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Arguing With Pangloss

Thursday, August 31, 2006
So I was reading this...

Democrats see the American Dream fading, the middle class being squeezed, jobs disappearing, schools crumbling, and wages stagnating.

That is not the way middle-class Americans view their own lives. Days after 9/11, 80% of Americans expressed optimism about the year ahead. Two months after gas hit $3 per gallon, 73% said they were optimistic about their family's finances. In 2004, 78% said they were doing "fairly well" financially.And only 22% believe they will not "earn enough money in the future to lead the kind of life [they] want."

And I was wondering what the overlap was with people who were like this...

Bennett found that nearly one-third of adults were unaware that the Republican Party is more conservative than the Democratic Party. And lest the reader think that this is an expression of cynicism rather than a lack of knowledge, Bennett found that whether or not respondents knew there were major differences between the two parties was associated with the amount of knowledge they had of major politicians and the parties but not with their levels of governmental trust.

Some research indicates that when a (white) family's income exceeds $24,000, they become more likely to vote Republican than Democratic. What do you have to do these days to convince someone they're being screwed?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:24 AM

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Oh My Achin' Head

Wednesday, August 30, 2006
I don't know whether I'm suffering from a hangover, allergies, some kind of headcold, or some kind of strange alchemy combining all three, but boy do I feel like crap. Ugh.

P.S. Hey Brazen, I got your boots!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:10 PM

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A Quagmire of the Mind

Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Here's a really good example of how intellectually serious people can get themselves into serious trouble:
There have been growing signs the Pope is considering aligning his church more closely with the theory of "intelligent design" taught in some US states.
(from the Guardian by way of Kevin Drum)

So let's say that you're a cerebral person who's Catholic. Not a big stretch, given the major list of Big Thinks who have developed Catholic theology. Let's say that part of church doctrine says that the Pope is always right - just ask him. What do you do when said Pope takes an obviously ridiculous position? One that flies in the face of the process of rational thought? If you choose to disagree with what has become official church doctrine, you have become a heretic and are going to hell. If on the other hand you choose to go along, you have become a hypocrite and are still likely going to hell.

Even better, let's say that you're a biologist who happens to be Catholic. Do you quit your job because it no longer accords with your religious beliefs? Or do you keep doing it and ignore your (new) convictions? Or do you prositute your scientific training and become a reluctant defender of weird theories like I.D. ?

There's a reason that "appeal to authority" is a fallacy. Because if people are expected to go along with someone's else's reasoning "just because," no matter how silly they find it, they are placed in impossible ethical situations.

Now one could say "we'll I'm not Catholic, how does it affect me?" To which I respond - are you a Baptist? A Muslim? A Mormon? Guess what - in each case there is a defined church hierarchy that only distinguishes itself from that of Catholicism in that it is not quite so open about its theological dictates. Shit, ministers & imams even tell you who do vote for!

I'm sorry to say that this conundrum manifests itself whenever a theology becomes institutionalized. It's a very old story. Some wise person has a spiritual notion and tells people. Said person dies and others create some massive bureaucracy and use the new faith as a method of social control. I'm not questioning the spiritual value of these faiths - only how they have been used to turn people into slaves & hypocrites.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:20 AM

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All The Proof You Need....

Monday, August 28, 2006
....that as an intellectual movement conservatism has become completely detached from its founding principles:

1) The doctrine of pessimism, and with it virtues like restraint, caution, and respect for tradition, are now an accidental byproduct of a conservative administration.

2) Conservative politicians have more aggressive, risk-taking personalities, rather than playing for the minimum win.

3) Conservatives are giving up on the doctrine of limited government.

P.S. From the land of two plus two equals five, how do we synthesize the de-coupling of wages and productivity with the centrist commitment to free trade and big box retailers? Oh right, we can't.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:31 AM

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There's More Than One Brazen Creature In Our House

Friday, August 25, 2006
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:21 AM

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Is That Bridge For Sale?

Thursday, August 24, 2006
Sure this is a coincidence. Sure it is.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:36 AM

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Simplifying Or Dumbing Down?

Over in the American Conservative, there are a bunch of articles trying to define the difference between liberalism and conservatism. One of the writers I like to read Michael Lind. I disagree with him as often as I agree, but I always find him interesting. In this piece he argues that ideology no longer exists, that it has been replaced by partisanship. The cleavages between the 2 parties are along the lines of identity politics, with the white christian majority ranged against an aggregation of ethnic and religious minorities. Because the various minorities cluster in cities, the result is a geographic division in American life between the urban Democrats and the rural Republicans.

This is a very strange view of American politics. The empirical evidence simply doesn't support Lind's description. Even in the most rural areas, Democrats get between a quarter and a third of the vote. Is there some big secular/minority group out there I'm not aware of? If not, where are all these Democratic votes coming from?

Certainly identity politics is central to the contemporary political divide. But there is a lot more to the liberal coalition than just identity politics. The Democratic Party is divided into Pluralists (identity politics), Populists (working class), and Progressives (issue-oriented middle class reformers). While the Pluralists are probably the dominant element of the Democratic party in terms of voters, but the Progressives have had control of the party leadership and agenda ever since FDR.

Similiarly, I would take issue with Lind's suggestion that ideology is now no more than a front for party loyalties. Liberalism is dedicated to equality of opportunity and personal autonomy, values which all of the elements of the liberal coalition support, albeit from different perspectives. There is real intellectual content here, not just shallow justifications for ethnic or religious groups seeking political power.

Lind goes so far as to say those who have real ideologies - which he lists as libertarians, populists, greens, and social democrats, among others - should avoid attempting to take over either of the 2 parties and instead should attempt to influence both. For someone has grounded in history as Lind, this is a bizarre suggestion. Every ideological group in American history has used one of the 2 major parties as the vehicle for its agenda. The one group that didn't, the Progressives, were isolated and crushed in both parties during the 1920's. It took their rallying to the Democrats before they were finally able to accomplish anything lasting.

Having said that, I do think that it is a waste of time for the ideological groups mentioned to align themselves with the Republican party, given its evident disinterest in anything other than making demagogic appeals to mask the rape of the country by the American elite. But there is another alternative, isn't there?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:16 AM

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Is Saving the Mom & Pop Worth It?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Matt Yglesias thinks that liberals should beware being too sympathetic to small businesses. While it may make good rhetoric, he thinks that the benefits of the mom & pop store have been oversold. I think that Yglesias's position is near-sighted as policy and foolhardy as politics.

The argument levied by Yglesias, Krugman, and others against "small business liberalism" is that small businesses tend to produce minimum wage jobs with low benefits and also provide worse products at higher prices to consumers. They believe that while there may be a romantic attachment to the independent propreitor, like the small farmer, they think they really aren't worth saving.

There are ready replies to all of these points.

1. Small businesses may produce lower-quality jobs, but they also tend to produce all of the new jobs. It makes sense to use government policy to subsidize benefits for those workers, rather than just pretend they don't exist. Also, big businesses are moving towards a low pay, no benefit model, so the apparent differences may evaporate.

2. Small businesses tend to distribute economic power more broadly once one takes into account the proprietors themselves. Compare 50 small stores to 1 megastore, and you'll see 50 people making $100,000 a year compared to 1 making $1,000,000 a year.

3. Small businesses could have greater economies of scale if they were able to form cooperatives by industry to negotiate lower prices. This would give most of the advantages of big corporations with fewer of the disadvantages.

4. Yglesias's focus on the convenience store misses the thousands of other independent stores that do provide good products.

5. To the extent that the mom & pops do have lower-quality products, I would think it is because of exclusive contracts between big corporations and the producers of products. Why shouldn't the neighborhood concern be able to sell Martha Stewart?

6. The lower costs of the retail chains is largely due to unjust market exploitation, bad labor practices, and public subsidies. Make them absorb the real costs of their business, and I expect that the price differential would disappear.

7. Abandoning a small business also neglects non-economic benefits derived from them. Areas with lots of small businesses tend to be a lot more vibrant and socially coherent. There are also enormous psychological benefits to economic independence. And whatever the petty problems of working directly for your employer, compare this with working in a giant corporation. Come on Matt, have you even seen Office Space?

This last point brings me to the politics of the situation. Owning a small business is a basic American aspiration. To the extent that Democrats can bring them into our coalition, we can co-opt a politically powerful group, while at the same time exposing Republicans as tools of big business. It would revive our political prospects in rural areas and small towns, give great power & coherence to our political narrative as the party of opportunity, and deprive the Republicans of a key constituency all at the same time.

To throw away this group, to jettison an important part of the American Dream, because Yglesias went to a crappy corner store - well that's just silly.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:36 AM

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Things You Might Have Missed

Tuesday, August 22, 2006
1. Congress is giving up on the American auto industry. One can quibble over the relative merits of American or foreign owned domestic manufacturing, but does it strike you as a trifle odd that the demise of the keystone of America's 20th century prosperity has engendered little more than a shrug.

Oh, and by the way - so much for the wonderful corrective powers of the free market. If Adam Smith was so right, then why is Ford so dead? Rational actors would have learned that building gas guzzlers in a time of high oil prices is stupid, but Detroit has made that error not once, not twice, but three times.

2. The GOP thinks the immigration issue can bail them out. I think they might be right. But I would like to point out that a) as predicted, they are defaulting to white nationalists when in trouble, b) that this strategy will essentially end any hopes the pachyderm party has of winning Latino support. Whicy means in a few years they are dead dead dead.

3. Crime is on the rise again. I started to notice this looking at police stats in New York. They flattened out and then started to inch back up again over 2-3 years. The police response was to downplay the change, and then to say it was petty crime from ipods, etc. Pretty soon they'll confess that there's a problem. It's no secret why crime is increasing, though: budget cuts and a poor economy. Kudos to Benjamin Wallace-Wells calling this one 2 years ago.

But wait, you ask. Aren't the Republicans "tough on crime"? Why would they reduce anti-crime efforts. Well, the conspiratorial among you could say that if crime is low, then Republicans can't run on being tough on crime or whipping up anti-black and anti-latino fears among their whitebread voters, now can they?

4. Can we use Bush's manifest incompetence as a corrective to the idea that executives should be the most powerful actors in politics? Please? Pretty please? When one individual in the political system has so much power, you run an awful risk that that individual is going to be a boob. And not the good kind. The extinct bird kind.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:45 AM

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Oink Oink

Monday, August 21, 2006
via La Blonde

You Are Pork

You like to think you're the other white meat, but many people don't want anything to do with you.

You probably smoke. And it's likely that no body part of yours is off limits.

What Kind of Meat Are You?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:57 PM

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Gullibility or Cynicim?

I've experienced the same thing that Ezra Klein has over and over again: An event occurs, Brazen Hussy or someone else claims that it's a plot, or a lie, or something dastardly by the Republicans, and I - being fairminded and reasonable - reject the idea. Then a couple of weeks or months pass and I am wrong. Again.

Every time - EVERY time - I think "that will never happen again." Then something like the London bomb plot comes out, and once again I take it at face value. And again I have been gulled. Why is it so hard to accept the truth - that the people running the country are just plain ruthless? That they are not bound by any scruple whatsoever? I can accept that position as a theoretical notion, but for some reason I've had a very hard time applying it. I seem to have this block about it.

I think part of it is my enduring fear of becoming a cynic. I've always thought that cyncism is a serious moral failing, usually acting as a justification for doing nothing about the evils of the world. On the other hand, I get really tired of being played for a fool.

I must quibble with Amanda Marcotte, however. I think a lot of the people who are intellectual slaves to the right really have been tricked - just in a much more fundamental way that I have. It's the leadership that's a bunch of manipulative, lying demagogues. It's easy to hate their followers, but I can't think it's constructive.

The one positive thing I have to say is that the number of moderates who persistently disbelieve how awful the Republicans are is actually a good indication that there are a lot more functional liberals than we think there are. I've thought for quite some time that to be "liberal" and "moderate" is in many ways to be the same things these days. My guess is that there are a lot of people with liberal attitudes who like to think of themselves as moderates instead.

Maybe I could figure out how to get those people to see the light if I could learn to see the light myself.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:02 AM

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Quote Meme

Friday, August 18, 2006
(via Brightstar)

Don't be a fool and die for your country. Let the other sonofabitch die for his.
George Patton

There is no pleasure in having nothing to do; the fun is in having lots to do and not doing it.
Mary Wilson Little

Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Look at all the sentences which seem true and question them.
David Reisman

Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:02 AM

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Misha Loves His Roomba


What Misha doesn't love is when he accidentally pushes the "On" button and goes running for his life.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:51 AM

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Signs Of Unfairness

Thursday, August 17, 2006
I have been blogging for twice as long as Brazen Hussy. My blog is much more substantive than hers. Just because she's witty, she's already passed me in total hits.

Poo, I say. Poo on you.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:38 PM

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Sounding Good vs. Being Good

Good News: the Democrats are attacking Wal-Mart.

Bad News: Corporate lobbyists are cozying up to Democrats, fearing they might win a majority in the next elections.

So which do you think is going to have more staying power? Defending the working class or enjoying big money contributions?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:23 PM

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Unbearably Sad

Wednesday, August 16, 2006
I heard it first on the Colbert Report, of all places. Now I've had it confirmed: the West African Black Rhino is extinct. The most likely cause is poaching for their horns, which are believed to have medicinal properties. It would be easy to lay the blame on the poachers, or the fools who consumed their contraband. But the truth is that we are all responsible. We just didn't care, and now we have another product of what appears to be an endless conveyor belt of genocides .

Maybe we don't deserve to be saved.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:14 PM

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The Rise of the Radical Middle

(I'm sorry this post is so long, but it's about something I think is very important. If you get tired, just skip the first 2 paragraphs).

The old days, they have come again. Sort of.

In the wake of the Lieberman defeat, there have been a raff of articles about the radicialization of those who used to be moderates, and a great deal of speculation about when they will return to their middle-of-the-road roots. The discussion has 2 different veins. The first began with Josh Marshall writing about the radicalization of the moderates in response to the extreme politics of the Bush Administration. Like many (myself included), he began as a DLC-type "New Democrat" and now is a pretty ferocious liberal partisan. Digby chimes in with his own story, which began not with Bush, but with the Republican takeover of Congress in the 1990's and the impeachment imbroglio. Kevin Drum wraps it up by wondering why Bush had such a polarizing effect on such mild-mannered people.

A similar question is asked by Norm Schreiber, who initiates the 2nd discussion- what do the Lamont-style neopopulists want? He speculates that their anger to the Bush Administration is a temporary phenomenon, and when Bush is gone they will return to their upper class, neo-liberal roots. Ezra Klein doesn't think the neopopulists are really all that lefty - they've come out for standard things like universal health care and the minimum wage, which the DLC would support gladly. Matt Yglesias thinks that the radicalization of centrist Democrats might be durable because market forces have proletarianized white collar professionals: they are now just as vulnerable to corporate abuses, and in need of government support and unionization, as blue-collar workers. Susie Madrak echoes Yglesias's point, noting her own experience with proletarianization, while Atrios argues that it is the very failure of neoliberalism, which failed to deliver the goods and in fact paved the way for Bushism, that has turned former DLC supporters against it. Finally, John Judis points to the historical parallel of these events, the Progressive movement of the early 20th century, in which former middle class moderates turned against the abuses of big corporations and joined hands with working class populists.

I took so much time with this summary because all of it is an encompassing problem I have been obsessed with. It is a very personal story, because I was a moderate Southern Democrat who supported the free trade/market mechanism/incremental approach to government. I am now a liberal class warrior. In short, I am precisely the sort of person they are talking about. And I think the basic narrative they have constructed: that the policy failures of neoliberalism, the reactionary policies of the Bushies, and the ferocious style of politics practiced by Republicans have converted a lot of moderates into ideologues.

We are experiencing an odd sort of deja vu. Karl Rove wanted to re-create the old McKinley coalition, and the result was the rebirth of the Roosevelt/Wilson progressive movement. Talk about your unintended consequences! The conservatives decided to try and overturn the legacy of the old Progressive movement. Predictably, those elements of society who had been part of that movement have spontaneously re-organized to defend it. So just like a century ago, educated professionals have abandoned their place on the political sidelines in order to halt the pernicious forces of mega-corporations.

The parallel does not hold true entirely, however. We are faced with a very different, and more threatening, situation. The new corporations are now global in scope, which means that national policy will have less of an effect on them. The U.S. also no longer enjoys the competitive economic advantage it did a hundred years ago, when we were just beginning our era of hegemony. This means that our fixes will be harder to implement and likely more painful. The domestic political situation is also for dangerous. Evangelical christianity and the segregationist South were the allies of the old progressive movement, and now the are our most bitter enemies. Also, today's Republican party is far more corrupt, far more vicious, than it was then. It is subject to a kind of nascent authoritarianism which will make it far more difficult to defeat.

So I don't think the conversion of professional moderates to the cause of populism is an aberration. It is likely permanent. What worries me is that alone they will not represent enough sheer political power to dethrone the conservative coalition.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:28 AM

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Our Broken Polity

Monday, August 14, 2006
Things are definitely out of joint:

1) The sons of a bunch of liberal icons are angling for high office. They are all more centrist than their fathers and have "learned the lessons" of their father's defeats. My question is, why are there so many sons of prominent political leaders in powerful positions? Why is it okay to cash in one's family's legacy like that? And why are they all such sell outs?

2) The city of Pittsburgh, already battered by the loss of its steel manufacturing base, is now at risk of losing the Heinz company. This is bad enough, but what appalled me was that the citizens of Pittsburgh can do nothing about it. The stocks of the company are all owned by outsiders, so if the vote goes against them, they're out of luck. What does it tell you about an economic system when whole cities can be destroyed, the citizens deprived of a real voice in their own destiny, and no one cares? Oh wait, for a second I forgot about Katrina.

3) Between Oliver Stone's 9/11 movie, a TV show about the run-up to 9/11 I saw ads about, and the Republicans openly exploiting terror attacks for political advantage, I have to ask a question that Zola loves to ask: Have we no shame? At long last, have we no shame at all?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:43 PM

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Liquor Trivia

So I stumbled over the origin of the word "booze" recently. Apparently during the Presidential election of 1840, the Whigs passed out little bottles of whisky shaped like log cabins to remind everyone that their candidate William Henry Harrison had lived in one. The chief distributor of those bottles was a Mr. E.G. Booz. Hence the beginning of the term "booze" for acohol (I don't know where the extra "e" came from). This election is also responsible for the expression "O.K," for Martin Van Buren's nickname "Old Kenderhook."

I am now finished regaling the world with my knowledge of pointless political/historical trivia. You may all return to your daily lives.

Hey would anyone like to know where the word "hooker" comes from?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:45 AM

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Political Journalists As Really Bad Campaign Consultants

A couple of days ago I was watching Charlie Rose, who was interviewing columnists EJ Dionne & Arianna Huffington, some guy from ABC whose name I can't remember (I think he writes "The Note") and Adam Nagourney of the New York Times. In this program Nagourney demonstrated again what a shoddy political reporter he is. During his tour de force of stupidity, Nagourney claimed that Lamont's victory was a disaster for the Democrats, that the Democrats had yet to re-assure the voters on the issue of national security, that John McCain was the prohibitive frontrunner for the Presidency, and that Hillary Clinton's chief rival for the 2008 nomination was former Governor Mark Warner of Virginia.

Now all of these are conventional wisdom. I could say that his tedious adherence to what "everybody knows" in Washington is yet more evidence of Nagourney's banality, but I'll be generous and assume that he is helping shape those commonly held beltway beliefs.

Which actually just makes his idiocy worse. Being a fool is one thing. Being an influential fool is something else entirely.

I'll break his statements down one at a time. As for the Lamont victory being bad for the Democrats because it feeds into a right-wing narrative, I can only say - thanks for regurgitating Republican talking points so wholeheartedly, Adam. Any reasonable analysis of the Connecticut race indicates that it was Lieberman actions on a whole range of issues that got him into trouble - not just the war. Otherwise Hillary would be facing a similar challenge from the even more liberal New York. It was also Lieberman's active defense of the radioactive George Bush that alienated so many Democrats and independents. So the only way that Lamont will be used against the Democrats is if the media lets them. In other words, only if Nagourney continues to act as a useful tool for the GOP.

A similar line holds true on national security. The polls now indicate that the Democrats now have an advantage on the question: who do you trust more in the war on terror? Beyond this fact, the Democrats have had a fairly straightforward position on terror issues for quite some time. What they haven't come up with a simple stance on is Iraq. But why is it that Iraq = terror? Oh, because Dick Cheney says it is, and the always eager to lap it up puppy Nagourney, craving a pat on the head from his masters, has to repeat whatever Cheney says - however absurd.

John McCain as the "prohibitive" frontrunner? When he's not the nominee, when the election is 2 years away, when McCain has been Bush's greatest supporter on the loathed Iraq War, when he has yet to mend his fences with the religious right? Are you kidding me? How is this kind of analysis responsible journalism?

Finally and most amusingly is Nagourney's handicapping of the 2008 Democratic nomination contest. According to Nagourney, Hillary has to fear a moderate pro-business Southern governor like Warner, because Warner will be perceived as more "electable." Okay, let's do some basic analysis, shall we? Hillary has embraced all the centrist positions that Warner would like to, meaning that he has nothing to run on other than his "electability," a standard that many liberals were burned on in the 2004 contest. Warner is also a mushy candidate without a clear message, something else the increasingly frustrated and aggressive Democratic base are tired of. So what issue does Warner really have to defeat Hillary?

More importantly, let's look at the math of the situation. If Warner is the chief alternative, Hillary will have no threats to her left and can roll up big majorities in the northeastern primaries. She can also defeat Warner in his home base in the South because of Clinton's continuing support from African-Americans, who make up a very large share of the primary electorate in the south. In other words, it looks more like Warner is running for Vice-President than President.

Hillary is vulnerable, just not from the kind of candidate that Nagourney likes. From a candidate running from the populist, anti-Bush left, that's where. An Edwards or a Feingold can rally the elements of the party alienated from Hillary's studied centrism. It would still be difficult for them to win, given Hillary's support among blacks, women, and the major institutional players, but I can come up with a plausible scenario for either. Al Gore or Barack Obama, however, would be able to strip Hillary of key elements of here coalition while also appealing to the party's liberal base. I think each would have a clear advantage over her in the race for the nomination.

Now my analysis may not be entirely accurate (lord knows I've been wrong before), but it at least has some grounding in reality. Nagourney just casually trots out the name of the latest "gee-whiz" beltway candidate and thinks this represents some kind of revelation. He seems to struggle with the idea that just because you like someone doesn't mean that supporting or defending it is good analysis. Sometimes the people we like are losers.

So any of you Republican candidates out there? How about you hire Adam Nagourney as your political strategist? I guarantee that it'll be an experience you never forget.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:51 AM

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Evidence BH & I Are Perfect For Each Other

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Your Personality Is Like Alcohol

You're the life of the party, a total flirt, and probably a pretty big jokester.

Sometimes your behavior gets you in trouble, but you still remain socially acceptable.

You're a pretty bad driver, and you're dancing could also use a little work!

What Drug Is Your Personality Like?

via Brazen Hussy, etc.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:40 AM

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Saturday Morning Quiz

Saturday, August 12, 2006
Can anybody guess who the following paragraph was written about?
To [him] the art of government meant the promotion of any measure, however inconsistent with his previous or even present professions, that promised to advance the next step in his plan; his only long-range objective which can be definitively identified is the enhancement of his power. For this he indulged in a lifetime of double talk, professing slogans of democracy, while debating and destroying democracy, while debasing and destroying the powers of the electorate, and insisting on constitutional technicalities, while persistently undermining the constitution. In the end, his prescription for government turned out to be a surpisingly simple one: to reduce its mechanism to the simplest and most primitive of all institutional forms, personal absolutism, and to employ it for one of the simplest and most primitive of all purposes, foreign conquest.
Follow up question: who do you think I was thinking of when I read this piece?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:40 AM

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To My Wife

Friday, August 11, 2006
Whom I adore. I love you too. Happy Anniversary.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:04 AM

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The Worst Book of 2006

Thursday, August 10, 2006
So for my birthday Brazen Hussy and I went to the bookstore so that I could blow my birthday money. I was wandering around the stacks, thrilled at the opportunity to spend cash on things that are fun without feeling guilty about it. I was having a great time.

And then...

This book jumps off the shelves. No really, it was like a poltergeist or something. Okay, I'm lying. I was scanning the titles, and this one had huge red letters on a white background so it stood out. The title in question was at the minimum intriguing and the maximum horrifying: The South Was Right!

Now this could be about a lot of things, I suppose. But I had some suspicions, so I picked it up and skimmed through it. And sure enough, Mssrs. Kennedy & Kennedy were justifying Secession. That's right. According to the authors, the Civil War was won by the unjust party - they think that the South had a perfect right to secede, and that the North violated those rights in forcing the South to remain in the Union.

I am just scandalized that someone would write something like this. Now the writers apparently went to great lengths to say that their defense of the South had nothing to do with slavery. But then according to them the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery either. To which I say, Bullcookies. Do they think it's just coincidence that the only historical difference between North and South was the institution of slavery? The whole thing was a like a controlled experiment to see what slavery would do to a people's economic system, political culture, and social structure. If there had been no slavery, there would have been no war, because there would have been no other reason for the South to identify itself as an entity distinct from the rest of the union. Also, the proximate cause of the war was the election of a President who opposed the extension of said institution into the western territories.

Leaving the slavery issue aside, the writers trot out the absurd argument that the Constitution was a compact of states. Under this reasoning, any state would be able to secede, since each retained its sovereignty. Of course the country pre-dated the independent state governments. We became an indepenent nation in 1776, not 1789. In addition, the ratification of the Constitution was done by popularly elected state conventions, not state legislatures, for the precise reason that the Founders didn't want states to get the idea they could dissolve the Union at will.

None of these arguments are new. They're at least as old as the Webster-Hayne debates, and probably older. But I think it's worth remembering the rationale that the Nationalists used against the States-Righter's, if only because a lunatic fringe in the South keeps trotting out the same old canards decade after decade, hoping that the rest of us having forgotten.

Well I for one haven't forgotten. To paraphrase Hubert Humphrey, States don't have rights - people do. The South failed in its bid for independence for a simple reason - it deserved to. The South seceded not out of any desire for self-government, but because they wanted to dominate the Union from within, to impose the institution of slavery in every nook and cranny of America. Their aim was to tear down the Declaration of Independence and erect a tower of privilege on the rubble of our liberty.

Well damn them to hell, I say. I hope that whatever afterlife they suffer is every bit the equal of the suffering they so callously inflicted on their fellow men and women. There is no justification for crushing the freedoms of others, and I am breathless at the audacity that those who would do so justify their oppressions in the name of "liberty."

Hmm. So much for avoiding arrogant proclamations.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 4:10 PM

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Oh dear

So it has come to my attention that for the last few weeks I have been somewhat of a jerk. Snarky, arrogant, judgmental, etc. I apologize. I think perhaps I am suffering from the "writer's syndrome." When one spends too much time by oneself, one goes a little crazy.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:24 AM

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Republican Party Falls Prey To Extremism

Wednesday, August 09, 2006
A story the media would have written if they were as liberal as Republicans think they are:

Republican Congressman Joe Schwarz was defeated decisively last night in his bid for re-election by right-wing primary challenger Tim Walberg. Despite Schwarz's conservative voting record, he alienated right-wing activists with his middle-of-the-road position on a woman's right to choose. His opponent argued that Republicans needed to nominate a "real conservative, not a baby-killer."

The night's election raises even more questions about the Republican party's ability to retain control of Congress. Party insiders say that a litmus test on abortion could doom Republican incumbents in swing districts and further fracture the party, "driving it off into a right-wing ditch."

Democrats meanwhile see this election as a hopeful sign. Congressman Rahm Emmanuel said that "This result just goes to show how out of step with the American people the Republican majority really is. The Republicans are so extreme that even conservatives can't get nominated unless they kow-tow to the most fringe elements of their party."
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:57 AM

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As A Political Blogger, I Am Legally Required To Write About This

Tuesday, August 08, 2006
As you may have noticed, I have not been 1/1000th as obsessed with the Lamont/Leiberman race as most of my fellow liberal political bloggers. Perhaps it's because I despise the word "Netroots." Maybe it's because I am uncomfortable with challenging Democrats in primaries when we're trying to take back the Congress. Or maybe it's just because everything else is already being said.

I am very happy that the race is today, so I won't have to hear about it any more.

But I will make one thing clear: I hope Lieberman loses big. If he loses small, then he is more likely to run as an independent and threaten our hold on that Senate seat. If he wins, then we'll have to watch him defend the Bush Administration on Fox News for the next 2 years. He will feel vindicated by his victory and liberated from any loyalty to the Democratic Party.

Relatedly, I also feel required to comment on a recent post by Bull Moose. In it he claims that while he is unhappy by the disastrous economic policies of the Republicans and pleased by the new social moderation of Democrats, as a hawk he has no real political home any more. He would align himself more fully with the Democrats if he did not feel that

... on national security issues the party is regressing back to the glory days of the early seventies. In their reflexive opposition to everything Bush, Democrats too often appear weak on fighting the war against Jihadist terror. The left has a knee-jerk negative reaction to every assertion of Presidential prerogative in using surveillance against our enemies. Some lefties want to censure or even impeach the President for being overly aggressive in defending the country. And many lefties in the party reject even the notion of a war against terror.

Since this is a key Republican talking point, I think that it is worth responding to. First I reject the correlation between the so-called "War on Terrorism" and the "War on Iraq." The Democratic Party has rejected the latter, but not the former. It is the Republicans who have little interested in fighting Jihadists except as symbolic actions and "security risks" are useful at election time. As for the Iraq War itself, is Moose honestly telling me that our present policy is working? I will concede that there are many on my left who just want to pick up and leave tomorrow, but most Democrats would be happy with a phased withdrawal or even just a statement that we won't be there forever. I ask Moosie, what is his policy for restoring the situation? As far as I can tell, Iraq is simply a lost cause.

The issue of domestic surveillance is what made me decide to shift Moose from my liberal blogroll to my conservative blogroll. I am of course perfectly supportive of the aggressive use of intelligence-gathering to fight terrorism. But without a warrant or any form of judicial or congressional oversight? Are you kidding?

As for lefties demanding censure or impeachment, I think this motivation has less to do with criticizing the President for "defending the country" than it does his willful disregard for the Constitution.

Bull Moose's problem is that he is obsessed with his desire for absolute security and order. Even moderate external or internal threats sending him scurrying in the direction of authoritarian rule. This is a very understandable reaction, a very natural thing to do. But it is scarcely compatible with a free society.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:01 AM

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Obama Watch

Monday, August 07, 2006
So I still don't think that Barack Obama is running for President. But.....

He is in Iowa right now.

He has been travelling all over the country fundraising for Democrats.

And yesterday I saw an interview with Dick Durbin, the other Senator from Illinois, in which he practically begged Obama to run.

My guess is that Obama will make the calculation that his comparative inexperience and the frontrunner position held by Hillary, as well as the CW that McCain is unbeatable in 08, will cause him to sit this race out.

I think this would be a mistake, however. Senate experience frequently dooms prospective Presidential candidates. I also think that Obama would defeat Hillary in the primaries. He would rally the left against her (a left that is desperate for an anti-Hillary), and would deprive her of the key constituency she is counting on to win the nomination: black voters. I also think that there is an inverse relationship between McCain's ability to get the Republican nomination and his ability to win the general election.

You know what? Never mind. It's just way too early for this stuff. Let's take back the Congress first, shall we? Then we can launch investigations, expose all their misdeeds, and discredit the Republican party so much that whoever we nominate will win.

Edit: Brazen Hussy has asked me not to use abbreviations like "CW," which I thought was common knowledge but she didn't know and thought was lazy when I explained it. It means "conventional wisdom."
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:08 AM

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One More Thing

Sunday, August 06, 2006
To return to politics for a moment, there is a growing body of evidence that Rudy Guiliani will be running for the presidency in 2008. I have generally discounted him as a candidate, but upon further reflection I think it might be a good thing for Democrats if he runs. Guiliani will likely draw from the independent/moderate-minded Republicans that are McCain's base in the party. If Guiliani is on the ballot, McCain's margins will be reduced.

One could argue that Guiliani will help McCain by making the latter appear more liberal because of the latter's conservatism on social issues. But I can see how this will both increase the salience of social issues in the campaign. McCain would then be forced to either emphasize the degree to which he is a social conservative - hurting him in the general election, or risk losing the nomination to a more socially conservative candidate.

I still think McCain will have more trouble than some expect getting the nomination. But we should be prepared to lay the groundwork against him, just in case. Anything that makes his life more difficult is fine with me.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:09 AM

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From Addy N

You Are 70% Weird

You're so weird, you think you're *totally* normal. Right?

But you wig out even the biggest of circus freaks!

How Weird Are You?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:13 AM

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Birthday and a Meme

Today is my birthday! I don't care if it's silly, I still get excited about birthdays. As far as I'm concerned, it's "me-day." And everyone knows how great that is! Today we're going to get brunch (I discovered brunches in NYC. Where have you been all my life?), go see Clerks II (where I plan on getting a TUB of popcorn), and have mexican food for dinner (which Brazen Hussy never lets me eat). And there are PRESENTS! Does this make me juvenile? Yes. Do I care? No.

Anyway, on the book meme I've been waiting for someone to tag me for....

1. One Book That Changed Your Life?
John H. Elliott's Imperial Spain. It got me interested in history and the problems of great power decline, economic development, and the importance of the middle class. Of course I had no idea when I was reading it that the U.S. was facing some of the same problems.

2. One Book You Have Read More Than Once?

The Count of Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. It was the first real book I ever read, and I've been re-reading every couple of years since. When I was a kid I thought the adventures and revenge were cool. When I got older I realized the book was about revenge being pointless. So it has sort of grown up with me.

3. One Book You Would Want On A Desert Island?

The Complete Works of Shakespeare. It's rich enough that I would never run out of things to think about. A close 2nd would be Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, because it's going to take the rest of my life to figure it out.

4. One Book That Made You Laugh?

Machiavelli's The Prince. Brazen Hussy thinks that I have a sick sense of humor and she's right.

5. One Book That Made You Cry?

I'm not really a crier, but the first time I read The Stand (when I was about 14) I bawled when Nick Andros died. No wait, a more recent time was at the end of Mountain of Black Glass by Tad Williams (part of the Otherland series) when Orlando died. Not cool! If you haven't read Otherland, you should. It's excellent. Even my literary snob wife liked it.

6. One Book You Wish Had Been Written?

Wow this is a hard question. How about a biography where the author doesn't psychoanalyze the principal subject in some ridiculous fashion?

7. One Book You Wish Had Never Been Written?

I know that Lisa already picked the Fountainhead, so I won't use that one. My 2nd choice is Friedrich Hayek's Road to Serfdom, which is to libertarianism as the Fountainhead is to assholes.

8. One Book You Are Currently Reading?

The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, by Michael Holt. If it were 1840, I'd be a Whig.

9. One Book You Have Been Meaning to Read?

My Life, by Bill Clinton. What a coincidence!

10. Now Tag Five People.

Everyone has already been tagged!!! Wait, has Shrinky been tagged?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:42 AM

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You won't believe this...

Friday, August 04, 2006
But Brazen Hussy is making me watch a cooking show about water. I am not kidding.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:13 PM

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Generic Liberals

Thursday, August 03, 2006
The press likes to say that liberal blogger activists (I hate the word "Netroots") are a bunch of wild-eyed loonies who are obsessed with the Iraq War and are driving the Democratic Party into a ditch.

The blogger activists think that they are a relatively non-ideological grass-roots group who are putting some much needed spine and organizational capacity into the Democratic Party.

So who's right?

According to research by Scott Winship, the "Netroots" (shudder) are extremely liberal, more committed to liberalism than the Democratic Party per se, and are generally motivated by opposition to the Iraq War and support for populist politics. Winship is concerned that these activists don't realize that a candidate as liberal as they has little chance to win the Presidency.

I'm not as concerned by these results as Winship. From my point of view, the populist politics fits in nicely with the need to build a new activist base for the party - it's kind of inevitable, actually. I also think that populist politics, properly constructed, can be successful politically.

As for the Iraq War litmus test, I don't see it. The bloggers fell in behind John Kerry, who voted for the war. There are many of them who now like Edwards, who supported the war. And by the way, the blogger activists were right in opposing the war. The American people are moving steadily into the anti-war camp, as is the Democratic Party. This doesn't sound like irrational ideology to me. It sounds more like good judgment.

At the end of the day, I think that the blogger activists are generic liberals who have a commitment to liberalism overall, rather than any one subset of liberalism (abortion rights, the environment, labor, etc.). They are people who want to use the Democratic party as a vehicle for advancing that liberalism by direct participation in the party. They support their preferred candidates in the primary, while always backing the eventual nominee enthusiastically whether that candidate was their favorite or not. Hillary is very unpopular on the internet, but if she gets the nomination, they will become her most ardent defenders.

All of these are only good things. For years the Democratic Party has been splintered by interest group loyalties, governed from the top down, and with an aging activist base. Kos and his buddies are trying to change that, and all I have to say is: good for them.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:46 AM

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Greens = Republicans

Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Pardon me while I gloat.

For years I've been extremely critical of leftists supporting Green party candidates for office - or any other 3rd parties, for that matter. I'm usually met with (guilty?) anger by these folks, who refuse to take responsibility for Al Gore's defeat in 2000, among other sins. I usually respond by giving them a lecture on how our political system penalizes anyone stupid enough to vote for a third party. My wife usually points at the useless fool and shouts "Republican!"

I'm beginning to think Brazen Hussy's approach is the correct one.

There is now evidence that the Republican party is giving Green party candidates financial support so that they can qualify for the ballot. Now ask yourself, why would they do this unless left-wing third parties helped Republican candidates? The simple answer is that they wouldn't, of course.

The candidate's defense? I'll just quote him:

"I have friends in all political parties. It's just that my Republican friends are more confident about standing with me than my Democratic friends. And as a group, my Republican friends are a little better off," he said in a telephone interview.
Of course he has Republican friends. Because he is one.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:52 AM

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Well crap.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006
So about that job interview I was so excited about? Well I got an email from them today, and it wasn't good news. They went with someone more experienced.

What's even more depressing is that I'm out of gin. Just when I need it most!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 4:25 PM

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Whatever Happened to White Southern Democrats?

Doing the right thing is sometimes downright inconvenient. In the Democratic Strategist there is a piece discussing how Democrats are re-considering majority-minority districts. While I think it would be a great idea to revise how legislative district lines are drawn, I just don't see how it's practical.

A little catch-up for those of you who don't know how about this stuff. After the civil rights revolution, moderate southern Democrats continued to defeat conservative Republicans despite the conversion of white rural voters to the GOP. They did so by combining all of the black vote with about a third of the white vote. The result was that Democrats continued to dominate the House of Representatives despite Republican success at the Presidential level. (Yes I'm grossly simplifying but bear with me).

This situation changed in the 1990's when white Republicans allied with black Democrats in state legislatures to re-draw district lines. The new map combined black voters into a few majority-black districts, leaving all of the other seats lilly-white and Republican. The blacks got more of their own elected to state legislatures and Congress, while the Republicans got a majority of the over-all representation in the South. In Georgia in 1990 there were 8 white moderate Democrats, 1 conservative Republican (Newt Gingrich, who was barely re-elected), and one black Democrat (John Lewis). Four years later there were 3 black Democrats and 8 white Republicans. Moderate whites were no longer able to win elections because they had to compete in either entirely black or entirely white districts, and as a result white moderate Southern Democrats simply disappeared as a political force. Elections in the South became increasingly polarized along racial lines, delivering the entire region to the GOP, and with it control of the House of Representatives (as well as many state legislatures).

Now if Democrats really want to get back into the game, the smart thing to do would be to re-distribute black voters again, so that as many districts as possible had a 25-30% black population. But I'm afraid this is impossible, because the black Democrats would obviously block the move. I'd love it if this weren't so, but I find it difficult to believe that elected black politicians would threaten their careers by breaking up their districts. While I personally think that a) blacks could still win in 35% black districts, and b) the black community would be better served by a Democratic than a Republican majority, many don't agree with me.

So much like abolishing the electoral college, I think that trying to eliminate majority-minority districts is probably a waste of time. They are likely here to stay. But hey, how about one attempt at a deal - such as massive DNC support and preferential committee chairs for black incumbents in exchange for breaking up one seat in each state? It probably won't work, but it might be worth a try.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:45 AM

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