Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Things We Can't Say

Charles Pierce, over at Esquire: "You can't call something an anti-poverty program an anti-poverty program any more."

The things we can't say, or can't say without a fight, are a pretty good guide to the things that have been removed from the domain of rational discourse. Other examples include abortion, feminism (though this was never in that domain), regulation, trade policy, taxes.

Commentator Joseph Goodfriend points out that "race" belongs in that list, though, like feminism, it is one of the subjects that was never part of rational discussion.

Any more to add to the list?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Right Wing Propaganda: Turning Rational Debate to Incoherent Fights

So it was Virtually Speaking yesterday, and one commentator was explaining how it was important to engage conservative Democrats without disagreement, and how they could be persuaded if one did this. There is lots wrong with this; for one thing it makes it the fault of liberals for losing arguments against one of the biggest and best-funded propaganda campaigns in history. For another, if attack politics were such a bad thing, well, why has it worked so well for the radical right? And, finally, it isn’t realistic: most conservatives I’ve encountered treat even the mildest disagreement as an attack, so the only way to make progress is slowly and carefully, and the Fox News churns out propaganda very quickly, so one is always playing catch-up.

And then it was the Second Life dance afterward—really an excuse to hang out with your friends while your avatars dance—and another friend explained how he knew someone who would be a Democrat but…abortion. His friend is a Baptist. Now, what is strange about that is that Protestants mostly didn’t care about abortion until the 1980s, when it was worked up as an issue by to replace racism. Prior to that it was a Roman Catholic issue.

By mass-media propaganda, abortion was taken from an issue that could be debated rationally and had been settled on the evidence for most people to an issue of terror (killing babies! Holocaust!) and identity. And this, it seems is the case with all the issues of the radical right. Government regulation of business was not once un-American (except to very wealthy businessmen), maintaining a giant standing army was not once thought necessary to national defense, it was not necessary to believe that the Second Amendment was an unlimited firearms license, it was not once necessary to believe that Muslims were enemies of civilization. One once could talk about these things without all argument degenerating into angry defensiveness. No more.

The circle of rational debate has narrowed. At the same time, a kind of pseudo-rational debate has moved in, so that now we hear calm but not rational arguments about the need for torture and rightness of brutal policing. Misogynists defend rape and rapists and are not treated with the ridicule they deserve.

If we are to win this fight, we have to begin to reverse this trend. I have before advocated restoring anti-fascist media law and regulation and I continue to do so: this madness would not be possible without mass-media propaganda. But to the broader issue I call on everyone to work to widen the circle of rational discourse and to work to keep it honest and compassionate.

As to the issue of political persuasion… The Enlightenment view of political debate is that society will come together and debate the issues rationally and with the good of the whole in mind. Well…not, actually. There is too much fear in politics, too much at stake. I think there is a trap for people who wholeheartedly embrace the illusions that are a necessary part of politics: one can come to believe them.

2015.01.20 corrected; the commentator I responding to is not someone I know personally. Sorry, Avedon & Ms. Madrak.

2015.01.20 Title changed for the sake of clarity; the original title was "Moderation," which I intended in the philosophical sense, but it confused people.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Medieval Punishment in Arabia

Wow, that's unpleasant. Amnesty International and the Guardian report that Raif Badawi, a liberal Arabian web publisher, was given 50 lashes with a staff today in Jeddah, the first of 20 lashings he has been sentenced to. His crime was operating a liberal web site. My wife is of the opinion that this will probably kill him. Even if it does not, I do not see how he can avoid crippling disability.

The indispensable Digby reminds us that the House of Saud is a close ally of the USA, personal friends with the Bush family, and that Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal is the second largest voting stock holder in the radical right international publisher News Corp.

More and more extensive coverage from Human Rights Watch. Via Juan Cole, who really ought to be advising Presidents.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Next Two Years

Well, that was unpleasant.

So what does a Republican-dominated Congress and Supreme Court have in store for us?

One thing I think is highly likely: a slowdown in the recovery, or even a deepening of the depression. A period of deflation and an explosion of the national debt both seem possible.

This is likely to be an outcome of three Republican initiatives.

  1. Ending the health insurance tax credits in the 26 states that have not established their own health insurance exchanges. This would raise the health insurance prices of the approximately 10 million people enrolled via beyond the ability of most to pay. This, in turn, will cascade through the insurance industry, likely bankrupting insurance companies and affecting policies outside of the 26 Republican-dominated states.
  2. Cutting taxes on the very wealthy.
  3. Expanding military spending through borrowing.

At the personal level, further cuts in programs for people in economic distress are likely. The overall impact of this, and a slowing of the recovery, is likely also to affect the morale of the public. Some people will be further radicalized, and support further cuts. It seems likely, however, that much of the public will develop a hopeless hatred of the Republicans, which will be exploitable in a variety of ways, though it may ultimately lead to a successful opposition.

One of the most reliable markers of Republican politicians is their misogyny. Astonishingly for conservatives who claim to value women, children, and families, they are forever making excuses for rapists. This will manifest as more Congressional anti-abortion and even anti-contraception activism. A weakening, though probably not repeal, of the Violence Against Women Act seems possible.

Impeachment of Obama on false charges. Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!

It’s a pretty ugly list, though some of it many not come to pass. Obama’s veto will have some effect. At the same time, this list is not comprehensive; there are more horrors I do not know about. I think the country is going to be miserable by 2016, and I am not at all sure the Republicans will lose power at that time.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Further into Hell: Fascism, Keynesianism, and Red States

The tax-cutting and anti-labor policies of Kansas are destroying jobs. During a time of modest recovery, employment in Kansas continues to fall.

One of the things I now grasp about 1930s fascism is that it had to be militarist, it had to encourage internal looting. It had no other way to create jobs and maintain the wealth of its would-be aristocracy. How will this play out in states like Kansas and Wisconsin? Do the paramilitaries of the far right merge with the state militias? That sounds disturbingly plausible, especially since the state Guards and national reserve forces are already are full of Sunday soldiers. What happens then?

Internal violence, for sure. More attacks on victimized groups—blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews, and women of all ethnicities—seem likely. External violence? It is hard for me to imagine a successful revolt; the state forces are too corrupt and disorganized, and the Federal forces are very powerful indeed. So instead, I think, a radical states-rights agenda enabled by a complaisant Congress and the Roberts Court.

I don't see how it can work, without a successful revolt. These states will not be able to hold their citizens and, especially, their women. Poverty and sickness will be a hard sell, when neighboring states will be relatively prosperous and healthy. But it promises hard times for whole (dis-) United States for some years to come.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Torture Report: We Haven't Hit Bottom Yet

Well, that was unpleasant.

The revelations in the torture report are even worse than what we already knew. And that's not all—we have the people who ordered the torture on television saying, like Darren Wilson, that they have no regrets and did nothing wrong. There is no talk of prosecution from anyone with the power to do it, though I suspect that all the perpetrators would do well not to travel outside the USA.

And we haven't hit bottom yet. Until substantive changes are made (I am starting to wonder if John Brennan, former master of drone assassinations, now Director of the CIA, is blackmailing Barack Obama), this will continue.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fascism by State

I think I get it. Some US states are fascist, the way some US states used to be slave states. Fascism, in the sense of that Paxton, Griffin, and Berlet defined it:
Fascism. Modern political ideology that seeks to regenerate the social, economic, and cultural life of a country by basing it on a heightened sense of national belonging or ethnic identity. Fascism rejects liberal ideas such as freedom and individual rights, and often presses for the destruction of elections, legislatures, and other elements of democracy. Despite the idealistic goals of fascism, attempts to build fascist societies have led to wars and persecutions that caused millions of deaths. As a result, fascism is strongly associated with right-wing fanaticism, racism, totalitarianism, and violence. (Griffin)

This, I think, explains a lot. It seems to the left, back in the 1950s, that fascism would come to America. Sinclair Lewis wrote a whole novel about it back in 1935. But it never took everywhere, and the federation recovered.

So we have a situation where places like Kansas and Wisconsin are dominated by rulers who their majorities hate, while California and New York are sort of getting along. The national government is still up for grabs, though we have two years of a fascist majority in the Congress and who knows how long in the Supreme Court.

So maybe it's time to dust off the old states rights rhetoric, and turn it against its inventors. Looks like the Roberts Court is going to bring it back; it's the way they will trash the ACA and drastically weaken marriage.

So we tough it out, and wait. It would help if some national leader or other would actually speak up. It would help if at least one national news outlet would admit that this is not politics as usual. (Well, maybe Comedy Central is doing that. But they're not news—are they?)

I'm not holding my breath.