Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Populist Libertarian

Adam Ash cites Populism's Revival -- by James Lardner/ San Francisco Chronicle[PDF] and Lardner has many interesting things to say, which, I might add, nicely verify my own gut-check on this issue.

If cheap imports (or, for that matter, low-wage immigrants) could explain a long, sharp increase in inequality, France, the Netherlands and much of Europe would be going through the same experience; they're not. If skill was the crucial factor, the long-term winners would be the top 20 or 30 percent of Americans. Instead, they've been the top 5, 2, or 1 percent -- the 1 percent who now pocket almost a fifth of all personal income, roughly twice what their share was during the 1960s and '70s.

The data suggests a story of power rather than skill -- rule-making power. The trail of evidence leads into the arcane world of economic policy; and if you look back over the past few decades, ignoring the catchy labels ("deregulation," "personal responsibility" and the rest), you'll find a pattern of government action -- on taxes, trade and the minimum wage, among other things -- favoring corporate insiders and financial manipulators over the rest of us.

You'll also find inaction -- a wholesale abandonment of the tradition of public investment that, in earlier periods of our history, from the Louisiana Purchase to the G.I. Bill and the Higher Education Act of 1965, earned the United States the right to honestly call itself a land of opportunity.

I'm a Libertarian, but not a Libertarian that considers a "corporate individual" the same as a person. Nor am I a Libertarian of the "devil take the hindmost" variety, which seems at times to be the majority of all Libertarians. I feel "the government who governs least governs best" as Jefferson put it, but there's an irreducible minium, and that minimum should neither advantage nor disadvantage any citizen or group of citizens more than any other, if for no other reason than the simplest and most obvious. Every time the government gets involved in deciding who "should" benefit, they invariably screw it up. This is because such value judgments are made by underpaid, overworked civil servants based on obsolete data and studies that were commissioned by interest groups.

I'm also very aware that whatever form of government I think ought to exist, the one that will exist will either constitutionally serve the will of the majority - or something much, much uglier will occur, in order to maintain and preserve the status quo. And I'm quite well aware that few people indeed would comfortably thrive within a Randian universe. On the other hand, true Randians seem well-equipped to manage well enough in most any tolerable system.

But the return to Populism this is not seemingly the result of an ongoing political debate among the members of the electorate; this is much more a dawning realization that there has been theft and chicanery at the highest levels. It is a wholesale disgust with corruption over a span of years that leaves neither party - or indeed any person associated with Washington in general - wholly free of taint. Add to this the outrage of the heartlands, who thought that in sending a wave of republican freshmen into congress in `94, they would be changing things for the better.

Instead, they were presented with the results of corruption and indifference to the needs and fates of ordinary folks that passes all understanding.

So a return to populist politics is both inevitable and refreshing - even though it is a fickle wind from a dangerous quarter. That is why I join with my liberal and progressive friends and allies in pointing out that whatever size and shape government is, it's critical that it be an ethical and Constitutional government in these Americas (and yes, I mean all of them) that is concerned with the well-being and prosperity of The People - as a whole.

Yes, folks, the Internet is global. These sea-changes are no longer confined to our shores, nor do our borders keep the tides from rising. Or do you think Vinchente Fox's populism has been without effect here?

But more to the point, social changes happen when they become possible and practical. When they are both possible, practical and widely desired, those who object tend to be swept rudely aside.

A government that is concerned with the welfare and well-being of all citizens need not be expressed as some form of kleoptocratic socialism. Aside from being wrong, such centralized arbiters of "fairness" end up with results not all that different than the ones we find ourselves in now.

But I'd like to see a government that was actually useful to me on a personal level, one that I could use to leverage my intelligence, promote my talents, enhance my knowledge and which would in turn draw upon the skills, knowledge and abilities of all citizens. I'm not speaking of a vast revolutionary change - I'm speaking of a simple shift in the practical means of getting things done. And here I am typing to you, using something very much like that.

Part of that would involve a more direct conversation with citizens. This last election has been an education to the practical power of our voices in that regard; an electronic roar of outrage that could all too easily translate into more direct and violent expression were it stifled or ignored. So while the mainstream media tries to discount and, when at all possible, completely ignore this paradigm shift, it's increasingly at the expense of their own relevance.

Now, if that seems like a liberal screed, forgive me, but as Steven Colbert observed, "Reality has a well-known Liberal bias." Or more to the point, far too many of us - and I include many of my more curmudgeonly libertarian fellows in this - are far too attached to their ideas of how things should be and how people should act to have a very good grasp of how things actually are, and what people are actually likely to do. Anyone pointing that out gets called filthy names, like "liberal."

No philosophy of culture, of morality, of governance or economics that is based on such voluntary delusions can long persist, though it's outward trappings may well persist as a fig-leaf to a stark and ugly contradiction.

Free markets: If it were a free market for goods, services and labor, there would be nowhere near such a concentration of wealth and power as exists now. Come to think of it, why don't you ask one of your entrepreneurial fellows how "free" a market it is when you try to start up a new business. Aside from minding your own business, you pretty much have to hire someone else to do the paperwork that will permit you (conditionally, subject to review) to do business.

And there's few of those forms that actually do a damn bit of good for you, your employees, your customers or your environment.

But there is one thing that should be obvious - it's a lot easier for a large business to absorb compliance costs than a small one. Furthermore, they can throw money around in ways that a mom and pop business cannot.

Net result - Mom and Pop go out of business and end up wearing blue smocks at Wal-Mart.

As for their employees... Wal-Mart probably doesn't need them.

But all of these things could and should be changed, can be easily addressed with technology we have now and moreover, improved a great deal in terms of addressing intent.

First, we need a truly fair and free market for labor. One way of doing that is to ensure that there is a built-in social safety net so that people can afford to say "take this job and shove it."

It also eliminates a great deal of need for legislation intended to protect people from being unjustly fired. And not just legislation - litigation!

Tort reform restricting awards largely to actual damages would be the next step. I'd think an additional reform would be a possibility that a judge or jury could direct that the standard for criminal negligence had been met, in which case criminal sanctions would apply to those found negligent in a civil trial.

Universal access to health care that is user paid, but is not conditional upon an employer or current health. Simply creating that system - which is no more than secure database and wide area network - would save taxpayers billions and billions of dollars. Note that I'm not suggesting anything socialistic - what I'm talking about is much more a system of leveraging bets.

Insurance companies continue to do what they do, but the government sets up a standard and regulates a market, an exchange for, say, blocks of health consumers and coverage packages. It will not be determine what you have to do in exchange for a lower rate, say, or rationing coverage, or dictating whether you smoke or not, for example. You may pay more, you may pay less, but the system will be set up so that you will be able to have coverage - and currently, it's quite possible to be in a situation where nobody will take the money you could pay.

Now, this approach life easier for everyone, I might add, and that is what a government exists for, to make living together easier, help share the load of collective responsibilities, to promote neighborliness and maintain 'the commons,' the infrastructures that make life and commerce possible.

Here's where I depart from the most doctrinaire sorts of Libertarians, who believe every road should be a toll-road and all property private. In that universe, we'd all be nickled and dimed to death just trying to cross the street to buy a sandwich - with competing forms of variably-accepted currency, no less!

I'm an anarchist in terms of personal issues and freedoms, where personal choices affect only those involved. I don't consider "being offended" to be much of a reason for taking away even a smidgen of Liberty. If you insist upon walking about naked with your genitalia painted in day-glow colors, I imagine the social consequences are consequence enough. Mocking laughter certainly has a chilling effect on me!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Um, Bill? It's not that we can't have a conversation with you..

You usefully point out that you can't carry on conversations with computer geeks. Indeed there has been speculation about whether the ability to focus so valuable for technology jobs correlates with Asperger's Syndrome, a light form of autism. Nice job, making fun of people who aren't the social butterfly that you are.
Who's she talking at? Why, none other than our amazingly idiotic Bill O'Rielly, who has said this - and in public, no less!

I don’t own an iPod. I would never wear an iPod… If this is your primary focus in life - the machines… it’s going to have a staggeringly negative effect, all of this, for America… did you ever talk to these computer geeks? I mean, can you carry on a conversation with them? …I really fear for the United States because, believe me, the jihadists? They’re not playing the video games. They’re killing real people over there.

-Bill O'Reilly

I wonder if he's capable of realizing the true irony of a radio host and frequent TV personality talking about how hard it is to talk to "these computer geeks." Yeah. Geeks like Marconi, Edison and Bell.

Of course, I find it hard to talk to someone so stupid as to speak in such a way as to suggest that it would be better for us geeks to be "killing real people" instead of playing video games.

So, Bill, the reality is this; the geeks that make it possible for you to bloviate on the air likely can't be bothered to have a conversation with you, but aren't quite aspie enough to just tell you that.

Of course, if you do find this posted somewhere at Fox, don't bother checking the printout for fingerprints. There won't be any. And the video surveillance will clearly show it was Albert Einstein who tacked up the note.

Why I am thankful for ana voog

i'm glad i got to see the earth when it was plentiful.
i'm both happy and sad that i got to experience living in america in the most gluttunous time in history.
when one could take a full bubble bath every 5 minutes if you wanted to, full of fresh clean water each time.

i have luxuriated in water, drank from the faucet when it was actually tasting ok to do so, i swam in pools of crystal clear springs in south dakota,
i washed my dishes and clothes in as much water as i wanted. hot or cold.
i have lived the life of a king on 5,000 a year.

Thank Goddess for friends who say the things we should have, better than we could have, if only we had rememberet that it's the time to do that.

I'd comment more, but everything I need to say, I've said there in the comments.

But make sure and linger a bit to learn more about ana voog.

Evolve - A graphictruth from someone else for a change...

Originally uploaded by progresswear.

And it's a damn pretty picture, too.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

In case you'd forgotten, the President is a lying' bastard.

Bush admits it right to their faces because he's been rankly lying about anything and everything ever since he ran for president and never, not once, paid a penalty for it. Think about it carefully--for anyone else a public admission of lying would be absolutely devastating on a professional and personal level.

Sorry, dear, I lied about sleeping with that perky admin half your age. No big, right? Yeah, boss, I said I delivered all those parts when I actually drank beer for two hours. So?

But for George Bush implacable rules of life just vanish, so he doesn't care, admit it right out loud on the record, why not? This horrifying national psychosis--words chosen with great attention--was very carefully and deliberately enabled by The Washington Post as they scrubbed their stories to hide the lying.


Now, it's a Bad Thing to lie to the American People and to Congress. Particularly to members of Congress who's campaigns were damaged with all the "stay the course" rhetoric and public defense of Rummy right up to the "Heave Ho" moment.

But, hey, such trivial considerations of consequence are beneath our "decider." I can't complain about the outcome, of course. I merely point out that trusting a known and famous liar ain't the path of prudence, as many Republicans found to their cost this past election.

And meanwhile, the WaPo is trying to revise history - unaware of the Google Cache and The Memory Hole, apparently. These days, revising web history is merely an amusing spectacle of futility, rather like a cat covering up on linoleum.

Feith-Based Politics and the Comedy that is Carville

I hate to be vulgar, but really, how far inside the beltway do you have to be before you fly up your own ass and disappear into a strange parallel universe?

Two of the more powerful second-string "Beltway Boys" have managed to prove that the only difference between Republican fuckups and Democratic ones is who's become most insulated from the consequences of their ideological isolationism.

Slate reports:

Douglas Feith: What has the Pentagon's third man done wrong? Everything.

Why is Feith involved with all these foul-ups? How could one man be so consistently in error? Nearly every critique of the Pentagon's plan for Iraq's occupation blames the blinkers imposed by ideology. For example, The New Yorker reported last fall that Feith intentionally excluded experts with experience in postwar nation-building, out of fear that their pessimistic, worst-case scenarios would leak and damage the case for war. In the Atlantic earlier this year, James Fallows told a similar story: The Pentagon did not participate in CIA war games about the occupation, because "it could be seen as an 'antiwar' undertaking" that "weakened the case for launching a 'war of choice.' " The State Department's Future of Iraq Project, an effort that accurately predicted some contingencies that the Pentagon overlooked, was dismissed by Feith and company out of hand.

And while the Pentagon's assumptions of an ecstatic, sweets-and-flowers-bearing populace that would welcome the occupiers as liberators may have been understandable in February 2003, Feith continued to let ideology rule his decisions long after the "major combat operations" ended. Last September, Knight Ridder reported that Paul Bremer's request for more than 220 employees for the occupation had yet to be approved. Guess who was to blame? "It is taking forever because Feith only wants true believers to get through the gate," a senior administration official said.

Well, we all know how well that worked out. Read the whole story, it's damning. By the by, though the story says nothing, it's difficult to read it without thinking that anyone above Feith should have noticed a difference between promise and payoff - somewhere around, oh, say, 2004. Why? Well, almost everyone outside of the beltway who wasn't sucking up to someone inside the beltway had some questions about performance, even some damn hawkish hawks. There were whole bunches of news items - like the looting, like the destruction of Iraqi Interior Ministry files - that were cause for alarm, that were indications of bad preparation.

The worst, of course, was the blatant failure to secure Iraqi munitions dumps, a failure that has cost thousands of lives, both civilian and military. That was a decision that caused me to wonder aloud to myself if someone in charge was smoking crack, as it seemed to me the exact opposite of any prudent decision based in sound military training.

Now, it seems likely that it was a decision made under the delusion that the Neocon Vision would prove true, there would be no insurgency, and democracy would flourish as predicted, so long as "nay-saying defeatists" were kept away.

But such delusional thought-processes are far from being unique to the Right Wing.

Fatcat politics links to the New York Daily News

Clinton tells Carville to sit down and shut up.

Ain't it rich... The mighty Carville (mighty wrong a lot) got shot down in flames for his remark about replacing Howard Dean at the DNC. I love it... He underestimated the importance of Dean's 50 state strategy along with a bunch of weeping wingnuts (Santorum at the top of the list) and had him a little hissy fit because he didn't get to be the guru that had it all figured out.

The beltway spinmeisters are all mad because they got bypassed in the groundswell of voters ire against the Republicans. They are still in denial of the netroots and the 'base' that Dean built in just two short years. They eagerly took credit for the tsunami when it was actually Dean who provided the earthquake that triggered it.

Hil's no dump Dean fan. Her camp sez Carville on his own in coup bid

The Clintonistas don't want an undeserved backlash from the activist wing of the party that overwhelmingly supports Dean, especially because some anti-Clinton Democrats have blamed Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) for the attack by Carville, a longtime Clinton insider. Those forces claimed Carville's motive was to topple Dean in favor of a chairman more favorable to Sen. Clinton's bid for President.

Carville's remarks last week came as House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) bungled the race for Democratic majority leader. Party operatives acknowledged the Carville and Pelosi sideshows were detracting from their election victories.


I have to be honest, I've always liked James Carveille - in the same way I've always had a soft spot for Magneto and The Joker. He has class, he has style, he's gloriously, unapologetically, flamboyantly villainous - and convinced that his Cause Is Just, of course, at least when colloquy is called for. But essentially, he just likes beating the crap out of the other side, and I think we saw him at his personal public best playing the Snake in Crossfire episodes with Tucker Carlson as the Mongoose.

I kind of wish John Stewart hadn't ruined that gig. It was a lot of fun and it kept both of them out of trouble for days at a time. Furthermore, some of us have an appreciation for the pure art of rhetoric. But I suppose that John did have a point; the people did deserve better.

The Beltway Boys - all of the Insiders - are more concerned about appearances than about real issues of real consequence. It's easier to spin issues if the issues themselves are framed as simple, black and white concepts that have a "republican" approach and a "democratic" approach.

In fact, there are a few approaches that will work and a very great many that will not, and if your major considerations are maintaining power while appearing to attempt to do something - only to be Thwarted by Evil Plotters On The Other Side - the odds of finding a program that will work is nil.

But this is politics in Washington, and it's worked with great success for a very long time - so well, in fact, that a lot of people involved forgot that it was a political tactic and came to embrace it as a reliable expression of reality.

And when people like that came into total control of the party and the nation - people who chose to believe in religious, economic and social fairy tales as being preferable to inconvenient realities; that's when the stark comedy of errors commenced.

It's fashionable to suggest that Democrats would have been no better. I tend to disagree. Democrats have different fairy tales, and while they certainly would have done no better implementing theirs if they were able to be so consistently deluded, working from the same ideological page - pardon me, I'm snickering too loudly.

The thing republicans see as the greatest weakness of Democrats in particular and people left of themselves in general is their lack of "team spirit," their inability or unwillingness to defer personal gratification for the "greater good," as defined by some schmuck with more clout in the party.

Nope, left of center folks tend also to be less willing to worship at the altar of Authority, and "Because I said so," is met with raspberries and overripe fruit. This is why Carville got shut down, frankly.

He may well be an authority - but he's an authority on old fashioned, bare knuckles dirty politics that depends on a small cadre of True Believers to do the bidding of their cynical and utterly amoral leadership.

The netroots - well, look around. Pick a blogroll, pretty much any blogroll that doesn't include Free Republic and you will find thinking people making very uncomfortably astute policy observations. Howard Dean is an example of a man who realizes that the netroots is a completely new phenomenon, one that demands a new era of leadership, one that's unafraid of meeting reality head on.

In many ways, Iraq and Vietnam are very comparable. Both wars of choice; both wars of ideological "necessity." Both wars required a great deal of contrivance and a huge amount of information control to sustain. Both collapsed when reality failed to support any conceivable version of "victory."

But it took decades for that point to arrive with Vietnam, with total casualties in the millions. With Iraq - there were far too many information leaks to plug. In fact, I think it likely that in the last year or so, information management has been fairly much all the White House and Pentagon has been doing, leaving them few resources to to actually achieve much of any meaning.


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