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Sorry, Charlie

Monday, July 31, 2006
So Chuck Schumer did a long interview over at the American Prospect. Since he's one of the most powerful people in the Democratic Party, it's worth reading if you want to know what's going on.

I didn't like what I read.

Schumer's basic thesis is that technology has profoundly changed the character of politics, homogenizing us. According to him, Democrats need to understand the highly individualized and anxiety-ridden character of contemporary voters. He thinks that Democrats need to come up with "eight words" and ignore coalition (what he describes as "New Deal") politics as well as "common good" politics, but still try to take advantage of the opening left by globalization to rehabilitate government. He also thinks the Reagan Revolution was a good thing, because liberals did get government-crazy in the 1970's.

Now I want to be fair. There's a lot of what Schumer said that I agree with. But I want to pick a nit or two with his basic position.

First, I think that the impact of technology on culture and politics is over-rated, and far different than what Schumer believes. The differentiation of media sources and transportation has not made for a more homogenized society, but a more divided one. The fact that a large segment of the population can literally never interact with those of an alternate political persuasion, and can absorb information entirely from sources with which they agree, stands as a direct contradiction of his position. Fox News, the 700 Club, etc. are part of the problem, but so it is the new political segregation we are experiencing, where people move to places where everyone is just like them. The communications technology and marketing technique have made it easier to work "coalition" politics, as the Republicans have demonstrated. Their eight-word slogans are in fact just empty words (as Schumer describes them), but the Republicans' campaigns are targetted to activating specific constituencies. I mean really, what do the religious right, big business, and nationalists have in common?

As an aside, I think that New Deal politics was somewhat less coalitional than Schumer believes. Yes FDR was offering specific policies to appeal to specific constituency, but it was all wrapped up in the broader idea of mutual obligation and social justice.

I also reject Schumer's contention that that the Reagan Revolution was a good thing. Reagan's effect on American politics was disastrous. His free lunch politics, which was promptly imitated by every other politician, got Americans used to hearing only what they wanted to hear other than inconvenient truths. Also, while I will concede that the Democratic Party is far too reliant on D.C.-based bureaucratic solutions to public problems, I think that gee-whiz market fundamentalism is just as much a dead end. At the end of the day, Great Society liberalism left America in better shape than it found it. Reaganism has put America in the shitter. That's the basic test.

Schumer's rejection of libertarian, common-good, and coalition politics puts him in a awkward position. Where in the world is he going to find a coherent ideological position that doesn't fit into one of these categories? He says that Democrats should work "inductively" from the positions of real people up to public policy. In the sense of being focused on people's actual problems, he's right. But I think what Schumer is really pointing to is a Clintonesque strategy of incremental (and largely symbolic) solutions using market mechanisms to achieve public purposes - in other words, towards no broader aim at all. This might make sense for a politician trying to get elected, but it will do nothing for a party seeking a persuasive public agenda.

Schumer criticizes conservatives for starting from theoretical positions and working down towards public policy. If this approach is totally disconnected from the aspirations that people have, then he is right to criticize this approach. But I think a philosophical politics inspired by people's problems, and then moves to policy, is the right approach.

Schumer's preferred strategy seems to leave us with no liberal public philosophy at all. This is no accident, given his resistance to the politics of the common good (or its more aggressive variant, class politics). His love of individualized politics fundamentally misunderstands that politics is about public life, and characterized at its essence by social cooperation. A love of individual liberty is an important component of democratic politics, because it draws boundaries between the public and private. But to let private concerns crowd out public considerations is just a grave an error of letting public values steamroll over individual rights.

We live in a very strange age, in which we are making both mistakes at the same time. In economic and social matters, we are committing the first error of fostering apathy and self-regard. In cultural and security matters, we are trampling on personal freedoms. Schumer doesn't seem to really recognize either of these problems, and his pragmatic unphilosophy would leave us without resources to combat either.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:53 AM

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Brazen Hussy Is Back!

Saturday, July 29, 2006
Yeah! And there was much rejoicing!

Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:17 AM

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Is This Really How It's Supposed To Work?

Thursday, July 27, 2006
So I've been working on my dissertation, which involves electoral politics. Part of my data collection task has been to read about a ton of campaigns from over the last 20 years. When I need to take a break, I look at the internet, where I read about campaigns going on right now. When I can't look at the screen any more or when I'm finished for the day, I'll read. The book I'm perusing right now is Teddy White's "The Making of the President" - a book about a campaigns over forty years ago. Yes I have a one-track mind.

So other than wondering where my wife is and why there's nothing on TV, my brain is entirely consumed with campaign politics, and more particularly, what makes a candidate competitive. And do you know what it always comes down to? Not ideas, or charisma, or organization, but money. Because to a great degree money buys all the other things, or at least allows them to play a role. But reading about hundreds of campaigns from the House to the Senate to the President, each and every contest is dominated by questions of fundraising. If you can raise a lot of money, you can compete. If not, don't even bother. Nothing else really matters.

Take a strongly Republican district with an entrenched incumbent, and give me a multi-millionaire liberal who isn't a total fool, and a decent campaign will garner him at least 45% percent of the vote. But in an open seat in a swing district, if the other side's guy can raise 3 million while our candidate is brilliant, good-looking, and experienced but broke - we won't have a prayer. End of story.

So my question - is this really how it's supposed to work? I've talked about this issue a lot since I started bloggging, but the more time passes the more central I think this problem is. Fundraising defines the nature of contemporary politics. Do we really know for sure that Republicans would be able to compete with Democrats, or that so many incumbents would get re-elected, or that there would be so much corruption and pro-business policy, if money weren't so important? I wonder.

So here's my challenge. Can anybody provide a cogent arguement against a system of public financing? One in which any candidate in primary or general, upon getting a reasonable number of signatures, would qualify for campaign vouchers. It would cost a billion dollars, it's true. But that's money we're sort of spending on campaigns already, not to mention the billions we waste on tax cuts for billionaires and corporate welfare. Yeah it would mean a lot of incumbents would have to face serious primary challenges every cycle, but so what? Who does that actually hurt?

I criticize others for being one-issue voters, whether that issue be the environment, abortion, civil rights, the war, whatever. But I do believe that it's important to stake out a couple of areas that are most important. Given that, think I owe it to others to say what the most important issue is to me - campaign finance reform. It's not sexy and it might not win a lot of votes, but I just don't see how liberal politics is practical if we don't sever the connection between money and politics. Give me a level playing field, and everything is possible. Keep what we have now, and nothing is.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:08 PM

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Report From My Real Life

Wednesday, July 26, 2006
So as I mentioned yesterday, I had my job interview yesterday. It was a surprisingly epic experience - at least for someone who's done little more than sit at a computer typing all day every day lately.

I had to fish my nice clothes out of the closet and ask myself 50 times how nicely I should dress up because a) it was hot and b) how formal a place is a university anyway? But I went ahead and dressed up and roasted as a consequence. I took the bus in, which took longer than usual because a group of about 40 little kids from summer camp climbed on halfway. I'd forgotten that there's such a thing as little kid smell. It's not a bad smell. I'd just forgotten about it.

So I finally got to the interview location and was predictably way early, because I am always way early. One of the interviewers (from the university's human resources dept) was already there and I chatted with her about mass transit (don't laugh). Then the other 2 people arrived - one the chair of the department and the other a staffer. The set up was a little stressful, because they were one one side of a long table and I was on the other. The hr person didn't ask any questions but just took notes. Spooky.

I wonder whether I'm technically qualified for the job, although I do have a compatible skill set. They asked a set series of questions that they asked every candidate so they'd be fair. Most of them were pretty easy. I mainly tried to be as honest and likeable as possible, but I was a little nervous which is why I talked so much (of course BH would say that I must always be nervous because I never shut up). Then at the end of about an hour interview they sent me to a little room to write a sample letter, which I thought was a little odd.

On the whole the experience was a good one. It's hard to know how well I did, or what my chances are. I think they asked me in because they were curious about my resume. One thing that apparently caught their attention was that I'd done field work with my wife. They also seemed impressed that I was willing to follow her across the country. When asked about why I wanted a university admin job, one of the things I explained was that as my wife and I were both PhD's, it was more practical for one of us to do something else (2 academic jobs in the same town? no way). Since BH's academic career was more important to her than mine was to me, I'd be the one who pursued something a little different. I then said that it was "the most important decision I had to make" and realized it was true. I didn't quite come out and say that my marriage was the most important thing in my life, but the meaning was clear.

I was just talking when I said, thinking while I spoke, and I'm not sure how they took it. But it made me feel good to have done it. It's easy to say the words "my marriage is the most important to me." But you have to really mean it, and in that moment it was clear to me that I did mean it.

The other thing I didn't think about until now was that all 3 of my interviewers were women. I just never noticed it - or never thought about it. I'd like to think that it's a good thing that I didn't think about their gender. They were just people to me.

Now that I'm done patting myself on the back for being a good husband and good feminist, I'm going to go do some work. Ciao.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:29 AM

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Wish Me Luck

Tuesday, July 25, 2006
So I finally have a job interview at the university. It looks like an interesting job, although I don't know how qualified I really am for it. I'll have to do some fast talking and convince them that I'm really cool and they can't live without me.

In which case I'm doomed.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:12 AM

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Trouble In the Big City

Monday, July 24, 2006
The New York Times is reporting that while cities in America are booming, they are becoming increasingly unaffordable for middle class people. Urban centers are partitioning into the haves and have nots with little in between.

I can speak to this from personal experience. It's nearly impossible for 2 people working full time on a middling salary to make it in a place like New York. A lot of people in public service are having to take these long commutes to get into town. Others are having to take two jobs - each.

The response of this guy indicative of how out-of-touch some of our leaders are:

Firefighters who want to live in high-priced cities can work two jobs, said W. Michael Cox, chief economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. "I think it’s great," he said. "It gives you portfolio diversification in your income."
Yeah buddy. That's what you call working yourself to death and never seeing your family. A "diverse portfolio." What a schmuck.

And what about this comment?

Professor Glaeser said: "There’s no obvious smoking gun saying cities will be substantially worse off. There’s a whole lot of America that does a very good job of taking care of the middle class. The great sprawling edge cities of the American hinterland provide remarkably cheap housing, fast commutes, decent public services and incredibly cheap products available in big box stores. As a New Yorker, I understand the view that exile from New York is consignment to hell; but that’s not accurate. The majority of middle-class people that have moved out have presumably found themselves better lives out there."
I'm sorry. Some of us don't like living in the exurbs. Aside from all the economic, environmental, and social damage sprawl like that creates, it is very discriminatory to say that the urban life is in the future going to be restricted to the very affluent.

Do you know what's happening here? They are trying to turn out cities into 3rd world hellholes, with the elite having their poor servants close by packed 20 to a room. They're becoming these gargantuan gated communities, with crappy services and no culture for those of not lucky enough to have rich parents. And did I mention that our economic system is already busily destroying small town life, so that we'll be left with no real options for a satisfying residence at all?

I'm happy that the Times pointed out some of the problems associated with a disappering middle class, such as a lack of economic opportunity, economic and social stratification, and political instability. But I wonder why they haven't pointed to the broader problem. It's not that just our cities are seeing the disappearance of the middle class. This is what our entire country is facing: the end of the American middle class, and with the end of what we used to call the American Dream.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:27 PM

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I'm Innocent!

Sunday, July 23, 2006
Apparently BH hasn't been getting my emails and now she thinks I'm not writing her! Aargh! If you're reading this, I just sent email from my other account as well as to your other account!

Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:45 PM

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Friday, July 21, 2006
I'm high and I can't get down!

Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:21 PM

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Clear Up This Matter For Me

Wednesday, July 19, 2006
From personal, anecdotal, and statistical evidence, it appears that there are precious few serious scientists working in the United States who remain Republicans.

I wonder why?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:45 PM

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My Blog Today

Tuesday, July 18, 2006
My blog today is likely going to be a great deal like my day to day. I suppose I could blame the material at hand. The best I could find to make fun of was Bush's interesting new form of diplomacy, or Evan Bayh's miraculous discovery of what has been the basic Democratic message for the last, oh, sixty years or so. Or I could blame my listlessness on all the data entry I did today.

But no, the real reason I feel so glum is that my beloved Dr. Hussy has gone away. Maybe it sounds co-dependent, but I can't remember the last time we spent more than a day or two apart and I don't like it. It's very hard when your wife and best friend run off together (in this case because they're the same person). I know BH is coming back, but 10 days seems like a very long time.

And the animals still have fleas.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 5:25 PM

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This Is A Very Strange Place

Monday, July 17, 2006
Sometimes the actions of my fellow Americans make me scratch my head in bewilderment.

1) Bush proposes cuts to Medicare, apparently as part of a plan to not just punish the elderly for being old, but to reward campaign contributors by issuing a no-bid contract. Why is this strange, you ask? Not because Bush thinks this is a good idea, but because he does this in the run-up to an election. It's not really smart politics. How much easier could it be than for Democrats to say that the Republicans are selling out the elderly in corrupt back-room deal?

2) A bunch of wealthy philanthropists give money to a Democratic umbrella organization in order to build a liberal infrastructure. The result? They are accused to discriminating against centrist groups and of being a shadowy, secret organization with little public accountability. Did I miss something, or hasn't the DLC been getting corporate contributions for years? Do they just want all the money? And why not more scrutiny about the billions that Scaife and his ilk have been pouring into the right since the late 70's? Hey guys, I'll make a deal with you. If the right stops funding conservative groups, we'll stop funding liberal ones. Deal?

3) Arizona is making the voting process a lottery system. That's right - if you vote, your name is automatically entered for a million-dollar prize. I'm of 2 minds about this. I'm so desperate to improve turnout that I'm almost willing to try anything. But to reduce the vote to something so crass? What does this say about democracy? I do disagree with those that think it violates the bribery laws. Those statutes are clearly designed to prevent money from influencing who people vote for, not whether they vote. Still, I don't know. It seems kind of icky.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:34 AM

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A Recipe For Misery

Sunday, July 16, 2006
Thanks to Shrinky Kitten for letting us know all about a brainwashing program teaching women to be doormats and men to be jackasses. To summarize, men are instructed to assert their dominance in all the tiresome "traditional" ways - demand control of the finances, sexual access whenever they choose, obeisance in the household, etc. etc. Women are of course taught that the success or failure of a relationship is entirely dependent on their willingness to submit.

I entered a towering rage when I read this piece, which is a great way to spend a Sunday morning. The first problem, as Shrinky points out, is that empirical evidence indicates that relationships based on equality are more successful than patriarchal ones. So the entire project collapses on its own terms in any case. There are logical fallacies as well. This conception of gender identity falls into the naturalistic fallacy that just because something exists in nature means that it is good. Right. How does everyone feel about a lifespan of forty? No takers? The other fallacy is of course the appeal to tradition, like traditions are always good things. Of course the dominant tradition of dealing with unwanted children was just exposing them on a hillside. Do the anti-choicers really want to fall back on tradition? And by the way, has it ever occured to these ignoramuses that the reason all these social changes have taken place is that people were unhappy with their lot in life? We embraced the new kind of life because the old one sucked.

It is obvious how this approach to gender identity is insulting to women, since it treats them like chattel. But what may not be obvious is how it harms men as well, and not just in the sense that men who don't conform are going to be attacked as not being "real men" with the ultimate "insult" of being gay. The message is that men are defined by their ability to dominate others, that the core of masculinity is to lord it over women and lessers. In that sense it is the mirror image of the traditionalist notion that it is women's nature to be submissive.

In an odd way this disempowers men, because it claims that one's worth as a person is dependent on the relationship with others. Any man who is not dominating others is "weak" and not truly a man. And given the importance they place on gender as the key to identity, a "weak" man becomes not just not a man but not a real person. They are stripped of all inherent value, as their worth becomes strictly relational. It's a pretty strange theory to say that value is based on "strength" and external relationships, given how dependent those relationships are on the decisions of others. Do I really want to say that my identity is based on what other people do?

I'm not just pointing out an abstract problem. This sort of social structure has real consequences. What do you think happens when men's sense of self-worth is tied up with their ability to control other people? (I'm going to leave aside women for a second, since the cornerstone of the project is to deprive women of any sense of value altogether). When a man is unable to assert his dominance over other men, then he decides that he is being feminine. Subconsciously he will submit to the more domineering males and act like a "woman" in his relationships with other men. This is how those strict hierarchies get created in male social networks. The only choice for a man to lose these feelings of being lesser - to escape being forced to obey - is to find some other group or person to oppress, or to find some way to rise up in the hierarchy. So you have vicious conflicts along identity lines, and fractious internal social relationships. What a recipe for a happy life!

This kind of social totalitarianism has a much more ambitious agenda that restoring the "traditional family." If successful, it will negate the entire effort to individualism, liberty and equality. Do you think that it's an accident that those societies with the most rigidly misogynistic family structures are also impoverished, violent autocracies?

What's so pathetic is how pointless this vision of humanity is, how impoverished and demeaning. There are better alternatives. We can compete with others on the basis of achieving excellence rather than domination. Better yet, we can cooperate in an effort to produce a greater good. This is why egalitarian marriages are so much more fun. Telling someone what to do quickly becomes boring. Much better to have someone you respect, who challenges you, so that you become better than you were. I'm sorry, but I'm more interested in creating a stronger notion of my own self, of achieving my inner potentials, than wasting my time trying to control someone else.

I could go on for hours more, but you get the picture.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:31 AM

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Happy B-Day For BH!

Friday, July 14, 2006

I just wanted to say that Brazen Hussy is the best friend a person could have. I'm still thrilled that the coolest person I've ever met decided to marry me. Happy Bastille Day honey!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:13 AM

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Dribs and Drabs

Thursday, July 13, 2006
A couple of interesting things out there I meant to comment on yesterday but didn't:

1) Over at Midterm Madness, there is some discussion of John Tester's very competitive challenge to corrupt hack Senator Conrad Burns. Tester has embraced "populism" as a campaign strategy (which is why David Sirota loves him so much). Tester's success is because (and I quote) : "Tester is running as a Montanan on issues important to Montanans: the war, the economy, and the deficit." Um, aren't these issues important to everybody? What makes them so special about Montana. Although I do find it interesting that he isn't really focusing on corruption. Maybe it's true that corruption just isn't a political winner. All I can say is, where's the outrage?

2) Frederick Hess wants to do away with summer vacation. He echoes all the points I've made in the past: that it's an outdated feature of the agrarian economy, that it assumes that a parent is home to take care of the child, that there are massive educational losses because of such a long fallow period. I wonder whether anyone has the political gumption to embrace this issue.

3) David Yepsen (via Kos) has suggested that the Presidential primaries be scheduled in order of closeness in the last general election. The next closest state would go second, and so on. So in 2004 Florida would have gone first, and in 2008 it would be Ohio. I guess it means that New York and California would still get screwed :).

It is a very intriguing idea, but I think there is a hidden assumption that elections will be close. What happens if there's a landslide? In 1996 the closest state was Kentucky, which means that both nominees in 2000 would more likely be more conservative. Alternatively in 1988 Washington was the closest state, which would have advantaged more liberal candidates.

I can imagine this feature would help the party on the wrong end of the landslide, but it would push the winning party off the political center. This would certainly help the competitiveness of elections, but I don't see the successful parties wanting to pursue it.

On the other hand, it's probably the best idea I've heard so far. Other possibilities have been going in order of size (small states first), which would bias the nomination process towards rural regions, and randomly, which would make the whole thing pretty unpredictable. My guess is that we're probably just going to have the same system we've had the in past.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:42 AM

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Personal Update

Wednesday, July 12, 2006
This is a very difficult time for me. I have adjusted (sort of) to living in Uville, but I'm still looking for a job. I'm becoming increasingly discouraged about my prospects. I know intellectually that something will come up, but every week that goes by that I apply to new positions and don't hear about one's I've already applied for just leaves me feeling more glum.

On the other hand, I've started working on my dissertation again. I have a big data collection task ahead of me, followed by analysis and writing. As I'm sure you can guess, the prospect is doing wonders for my spirits.

Because problems always come in threes, I also have my wife's departure to look forward to. She's going on a trip for a 10 days next week. Maybe I'm co-dependant or maybe I just don't have any other friends right now, but I'm really down in the dumps about it.

That and all the animals have fleas. Sigh.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:19 AM

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Now Who's Getting Purged?

Monday, July 10, 2006
Remember when Peter Beinart suggested a purge of what he called the "Michael Moore" wing of the Democratic party? He argued then (and has argued since) that liberals should make the war on terror the centerpiece of modern liberalism, following in the steps of the Cold War liberals and marginalizing the pacificist elements of the party.

And sure enough a purge has begun in the party. But it looks like it's the "Moore" folks who are doing the purging. It's people like Beinart who are getting run out of the party.

I have never been what I describe as a "lefty" Democrat, the type that think wars are never jusitified, who demonize their political opponents (within or without the party), and who tend to very self-righteous about their own causes while being willfully obtuse when it comes to political realities. The kind of people who are more concerned with being right than with winning, and for whom "compromise" is a dirty word.

Now don't get me wrong - lefties are some of my closest friends. They are very important to me and to the party. They have enormous energy and idealism, and make sure that we never forget why we fight battles in the first place. They keep us all honest.

Which brings me to Joe Lieberman. I was very critical of the primary challenge to him early on, and agree with Oliver Willis that we should be devoting all this energy to defeating Republicans rather than Democrats. But I have to say that maybe the Lamont challenge is a good thing. The campaign has revealed Lieberman as a much less attractive figure than I thought. The man is a quisling who is more happy attacking his fellow Democrats than Republicans. And the beltway response to the Lamont challenge has been simply disgusting. Who do those people think they are, anyway?

The fact is that I argued with the lefties when they said that George Bush was evil and should be impeached, that the Republicans have made a calculated decision to steal elections, that the war in Iraq was based on lies, that Bush would exploit the war on terror and spy on Americans. And in each and every case, I was wrong and they were right.

The problem with the beltway Democrats is that they think they can go on playing the same old game and survive. They think that all they have to do is move to the center and wait for Republican excesses to return them to power. They think that there are reasonable people on the other side of the aisle that value bipartisanship. They think that the netroots are a bunch of crazy paranoids who don't understand political reality. And like I was every time I disagreed with the lefties over the last five years, the D.C. Democrats are wrong and the lefties are right.

It used be said that a conservative was a liberal who'd been mugged by reality. But I can say that I was a moderate who was mugged by conservatives and transformed into a liberal. I hope that Beinart and his friends at TNR and the DLC experience the same revelation I have - that we are fighting not just for the existence of the Democratic party but of the Republic itself. They are bright, well-meaning people who I would value as political allies.

But if they continue to give aid and comfort to the enemies of the Republic? Well it'll be they who gets purged.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:28 AM

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The Case For Pessimism

Friday, July 07, 2006
In response to a college dean's fears about the future of the U.S. economy, Brad DeLong claims that despite the very serious debt/currency/inflation problems facing the U.S., we are more than likely in for the soft landing: a gradual decline in the value of the dollar, with an incremental correction of economic imbalances.

It's nice to hear a smart economist like DeLong argue that a catastrophic dollar crash - with all of its attendant political, social, and economic instability - is less likely than a gradual deflating of the American economy. I'm not as sanguine as he is. Bubbles rarely pop in a gentle way, and DeLong assumes that there is enough of a manufacturing sector remaining in the U.S. for a dollar correction to help soften the blow. As far as I can tell, the wage differential with China is so great that U.S. goods will STILL be far more expensive. If there U.S. manufacturing sector weren't nearly extinguished - which it is. But he might be right and I might be wrong. I hope so.

I also view with far less equanimity the consequences of DeLong's good case scenario. The result would be a dramatic fall in U.S. living standards, far higher prices for consumer goods, and massive bankruptcies. Furthermore, balancing the U.S. budget would mean an abrupt end to America's great power status, the gutting of what's left of the social safety net, or both.

The impact of these changes, gradual or sudden, would have enormous ramifications not just in our economic lives, but our social and political lives as well. It would mean the end of America's basic optimism, which I think would forever change a fundamental part of our national character. I don't think we'd handle the fall very well. And people would be looking for someone to blame. Muslims, liberals, gays, feminists, blacks, city-dwellers, the poor, and immigrants are already targets for the wrath of the paranoid in America. Imagine if you will their number magnified by a factor of ten. When people are destitute, disillusioned, and desperate they can do some pretty wacky things.

Stay tuned.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:00 AM

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Ulysses Grant as our greatest President? You must be joshing! I can certainly appreciate Nathan Newman's points about Grant's support for civil rights for blacks, but other than that he was an unmitigated disaster. Historians don't rank him at the bottom because of Reconstruction. They rank him at the bottom because his administration was imperialistic, incompetent, corrupt, and saw the birth of the Gilded Age. Patronage abuses, economic mismanagement, a weakened Presidency, and selling out to the Robber Barons... how does this represent a good tenure in office?

My word, Mr. Newman, read a couple of books before you hold forth, 'kay?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:56 AM

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Patriotic Reminders

Tuesday, July 04, 2006
"It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority."

Benjamin Franklin
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:03 AM

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He's Making A List, He's Checking It Twice

Monday, July 03, 2006
Assuming that it's true, and the Bush Administration began spying on Americans before 9/11, we need to ask ourselves why. If the Bushies started domestic wiretapping and tracking phone records after the horrors of 9/11, then it could be chalked up to an over-reaction. We always knew that they were not as sensitive to civil liberties, so their actions wouldn't be too surprising, however illegal they are.

But there is a distinct possibility that this is not what happened. Just look at the timing. According to the legal brief, the phone companies were contacted by the NSA in February of 2001. It would have taken about a month to get the NSA to make this request, given the nature of bureaucratic decision-making. So choosing to spy on Americans must have been one of the very first decisions the White House made.

Now think about that a moment, will you. President Bush sits down in the oval office for the first time, props up his feet, and asks his Chief of Staff to have a memo drafted to conduct secret espionage on Americans. Then he asks for a bag of pretzels.

Why? In early 2001, there was simply no justifiable reason for this sort of intelligence-gathering. The U.S., as far as it knew, faced not one serious security threat. We were still basking in the glow of our own supremacy following the end of the Cold War. Bin Laden was a nuisance but not much more.

No, there was no external justification for domestic spying. There could only have been an internal justification. Bush wanted to keep tabs on Americans for some other purpose. What chills me to the bone is what that purpose could have been. Because I can only think of one - Bush wanted to gather information on his political opponents. He wanted to use the resources of the federal government to create an enemy's list. Not just the names of those who were leading critics of his administration - he knows who they are - but the names and whereabouts of regular citizens who disliked him.

Now why would he do that? What's the rationale? Last night I asked myself that question and had to stop what I was doing and sit down.

A quick review of the Bush administration:

1) Authorize torture
2) Ignore Congress
3) Facilitate the creation of a political machine
4) Pack the courts
5) Intimidate the press
6) Create a climate of fear among the citizenry
7) Label domestic enemies and link them to external ones
8) Accuse your political opponents of treason (Bush does so implicitly, his supporters explicitly)
9) Manipulate the electoral process
10) Weaken civil liberties protections

It leads one to a pretty irresistable conclusion, doesn't it? That unconsciously - but now I'm beginning to believe perhaps consciously - the Republican leadership is subverting the republic. That their aim is absolute and permanent political power at any cost.

I hesitate even to write these words down, for how extreme they sound. I'm a moderate by temperament, reluctant to accept conspiracy theories or doomsday scenarios. But I can't ignore the accumulation of evidence before my eyes. From where I stand it's beginning to look pretty conclusive - that Rove and his allies care as much for the Republic as I do for a mosquito - an irritation to be slapped away when necessary.

Now I'm going to go somewhere and think long and hard about what this means and what can be done about it. I suggest that you do the same.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:08 AM

1 comments :: permalink

Holy Shit

Sunday, July 02, 2006
If this is true, then I'll have to start wearing tinfoil.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:08 PM

0 comments :: permalink