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Going All Twisty Faster

Thursday, May 28, 2009
Via the Economist's View, I found out that a federal regulator in the Clinton administration, Brooksley Born, warned everyone in Washington that the whole derivatives thing was a ticking time bomb ten years ago. She was entirely correct, but got muzzled by Greenspan, Summers, and the rest of that aggregation of financial wizards who got us into this mess.

What got be about this piece wasn't the substance, although that was infuriating enough. No, what outraged me was the condescending tone the Washington Post writer Manuel Roig-Franzia used to describe Born. There was a ridiculously contrived theme about her handbag, discussions of how she "daintily" poured tea during the interview, suggestions that she wouldn't say "I told you so" because it wasn't ladylike, etc., etc. It was an appallingly misogynistic, and frankly demeaning, way to write about a 68-year-old professional woman discussing an issue of the greatest import.

I hope Mr. Roig-Franzia's wife/girlfriend reads this piece and then kicks his ass.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:00 AM

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Construction Hell

Tuesday, May 26, 2009
They are putting up a big new dorm across the street while replacing the windows in our building. I get to hear jackhammers and banging against the windows all day, every day, for his noodly appendage knows how long.

Oh, and if you think I'm not planning on writing about Obama's Supreme Court pick, don't worry. I just want to mull it over for a bit first so that I have something interesting, or at least minimally hackneyed, to say.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:53 PM

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Five Years

Today five years ago I started blogging. Since May 26, 2004 I've written 1,287 posts (including this one). I have mixed feelings about this anniversary. When I started I had daydreams of becoming one of the big-time political bloggers, but I never had the discipline (or time, or luck) to do the things one needs to do in order to do so. I'm a lurker rather than a commenter, and I have despite several half-hearted attempts failed to find a particular niche. I'd love to be able to write about the things I see in local politics, but unlike New York, the place I live is just too small to preserve my anonymity.

So in a limited sense I can say the blog has been a disappointment, but only in that one very specific way. I think I can say with honesty that I was never really obsessed with the art of blogging per se. The principal reason I wrote is because I was outraged by so much of what I saw in the world and needed some venue to express it. Expressing it at home was driving Brazen Hussy a little crazy, so the blog was a good alternative to her murdering me in my bed.

I also started blogging because I missed writing. Writing has always been one of the ways I work out my thoughts, and if you go back and look at the older archives, you can see a lot of pretty abstract analysis of American politics. Now I've returned to academic research (both theoretical and empirical) and am working on a novel, so there isn't quite the itch to write every day that there used to be. The first year or so I wrote every single day, with few exceptions. Now it's down to a few times a week.

I never expected to make friends blogging, yet I have. Most of my readers started out on Brazen Hussy's blog, so I suppose that they're friends by the transitive principle, but that's okay. I've met some very nice people I never would have otherwise, a fact that alone makes this blog worth it.

I'm not entirely sure any longer what this blog is for, but I'm going to keep at it and see what happens. This blog was incredibly important for me when I lived in New York because of the sort of life I was living then. And there was the need to yell about George Bush, who is now gone. Obama annoys me but I don't rage at him that way I did at his predecessor. Where I am now, blogging is a lot more peripheral, but I won't be here forever (at least I don't think so) and the blog might be more important later.

I suppose what I'm attempting to express is these ramblings is that I thank you for reading whatever nonsense has been popping into my head over these last 5 years. And given my inability to ever let anything go, don't be surprised if I'm still here in another five.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 11:25 AM

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Parallels Between Social and Biological Evolution

Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Okay, this is just neat. Apparently there are very strong similarities between the development and energy usage of cities and living things. Wacky.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:52 AM

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The Supreme Court's War On Democracy?

Monday, May 18, 2009
As I've said many times, I think Buckley vs. Valeo was an awful decision. Money is not speech any more than corporations are persons, and the belief, whether held implicitly or explicitly, that wealth should be the primary determinant of access to the public debate is a pernicious one that any right-thinking advocate of popular government would ridicule. For years I've hoped that Buckley could be overturned, but thanks to the services of Mr. Bush, it looks like it may happen in the most damnably ironic way I can fathom:

Even more significant could be the SpeechNow challenge. In that case, a First Amendment advocacy group dubbed SpeechNow.org argues that it should be allowed to expressly advocate the election or defeat of federal candidates using unregulated money. That means the group would be subject to neither contribution limits nor to the ban on direct corporate and union treasury funding.

"This is a case that is potentially a fundamental challenge to Buckley v. Valeo itself," said former FEC chairman Trevor Potter, at the Brennan Center conference, referring to the landmark 1976 ruling that upheld contribution limits. Potter is president of the Campaign Legal Center and heads the political activity law practice at Caplin & Drysdale.

So now they want to permit unlimited unregulated contributions as well as unlimited spending? Am I reading that right? I'm sorry, but if they're successful we'll have a republic in name only. But of course I suspect that's been their design all along.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:33 PM

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Live Free Or Die

Sunday, May 17, 2009
Let me try to explain why I'm so outraged at Obama's recent reversals on civil liberties questions and at his continuance (and consolidation) of Bush policies.

Here's what I believe: the first duty of a republic is not to enhance the wealth of its citizens. It's not to provide economic opportunities or social services. It's not to educate, or to cure diseases, or make it easier to get around. It's not even to keep its citizens alive. No, the principal aim of a free society is to remain one by protecting the liberties of its citizens.

Now Cheney and his ilk would argue that personal freedoms take a back seat to the risk of death. This is incoherent - even a dictator can't say this with a straight face and truly make any sense. Why? Because there are things worse than being dead. Don't believe me? Well, if death were the worst thing that could happen to a person, then there would never be any wars, would there? Armies wouldn't fight, and invaded countries wouldn't resist, if death was the worst thing to be feared.

There are many thing worse than death. Human beings sacrifice their lives all the time for the sake of their families, their countries, for vague principles, for glory. They even give up their lives out of despair, or to avoid pain. Even in the case of torture, many subjects would rather die than face any more suffering.

To be enslaved, to live in fear, to be powerless in the face of oppression - these are the things worth dying to prevent, the things Republics are meant to prevent. Slavery is the worst of fates, whether of the institutionalized or more subtle sort (like tyranny). The founders of our Republic knew this. That's why their risked their lives in the name of liberty, and why so many of them died. It's a sad statement that we, the beneficiaries of their sacrifices, seem to have forgotten it.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:36 AM

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Putting Off The Hard Things

Friday, May 15, 2009
I like to think of myself as a pragmatic person, one who doesn't let the perfect become the enemy of the good. In fact on occasion I've worried that I'm too practical, too willing to make incremental moves, that I'm in danger of becoming a hack. But now I'm having an experience that alleviates that concern. I suppose in a curious sense that could be a good thing, if the origin of this realization weren't so depressing.

So far, Barack Obama and the Democratic majority has been a big fat disappointment. Just think of the list of issues - credit cards, home mortgages, bankruptcy reform, torture, military commission, the banks, wiretapping, don't ask don't tell, card check, and God knows how many others - where Obama has been co-opted by the very forces we've been fighting so hard against. And then there's issues like global warming and health care, where there's reason to be concerned he'll do the same thing.

It's not that I expect Obama to fight all the battles. He can't. And I certainly don't expect him to win those he does contest. But what I would like him to do, what I think we deserve in a President, is one who fights the battles worth fighting. Openly, fearlessly. Pick an issue, man. Give me something to be proud of. Who knows? You might surprise us all and show that right and justice and wisdom can still count for something.

What I do know is that the present course is woefully insufficient. As it stands now, the changes were are getting are too pathetically small in the face of the challenges we face. Yesterday's Lilliputian efforts simply aren't good enough any more.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:34 PM

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Wow that was a fast week

Tuesday, May 12, 2009
I was insanely busy last week trying to put proposals together and then going on a conference, after which I spent a lovely weekend with Brazen Hussy and then returned to rush through ANOTHER proposal, which just went out a few minutes ago. The only thing worse than having to write proposals all the time is knowing most of the are going to get rejected. To make things even more fun, my institution is going through some reforms that more than suggest that I'll be having to help out a whole bunch more people submit proposals. Which I don't like doing. So poo on institutional reforms, I say.

On a cheerier note, one of the projects I've been working on has revived my interest in political science. After my dissertation I was just burned out on the whole subject, but now I'm dusting off old projects I've been letting collect dust. It really would be a shame if I didn't get any publications out of all the work I did on my dissertation.

And my novel is going pretty well too, so that's another good thing. I'm halfway through the fourth chapter already.

I'll write something about politics tomorrow. Maybe.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:35 PM

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Don't Mess With Glenn Greenwald

Monday, May 04, 2009
I'm mucho busy today and don't really have time for a full-scale blog, but to tide you over in the meantime, take a look at the response of Glenn Greenwald to someone criticizing his acceptance of a journalistic award. Ouch.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:58 PM

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The Root Of The Problem

Friday, May 01, 2009
Sometimes I despair. Even with large Democratic majorities in Congress and control of the White, with public opinion generally in support of liberal policy objectives, it still sometimes seems impossible to get things done. Take the mortgage law passed by the Senate recently. The key to the bill was the ability for distressed owners to reduce their interest rates, the so-called "cramdown" provision. The people want it. Obama wants it. But a group of Democrats sold out their party and their constituents and voted to strip it from the bill. According to Dick Durbin - and being the #2 Democrat in the Senate, he should know - "the bankers own the place." We can't get the zombie banks put into receivership because there aren't the votes in Congress (i.e. among Democrats), presumably because the banks own the place.

And why is this? Why does finance have so much power? Because they give so much in campaign contributions, that's why. It's not that members of Congress are necessarily bribed. A lot of political scientists (me among them) tried to demonstrate that link but were never able to do so. It's more probable that, because money is so important to getting elected, those who are more willing to sell their soul tend to, er, I mean, are favorably disposed to, wealthy interests are more able to win primaries and general elections in the first place. Alternatively, if as an elected official you only ever hear from one side of the debate - from the finance industry - AND they're carrying a big pot of money, you're going to incline in their direction. It's probably a combination of elements, but they all point back to the same core problem - the problem of money in politics.

It sounds like a boring issue, but to my mind it's the prerequisite to almost all other major reforms. Want health care? Want labor rights? Want to do something about global warming? Want to fix the economy? First you need to cut big business' political legs out from under them. Do campaign finance reform - real campaign finance reform - and then you have a chance. Keep neglecting campaign finance reform as a pointless "process" issue, and you're going to keep getting what you've been getting: the domination of American politics by elite interests.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:49 PM

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