Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Northern Europe vs. Greece

As a result of punitive measures on the part of the so-called troika—European Commission (EC), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Central Bank (ECB)—a socialist party, Syriza, has come to power in Greece. Syriza is limited in its ability to act against the troika; it can persuade, but has little leverage.

To the Northern European bankers and public it's a morality play; the Greeks must be made to do their duty, and punishment will change the ways of the irresponsible, childish, not-Protestant Greeks. It is no play to the Greeks, whose health care system has collapsed under the harsh measures already pressed on Greece.

I believe that Greece is, in fact, developing a more disciplined attitude towards finance and spending. The troika wants to rush the matter, and they probably have the power to do it. It would be a shame. The misery would be intense and go on for years, and the Greeks would probably end up hating northern Europeans. The easygoing Greek culture would be hardened. Much would be lost, and the northerners would come to regret that, as well as the loss of their relief valve and one of their favorite vacation spots.

The best compromise would be something like: the troika makes concessions, the Greek debt is reduced, some sort of stimulus measures are offered to the Greeks, and the Syriza government commits to and implements long-term measures to reduce the real corruption of the Greek system. If, instead, there is no deal, there is the risk that the fascist Golden Dawn party will come to power in Greece. They probably will not last more than a generation, but those years would be hard indeed.

I am left wondering whether a unified currency is appropriate for a multi-national, multi-cultural federation. It seems to me that it tends to grind all cultures into uniform economic forms, and this is a shame.

Paul Krugman on the matter.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Things We Can't Say

Charles Pierce, over at Esquire: "You can't call something 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.

[2015.02.05] And economist Jared Bernstein points out that the distribution of income is another.

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 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.