The War on Terror Is Over
Friday, September 29, 2006
And the terrorists won.
We were told that there would be no great final victory in the War on Terror, no symbolic surrender on the deck of an aircraft carrier. But that isn't true. We saw something very like that yesterday in the U.S. Senate. And it was America that surrendered; surrendered every good thing we ever believed in.
The Senate voted yesterday to abolish the Constitution of the United States
. Since the terrorists "hate us for our freedoms," the surrender of those freedoms represents the fulfillment of their war aims. Senators voting for the bill have therefore given aid and comfort to the enemy. Not only does this place them at risk under the treason statute, but under the provisions of the new law the President has the power to label them enemy combatants, place them in prison for the rest of their lives, and torture them. Congratulations.
If that sounds a little dramatic, it should. This execrable piece of legislation gives the President the power to imprison American citizens without a trial or due process. It prevents the Courts from intervening, giving sole discretion to the Executive. Any person found "materially supporting" terrorism can be thrown in jail forever, without recourse to a lawyer or the courts. The interpretation of the phrase "materially supporting" is left up to the President. Furthermore, the Congress has now become the first legislative body in the history of the United States to endorse the practice of torture.
Yesterday was saw the most important vote in the U.S. Senate since the cloture vote on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is as shameful a day as that was a glorious one. This generation of Americans will be apologizing for this event for the rest of their lives. In the future we will look in the face of evil and see that it is our own face.
Yesterday saw the humiliation of the Congress, the emasculation of the Courts, the elevation of the President to unfettered powers, the gutting of our civil liberties, and the abandonment of our identity as a free people. As far as I'm concerned, the people who voted for this bill don't even deserve the name "American." I didn't think Americans were cowards so petrified by their fears that they were willing to be sold into slavery. Make no mistake - we have exchanged the prospect of physical harm for the reality of oppression.
We have witnessed the final debasement of the Republican Party. I am not surprised that they wrote this bill. They have been so corrupted by their ambition that I have come to expect anything of them. I will of course take great pleasure in ridiculing those Republicans who trumpet their commitment to small government. But I must confess a certain pang that the party that brought us Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has become the enemy of liberty. They are just a party of little Richard Nixons now, not a man of parts among them.
It is the Democratic Party that has broken my heart, however. I do not fault them for failing to defeat this legislation. I fault them for not really trying. They opposed the bill, of course. What they failed to do was treat this issue with the seriousness it deserved. Reid explains his course of action by saying that, since the Democrats did not have the votes to sustain a filibuster, they agreed to limit their efforts to eliminating the habeus corpus provisions. Once they lost that vote, a third of the caucus defected on final passage.
I should make a list
of the Democrats voting for the measure, since they have earned my special enmity. Dear Senators
So You Call Yourself A Libertarian
Thursday, September 28, 2006
There is a lot of discontent with the Bush Administration among so-called conservatives these days. Big deficits, big budgets, an imperialist foreign policy, and sheer incompetence have all alienated a portion of the intellectual leadership of the right.
But I'm not interested in them. I want to talk instead about those sad souls who call themselves libertarians. You know the kind I'm talking about. The people at parties who say that they don't like the religious right, that they don't like big corporations. The ones who refuse to vote for Democrats because they're "statists" in favor of "big government." They don't consider themselves Republicans, oh no, but every election they just seem to be a little more comfortable with the Republican lever.
There's a lot of superficial appeal to libertarian thought, with its focus on individualism, free markets, small government, and social tolerance. My purpose here is not to dwell on the limitations of libertarian thought (I have done so here
). My aim here is far more straightforward:
Put up or shut up.
You say you're for small government. You say you're for civil liberties. Well now what do you do? This administration has chosen to ignore the Constitution, centralize power in the executive, dominate the legislature, and pack the Courts. It had decided that torture is acceptable. That the accused should have no due process. It has implied that the election of someone as President imparts toward him an infallibility that until now only Popes have claimed.
You could try to weasel out of your dilemma, I suppose. You could argue that the Democrats are worse, with their "high taxes" and "big spending." But is the budget smaller now than it was in 2000? And do you really believe that questions of taxes & budgets outweigh the Constitution? That they outweigh our freedoms?
You could say that we live in special circumstances, that the perils of the "War on Terror" mean that we must make sacrifices. In other words, you might assert that with our lives at risk, we have to make some allowances. But then what happened to your belief that we must live free or die?
Libertarians have a simple choice. They can abandon the Republican party, or they must admit that their perceived financial wellbeing and/or their desire for safety is more important than their concern for liberty. But then they don't really deserve the title "libertarian," do they? "Selfish coward" maybe. Such cowards that they can't even admit to being Republicans.
Self-described libertarians have come to a moment of decision. They can either embrace what they purport to believe, or they must admit they are simply wingnuts who refuse to wear the uniform.
What will they do?
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
We hear a lot from the right wing about moral clarity, about clear lines between right and wrong. Well now we have a good example of that, don't we. The Republican party is about to decide that torture and the suspension of civil liberties are perfectly acceptable. And the Democratic leadership has apparently decided that, in the name of winning this election, they're going to support the proposal (or at least not strenuously oppose it). I have had a difficult time blogging lately, and I'll tell you why - I am thoroughly disillusioned with the people who are supposed to be leading me. Do we really believe that torture is either wise or moral? Do we really believe that civil liberties are in inconvenience, rather than essence of freedom? If we're going to discard our commitment to freedom and the good, then what the hell are we fighting for?
Let me tell you something. I am going to pay very close attention to the votes in the Senate on this legislation. I will reserve my particular ire for the Republicans, because they are leading the effort. But any quislings in the Democratic Party who support it are going to have some 'splaining to do. Do you hear that Hillary Clinton, Evan Bayh, Russ Feingold, Barack Obama, John Kerry, Joe Biden, and anyone else thinking about running for President? If you do this thing, I will not only refuse to support any of you who vote for it. I will make it my life's mission to ruin your ambitions for the Democratic nomination. As far as I'm concerned, this is the only vote that will matter.
While there may be an abstract distinction between doing evil out of ambition and doing evil out of weakness, in the end the outcome is the same: a deal with the devil
. Whether they are afraid of being attacked, or consumed by ambition, or making a strategic calculation that other things are important, whatever
the reason for voting for this travesty, any one who supports torture has sacrificed any claim to leadership, and any claim on my support.
There are always plenty of rationalizations for cooperating with evil, for abetting tyranny. Unfortunately all of them together cannot justify selling our souls.
WaPo Minimizes Medicare Part D disaster
Monday, September 25, 2006
The Washington Post has a piece this morning by Christopher Lee and Susan Levine describing the developing "Doughnut hole"
in the Medicare Part D program. I've described how this program works here
. To summarize, the plan basically covers 3/4 of prescription drug costs up to a total cost of $2250. After that, drug costs are totally out of pocket until you hit $5100.
I'm happy that the Post is talking about this issue, because it's one of the most noxious features of the program. What concerns me is the language they use when describing the nature of the problem:
going without drugs is "painful"
3 million senior are in this situation, rather than the anticipated 7 million
beneficiaries are "better off than they were before the plan"
seniors can "choose their plans more carefully"
the doughnut hole is a "temporary break in coverage"
Why does this article annoy me so much? Well let's pretend that someone drops a nuke on New York City. How would the same author describe this event?
New York suffered "serious damage." There were lots of casualties, but "less than the U.S. experienced in WWII." Survivors are suffering "medical conditions." People are advised to stay out of the city. Some critics say that New Yorkers "should have known better than to live in terrorist target" and that "this is an opportunity to diversify our economy."
How would Levine & Lee like it if they were given major surgery and then denied pain medication or antibiotics because it was "too expensive." After all, people survived for thousands of years without such things. And hey, if they die, them's the breaks, right?
Friday, September 22, 2006
It's Friday! I'm happy! I refuse to be upset that we have a so-called compromis
e that allows Presidents to torture people without judicial review! I don't care that it guts civil liberties
! It's okay that the Democrats look like asses
Why am I so ecstatic?
Well, I'm not. Actually, it makes me want to explore the sea floor without an oxygen tank.
You want a real reason to be happy? All right, if we must. Here's a picture of Gatsby trying to eat Brazen's hand:
I Read The Papers So You Don't Have To
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Because doing so will give you heartburn.
1) The House passed a bill yesterday that would require voters to present an ID
before they can cast a ballot. Now this might sound reasonable on the surface of it, until you ask yourself who does and doesn't have an ID. People who have cars have driver's license ID's. So anyone too poor to afford a car isn't going to have one. And the elderly frequently don't have them. These just happen to be constituencies that tend to be more Democratic. Many people vote on election day on a kind of "spur of the moment," so it's very possiblet that they'll show up to the polling place without an ID and will be disenfranchised.
More seriously, having an ID costs money
. Which is why I think this provision is unconstitutional - there's an amendment against any Poll Tax, and the ID requirement, because there is a charge involved, falls under that prohibition. The bill in question would provide federal funds to states to ease the issuance of ID's, but frankly I'm not convinced that states will really make ID's free and easily available, because a) it would take work, which they're allergic to, and b) the Republicans have no incentive to do so, since it would just help Democrats.
2) Bush and the Congress are moving in the direction of eliminating Habeus Corpus rights
. Now who cares about boring Latin phrases? You should. The writ of Habeus Corpus requires judicial review of criminal cases. In other words, people can't be thrown in jail without a trial. The writ means that higher courts can make sure lower courts aren't abusing people's rights. Habeus Corpus is one of the essential protections against the development of an authoritarian government. Anyone who moves to eliminate it should be run out of town with torches & pitchforks.
The argument for eliminating Habeus Corpus is that it's inconvenient. Yeah, civil liberties and democracy are pretty messy, aren't they? Why care about imprisoning the innocent? It's such a hassle demonstrating guilt, y'know.
This issue is what reveals the so-called "rebels" in the Republican party for the fakers they are. If they were really interested in defending the Constitution and civil liberties, they would oppose any such provision. The fact that they aren't suggests that all McCain, Warner, and Graham are doing is putting some symbolic distance between themselves and Bush - for narrowly political reasons.
3) David Broder, the dean of the Washington press corps, the pundit read by other pundits, has devolved into a partisan shill
. He characterizes any Democrat opposing Bush policies as a wild-eyed radical, while hailing Republicans who dissent as independent-minded heroes - even though the latter are only interested in watering down Bush's policies, not fighting them. He also does a quick smear of Senate candidate Sherrod Brown and reveals that he personally didn't like Gore or Kerry because they were "know-it-alls." He also makes the factual error of stating that Bush defeated Gore in the 2000 election, when everybody who knows anything knows that Gore won the national popular vote, and that more people voting in Florida wanted Gore rather than Bush. When I was young and naive, I really admired Broder. I don't know whether he's gotten senile & corrupted or I've just grown up, but I am through with that man.
Oh, you want some good news? The Republican party's polling absolutely terribly
right now - just 6 weeks from election day.
You Get What You Pay For
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
I've thought for some time that this country had been living off our civic republican legacy without doing much to restore it. There are a lot of good books (check out Theda Skocpol
) about how the old civic associations were replaced by "professional" activists more interested in getting people to write a check than really volunteer. Robert Putnam
wrote a famous but very controversial book about how modern America isolates us from one another. Of course, when he wrote his book, there were no such thing as blogs!
Now there is yet more evidence that the Putnam-Skocpol is essentially correct:
1) Increasingly, those who don't finish high school are participating less and less in public lif
2) The Left is struggling with "outsourced" activists
who are much less effective than the home-grown variety cultivated by Republicans.
I'm hoping that the developing momentum supporting "clean elections" laws (like the excellent initiative in California
) will somewhat dilute the overpowering influence of money in politics. And I like the "Netroots" movement. But until people are willing to get off their duffs and get involved, and until political leaders ask them to do so, we're going to continue to have a political system insensitive to the public interest. Even when we win, we're going to get crap like this
Ah, the homeland
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
I hear a lot about "defending the homeland." But what happens when you just want to give the homeland a good smack? I happen to have spent a good portion of my life in Georgia, and every couple of months I have to endure some idiotic event emerging from the dark caverns of the Empire State of the South. Today I get two:
) Governor Sonny Perdue says that "It is simply unacceptable for people to sneak into this country illegally on Thursday, obtain a government-issued ID on Friday, head for the welfare office on Monday and cast a vote on Tuesday."
It's nice to see that the southern tradition of race-baiting is alive and well. Sigh.
) Senator Saxby Chambliss states that “We need better intelligence. If we had better intelligence in the Civil War we’d be quoting Jefferson Davis, not Lincoln
My God. What a display! There's the historical inaccuracies here, of course - that the South had an excellent spy ring during the Civil War, that Robert E. Lee would NEVER have ordered torture. But these seem almost beside the point, given the simple fact that Chambliss refers to himself as a Confederate sympathizer with the "we" talk. What do you mean "we", fuckhead? Are you getting in bed with traitors now? Do you know what we should with traitors? Because I know what YOU think we should do with traitors, or even those suspected of being so.
I'm sorry, but what is it with the South's right-wing leadership? Why can't they seem to do anything other than connive at the destruction of the country, or at least turning it into some disgusting version of their lost Confederacy?
Soft on Terror? How About Soft On Freedom?
Monday, September 18, 2006
For quite some time now I've been considering how best to respond to the Bush Administration's push to legalize torture and domestic surveillance. There are all the obvious criticisms of these policies in and of themselves - that torture doesn't work, that it opens up our own troops to this sort of treatment, that it lowers our standing in the world. That domestic surviellance imperils our liberties and concentrates too much authority in an already overmighty executive. All of these points have been made many times of course, so many in fact that they barely bear repeating. It's not that we haven't been warned
I am tired to being told be to be afraid by my purported leaders. I am tired of being told to just trust them, given their manifest incompetence and ruthless ambition. I am tired of being accused of being "soft on terror" when I raise questions about the Constitution, our tactics in dealing with religious fundamentalism, or the management of the Iraq War. And I am particularly tired of the weak-kneed politicians who demand that we don't torture quite so much being hailed as heroes
I do think that we're being soft on some things, however, though not "terror." Soft on democracy, perhaps. Soft on liberty. Soft on responsibility, on intelligence, on humanity. Worse, we have been soft on ourselves.
The people in charge are only able to get away with so much because we let them
. They spy on us, demonize our own citizens, inflict pain and torture, lie us into a war and then bungle it, alienate our allies, compromise our economic futures ... and we say nothing. Our government is embroiled in the worst corruption scandal since Teapot Dome.
And how do we respond? With a shrug
The only analogy I can come up with is if a man's house is broken into in the middle of the night, he is robbed & beaten, his wife raped, his children kidnaped, and the dog shot, and after its over the only thing he can think to do is go back to sleep. Do you have to burn someone's house down to get his attention?
Watching an episode of the Rome series on HBO, a scrupulous candidate for public office expressed concern about electoral corruption. The response to him was that the people aren't interested in clean elections, but jobs and being fed. Was it any response that their Republic fell? We Americans don't even seem to be as demanding as the ancient Romans anymore. All we seem to want is the next episode of American Idol.
Maybe everyone else likes being told to cower under the covers at the monsters they are told are in the closet. Maybe others are willing to be told what to do & how to think. Perhaps they are happy enough with just the semblance of liberty. But I for one have had much more than enough.
Cat Attempts To Light Self On Fire
Friday, September 15, 2006
Yes, that's Misha's tail on the stove. Lucky for him it wasn't on. I just wish I could have gotten a picture of him when he was in the microwave....
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Brazen Hussy is back. Boy that was the longest week ever.
Sorry I haven't been posting the last couple of days. Been a bit blogged out and grumpy. But suddenly my mood is completely transformed. Funny that.
In the world of news & bloggery, there I are two things I want to point out. The first is this post
by Lauren, in which she discusses how her kid was forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I have to say that I find this pretty appalling. I know that it's important to inculcate patriotism, but aren't there better ways to inculcate patriotism that coercion? We really shouldn't "force people to be free."
Oh, and by the way, the "under God" portion of the pledge was added in the 1950's as a sideways smack to Communism.
The second tidbit I want to talk about is the Republican's excellent voter mobilization capacity
. I have to tell you, this is the major reason I am worried about the mid-term elections in November. Other than money itself, there is nothing more important than good voter lists. If you know who you're voters are, you can efficiently contact them and get them to the polls. If you don't, then you're going to waste a ton of effort with people who aren't going to vote for you anyway. The GOP has very good voter lists, and the Democrats have really really crappy ones. I speak from personal experience. When I was making phone calls for Kerry in 2004 to Ohio and Wisconsin, at least half of the numbers I called had either moved or weren't Democrats.
These bad lists mean that the Democrats, the party with fewer resources in the first place, also spends them inefficiently. It's just crazy. Until we fix the problem, all the narrative in the world isn't going to help us.
Billmon Says It Better
Monday, September 11, 2006
From Whiskey Bar :
There are many things you can call that point of view and the style of politics it supports. Democracy isn't one of them. If perception really is everything, and managing mass perceptions is the be-all and end-all of the political process, then Spengler was right -- what we call "democracy" is really just a disguise for plutocracy.
Go read the whole thing.
No One Said Being The Good Guys Would Be Easy
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Given the nature of the comments, I feel that I need to clarify what I wrote in my last post.
Perhaps I was too hard on Kos. Maybe he was trying to say that you can't communicate substantive ideas without fitting them into some broader principles, principles which can make those policies both comprehensible and interrelated. That would be a good thing to do, because it would be a rhetoric of education - dedicated to inspiring and informing the voters. But I don't think that's what he meant.
Maybe I can best explain what I am saying by articulating what I am not
I do not believe that liberals need to ignore Republican attacks. I do not believe that we can indulge in overly complicated language. I do not believe that we can simply assert our moral superiority. I do not believe that to be good requires that we be weak.
But I also I do not believe that the ends justify the means. I do not believe that liberals will be successful if they ape conservatives treatment of voters as things. And I do not believe that a democracy can flourish if its most committed champions have lack faith in the process of democracy - that reasoned argument, inspired by high ideals, can change the world.
Years ago liberal abandoned the language of high purpose and moral responsibility in favor of slogans and sound bytes. We failed to articulate the thematic unity of our beliefs - beliefs that are not about what we are but what we could be. We now have two choices. We can fully embrace the demagogic tactics of the right, and figure out clever ways into tricking people into doing the right thing. Or we can challenge the citizenry to rise about their fears and prejudices, to remind them that the Republic is supposed to belong to them.
The first path is the easy choice, and of course the wrong one. Maybe in the last analysis it's the only choice. But then we'd have lost the battle for democracy anyway. I for one am not quite ready to accept that.
Citizens, Not Subjects
Saturday, September 09, 2006
So I met the great Kos
recently, and we argued a bit. What did we argue about? Kos was laying out his view of how politics should be conducted: that issues in and of themselves don't matter. That all that matter's is the "narrative." You come up with a one sentence (or preferably one-word) definition of your opponent's character. The debate is not about substance but "values" and you use issue discussion to reinforce frames and talk about values (Note that the emphasis was on the opponent rather than your own candidate).
My response was, "Yes I can see how this wins elections. But where does it leave us? How is this not a form of manipulation no better than the kind the Republicans are always indulging in? And how does this sinking down to the same level of ferocity as the Republicans improve the public discourse? And if we just escalate, what will the Republicans do next in order to ratchet up the conflict even more?"
His response? That we have to see the world as it is and act accordingly. We live in a media saturated culture in which people have no time or interest in politics. It's peripheral to their concerns, and we have to make the short, quick, powerful emotional appeal if we're going to get through to them. In other words, "oh well."
I've been mulling over that argument ever since, as well as my recent commitment to not go too far
in my competitive desire to defeat Republicans. Kos isn't alone in his position. I've made similar arguments in the past. Paul Waldman
has also done so, saying that politics is not about issues, but about identity. Republicans win because they say "I'm one of one and he's not" and that Democrats have to learn to press the same kinds of emotional buttons.
I have serious reservations about this line of thought. On the one hand, I think it's myopic. If you look at the nature of political debates in the past, there was a heck of a lot more substance. Look at the Kennedy-Nixon debates (which were on TV, I might add), or discussion about all kinds of policies in the 1960's and 1970's. They were fundamentally substantive. I'm not exactly talking about ancient history here. It wasn't really until Reagan came along that politics became just a bunch of symbols.
On the other hand, this kind of politics is so very effective precisely because it plays to the worst elements of human psychology. It's demagogy, plain and simple: using emotion to get groups of people to do what you want them to do, to control them. It's as profoundly anti-democratic a kind of debate as you can imagine. It turns the citizens not into partners in the democratic experiment, but into objects of control. It's no coincidence that modern campaigns so resemble commercials for goods & services. They are selling people
rather than things
, but it's the same basic approach: "Buy our stuff! Believe us! Be bacteria responding to unconscious stimuli!" Hence Waldman's statement "it's about who you are, not what you're for."
In democracies, the people are supposed to rule themselves. They do that through a form of public discourse, in which emotion is used not just to get people to act
, but to get them to think
. As Democrats, we need to engage the best parts of our natures - compassion, duty, responsibility, tolerance - rather than the worst.
Right now the Republicans have been successful because they have inculcated a sense of fear in people - fear of gays, of terrorists, of atheists, of cities, of minorites. I could go on for hours. The Democrats are beginning to respond in kind, and with increasing effectiveness. Not by tapping into fear, but anger: anger at big corporations, at corruption, and being lied to, at senseless death, at high gas prices, whatever.
This might win us a few elections. But will it really make us better off? Will it heal the stark divisions in our nation's polity? I don't think so. I think that it will be just one more step in the real
road to serfdom.
In the end, the only way to defeat the insanity and corruption of modern conservatism is to expose it for what it is: a philosophy for cowards, motivated by ruthless ambition and the spirit of domination. Their aim (unconscious or otherwise) is to divide the country between masters and slaves. But what is insidious is that their means
for doing so steadily transform self-governing citizens into subjects of control accustomed to direction.
Let's not play their silly little game.
Things Just Keep Getting Better and Better
If you aren't interested in hearing me wallow, move along.
I had two interviews for jobs in the last week or so. And I found out today that I wasn't getting either of them. These were crappy part-time jobs, by the way.
So I'm looking at:
1) keep applying and hope for the best
2) Get a really shitty job in food or retail
3) Look for a job in a town that would require a long commute
Right now I'm focusing on option four.
The Backlash Is For Everybody
Thursday, September 07, 2006
I was sensitized to anti-feminist cultural phenomena after Brazen Hussy asked me to read Susan Faludi's "Backlash." It had a lot to do with my transformation into a feminist. Something that I'm always looking for are media representations of "traditional" gender roles that reinforce stereotypes.
What is interesting is that lately I've been noticing a lot of this sort of thing directed at men
. In the last month I have seen commercials to the effect that real men only eat meat, that real men burp and watch sports, and that real men drive hummers. In each case a man feels poorly about himself and/or is being harassed by his friends for being a so-called "girly man." And in each case, purchasing the product in question reinforces his status as a "real man."
I've written a little about this before, but I believe it's worth underlying. Although men are not in the same socially inferior position that women have been placed in, they are trapped in externally defined gender roles that are just as rigid.
While I like sports, and meat, and cars that go fast, at the same time I look books, and romantic comedies, and hugs. By some definitions this makes me less than man. To which I can only respond: men who slavishly follow the fads of the day aren't confident, strong men. They're tools. So screw you.
Woe To Me
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
So Brazen Hussy is on her way to Cambodia. I won't see her for a week, and it is doubtful that's we'll be able to communicate at all. So I'm settling down into a good old-fashioned sulk.
Monday, September 04, 2006
Here's an email sent to me by a loyal reader whose name I will keep private in case they don't want it revealed...
Just wonder if you have or will be writing about the news reports regarding the "upsurge" in employment number and how it supposedly means the economy is doing better.
The reason I ask will probably seem kind of lame, but I'm going to tell you anyway :)
I'm a statistic that doesn't get statistic-ized. Since I've been an independent contractor off and on for 12+ years, I don't get laid-off, but I don't have work either. I did have a "real" job for about a year and got laid off from that one; but that was in 2001.
I don't know how to intelligently put my thoughts about the whole job/unemployment/dumb ass stuff. I just know how it affects me. And, you write about it so well.
Anyway, if you have or will be writing about such, would you let me know, please?
The unemployment figures in the U.S. are actually extremely mis-leading, for a number of reasons. First of all, they only count people who are seeking jobs. Folks who get too discouraged to keep looking just aren't included. Second, the numbers include people who we would normally think of as part-time workers. Third, people who are self-employed but don't have any contracts at the moment are still counted as "employed." Fourth, we don't include our prison population in our unemployment figures. Given that we have an imprisonment rate of 738 per 100,000 - all of whom are part of the working age population - which far exceeds that of other industrialized democracies (Britain comes in at 147 per 100,000), this conceals our unemployment rate.
Take these and other factors together, and the U.S. unemployment rate is far higher than that recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. One study
I read indicated that we have a "de facto unemployment rate" of 13%. Not exactly paradise.
This is all particularly bitter for me because by ANY measure I am one of the unemployed - looking but not finding anything.
A New David Brooks
I've been sad that David Brooks is now behind the NYT subscription wall. But now I have someone knew to concentrate by ire on- Sebastien Mallaby at the Washington Post. In a recent op-ed
, Mallaby finally admitted that there is problem with the growing econonomic inequality in the U.S. Good, he's seen the light. But having recognized the problem, Mallaby then proceeds to eliminate the practical means for alleviating inequality: labor unions, minimum wage, protectionism. His arguments are pretty boring, actually: that labor unions would drive jobs overseas, the minimum wage would not help all that many people, and protectionism would cause more economic damage than it solved.
So Mallaby's solution? Why tax reform! Now one might suspect that, given his stated desire to reduce inequality, he is suggesting some kind of rampant re-distribution. Oh no - what he proposes is the elimination of tax deducations for home ownership, health insurance, and savings. Since the bulk of the benefits of these policies go to the affluent, getting rid of them would allow the government to cut taxes on the less well off.
Oh boy. Where do I start. Well first of all he is far too quick to dismiss the usual liberal array of solutions. An increase in the minimum wage would provide a critical margin of wealth for the working poor - y'know, the ones who work 40 hours a week and still are under the poverty line. His objection to labor unions seems to have more to do with international trade than unionization as such. What he fails to consider is that the major gap in incomes between the 1st and 3rd world, and the consequent "race to the bottom," means that even today's low wages are "too high." Without some sort of trade policy that protects middle class living standards in every
country, every attempt to strengthen the middle class will be defeated before it starts. Which brings me to his attack on "protectionism," which in his ridiculous worldview is anything but totally open borders. Why is it so hard to accept the idea that the U.S. can have free trade with other industrialized democracies and managed trade with developing nations?
Okay, let's look at Mallaby's proposal. First, it is politically impossible - nobody is going to get rid of tax incentives for savings, home ownership, and health insurance. You'd have to be crazy to even suggest it. Second, even if these tax subsidies were eliminated, it is extremely unlikely that the money would go to middle class tax cuts - particularly when we have a gigantic budget deficit. Third, while the bulk of the benefits to the wealthy, many middle class people rely on them. Fourth, if he's so concerned with the regressive quality of these deductions, why not just cap them to family income? That way the middle class still gets the benefit, and we still have a pot of money to reduce the deficit or spend on the poor.
The biggest objection I have is that the re-distribution of wealth through the tax code is an unstable strategy. Without structural changes in the way corporate profits are distributed, the over-paid wealthy are going to perceive their salaries as "their" money. Once it's in their bank accounts, they will fight like demons to keep it. The only way to improve middle class living standards in any meaningful way is to alter the structure of the American economy so that benefits are distributed broadly rather than monopolized by the top. Anything else is a waste of time.
Whatever Happened To...
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Saturday Morning Cartoons?
I remember being a kid in the 1980's and having Saturday morning be absolutely sacrosanct. Come 8AM, I was plopped down in front of the TV, immoble for the next 3 hours or so. There were all sorts of cartoons, some targetted to younger and some to older viewers, but I watched a good chunk of them. It was just something you did.
At some point in early adolescence I decided that being able to sleep in was better than cartoons, and I stopped watching. Then when I was older and used to getting up early again, I would watch Saturday morning cartoons again, this time with Brazen Hussy. The programs were different, but there were still some fun ones. I did notice, however, that there were a lot fewer stations carrying them.
Then a year or so ago I realized that all they ever showed anymore were repeats, and I quit watching. Last week I was surfing the boob toob at 9AM on a Saturday. I looked at the listings and saw ---- nothing.
Where did they go? Why did people lose interest? Are they playing video games or something? Maybe it's just nostalgia, but I must confess a sadness at the demise of the saturday morning cartoon.
On Not Going To Far
Friday, September 01, 2006
One of the great things about being married to your best friend is that they tell you what you need to hear. Last night Brazen Hussy said that on occasion I had let my passion for political conflict, and my desire to win, lead me into some very dark places. It's not that I'd become one of the bad guys, but that I'd been heading down a very angry road with no awareness of where it led. Since then I've thought of little else.
It's no secret that I'm not fond of Republicans, or of conservative ideology. I've not been silent about how dangerous I think Bush and his cronies are. What is worth re-examining, however, is what we do in the name of defeating them.
We say that we should be a nation of laws and not men. But in our recent political disputes we have been eager to make elections not about what someone does but about what they are. Republicans have been successful in part because they have persuaded some people that Democrats are simply unfit for public office - that they cannot be trusted, that they are unacceptable. And they have done so by saying that we are liars, cowards, weaklings, traitors, whatever. They have run campaigns based on personalities rather than ideas.
It is tempting - almost irresistable, in fact, to reply in kind. But I am coming to wonder whether this approach is worth it, or whether it just makes things worse. Not only does it ultimately just feed public cynicism about politics, but it also makes us the into the very things we are fighting against.
George Bush is not a bad President because he is a Texan, or a religious zealot, or an idiot, or a spoiled rich boy - although he is all of those things. He is a bad President because the policies he has pursued are terrible for the country. He has demonstrated administrative incompetence, foreign policy blunders, disastrous economic management, and no regard for the integrity of the democratic process. These are all judgments on what he and his allies have done. Not who they are.
So I am beginning to think that although we should argue that our opponents should be driven out of office with great passion and even some righteous anger, we should avoid name-calling and personal attacks. We should not say "my opponent is an ass" but rather "my opponent does asinine things."
It's a fine line, I know. But I am reminded of what Robert Kennedy said when he announced his candidacy in 1968: "I do not seek the Presidency to oppose any man, but to propose new policies." Words worth remembering.
I Wish I Were This Contented