Category Archives: Soapbox

Dear GOP: time to get serious

As an independent liberal (but not a Democrat) who believes that both parties need to be strong and credible in a two-party system, I have to ask Republicans: when are you going to decide that the entertainment portion of your nominating contest is over?

The economy is a disaster. It’s impossible to deny, and President Obama has been utterly feckless in his response to it due to his own timidity, his delegation of policy authority to people who shouldn’t have it, and opposition from John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. None of these things reflect well upon this president, because a true leader can overcome opposition in order to get his or her policies enacted. Obama can be inspiring, but he’s plainly not an effective leader and as a result he is in serious trouble politically. President Obama is completely beatable this year, but your party’s problem is that the domestic economy isn’t the only issue and we all know it.

Let’s face it, would any of you be able to sleep at night, knowing that Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum had access to the nuclear football? These are not serious people and you know they’re not serious people; it is long past time that you tell them to get off the stage. They may say things you like to hear and they provide great entertainment value, but do you really think any of them are mature and stable enough to be trusted with the unilateral power to incinerate the planet several times over? Where that authority is concerned, this is not a hypothetical question. The President of the United States is legally and technologically empowered by his or her status as C-in-C to launch a massive nuclear attack against Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan or any number of other potential targets.

  • Herman Cain is a novelty candidate who is not only utterly ignorant of foreign policy, he revels in that ignorance.
  • Rick Perry evidently rode the short bus to the Texas governor’s mansion, and might be trusted with the football simply because he probably wouldn’t understand how to use it.
  • Ron Paul’s libertarian ideas may be appealing, but libertarianism operates in a stubbornly anachronistic and isolationist void. His ideology simply provides him with nothing credible to say on foreign policy within a globalized security and economic environment.
  • Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are not worth taking seriously, period.

That leaves your party with only three active candidates who might be credible custodians of the American nuclear arsenal: Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman. I know you’re not fond of any of them. Neither am I, but those are your only credible choices. If you don’t pick one of those three as your nominee, you can expect Barack Obama to cruise to a landslide re-election.

Voting starts less than two months from now. Amateur hour is over.

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Occupy Oakland: shut it down

Up to this point, my basic attitude toward Occupy Wall Street and its affiliated protests in other cities has been ambivalence. On the whole, I am in favor of expanding economic justice in the United States, and in a broad sense that seems to be what #OWS is about. I am outraged that a tiny percentage of the population controls the lion’s share of the wealth, and am outraged that the gap between that tiny percentage and the rest of the population is growing at an exponential rate. I also tend to be in favor of nonviolent protest and I am a firm believer in freedom of speech, even when (maybe especially when) I disagree with the content of what is being said. All that being said, it is now time for Occupy Oakland to STFU and go home.

When Iraq veteran Scott Olsen was seriously injured by a police projectile on Oct. 25 as the Oakland PD was attempting to break up the protest, I was outraged not just at his injury, but at the very idea that the police had suited up in riot gear in order to break up what had been to that point a peaceful protest. Inwardly I was pleased to see that rather than folding, the protest grew in its numbers following the incident and that the city government was performing what appeared to be a serious examination of its response as it pulled back.

When Occupy Oakland called for a general strike and the shutdown of the shipping port, there were many businesses that not only complied with the request but self-identified with it. The message of economic justice emanating from the protests had struck a chord and by any measure, the government’s response had gone far beyond excessive. There were many businesses whose windows displayed signs of support, and of standing with “the 99%.” Early reports of the general strike almost unanimously depicted a peaceful scene, shutting down the city as planned. There was even a reported incident of the protest policing itself and putting a stop to hooligans engaging in vandalism, which impressed me greatly. Unfortunately, all hell broke loose later and at roughly the same time those reports were coming out, I saw this image from the earlier (peaceful) part of the day:

Seriously?

One of my biggest problems with #OWS has been its confused, vague and unfocused messaging. When its “declaration” is (charitably) a stupid and self-contradictory stew of seemingly random extreme-left complaints, I cannot follow. When nothing in that manifesto is an actual policy proposal, leaving people who should be the movement’s natural supporters with nothing to support, I cannot follow. When the Frederick Douglass suggestion that policy demands are necessary gets dismissed as playing into the hands of the establishment, I cannot follow. When the protest proclaims “Death to Capitalism,” I cannot follow. When there is uncontrolled rioting in the streets, I cannot follow.

Capitalism has its faults, and they are undoubtedly legion. However, do the protesters really believe that “Death to Capitalism” is something that “the 99%” can get behind? Seriously, how fucking stupid are these people? Do they not have a single person telling them that maybe their messaging needs work? Do they have no one keeping an eye out for trouble-makers, and shutting those people down when trouble gets made? Idiots!

Oakland has tainted the entire movement with its clear inability (on the part of both protesters and government) to handle anything like this in a mature, reasonable fashion. Occupy Oakland needs to recognize this about itself, pack up camp and go home before they do any further damage and destroy the entire #Occupy project. The benefit of the doubt only gets you so far, and Occupy Oakland has gone beyond the point of safe return. One more incident, and the entire movement nationwide will be discredited (assuming it hasn’t already).

Will the nation tolerate this sort of crap with cold weather, Thanksgiving and the busy holiday season (not to mention the ramp-up for the 2012 elections) fast approaching? Absolutely not. There is only a small window of national patience remaining, and events in Oakland have left that window open only the tiniest crack. It won’t take much for the American public to decide that #OWS is more trouble than it’s worth, and accede to the police shutting down the entire movement nationwide.

I’m not willing to write off the entire movement just yet, but as far as Oakland is concerned? Occupy Oakland needs to shut itself down and go home. It’s making the very idea of economic justice look bad, and that does no one any good.

Shut it down.

Why I don’t buy ‘Occupy’

…At least for now. There are a few things in American politics that can induce otherwise rational liberals to completely suspend their skeptical disbelief, and the “Occupy” movement is one of them. Were any of this coming from the political right (or if it were a religious proposition), many of these people would be examining its claims and actions with a critical, empirical eye in order to honestly evaluate the thing. Unfortunately however, “occupy” instead seems to serve almost like a religion — unquestioning acceptance of vague propositions, with unshakable faith that if our applause grows ever louder, then Tinkerbell is certain to rise again.

As I see it, part of the problem is the movement’s semi-random laundry list of long-standing liberal complaints. I mean really, does the animal rights thing belong in the top five complaints about moneyed interests having wholly captured society’s levers of power? How about the hyperbolic claim that the food supply has been “poisoned;” is that really a top five economic policy complaint? Clearly not, yet everyone I’ve talked to who supports the movement doesn’t bat an eye about either the list of complaints, the order in which said complaints are presented or the complete lack of proposed resolutions for said complaints. That laundry list may well have been arrived at by means of consensus (at least in NYC, what about the rest of the country’s input?), but in politics the happy-bunny word “consensus” is very often a synonym for the less palatable concept of “groupthink.” No less a figure than Mark Twain warned us of this phenomenon, pointing out that “when you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Something that had been compiled with a more critical eye would be less likely to be directly self-contradictory:

  • They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.
  • They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.

Well, which is it? If “they” control the media, then “they” certainly don’t need to use the cops and military to “prevent freedom of the press,” right? The problem lies in the definition of “they,” which is every bit as vague as everything else about this series of protests. In one line the pronoun seems to refer to corporate interests, but another line presents a complaint about some action by “them,” which is by definition an act of government. The quote above is just a representative sample, the “declaration” when considered in toto is laden with this sort of thing. I realize that the idea is to paint with as broad a brush as possible, but the fact remains that (despite regulatory capture) corporations and government are not actually the same entity. The complaints require different actions from different actors, yet the protesters seem to completely ignore this simple (and obvious) fact. As for what those actions should be, once again the question is completely ignored in favor of vague platitudes to the anti-consequentialist effect that the process is more important than its result. If consequences don’t matter and the process is more important than the result, then this whole thing is little more than masturbation: it feels good and may serve to release some tension, but otherwise it accomplishes exactly nothing.

The “occupy” movement needs to get its act together, and fast. Despite the fact that I disagree almost totally with the so-called “tea party,” I can certainly acknowledge the superior tactical ability it displayed. This begins with the time it made its debut — early Spring, giving it almost three full seasons of media attention to make its presence felt. “Occupy” started in September, so at maximum it will have until Thanksgiving to make its case. How long will those protest encampments last after first frost, or the first snowfall accumulation? And will the American public continue to patiently pay attention when the two biggest holidays on the calendar are rapidly pressing in? How about the beginning of the presidential primary season, which will start in early January at the latest? “Occupy” is quickly coming up against some major structural obstacles, and I don’t see it maintaining its momentum once they manifest — unless it gets much better organized and makes actual policy proposals instead of merely indulging in a very public form of primal scream therapy.

I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, but I’m not holding my breath.

Photos: Occupy Dayton

(Jump to photos)

Despite my skepticism of the Occupy Wall Street protests, I decided to attend the Dayton edition on Courthouse Square to see what all the fuss is about (link for ‘Occupy Dayton’ on Facebook). After all, the thing doesn’t seem to have any particular impetus or agenda, so what is the fuss all about? No one really seems to know with any kind of specificity. Ridiculous claims that “everyone intuitively knows the demands” are utter nonsense; how do you legislate and implement a vague intuition? OWS doesn’t have to limit itself to a single policy demand, but it does need at least one if it is to develop into more than mere primal scream therapy. Protest for its own sake isn’t meaningless but it is certainly aimless, and unfocused anger simply isn’t a good foundation for policy discussions.

There wasn’t much in the way of specifics, just like the NYC demo, so it was difficult to get a feel for just what this thing hopes to accomplish (especially in Dayton, of all places). Most of it was organizational, what committees were going to be set up, what kinds of things would be needed and so forth.

Since it seemed to be an open-source BYOB (bring your own beef) kind of thing (and since I’m fond of specifics), here are some of mine in no particular order.

  • Convert student loan debt into grants/forgiveness. Don’t force students to repay crushing amounts of debt, especially when the economy isn’t generating enough well-paying jobs to absorb graduates.
  • Legally speaking, Mitt Romney was correct when he said “corporations are people too, my friend.” So let’s make him not just morally wrong but legally wrong as well, and abolish corporate personhood. Rights are for natural persons with natural lifespans, not for artificial legal constructs that can only come into existence by an act of government.
  • While we’re at it, overturn Citizens United, full stop. SCOTUS way overreached, and it’s time for some checks and balances, goddamnit. We got by just fine for over two centuries without letting corporations and so forth buy our elections, and I say we go back to that system before it’s too late.
  • Reinstate Glass-Steagall regulations on the financial sector so those parasitic gamblers on the stock exchange cannot do this to us again. Financial “innovations” are invariably nothing more than recycled Enron-esque accounting tricks, shell games and other obfuscatory scams intended to separate people from their money.
  • Use federal antitrust authority to break up and downsize all of the big banks, insurance companies and investment companies on the principle of not putting “all your eggs in one basket.” Too Big To Fail entities still exist, and that just represents another crash waiting to happen.

Police presence was nonexistent and the crowd was quite diverse in age, ethnicity and motivation. If I had to make an estimate, I’d say it started off with around 100 people at 2:30, swelled to roughly 300 people at its height and by 4:00 when I left it was back down to around 100. Megaphones were in use, but the “people’s mic” was additionally employed to make it easier for people to hear. There was some discussion of occupying Cooper Park (camping out behind the main library), but that idea was abandoned once the crowd arrived there. Then the demonstration moved on to Riverscape, where a wedding was in progress so naturally there was no occupation possible there. The crowd returned to Courthouse Square at that point, which is when I left. Presumably the idea was to take over the square again and simply set up camp, but as I had already left I cannot say for sure. I suspect that if that’s the case, the nonexistent police presence will manifest itself pretty quickly.

I have somewhat-legible video and audio of the speakers and the march, but WordPress doesn’t allow posting those file types to free accounts and I’m just not dealing with figuring out how to combine, convert and post to YouTube. Some of the photos below are larger and more detailed than others, thanks to the way WordPress processed the image gallery. I had no control over this size variance, the camera took all images at the same size.


Harbingers, hints and allegations

As I follow the news from day to day, I find myself wondering if and when and where the last straw will finally fall. The world is far more interconnected politically and economically than it was a century ago, so what might have previously been a brief, contained event can now spread self-sustaining volatility around the globe in a matter of hours. There would likely be no single catalyst, it would be an accumulation of events.

The Euro is teetering on the brink of breakup, taking the economy of all nations in the entire Eurozone down in a possible currency collapse. Besides sparking the biggest bank run the world has ever seen, would German (and to a lesser degree, French) taxpayers be willing and able to finance bailouts for Greece, Spain and/or Italy? Would those already-restive countries accept new austerity on top of existing austerity as the price of assistance? Or would they reject additional harsh economic punishments, default, abandon the Euro and resurrect their own sovereign currencies, debased and nearly worthless (think Zimbabwe) though they would almost certainly be? Consider, how much should a reborn Drachma, Peseta or Lira be worth? How much should a loaf of bread or a liter of fuel cost, and would the average person be able to afford them? And imagine for a moment the reaction of those German and French taxpayers, should such a thing happen — they would be furious at getting stiffed, and understandably so.

Russian PM Vladimir Putin, when not burnishing his he-man credentials and building his strange cult of personality, is busily working on his return to the Russian presidency. Medvedev is and always was a mere placeholder, meant to provide continuity while Putin sits out one presidential term as required by a limit on successive terms in office. Russia, with its massive hydrocarbon deposits, is a major energy exporter to Europe. This will only accelerate as Germany and other nations shutter their aging nuclear facilities in the wake of the Fukushima incident. That money goes to businessmen (some little better than mobsters and most are cronies of Putin’s) and the state, for the benefit of businessmen and the state. The average citizen in the Russian Federation benefits little from this resource wealth, and is basically getting ripped-off no less than a citizen in the European Union. Breakdown of the economic order in Europe could easily lead to breakdown in the political order and empower Russia even further.

Iran is forging ahead with its nuclear program, damning any and all who suggest that it stop. (The Russians, for their part, are happily providing the technology and expertise that Iran lacks — for a price, of course.) Tunisia is a mess. Iraq is a mess. Libya is still fighting out the last of its civil war, and the rest of the world is trying to figure out just what the rebellion’s end result will be in Qaddafi’s absence. Fresh horrors are being visited daily upon Syrian civilians by Bashar al-Assad’s regime (about which we occasionally have a few harsh words to say, but beyond that we really don’t care, as an official matter of policy). Egypt is hardly what you could call “liberated,” despite the popular ouster of Hosni Mubarak — the military is still firmly in charge of the country, just as it was when he was at the helm. The only real difference is that now, Egyptian public opposition to the peace treaty with Israel actually matters. Palestinians and Israelis have hardened their oppositional-defiant stances ever more, with inflammatory stunts on both sides coming fast and furious. Even the sole oasis of relative calm, Saudi Arabia, will not remain immune forever. King Abdullah is nearly 90 years old; what happens when he’s gone? Political intrigues and jockeying for support within the House of Saud, with the political outcome murky at best and one economic outcome all but guaranteed: higher energy prices (and we all know what a damper that puts on economic growth). The greater Middle East, a reliable manufacturer of instability at the best of times, is presently a total train wreck.

Afghanistan is no more governable now than it was in 2001 or 1841, and there is little plausible reason to continue sacrificing American blood and treasure for the ephemeral goal of government-building in a culture that is basically allergic to central government. Small wonder, then, that Karzai’s administration is little more than a criminal enterprise, holding court over Kabul as long as Uncle Sucker is willing to hand over the cash. Complicating matters, Adm. Mike Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has delivered a j’accuse by openly testifying under oath that the government of our erstwhile ally Pakistan has, in the form of its famed ISI, directly supported attacks upon Americans in Afghanistan, including the most recent attack upon the US embassy in Kabul. This on top of Pakistan’s harborage of Osama bin Laden for who-knows-how-long, its refusal to engage with the Pashtun militants ensconced in the northwest frontier provinces, its refusal to provide outside access to the world’s worst nuclear proliferator A.Q. Khan, and on and on. The USA is hardly blameless here, given decades of shaky allegiance and the massive uptick in UAV strikes inside Pakistani territory since President Obama took office. We have effectively been fighting a war in (and, arguably, on) Pakistan for years, but our Pakistani “allies” have evidently decided that it’s finally time for them to quit playing both sides and pick the one we aren’t on. Let’s not forget the constant friction with India over Kashmir and Mumbai and religion and any number of other issues. Let’s not forget their three previous wars, and the ready-to-assemble nukes that each country can now slap together and fire at each other within a matter of minutes. Further, India’s regional tensions are not confined to Pakistan; the Siachen Glacier issue with China is still contested, and with China’s recent overtures to the Pakistanis, India has even less reason to trust a nation that is already its biggest regional competitor both economically and politically.

Speaking of China, what are we to make of its prospects? Its policy of maintaining a flagrantly undervalued Yuan, presently being denounced in the US Senate, maintains a firm downward pressure on what few signs of life the US economy is exhibiting. Should a Euro breakup happen, China’s substantial investment portfolio of European debt would become a massive liability quite quickly. Would they need to call in some of our IOU’s in order to provide themselves additional liquidity? They don’t dare go all-out trade war of course, because they still depend heavily on our consumer markets — at least for now. And then there are internal Chinese concerns to factor: as a developing country, China still wrestles with endemic poverty, environmental degradation, a dramatic and growing male-female population imbalance, official and commercial corruption and other long-suppressed features of social discontent (not least including the status of Tibet). In the geopolitical sphere, China’s regionally hegemonic aspirations will increasingly project against American spheres of influence. Its pursuit of an expansive China Sea policy will alarm (but likely not actually threaten) Japan, with Taiwan of course being Beijing’s core object of interest. I seriously doubt the American public supports military confrontation with the Chinese over Taiwan. What about the Japanese, suffering the aftereffects of a “lost decade,” with a revolving door on the PM’s office and then the tsunami/Fukushima combo on top of it all? How will they fare in that environment? And of course no discussion of geopolitics in Asia is complete without bringing in the wild-card from Pyongyang. Kim Jong-Il is old and frail, so the designated successor Jong-Un is being trained in the Kim dynasty’s “songun” (military-first) ideology and groomed to take over in his father’s place. The DPRK has recently reminded the world that the Korean War ended not in a peace treaty but a cease-fire, by heavily shelling a small disputed island. Presumably this was a demonstration of N. Korea’s willingness to engage in open hostilities.

Here at home, I assume that the so-called “super-committee” will fail to reach any agreement, triggering whatever “indiscriminate” cuts will get triggered. I also fully expect that whatever those cuts include will ultimately be window-dressing. I’ll not even go into the debate over Medicare and Social Security, because frankly it seems impossible to have a rational discussion with anyone about either topic. But regarding the other budget item targeted for automatic cuts, I assume that the USA will not materially reduce military spending. None of these assumptions are unreasonable given recent events, so all that really remains is determining where those cuts are likeliest to fall.

You’ll have noticed that our military officials only really seem to level with us when they already have one foot out the door. On his way out, retiring SECDEF Robert Gates warned Europe about complacency concerning the American security blanket. Closing military bases in the EU would indeed appear to be a low-cost, low-risk target for cuts. Their closure would have little economic impact on the federal budget, but would likely be a measurable loss of economic activity for Europe. Mullen’s testimony (also on his way out) almost guarantees that the trifling sum of foreign aid to Pakistan will dry up — as well it should. This could prompt the draw-down of the much more expensive effort in Afghanistan to accelerate, with the fate of our effort in Afghanistan still resting where it has all along: in Pakistan’s hands. The Iraq draw-down would likely accelerate as well. These will constitute the bulk of the military cuts, as both are already in the works and will materially affect spending. The rest, as I said, will be window dressing. Aid to Taiwan may be cut on the pretext of Chinese opposition. Some of the military’s most costly and least productive programs may be on the chopping block, like the “alternate engine” for the F-35 and the white whale (or if you prefer land-based metaphors, white elephant) of “missile defense.” The flashy, the excessive and the easy will go long before the Pentagon’s congressional allies allow any real muscle to be cut. Don’t expect military sponsorship of NASCAR teams and events to get cut, though. There are some sacred cows that shall remain sacred.

As if all that wasn’t enough to worry about in what promises to be the most expensive presidential campaign in human history (during the worst economy in generations), we will also have SCOTUS weighing in on President Obama’s signature health-care legislation (and by extension, his chances of re-election) sometime in early Summer. After having had that and several other legislative successes, as well as wins on terrorism and piracy (most notably the death of OBL), Obama appears spent, feckless and ethereal. He evidently has no more ability to press his agenda through Congress, if indeed he has any further agenda of his own (the American Jobs Act is political legislation that he knows won’t pass). The flurry of activity at the beginning of his presidency was almost exclusively Congress-driven, as is the more recent deadlocked brinksmanship. Through it all he has seemed to be little more than a disaffected bystander, at the mercy of the winds around him. It may not be Chicago, but there is certainly no shortage of wind in DC.

And what does the only other viable political party have on offer? Snake oil salesmen, carnival hucksters and voodoo economists, all of whom live in fear of the slightest belch of discontent from their party’s delusional, restive base. Only three of them have even remotely credible policy skills, and none of those three hold any particular charm for the base: Romney, Gingrich and Huntsman. Everyone but the media figured out long ago that Christie and Palin aren’t running, Perry has turned out to be an over-hyped flash in the pan (at least for now), and the rest of that lot aren’t even worth debunking. No matter who wins the presidential elections in 2012, I fear that the occupant of the White House will simply not be up to the years ahead. Global economic trends look bad, worse and OMG. Economic contagion will only accelerate the political sort; you don’t have to listen too hard to hear distant howls from the dogs of war.

I hope I’m wrong.

Excellent work, FB

So, Facebook’s newest bug package features hit my profile last night. While I was in the process of going through the settings and making sure they hadn’t completely undone every privacy setting yet again, suddenly FB went away.

Completely.

The page was white. The URL was valid in the address bar, but there was no familiar blue header bar, no error message, no nothing. Thinking it was some ISP glitch or browser weirdness, I flushed the cache, cookies and so forth; you know, the stuff you’re supposed to do when a website gets all stupid on you. No good. I switched over to MS Internet Explorer, and what do you know? Same thing, just a blank white page where Facebook should be. Wondering what on Earth was going on, I even went so far as to install Google Chrome and test it with that, again to no avail. More than a little irritated at this point, especially considering that no other site on the entire web was affected, I got out my laptop and booted it into Ubuntu Linux. Lo and behold, the problem persists.

I can now land on a login screen that resolutely refuses to let me login: “Sorry, something went wrong. We’re working on getting this fixed as soon as we can.” Yeah, I bet you are. For a while, I suspected I might have been hacked, but then I thought better of it. I would still be locked out — but FB itself would not have been completely invisible for almost 24 hours. I don’t know what the hell they think they’re doing, but frankly I am sick to death of FB constantly “fixing” things that aren’t broken, just because there might theoretically be a competitor that has a feature people like. Every single time FB makes some change (which happens far more frequently than is ever called for), I have to go back through the settings to find what they broke, and then fix it. This time I can’t even do that, because for me, FB does not exist. It is nothing more than a broken login page in any one of 5 different browser/operating system configurations.

Unfortunately, I cannot even simply give up and abandon Facebook. I have family on there who I have no hope of convincing to switch to Google+ or some other service, even if I wanted to try. I don’t. Google+ seems to me a bad idea; having something that’s directly linked to my email account be both available to the public and searchable seems like an identity theft not just waiting to happen, but indeed trying to. Not to mention that Google’s earlier forays into social media haven’t exactly been resounding successes. They’ve tended to launch with some fanfare, last a couple of months and then get quietly euthanized. I have no reason to expect that Google+ will be any different.

Anyway, the only reason I’m even posting this is on the off chance that someone might be wondering why I’m not posting to FB anymore, and is looking here for answers. It’s not by choice.

The fulcrum

The economy is at risk for a second recession if responsible adults don’t take control of the policy dialogue. Sadly there are none who meet that description; instead what we have is Democratic fecklessness, coupled with Republican stupidity and brinksmanship in Congress, all over allowing Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest members of society to expire. Congressional Republicans generally profess the belief (whether sincere or otherwise) that by directing wealth to the top, the excess capital will spur investment and job creation. This is basically an oversimplified “energy in = energy out” concept of how capitalism works, and there’s nothing wrong with it, as far as it goes.

Nothing wrong – except that it’s been in effect for a decade without producing the promised result. Consideration of the concept almost never goes any deeper than that, so the broad balance of incentives has been interpreted completely wrong. Why expend effort and resources when acceptable results can instead be had by rent-seeking at taxpayer expense? The GOP seems to have no trouble with this argument when employing it in the context of cutting “social safety net” programs to (ostensibly) combat indolence and malingering, but fails to recognize that it tends toward diminishing returns at the upper end. If one need do no more than elect Republicans in order to maintain and accumulate large quantities of wealth more rapidly and easily than one might do otherwise, then nothing more than that will be done. On the lower side of the spectrum, basic needs and expenses drive the bulk of economic activity: “do or die” is very close to literal. Does that survival dynamic exist at the upper economic tiers?

It purportedly works like this: if people at the top invest and create jobs when they have excess capital, then naturally they will do even more of that with even more excess capital! We can detect genuine belief in this idea when we hear the Speaker of the House say “I’ve said many times throughout this process that we’re trying to cut spending so that we can create a better environment for job creators to create jobs in America,” and “we can’t tax the very people that we expect to reinvest in our economy and to create jobs.” See the “better environment” and “expect” remarks? That gives away how Mr. Boehner is thinking about this, and I think he is sincere in his economic faith – cargo cult though it may be. Liberals, for their part, tend to derisively dismiss this belief as mere window dressing for their much-beloved “Republican wrecking crew” narrative, in which they see ideologically driven Republicans trying to “starve the beast” every time money comes up.

Some people slightly under-feed their dogs on the premise that this makes them more alert and aggressive as watchdogs, but clearly they’re not going to be of much use if you starve them into weakness and death. On the flip side, giving them increasingly larger amounts of food on the premise that additional caloric input will result in proportionally more energy output is pretty damned stupid, too (calories = energy ∴ more calories = more energy). Can we see the problem here?

Boehner is a relatively mainstream Republican vigorously pursuing the ritualistic proposition that Tinkerbell cannot rise again unless we all fervently believe, and prove it with ever-louder applause. Unfortunately for him, he isn’t included in (or even nominally in control of) the media-created Tea Party™ faction within his party, and that’s why actual policy has become next to impossible. It’s difficult to negotiate with nihilists who fervently want little more than to starve government before “drowning it in the bathtub.” You will note that they don’t tend to talk so much about what follows, or at best they describe their desired results in assumptions and vague generalities; they are interested not in building what replaces it but in tearing down what now exists.

And before you go protesting that “They’re/I’m just like everybody else, mad that there are no jobs and barely able to get by, while those morons in DC act like they couldn’t find their own asses with both hands and a flashlight,” think about this for a minute. Where did this so-called Tea Party™ thing originate? It started with media pundits engaging in their favorite pastime: talking to and about each other. Some jackass employed by a cable news channel started braying on-camera, then some other cable news jackasses ran with it. When the professional lobbyists smelled opportunity after the 24-hour news cycle had mindlessly primed the pump, they threw some slick-looking PR together to take out onto the hustings for the rubes to buy. It was wholly manufactured, taking advantage of a slice of public sentiment which was probably organic at first, but which is now a wholly artificial superstructure. Who “speaks for” this so-called party (also occasionally called a “movement”) now? Never mind the grassroots activists; they’re contained and have always been sheep to be fleeced: see pump and dump. No, it’s the professional lobbyists and a handful of congressional representatives doing all the talking – on the cable news channels, naturally.

Equilibrium will be restored one way or another, but we have to decide whether we want it to happen in a controlled or uncontrolled way. Over the past couple of decades, federal tax revenues have been repeatedly cut while state and local taxes have risen. Taxes have been shifted downstream in such a fundamental way that while mighty corporations like General Electric can somehow pay zero on $14 billion in profit, average people get hit with degradation of services and ever-increasing tax burdens at the state and local levels. Civil service staffing levels have been cut across the board and work-a-day civilian employees are denigrated as pampered elites, while essential positions go unfilled and government grows less able to perform even basic functions.

If lower taxes amount to letting people keep more money in their pockets, and said taxes are preferentially targeted toward people who already have plenty, what will they do with that money? The Speaker “expects” that they will spend that excess in order to invest and create jobs; I’m realistic enough that I expect them to simply keep it in their pockets.

Welcome to Gilded Age 2.0.

Govt shutdown “negotiations,” simplified

CHILD: I want that video game.

PARENT: Hey, that’s pretty expensive.

CHILD: But I waaannnnnt it!

[later, at the store]

PARENT: OK, here’s your game. It’s not on sale so the price is higher, but I said you could have it so here you go.

CHILD: Cool! Can you buy me a candy bar?

PARENT: Well…

CHILD: Ooh! Ooh! A bike! I want that bike too!

PARENT: Now wait just a darn minute here…

CHILD: OMG look there’s a new iPod! I want a new iPod too!

ANNOUNCEMENT: The store will be closing in 5 minutes. Please bring your purchases to the checkout now, and thank you for shopping in our store.

What should a sensible parent do at this point?

“Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

While most of us these days rightly recoil in distaste from that infamous George Wallace quote, the fact is that he had a point — just not the one he thought he did. Wallace was using that phrase as a normative statement; at the time his beliefs (or at least his electoral calculus) mandated continuing staunch support of both official and unofficial segregation during the Jim Crow era. The problem is while today we generally recognize that such comments are neither normative nor socially acceptable (at least here in the US), it is to greater or lesser degree still a positive statement. Wallace’s line does not describe how things should be, but instead how things often are.

In the wake of the assassination of a federal judge and attempted assassination of a US Congresswoman, it seems like I’ve heard/read the word “civility” being employed more times over this past week than the outrageously overworked phrase “the American people” and honestly, it’s making me want to puke. It’s discomfiting, watching all of these politicians (few of whom are ever sincere about anything) posture and angle to be seen on camera being “civil” and “measured” while giving “the other side” a “respectful” hearing.

Horseshit.

Does anyone believe for an instant that Barney Frank and Michelle Bachmann are suddenly going to embrace and start singing Give Peace a Chance? Does anyone think that if a Democrat temporarily sits on the Republican side of “the aisle” and vice versa for a single speech, that all of our political divisiveness is going to melt away? Should we desegregate the Congress, busing Republicans to the Democratic side of the chamber and so forth?

This whole (mercifully temporary) pretense at elevating the discourse is patent nonsense and we all know it; who do they think they’re kidding? We all know good and damn well that the Alphas still get the first turn on the tree’s highest branches where the best fruit and tenderest leaves grow, while the rest get to pick among the discards and scraps that fall to the forest floor. Anyone who acts out of turn is promptly reminded why not do so.

The national motto of the United States is e pluribus unum, “out of many, one.” One of history’s most successful experiments in governance is the creation of the EU/Eurozone, an undoubtedly aggregationist project. One of the most successful experiments in regulating economic production is (love ’em or hate ’em) OPEC. Even conspiracy theorists get into the act with their laughable “One World Government” nonsense; you’ve probably at least seen the phrase before.

Yet for each aggregationist and “classically” segregationist example, we can just as readily point to the self-segregationist impulse: the former Soviet “Union.” Northern Ireland. The Basques. Yugoslavia. The Kurds. The Pakhtuns. Baluchistan. Tibet. Somaliland. Sudan. The plain and simple truth is that in many if not most cases, people really don’t like The Other’s company. Rodney King’s plaintively futile plea always falls upon deaf ears.

Yes, in order to lower the temperature (and avoid the ultimate fate of the above named) we all should drop the over-the-top gun/kill/attack/war language. Whatever you think of Bill Clinton, he’s right: just because those of us who are sane understand that it’s just hyperbolic rhetoric doesn’t mean that the crazies among us can or will get that, and we have no shortage of crazies in this country. Were over-the-top political chatter and electoral maps responsible for what happened in Tucson? No. Were they helpful or strictly necessary? Equally, no. Just let that sort of thing go and try to find a way to make your point that doesn’t involve some talk of physical violence. People used to analogize politics to sports, not to all-out warfare — try that for a change.

Let’s also ditch the idea that it’s OK (not merely legal, but in fact a good idea) to bring a loaded firearm to a government function or facility while making threatening noises about revolution and tyranny. Those of you who enjoy that revolutionary, anti-tyranny “Second Amendment remedies” bullshit, let’s not even go into the preposterously low bar you cosseted wimps set for “tyranny.” Suffice it to say that if, in a representative democracy, you’re freaking out over taxes or the health care act, you have no fucking idea what tyranny is. Further, do you really believe that you lot of overweight mid-life crisis civilians is somehow going to overthrow a hypothetically “tyrannical” US government? You know, the same government that most of you also insist upon equipping with ever-more-advanced military hardware, surveillance capacity and legal rationalizations — on a no-limit credit card? You’re going to overthrow that? HA! A little consistency would be nice, please. The Founding Fathers were deeply distrustful of standing armies and foreign adventurism. You people, not so much, so STFU.

Getting back to whatever point I’m trying to make here, it might well be enlightened and compassionate to love one’s enemies and turn the other cheek, but really, who does that? Nobody, that’s who. We don’t all like each other, we’re not going to all like each other, and that’s just the way it is. We don’t have to be jerks, but we all know that we have it in us, and sometimes it gets the better of us — especially when everyone else is being a jerk, too. There is absolutely no need to get hostile just because we may disagree, but let’s stop pretending that we’re all going to be respectful and polite to each other just because some Addams Family reject lost his shit and opened fire for some reason known only to him.

/rant

Dispatch: tinker around the edges, but don’t really FIX it

This editorial in today’s Columbus Dispatch is infuriating, and represents exactly the kind of timidly inadequate approach to a problem that mirrors President Obama’s. Does anyone really think it’s realistic to work for bipartisanship in this time of hyper-partisan hysteria, while making sure that the special interests on both sides have a seat at the negotiating table? How does that old saying go — democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner? Screw bi-partisanship, what’s needed here is independent non-partisanship, free of both political and commercial pressure to do what’s convenient and profitable for them, rather than what’s effective for the stability and prosperity of the state as a whole.

When I took WSU’s Ohio Government class, there was a minimal assignment called a “campaign plank.” The premise was simple: with the theme of “turn around Ohio,” turn in a paragraph or two (I told you it was minimal) during the last week of the quarter on a way to begin addressing some of the problems that Ohio faces in the new millennium. It could be any idea from any political perspective, and didn’t necessarily have to go into too much detail. Instead of getting a paragraph or two from me, the instructor got thirteen pages proposing a near-total constitutional overhaul as the result of a targeted, pro-convention ballot drive.

Granted, my suggestion went no further than the instructor’s hands, but surely I cannot be the only one in the entire state who sees this as the best solution. Will we get anything that drastic, but effective? No. What we will get is milquetoast offerings like the below proposed “commission,” from opinionators like Mike Curtin. It starts off OK, with an acknowledgement of the glaringly obvious problem, but then follows up with a half-serious suggestion for a few “tweaks,” which special interests (who would have seats at Curtin’s table) will ensure don’t run contrary to their own narrow profit motives. More of the same, in other words.

Ohio could benefit from a state constitutional revision commission.

The state last utilized such a panel in 1971-1977. It was a success. The commission recommended 18 constitutional amendments, 15 of which were adopted by Ohio voters.

[…]

Ohio faces plentiful challenges. Some of them cannot be solved without changes in the state constitution.
Adopted in 1851, it is one of the oldest state constitutions in America and contains many antiquated provisions.

[…]

Ohio has not thoroughly examined its constitution, its basic governing document, in two generations. A new exam is overdue.

[…]

Ohio’s constitutional requirement to ask the voters this question every 20 years follows Thomas Jefferson’s maxim that each generation should have the opportunity to choose its own form of government.

[…]

Ohio has not had a constitutional convention since 1912 and doesn’t need one now. But it does need constitutional revision. [emphasis added – L.]

[…]

The 12 lawmaker members, chosen by legislative leaders, were politically balanced: six Democrats, six Republicans; six Senate members, six House members.

Those 12 chose the other 20 members, who were broadly representative of business, labor, the judiciary and academia.

Political balance is a key to success, because no proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution will be approved by the voters without wide support.

Political balance? In this day and age? HA! Relying on that pipe dream, ladies and gentlemen, is a recipe for FAIL. The state of Ohio does indeed need a Constitutional Convention. If we don’t get one, then we will be forced to continue voting on piecemeal amendments, one after another, in every general election. Some will be valid, but many will be nothing more than bullshit wedge-issue amendments intended as get-out-the-vote measures for one party or the other. “Tweaks” won’t fix that; not on this planet, anyway.