Sunday, August 30, 2009

Croak of the Day Award

To D. Potter, over at Making Light, in response to George W. Bush's daughter Jenna Hager becoming a reporter on Today:
The Satirists & Surrealists Union has collectively thrown up its hands and gone off to slug brick walls. Hurts less.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Croak 100: The Kennedy Option

The great liberal Senator, Edward Kennedy is dead. Kennedy was a tireless supporter of liberal causes. It's not clear why. He was raised rich, and never knew personal need. But he cared about the poor, the weak, and the sick. (As opposed to us corvids, who have a different opinion on the matter.) Kennedy, had he had his choice, would have implemented a single payer national health care system in the USA. As a matter of practical politics, at the end of his life, he advocated the public option. So in honor of Kennedy, following the suggestion of a blogger whose blog I don't quite remember, and in the hope, as always, of changing a few minds: from here on out, I'm going to call the public option the Kennedy Option.

& this is post 100. I'm astonished. I hope a few minds have been changed.

[Title changed from "Post 100" to "Croak 100," because I like it better. Markup corrected to insert paragraphs where I meant to put them.]

Saturday, August 15, 2009

That Obama election feeling

I now have the Obama election feeling. We get to fight for the corporate health care bill because the alternative is so awful. Nothing has been promised to progressives, and, probably, nothing will be delivered. I don't want to support Max Baucus and Charles Grassley. I don't want to help them write a health care deform bill. What about you?

Friday, August 14, 2009

To President Obama: on the Conservative Opposition

Do you know the story of how it is that LBJ broke Humphrey in the Senate? It is told in Caro's biography of Johnson. Johnson arranged a humiliating defeat for Humphrey, and Humphrey never challenged Johnson again, even as Vice-President, during the disaster of Vietnam.

I think your former Senate colleagues are trying to do that to you. There is an important difference, of course: you are President. But you still need the Senate, and the Senate is heavily conservative. Like a working House of Lords, the Senate is an organization of the powerful, mostly men, mostly white. Long-term relationships (you know) are formed there. And, as in any aristocratic body, personalities matter.

It looks to me very much like some of your Senate colleagues, who you thought were friends and mentors, were setting you up, pretending to be reasonable and willing to compromise when in fact they were just getting you to stand still while they sharpened the knives. I think you've been betrayed and, with the opposition to your health care proposals now becoming visible, the knives are out.

These men are very skillful liars who have used your rhetoric of reconciliation. You wanted to believe in their integrity and so you did. But your opponents in the financial system and the health care system don't want reconciliation. They want it all, and even when they get everything they want, they want more.

Your choices as President are made on behalf of all Americans and, sometimes, all the world. You have a huge choice before you: you can maintain your connections with your false allies, or you can turn to the people. You cannot reconcile your wealthy, greedy, violent opponents to anything less than unlimited power: if you stay with them, they will sabotage your dream of reconciliation.

However you can reconcile some of the conflicts within the American people.

In my view it is important to discredit the right-wing crazies. They swing the vast majority of independent voters. While in a year or two most of the craziness will be forgotten, and the independents thinking differently, they are affecting the Congress now. I want you to succeed! I think it best to answer these people with incontrovertible truth, and keep on answering them until they are reduced to shouting in dark corners of the media space.

In the public sphere, also, I wish you would reconcile with ideological progressives. They were shut out of your campaign, for whatever reasons. But now you need them, because they're sane people who will support you, and will support your policies if you offer them policies they can support. They are capable of loyalty, something your conservative allies have shown they are not. You cannot make alliances with the swing voters, because the swing voters are easily swung by conservative propaganda sources and you have conservative enemies. But you can make alliances with ideological progressives, because they stand for something, and if you stand for them, they will stand for you.

In the interest-group sphere, I wish you would look out for the big-money groups who are willing to make alliances with the radical right. What we have now is a situation where your seemingly-loyal conservative opponents like the insurance and pharmaceutical industries are openly allied with radical groups like FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity. These groups in turn have followings of violent radicals, who, like members of lynch mobs, are all too willing to come out when they whistle. The violent radical groups are deserving of some police attention, and so are the radical right groups; people who promote violent tactics have very likely committed crimes themselves. But look back at the seemingly-peaceful opposition, that will not dirty its hands: if the divisiveness is to be stopped, consequences will have to be brought back to them.

I hope you will continue to pursue the dream of reconciliation and change.

On Whole Foods

I think Whole Foods is a fine example of what is wrong with the libertarian theory of market regulation of business. They satisfy their customers (rather fewer of them, now, thanks to the collapse of the middle class) and their investors, at huge costs to their employees, the environment, and ultimately, the world.

To Hel with 'em.

Read about it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

If We're So Smart, Why Ain't We Rich?

A few days ago I asked a union candidate for the Seattle Port Commission, Max Vekich, what there was on the organized left for non-union people. He suggested Working America, which an AFL-CIO outreach which members don't vote on the leadership. I can join which members don't vote on the leadership. I can join numerous other sort-of leftie which members don't on the leadership. I think I detect a pattern here.

Where is there a US leftist organization where members can choose policy and goals and pick the leaders and managers? One that is not, like the old socialist parties, fighting the war not even of the 20th century, but of the 19th. I'd join a modern leftist party, engaged in modern leftist issues, in a trice. I think a lot of people would. And such an organization might even be able to make a real difference in policy.

Health Care & the Revolution

Obama is the sharpest pol to come down the pike in a generation. He's been a Senator, so he knows what the Senate is like. He's from Chicago, so he knows from dirty politics and he was a youthful radical, so he knows what radical politics and activism are like. Yet he gets caught up short.

I suspect Obama, and probably other Democrats, have been double-crossed by the "moderate" conservative leadership. Turns out they're not moderate after all, they just get other people to do their dirty work. The administration trusted big insurance, big pharma, and big medicine to abide by their deals, and not unleash the crazies. & here we are, crazies on parade. It is just like the big financial firms, who have undercut the administration's economic team.

With this near-revolt, the Obama administration and the New Progressives move into a new phase. I wonder what it is going to be like.

BTW, no, I don't think Obama has sold out. A deliberate sellout would not involve a proto-revolution.

[edited a few hours after posting--I like this version better.]

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Thoughts on Democracy, Part 1

Intuitions that democratic polities are not, in fact, very well informed, and do not mostly vote on anything like policy thinking are, of course, nothing new. But Converse measured them. He not only showed that many votes were not on sensible things (some, in fact, are apparently made at random), he quantified the differences.
It seems to me there are three common responses to this knowledge: elitism, despair, or denial. The great statesman and scholar George F. Kennan, architect of the Marshall Plan, ended with despair, rejected by radical right of his day. The Straussians and Trotskyites who became the core of the neo-cons are elitists. Many political commentators and activists depend on self-validating denial. On the left, there has long been talk of raising class consciousness. But it never seems to work.
Politicians, mostly, don't care, so long as they are elected.
The ideological minority can win no elections by itself. But it can swing elections, and it can persuade.
I'm going to croak out some principles here:
  1. People, even the most apolitical, do not mostly wish the consequences of bad government [added 2010.10.25: in their own lives and the lives of their friends and families].
  2. That many people do not understand or are not interested in politics is not a justification for mistreatment, any more than a patient's limited understanding of medicine is a defense of malpractice.
  3. The system of representative government is intended to allow people to select representatives who represent their interests. Unfortunately, in the United States the majority of these representatives falsely claim to do so. When they are not outright corrupt, they largely represent factions of their constituencies.
  4. Activism can succeed, even in this political environment. How and why are questions that do not seem to have been adequately answered. (Or perhaps I am unaware of the answers.)

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

I think I know the bottom line: someone is going to die. Too much crazy has been unleashed, too much negativity. Mobs at town halls. Death threats. And they're going to keep stirring the pot, until some dramatic act of violence happens, until the House caves, or until the House is back in session.

"For, without a cement of blood (it must be human, it must be innocent) no secular wall will safely stand."--WH Auden, Horae Canonicae, "Vespers."

[edited because I really like this title & to correct the Auden quote]

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Smart corvids

It turns out that some crows understand the displacement of water. Croak!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Political Spectrum

Another comment that the NYT didn't run.

I think that, among the politically-aware minority of the population, we would find that the spectrum of the left extends further than it does in Congress. I think only a few radical-right commentators are ideological. Most use ideology as a weapon, but actually have group-loyalty or group-hate as motivations. The actual ideologues are probably the obvious ones: the late William F. Buckley, Grover Norquist, and so on. The most visible US radical-left figure I can think of is Noam Chomsky. He is a left anarchist and a moderate pacifist, widely reviled, and largely unknown outside the minority of the politically aware. Any national network that gave him a platform would come under enormous pressure to take it away again. Yet we are talking about someone whose program would be non-violent. We might also consider ecological radicals like Jerry Mander. Another pacifist and widely hated figure, and another advocate of non-violence. For a violent leftist you'd have to look for a Stalinist (are there any left?), Maoist, Trotskyite, or the like. And here, I am ashamed to say, I know no names.

Returning to the political spectrum, probably the farthest left the Senate goes is Barbara Boxer or Bernie Sanders and they're pretty moderate by comparison to Chomsky. Not sure about the House--there might be one or two authentic radical lefties in the 535. Be interesting to see if anyone actually has done the work & already knows!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Scaling Malkin: in response to Krugman

As often happens, the NYT didn't run my remark. So I'm going to expand on it and run it here. The significant political science paper I keep citing is Philip E Converse, “The nature of belief systems in mass publics,” reprinted in Critical Review: A Journal of Politics and Society 18, no. 1 (2006): 1 - 74, and I recommend it to everyone with a serious interest in politics.

Paul Krugman asks:

What I’d like to have is a Guttman scale of positions on political matters, such that almost everyone who gave the “liberal” answer to question 7 also gave liberal answers to questions 1-6, while almost everyone who gave the conservative answer to question 7 also gave conservative answers to questions 8-13. And we’d want population shares associated with each point on the scale. So we could then take known positions of public figures and place them on the scale: say, we might find that only 19 percent of Americans are to the right of Michelle Malkin, while 23 percent are to the left of Michael Moore.
The problem is, it's been known since Converse's paper that no such scale can be constructed for the general public. It can only be constructed in parts of the citizenry who are politically aware, and Converse found that that was a minority, 11.5% of subjects, 15.5% of voters. The largest plurality of people, 42% of subjects, 45% of voters, in Converse's five-ranked classification system took positions based on understandings of group allegiances. So, for instance, Converse found a "socialist" who supported privatization of utilities! For the rest, people would answer poll questions, but their answers didn't correlate, so you'd get, for instance, people who (post-Converse example) support Medicare but are opposed to government-financed health care. The classic and horrible example, of course, is what we are seeing writ large in California, where people have voted for government programs and against the taxes that fund them. Many votes and positions are apparently made and taken at random, and change when the voters are consulted some time later.

There's more to be said about this: the intellectual response, the implications for democratic governance, and so on. I continue to be astonished that these nearly 50-year old results have drawn almost no attention outside of political science.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Vast Majority of Southern Whites Doubt Obama's Citizenship

So what proportion of Southern whites doubt that Obama is an American citizen? While Ali did not release the racial breakdowns for the the South, and cautioned that the margin of error in the smaller sample of 720 people would be larger than the national margin of error (2 percent), the proportion of white Southern voters with doubts about their president’s citizenship may be higher than 70 percent. More than 30 percent of the people polled in the South were non-white, and very few of them told pollsters that they had questions about Obama’s citizenship. In order for white voters to drive the South’s “don’t know” number to 30 percent and it’s “born outside the United States” number to 23 percent, as many as three-quarters of Southern whites told pollsters that they didn’t know where Obama was born. ***
Which means...? A long-term filibuster of anything useful from the Administration? In these times that would mean economic and health-care inaction. A Klan revival? Another impeachment?

I suppose seccession is not out of the question: a South including Texas would be a respectable oil-producing state. I wonder if it would join OPEC.

[later thought]
I suppose this is the last stand of the reactionaries. It's natural that it would come in the South. But how do progressives, or even moderates, respond?

[still later...]
Moderates, if we are to judge by recent history, simply will not respond at all, and let the resurgent South roll over them. Which leaves the progressives.

[Spelling error corrected on 2009.08.04]