berating a male co-worker for not being a good feminist. Not an hour later, the male co-worker and I were being called "pansies" for watching "chick-flicks." See the contradiction?

Lately I've come to realize that as the gender stereotype for women has loosened (in some social circles, at least), for men it has become if anything more rigid. A big part of this is due to a defensive backlash by men who feel threatened - but they are not they only perpetrators. I know many self-identified liberal feminists of both sexes who embrace the idea of women doctors, women athletes, women "playas", what have you. But to these very same people, a man who likes romantic comedies, isn't good at sports, can't fix a car, and can identify when colors match - is hardly a man at all.

So enough with the double standard, all right? The core of the feminist movement, of liberal politics generally, is that people should be treated fairly and with dignity. Let's shuck traditional gender roles for everybody. Because I don't see how liberalizing them for one sex and strengthening them for the other makes a great deal of sense.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:06 PM

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Mr. Unoriginal

Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Karl Rove is a faker.

He's supposed to be this big, bad, scary political strategist. A modern Machiavelli. The Texas political wunderkind. But he's not. He's just someone who reads books.

I've been reading Robert Caro's series on Lyndon Johnson. The second book, Means of Ascent, details how LBJ won the 1948 Senate race against Governor Coke Stevenson - the reigning champion of Texas politics. How did he do it? A combination of massive fundraising (through sweetheart deals with the oil and development industries), vicious attacks on his opponent that were the opposite of the truth, blatant misrepresentations about his own record and history, and rampant vote-stealing. The race ended in court, with a friendly Supreme Court giving the race to Bush...er... I mean Johnson.

Does any of this sound familiar?

One could argue that all of these features of the Johnson campaign are par for the course in American politics. And in saying so, you would be partly correct. Caro himself describes the 1948 race as the first truly modern campaign. But not all - maybe even not most - of contemporary campaigns engage in such practices. What distinguishes Johnson (and Rove) is their utter ruthlessness - their willingness to do everything short of political assassination - to gain their aim, which is power.

Rove certainly didn't invent this style of campaign. He's an almost slavish imitator of Johnson's strategy - going after the strengths of the opposition and all. So he is no innovator. What he is is a man totally unsuited to participate in the political life of a democratic country. He'd be far happier working as the henchman of some 3rd world dictator.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:06 PM

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All About the Benjamins

Monday, March 13, 2006
In light of the Supreme Court's cavalier attitude regarding the influence of money on politics, one would expect that it plays little or no role in elections or public decision-making. And, of course, wone would be wrong.

Exhibit A: Any serious candidate for President in 2008 will need to raise around $100 million dollars to be competitive. Personal characteristics, issues, the state of the country - none of these things will matter unless the candidate has massive financial support before the campaign even begins. And if you think this phenomenon only occurs at the national level, I have a wonderful new erectile disfunction financial investment mortgage re-financing plan to offer you - all I need is your credit card number.

Exhibit B: The Republican Congress is shelving even the most nominal lobbying reform. A ton of scandals and indictments, the risk of losing Congress, and still they don't act. Are they stupid? Maybe. But their intellectual deficiencies probably have less to do with it than the fact that they can't raise the money to run for re-election if they can't find a way to keep corporate contributors (and their lobbyists) happy.

Boy, this sure is a healthy democracy, isn't it?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:05 PM

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Ice Cream? What Ice Cream?

Friday, March 10, 2006
This is a muzzle! Really!

Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:05 PM

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Roll-over Republicans

Thursday, March 09, 2006
One of the most amusing things about contemporary American politics is that Republicans are typically considered more "masculine" than Democrats. To risk falling into fallacious gender stereotypes, what's manly about being treated like shit and then asking for more? Congressional Republicans, left out to dry by the Dubai ports deal, having little input in the legislative process (since everything is re-written in conference committee anyway - and by the way you don't get to read the legislation), and watching their poll numbers sink into oblivion, decide that the best way to recover their fortune is to protect the President who has screwed them - no matter what.

Rather than hold hearings demanding to know why the President is breaking the law - which I bet would get his attention - they go begging for a "compromise" that retrospectively ratifies Bush's illegal wiretapping and lies to Congress. When asked why the legislation appears to be such a sell-out to the White House, they reply "it's the best we could do."

The supposed "moderates" in the Senate are even more pusillanimous than Democrats in Red States, because at least the former are unlikely to face a conservative electoral challenge. The most independent Republicans are no better than whiny lapdogs. An example of their cowardice?

Mr. Hagel said he and Senators DeWine and Snowe were "three of the most
independent Republicans" in the Senate and added, "I have never been accused of buckling to White House pressure."

You have now, buddy.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:04 PM

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I Am NOT Moving To Texas

Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Tom DeLay was re-nominated in a landslide.

What exactly does it take for a Republican to decide that his anointed leader needs to be replaced? It's not like they were being asked to vote for a Democrat or anything - just a less obviously crooked Republican.

This episode just goes to show what I have increasingly believed to be the case about the right - that they don't care about anything but power. They are so frightened (by what, I have no idea) that they will support any "strong man" who offers to protect them. The more evil he is, the more they love him. I can only suppose it is because of some twisted belief that the more unethical someone is, the better he will be able to defend them against ...well...whatever is threatening them. Teletubbies maybe?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:04 PM

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Preparing For McCain

Tuesday, March 07, 2006
I've been one of those who thought that McCain would never get the Republican nomination because he'd burned too many bridges with the Theocons. But I underestimated his willingness to bend over for the extreme right. McCain is extraordinarily popular and I am beginning to think that he might actually have a chance. If he were the nominee, and were in his present political position as the "rugged independent," we would have no chance to win the election. None.

So it's time we thought about how to destroy this guy. Let's not wait until October of 2008 to take the risk seriously, shall we? There are 3 related arguments we can make against McCain. The first is that he is a faker- he talks a lot about independence, but he really buckles under and will do anything to gratify his political ambition. Just look at how he got rolled on the torture amendment. The other line of attack is that he is in fact a secret right-wing radical - we should hammer home is lunatic position on abortion in particular. With some skill we could foist the following dilemma on him: either he really likes the South Dakota law, in which case he is quite simply no moderate. Or he is only doing it to kow-tow to the right, in which case he is without principle (referring back to argument 1).

The third attack on McCain is that despite all of his protestations, he is a shill for George Bush. Bush is likely to be radioactive by 2008, so we should tie McCain as firmly to him as possible early. There are lots of pictures of him campaigning for George Bush and saying how wonderful W is. There is also his pro-Bush voting record, which is like 99%. We could say something like "you only voted against George Bush 3 times in 8 years. Is that independence?"

We would have to carefully balance these three lines of attack, but I think there is the embryo of an effective assault here. What people should avoid doing is attacking his age or supposed poor temper. The age thing didn't work against Reagan, and the temper thing can easily be turned around to feed into McCain's "real man" image.

So let's get to work!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:03 PM

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Oh, So I'm to Blame For Everything!

Monday, March 06, 2006
The Washington Post had a theme to its Sunday edition, and that theme was - "It's All Your Fault."

First there was this article laying out the precarious financial situation of the average household. While the average family income is $43,000, they owe over $2000 in credit card debt and many times that on their homes, and have no investments and no savings. Of course the Post attributes responsibility to the spendthrift American houshold, which can't be be bothered to save any money for their retirement.

Then there was George Will attacking John Edwards' recent focus on reducing poverty. According to Will, Edwards is embracing an old-fashioned, 1930's conception of poverty:

The 1930s paradigm has been refuted by four decades of experience. The new paradigm is of behavior-driven poverty that results from individuals' nonmaterial deficits. It results from a scarcity of certain habits and mores -- punctuality, hygiene, industriousness, deferral of gratification, etc. -- that are not developed in disorganized homes.

In other words, if you are poor, it is all your fault.

I wonder if it has occured to our well-fed elites that if the economy is growing at a "healthy" rate, but the vast majority of American households - both poor and middle class - are suffering from stagnant or declining incomes, then something bigger than individual flaws might be the cause? Because there is word for a situation in which all are contributing to an endeavor, but only a few are extracting the rewards. It's called exploitation, which may be the worst vice of all.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:03 PM

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My Dog Will Eat Anything. Including You.

Friday, March 03, 2006

And in case you're wondering, that is the camera handle he is trying to eat.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:02 PM

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Good News, Bad News

Thursday, March 02, 2006
The good news is that the Supreme Court is considering the Texas re-districting plan. The bad news is that it sounds like they'll uphold it. Once again the court is giving short shrift to fair democratic procedure in favor of a narrow, self-serving legalism. As with the campaign finance case, the point was actually made that if the voters don't like the result, they can remove the offenders. Which completely ignores that with re-districting, as with campaign finance, the democratic process itself is being manipulated - making voter accountability extremely difficult. How can Alito say that the voters should decide when these abuses are designed to insulate politicians from competition?

The good news is that unmarrieds and those without children aren't freaks after all - only 24% of households are marrieds with children. The bad news is that you'd never think this was the case turning on the television. For some reason a rare social structure has become the only acceptable mode of living.

The good news is that neither the guest worker plan nor the "kick the immigrants out" plan nor the "open the borders" plan appears to be passing the Congress this year. The bad news is that I agree with something in the national review:

Unlike the 1986 measure, the recipients of this amnesty would not automatically be put on a path to citizenship (i.e., would not be given green cards), but would instead remain in the United States for the rest of their lives as non-citizens — a permanent underclass.

Because this policy worked so well in Europe!

It's fun watching the Republicans twisting themselves in knots trying to satisfy the Latino community by not appearing racist, the business community which wants cheap labor, and the white nationalist community that feels invaded. The real answer to illegal immigration is massive intervention to improve the Mexican economy and cracking down on sweatshop owners. But the Republicans can't do this, because it would offend the only constituency they really give a damn about - corporations.

And finally it's good news that I'm done blogging this morning. The bad news is that now I have to get ready for work.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:02 PM

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The Supreme Court Hearts Oligarchy

Wednesday, March 01, 2006
From the cross-examination it looks like the Supreme Court will strike down Vermont's "clean election" campaign finance law. Vermont's law limits contributions to $400 for statewide officials down to $200 for state House races. Campaign spending limits are also imposed to between $300,000 for statewide and $2000 for local races.

Our lovely Supreme Court, which appears eager to consolidate political oligarchy in this country, critiqued the law during hearings this week. Roberts challenged the state to prove that there was corruption, if there was why there weren't prosecutions, and suggested that a better method would be let the voters "throw the bums out." He also demanded an example in which the positions of candidates were determined by campaign contributions.

The otherwise likeable Stephen Breyer took another tack, criticizing the Vermont law for limits which were "too low." Alito argued that this would benefit incumbents. Meanwhile the accursed ACLU joined with conservative groups in challenging the law, claiming that it unduly restricted free speech.

My longtime readers might be tired of my harping campaign finance issues, but oh well. This situation really boils my blood. The Supreme Court seems entirely uninterested that there is a de facto wealth test for office. Unless candidates ran raise sufficient money, they aren't allowed to run. Oh, they can put their name on the ballot, but they have literally NO CHANCE of winning. It's like giving a plastic straw to one kid and a bazooka to another and telling them to go fight. Yes at some metaphysical level the first kid has a chance, but not a real one. In fact he has so little opportunity that allowing him to "compete" amounts to an insult worse than barring him in the first place.

Roberts displays his customary sophistry when forcing the Vermont Attorney General to demonstrate a specific example of corruption. Corruption is not the issue, although the mere fact that voters believe there is corruption should be troubling if we think democracy is a relevant issue. The question instead is what issues are allowed in the public forum. This is what is so insidious about the "free speech" argument employed by Buckley and its defenders. Who exactly gets to speak? People who can raise or spend a lot of money. If you don't have the cash, you don't get to play. Therefore the entire public debate is shifted in the direction of those with lots of money to spend or contribute. This violates the principle of political equality that lays at the heart of the Constitution.

The idea that contribution limits could be "too low" betrays the real disregard the Supreme Court has for political equality. The most cursory examination of campaign contributions indicates that only a very small, very wealthy elite can afford to contribute thousands of dollars to campaigns. Limiting the contribution amounts to a few hundred dollars makes it (a little) more likely that the broader pool of politically interest citizens will influence who has a chance to run for office. It forces candidates to "go to the people" to raise money, and limits the ability of a few powerful interests to put their "boy" into contention. What may I ask is wrong with that?

The Supreme Court's Buckley-inspired perspective on campaign finance issues is therefore highly destructive of political equality. It limits the ability of regular citizens to seek public office and perverts the public debate. There is indeed corruption at work - not the naked corruption of the quid pro quo, but a creeping corruption in which the public forum is subtly dominated by the wealthy and powerful.

Shame on the Supreme Court. Shame.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:01 PM

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