Monthly Archives: March 2005

Is this really happening?

Last year (look for it yourself) The Washington Monthly wondered if the Republican party could survive a second term of Bush. They compared the times to the Democrats situation in the late 60s.

The New Deal coalition fractured over Civil Rights and the Vietnam War. When McGovern, the candidate of amnesty, abortion, and acid (as someone who now resides in the lower circles of hell once put it) won the Democratic nomination in 1972, it allowed for the definition of Democratic party as weak on defense, weak on the economy, and weak on the family.

Of course, that definition is and always was patently absurd. Defense spending rose under every 20th century Democratic president except Clinton and shrunk under every Republican 20th century president except Reagan. The stock market performed better under 20th century Democrats, and the microstructures of the family are fracture much more forcefully by the economic pressures on the working class requiring two incomes than they ever were by the microscopic portion of spending that went to welfare programs (which were in themselves aimed at trying to keep families intact).

The enemies of the rump Democrats after 1972–economic libertarians, hawks, and christian neo-fascists, and the rich–all found common cause in the Republican party. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as they say in the Middle East.

Of course, these different groups have little else in common. Economic libertarians are not at all concerned with the microstructures of the family, at least not primarily. They of course contend that Darwinistic economic processes will ultimately make more people prosper, but only as a consequence, not as a first principle. They are even less concerned with Biblical injunction, no matter how transcendental their faith in the invisible hand may seem.

Christian neo-fascists are concerned mainly with restoring the illusory “traditional family” whose breakdown they see as the root of all evils. But they also are unconcerned with the microstructure of the family as a first priority because homosexual or otherwise untraditional families are not allowed. A certain perfect order is their priority. They seem to be concerned with life, but at least tacitly sanction the use of war to further their worldview, and also tacitly sanction the death penalty (not universally, however).

The rich have no social agenda per se. They simply don’t want to be bothered with taxes on their estates and find the economic libertarians a convenient ally because they provide a pseudo-scholarly rationale for their selfishness.

But now, what was designed as yet another wedge issue to box in Democrats has turned into a lever to deepen the cracks between these groups within the Republican party: Terry Schiavo.

Bush and Congress have violated so many intellectual precepts of the Republican party in their action to “save” Terry in addition to the embarassing reality that they have lost. They violated “states’ rights” a key issue used to wedge away southern whites from the New Deal coalition. They violated the supposed sanctity of marriage by interposing the government’s decision making for the family’s decision making–”family” is only valid when it meets the definitions laid out by certain elements of the christian faith.

And the socially moderate Republicans — the wallet Republicans — want no piece of this. They are probably thinking a lot about Bill Clinton, and missing him.

Republicandiculous

It costs $80,000 per year to keep Veggie Schiavo alive with no brain.

Meanwhile, billions live on less than a dollar a day. God damn we suck.

Take that goddamn feeding tube out of that sack of shit and put it in some starving African kids that actually have an active brain.

Keillor

The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong‘s moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt‘s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk.

“We’re Not in Lake Wobegon Anymore”, In These Times, August 26, 2004

—If I could have written that, I would quit my day job.

The End of the Judiciary?

Will March 21, 2005 be the date we remember as the beginning of the end of the separaion of powers and/or the federal judiciary?

Man. The New Deal (70 years) , Brown v. Board of Education (50 years). Roe (30 years) Conservatives can really hold a grudge.

Kristof Doesn't Get It.

Nick Kristof today says it’s Hillary Clinton that gets it, today. He starts out saying that her recent one-liners on abortion are the correct position to win heartland voters, while claiming that 61% of Americans favor tighter restrictions on abortion and only 36% support the current position. He also says that her one-liner on prayer resonates with 60% of Americans who pray every day. But at the end, he says she’ll never get elected because she’s a liberal feminist (?)

I don’t believe Hillary Clinton will ever get elected President. At least not unless she’s the Jimmy Carter left to pick up scraps from a Watergate level fiasco we all think is coming from the Bush administration, but which never does.

And it will take more than her well distributed quotes to make this message stick; people associate Hillary with feminism–even lesbianism–and a few comments seen as brazen political positioning will not do the trick.

This has to be one of the worst columns I’ve read from in a while. First of all, the statistics presented by Kristof are highly misleading. 60% of Americans say they pray daily because 60% feel they should. I’m sure the real number is much lower; just like those who claim they watch PBS, or do any other thing they think they should. Second, his statistics on abortion are misleading, because a majority fluctuating anywhere from 55 to 66% favor legal abortion. “Tighther restrictions” really are meaningless in a national poll, since different states have different restriction either de jure or de facto, and most people have no idea about this anyway.

Even if that were misleading, and even if we weren’t talking about abortion, which is truly a complicated subject, imagine a major national columnist endorsing the following position 150 years ago:

The Republicans’ position on slavery doesn’t play well in the South. Radical abolitionists from liberal cities like Boston and Philadelphia are not acceptable to the voters in the South and the extra 3/5th electoral oomph they get from their slaves. In order to win the election, we must moderate our position on slavery.

Absurd, right? You’d be right to say abortion isn’t slavery, and that’s true. The point, however, is that when you have a principle that you believe in, you shouldn’t sell it out just to win, because when you win on those grounds you lose.

This kind of electoral “logic” claim makes me even more certain that Democrats simply must do better about their message, and quit trying to win a game stacked against them by a faustian bargain.

I believe in legal abortion. I believe in social security. And most important to me, in a clean environment. These things may or may not be as important as slavery, but I don’t think the thing to do is to moderate on these positions. It looks weak. Let them moderate.

The Right Philosophy At The Wrong Level

Conservatism is a great personal philosophy. I myself am a tragically conservative person in many ways. I have nothing more than a speeding ticket on my record. I work in a white collar industry for businesses. I am married. While I’m no teetotaler or religious zealot, I am otherwise someone you might describe as “conservative” in the personal sense of the word. Wears a suit, short hair cut, doesn’t make a scene in public.

But socially, which is a level that transcends the sum of its parts, I believe that people need people and people should help, not hurt people. I believe that forcing people to navigate life by the law of the jungle is a farcical irony given that humanity has striven for millenia just to avoid that exact fate.

The passage of the bankruptcy bill is another example of applying a great personal philosophy to everyone at the sociological level. It is not the sign of a great person to shirk his or her debts. It’s a sign of failing responsibility to overspend with easy credit. And even assuming we had the most liberal bankruptcy system in the world, I would never encourage people to set it as a goal. Avoid it if you can.

The problem is, not everyone can, and not everyone has control over the situation. Misguided universalizations of personal situations have had a deleterious effect on public policy. Of course people should pay their debts. But when most bankruptcies occur in close proximity to a medical emergency or a divorce, one must grant that not all of the circumstances are in people’s control.

Meanwhile, nothing is done about the underlying causes of bankruptcy. Nothing is done to provide health insurance to 45 million people who dont have it. Nothing is done to limit predatory credit industry tactics.

And if credit card rates for the rest of us go down one tick after this (because of the supposed increased security of the loans), I’ll put down my keyboard.

It's Better on a Bike

I thought the worst part of bicycle riding would be navigating busy streets with a swiveling head, trying to negotiate through the careless drivers zipping past in their mega-mobiles.

It’s actually the best part.

Bicycle riding causes the mind and the body to be in a state of fluid concentration, calculating the lactic muscle build up in the quads, with the just-turned-yellow light and the dweeb in the Buick who looks like he is going to turn but isn’t signaling. It’s the air thwwrring past your ears; it’s being able to look at the still water of the dammed river; it’s the honest feel of the road.

How easy it is to drone through a dull day of work, stop-and-go your way home in the car, zap on the TV, get a little drunk and call it a night. Work, cars, booze and TV have their merit, but biking forces the mind into immediate shrewd interactive strategizing. Beyond exercise endorphins, having an active mind and body and makes you awake and happy.

Of course, it is easy to bike here – there are painted bike lanes over several bridges and major roads. This is just one of the bonuses of living in a city with no real Republicans. I had been planning on saving up some cash to buy a Hybrid once I finish my Master’s and settle into my job. I’m not going to now; just gonna’ keep my increasingly beat up Hyundai and use it for long trips as needed until it breaks. When it comes to getting around town it’s better on a bike.

Moving into checkmate on Social Security

It must be terrible to see the light at the end of a tunnel on a 70 year quest, only to have it fade into a point and then disappear.

The Republican quest to undermine all social safety nets in this country may have reached its high water mark (ironically) with Clinton’s welfare reform bill, and not with George Bush’s attempt to destroy social security.

Clinton’s bill, whether you agree with or not, was founded on the observed moral hazards involved in a free lunch. Of course, all welfare states deal with the problems of the moral hazards–other have managed them more successfully, and have found the benefits of the programs to be worth the price. Americans are bad at looking at aggregate values; we personalize everything and then extrapolate from there. If I work, so should everyone. If I work and still can’t get ahead, then people who don’t work shouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am. Not too many of us think–or even connect the problem–to the inefficiency of services when an economy is at higher than full employment (instead of just keeping the unwilling out of the way) and the other social externalities caused by extreme poverty.

Clinton’s bill was connected, at least, to observed behavior. Republicans’ plans center on an almost Cartesian neo-mechanical version of the universe that has little room for uncertainty, chaos, and change in its models. In an ideal world, I’m sure all of the economic models will tell you that it would be more efficient to not have any social safety nets–that if you could just smooth all the rough edges that the economy would equitably distribute wealth on its own.

The problem is these same Republicans are in the business of making damn sure that wealth is not equitably distributed. Look at the congressional district based boondoggles in any budget; look at the tax code’s allowance for benedict arnold corporations; look at the “death tax” rhetoric; the “flat tax” rhetoric; the new bankruptcy bill; the overall deregulation of the economy–corporations can work things out by the law of supply and demand, but people can’t. People can’t help themselves so we have to ban filthy television.

The meta-mistake I think many conservative thinkers make in their opposition to Social Securitry is believing that Social Security, or welfare programs in general, are not already responses to pre-existing inefficiencies in the distribution of wealth.

They start with the idea that the only thing that can interfere with the economy’s laissez-faire-ness is government. They make no allowance for family ties, inheritance, luck, private uses of force (i.e. the black market, the mafia, etc.)–and they also make little or no allowance for the efficiencies the government can provide like anti-trust, monetary controls, and law enforcement.

(btw, I’m not speaking of, say, Milton Friedman, or, say, Glenn Reynolds or any other economist. I’m speaking of the generic conservative that agrees with the actions taken by the Republican party–even many conservative economists support anti-trust laws, even though that party has only worked to undo them)

In the end, the Republicans real objection to Social Security is that it redistributes wealth from them–it’s a purely self-interested argument, because lord knows not a one of them will object to the continued overfunding of Red states with federal taxes, the corporate tax loopholes, or the many other privilges enjoyed by the few on the backs of the many.