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Late Night Thoughts (Reposted from February 20, 2011)

There are few noises at this hour.   A car passes in the distance.  The house creaks.  The furnace starts.  I have not heard a dog bark in hours.

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…”It is really annoying when people, particularly those in positions of power, can’t even be bothered to take the trouble to lie well.” — Yves Smith.

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…To oppress a mother is to oppress a democracy, for it is mothers who teach the value of democracy to their children.

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…It seems what’s happening in Wisconsin is part of the class war in America that’s been going on for sometime now.  As Warren Buffett pointed out, the war was begun by members of his class, and his class is winning it.

Unfortunately, if rich billionaires like the Koch brothers win the Wisconsin round in the class war, that means they will have managed to break the Wisconsin public service unions.  And if they manage to do that, then the Democratic party will be left as nothing more than a paper man in that state.

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…The other day, I noticed an advertisement that claimed the Bible was, of all the world’s wisdom literature, the most profound.  Now, I’ve heard that claim made before in various ways and places.  But, I confess, I have never understood why anyone would make that claim.

As wisdom literature, the Bible seems to have been often surpassed. And not just by many of the ancient Greek, Roman, Indian, or Chinese authors.  But also by more modern authors.

To give some of the Biblical authors credit, though, their concern for social, political, and economic justice was remarkable for their time, and — thankfully — very influential on the West.

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…There seems to be a sense in which almost all complex, hierarchical societies — even going as far back as to the origin of complex, hierarchical societies some 5,500 years ago — have been scams.   Moreover, it’s been the same scam perpetrated again and again.  And, in essence, that scam has been to fool the masses into believing the society’s elites have the backing of a supernatural order.

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…There are many people in this god-drunk town who cast their blurry vision on science and declare that it, too, is a religion.  The last drunk to tell me that declared, as his reasoning, “Religions are based on beliefs. Science is based on beliefs. Therefore, science is a religion.”

By precisely the same “logic”, “Cats are furry.  Dogs are furry.  Therefore, dogs are cats.”

But, even if his reasoning was logically valid — which it is not, unless dogs are cats — what would not then become a religion?  Indeed, even one’s overwhelming desire to take a shower after hearing him espouse his drunken  “logic” would, according to his drunken  “logic”,  become a religious act.

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Just now, a motorcycle started up, then sped off.  In the day, it would be just another cycle.  But in the night, it seems a story in itself.

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…Humans are natural born cartographers.  We make maps of the world, which we call “beliefs”.   It’s what our species does.

Sometimes, our maps are more or less accurate.  And sometimes, they are fantasy maps, like the ones we made as children to show where a pirate’s treasure lay buried in our backyard.

The accuracy of our maps often matters less to us than the fact they are ours.  Because, for most of us, our maps are something we think of as us.

Now, when we fall in love, she sooner or later challenges our maps…

And, if our love survives those challenges, there’s a chance that our love is true.

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…Tonight, I came across in a faded notebook a line from a poem I once wrote to a woman: “No one has made me wish / To face with grace the challenge / of her morning breath like you, Joelle.”   And consequently, reading that line, I had a sudden and abrupt realization of precisely how it is that I have managed all these years to remain celibate despite the occasional woman who’s now and then been interested enough in me to even read my poems.

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…Once I saw a Seven-Eleven that was closed.  Locked up and abandoned.

Since everything inside the impossibly dark store windows was in place and intact, I eventually concluded it must be a clerk who didn’t show up for work.  But I at first thought: “Not even a president’s death can close a Seven-Eleven. It must be something.  It must be big.”

Perhaps there is inside all of us a thing — a strange, hard thing — that now and then longs for an event so big it will close even the world’s Seven-Elevens.

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…When I met Becky she was in her 30s and would now and then do something completely spontaneous: Always some little thing, but it was an attractive quality.   Even in a city, birds from a branch put to air like her.  So, though they live like the rest of us amongst the concrete and noise, you can see how those birds are beyond the artificial world we have created for them — how they are still native to the earth and sky.  Some people are like that.

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…So far, I have found only three things with power to redeem the human condition: Love, work, and play.  And of those three, love is the greatest.

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…Brett called to invite me to lunch the other day  (Brett was 15 the year we first met at the coffee shop.  I was perhaps 40 or 42).   So, we met at a tavern where the beer is watery, but the food is good, and I enjoyed talking with him so much the time slipped past on rabbit’s feet.

At some point in the afternoon, after we had exhausted half a dozen topics, Brett said he suspected the reason quite a few kids had hung out with me years ago at the coffee shop was because I was for the most part nonjudgmental.   So I told him that was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard from a fellow human, if indeed he was actually human. So, I thanked him for confirming a suspicion I’d had.  Then, being an insufferable old fart, I told him a story he’d already heard at least twice from me, and one he probably didn’t want to hear again.

After we had parted for the evening, I reflected on the fact that Brett had certainly been one of the most intelligent people at the coffee shop, and very likely one of the wisest.  Yet, it had never been any one thing that led me to those conclusions.  Like a stream of gold dust, Brett is someone who stands out from the crowd not for any one big thing, but for the cumulative impression made on you by a thousand glittering details.

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…My second wife had a taste for dresses by Ungaro.  Is Ungaro still around?  That Italian knew how to make a woman wearing silk look like a nude.

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…This night, for the first time in ages, I recall once a woman and I spent nearly two years laughing together.  No, she was not my wife, but a co-worker.  We worked together in the evenings, and we’d spend every moment we could with each other.  Then, when I moved on to a day job, I still dropped by her workplace in the evenings to laugh with her.

One day, I invited her out to a movie.  But by the time she got to my place, it was too late to catch a show.  At a loss for much else to do, I tried nibbling on her ear.  Consequently, two years of laughing together led to her having three explosive orgasms: The best in her life, she told me.  After that, you might think she’d be happy.

Yet, somehow, by the next day, she had translated everything — all of it — into guilt and regret.  “You must think I’m a slut”, she said, “because I slept with you on our first date.”

“No, I feel as if I’ve been courting you for two years”, I said, “Besides I’m in love.”

“Even if you don’t think I’m a slut”, she said, “When I saw you this evening, it made me think of myself as a slut, and then my heart sank to the floor.  I can’t see you again.”  And she meant it.

It was much later I realized that, despite our rapport, only one of us had been in love.

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It is almost dawn.

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Does the World Need a Joint Declaration of Progressive Bloggers?

Frankly, political talk these days strikes me as too incestuous to be of much interest.  Too incestuous and too much a matter of gratuitous outrage.  Altogether these days,  it almost always leaves me feeling in need of a shower.

Sometimes, though, it’s necessary.

Continue reading “Does the World Need a Joint Declaration of Progressive Bloggers?”

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In Case You Haven’t Already Heard the News

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Paul offers his opinion that a milestone was recently passed in the fight between liberals and progressives for the future of the Democratic Party, and perhaps for the future of America.

THE CRITICS ADORE! “The eternally intolerable Sunstone has no more insight into politics than a six year old brat has into the chemistry of fire.  All Sunstone does in his recent post is play with matches, and quite predictably, he burns the house down.” — Arun Ghani, India’s Blogs and Beyond, “The Herald and News”, Hyderabad, India.

Continue reading “In Case You Haven’t Already Heard the News”

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The Future of Freedom in America

(About a 9 minute read)

“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” — Warren Buffett

One of the top five or six core issues running through-out all of human history has been the eternal war between elites and non-elites.  That is, those who have the greater wealth, power, and control of resources and those who have the lesser wealth, power, and control of resources in any given society or economy.

In my opinion, anyone who is unfamiliar with the conflict is politically, socially, and economically ignorant.  The primary or most significant conflicts in history have not been between competing systems such as capitalism and communism. Such conflicts are more clearly understood as battles between competing elites and between elites and non-elites.

Continue reading “The Future of Freedom in America”

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Think the Left is the Real Enemy of Free Speech? Think again!

(About a 1 minute read)

I don’t usually post on politics, and certainly not day-to-day politics. When I do post on politics, I prefer the grand timeless themes — such as the conflict between elites and non-elites — that can help us to see deeply into what’s behind the daily stuff.

And mostly I don’t post because there are a million other sites that do a much better job of that than I ever could.

Yet, today I came across some things that need saying because they are about free speech in America, and free speech is the very foundation of all other freedoms and liberties. If a government can take away your right to speak your mind, it can take away every other right you have as well.

Now, the radical extremists on the left who have in recent years sought to limit free speech on campuses are admittedly dangerous fools.

But they strike me as decidedly a minority of leftists. Mostly they are young and foolish university and college students and junior faculty. Of course, that’s bad enough and the rest of the left must zealously oppose them.

But is the left in general the enemy of free speech? I challenge anyone who thinks so to provide the polling that shows it.

On the other hand, a recent poll conducted by the reputable Ipsos house of right wing views has tellingly revealed that a full 43% of all Republicans would support the President dictatorially shutting down news outlets in America that offended him.

That compares with only 12% of Democrats who would do the same.

Think about that folks. Forty-three percent of Republicans!

Food for thought for anyone who has not already chosen to be willfully stupid about the real enemies of freedom in this country.

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Why are Some Religious Groups Sexually Oppressive?

Planning to have sex on your wedding night?  Not if you’re a member of The Word of Faith Fellowship, a protestant, non-denominational church headed by Pastor Jane Whaley, and located in Spindale, North Carolina.

According to a recent news report, members of the church, even on their wedding night, are permitted no more than a “godly peck on the cheek” before they are required to roll over and go to sleep.  And don’t expect the next night to be any better:  Whaley and the other pastors of the church can take months, even a year, to grant a couple permission to have sex.

When permission is at last granted, it’s still no party: “Love-making is limited to 30 minutes, no foreplay is allowed, the lights must be turned off and only the missionary position is sanctioned.”

Well, at least you get to have kids, right?  Sure you do — just as soon as the church leadership grants you permission.

And that’s just some of the draconian rules.  The Word of Faith Fellowship has others too, and the punishments for disobeying any of them are reported by former members to be severe and include harsh beatings.

Reading about The Word of Faith Fellowship in the news, my mind made the jump from that particular church to religions in general, and I began to wonder why they are so often sexually oppressive?

Of course, that question is far too general.  For one thing, religions are not always sexually oppressive.  Shinto, Taoism, most of the species of Paganism that I’ve come across, traditional Chinese folk religions, and many others are to my admittedly limited knowledge not sexually oppressive.  Even Confucianism, which I believe to oppress women, does not oppress sex itself.

Then again, even in those religions with a reputation of being sexually oppressive, there are widely varying degrees of it depending on the branch, sect, denomination, or the congregation one looks at.  So making generalizations is a bit hazardous.  Perhaps the best we can say is that some religious groups are in various ways, and to various extents, oppressive.

That is enough, however, to prompt the question of “Why?”

At first, I thought that was a fairly easy question.  After all, doesn’t the leadership benefit from sexual oppression by using it to further and consolidate their control over people?  But how exactly does that work?

In one way, it’s easy enough to see how it works.  All you need do is watch Pat Robinson (1) rile people up about “the threat to Christianity, Western Civilization, and Godliness” posed by some one or another sexual issue — abortion, transgendered people using the “wrong” public restroom, etc — and then (2) solicit monetary donations from his now frightened and angry audience.

The more I think about that, however, the more I suspect there might be something deeper afoot.   What Robinson and so many other religious leaders do does indeed work, but why?

Put differently, what is it about human sexuality that makes it easy for so many of us to believe it can, in some ways, pose a genuine threat to “Christianity, Western Civilization, and Godliness”?   To my ear, saying there is something about our sexuality that can make it a threat to those things is like saying there’s something about popcorn that can make it a threat to those things.  I don’t get frightened and angry.  I smile and shake my head.

But apparently to a certain kind of person it does make sense to say that human sexuality can threaten those things.   He or she is not only quite willing to get out their checkbook or credit card and sacrifice a portion of their wealth to oppose what they imagine to be the evils of our sexuality, but they are also willing to seek out and follow — often enough blindly follow — any leader who sees things as they do.

It’s all too easy and misleading to dismiss such people as “stupid”.  I have known many such people in my life, and enough of them are smart to give the lie to that dismissal.  So what is it about them that makes it plausible to them that our sexuality can topple worlds?

I think a possible answer to our question might be found in Moral Foundations Theory.  The theory was first proposed by the psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Craig Joseph, and its gist is that we humans are born equipped with at least six psychological foundations for making moral judgments.  These foundations can be to some extent thought of as spontaneous moral feelings, or quick moral intuitions.

For instance, how would it make you feel to witness a friend being cheated at cards by an out-of-town professional gambler? Moral Foundations Theory would suggest that the fact witnessing someone being cheated might cause a negative reaction in you is the product of an inherent psychological module.  Furthermore, the fact that you might be even more outraged because the person being cheated was your friend is also the product of an inherent psychological module, a second one.  All together, there are six modules, and they are the foundations of our moral judgments, or moralities.

Of the six foundations, one is of particular importance here.  That’s the foundation referred to as “sanctity” or “purity”.   It comes into play when you judge something, such as a food, idea, or action, to be disgusting or abhorrent, perhaps because it is impure or degraded in your eyes.

Now I would suggest that our natural tendency to sometimes make moral judgments based on whether we perceive something to lack sanctity or purity can under certain conditions predispose us to seeing human sexuality as a grave moral threat.  Those conditions are met if we have been taught to view sex as shameful, impure, degrading, and so forth.  And if and when we see human sexuality as a grave moral threat, then it can become plausible to us that human sexuality — or at least the wrong kind of human sexuality — can lead to the downfall of “Christianity, Western Civilization, and Godliness”.

Put differently, it is not simply that someone is taught “the wrong kind of sexuality can destroy religion, etc.”  There’s more to it than that.  Everyone of us has heard that message through-out our lives, but most of us find it quite implausible.  Ridiculous even.  Only with some of us does it fall on fertile ground.  And I think the reason for that is that those of us who find the message plausible are more sensitive to the sanctity or purity foundation of moral judgments than the rest of us.

Indeed, when Haidt studied whether political progressives and conservatives had differing sensitivities to his six foundations of morality he found precisely that: Conservatives are more sensitive to the sanctity or purity foundation than are progressives.

So, why are some religious groups so sexually oppressive?  Well, as I noted before, not all religious groups are.  I would like now to suggest that the sexually oppressive ones are likely to have significantly more people who are especially sensitive to the sanctity or purity foundation of our moral judgments than are the less oppressive groups.

Yet, I do not wish to give the impression that I think I’ve hit upon the only reason some religious groups are sexually oppressive.  I think there’s more to it than what I’ve written about here.  What’s your opinion?  Why is it that some religious groups are sexually oppressive?  Your thoughts, please.

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The Regressive Left and the Suppression of Free Speech

Are there proper limits to free speech?  If so, what should they be?  In Western history, the first, and perhaps still the most popular, attempt to establish liberal limits to free speech was made by John Stuart Mill in his book, On Liberty, which was published in 1859.

Mill brings up the British corn merchants in making his case for liberal limits to free speech.  In the mid-1800s, the corn merchants were hated and feared by the poor.  Radicals stirred up the poor by accusing the merchants of hording grain in order to drive the price of it up and force the masses to choose between paying inflated prices and starvation.  Conservatives feared the radicals would succeed in politically mobilizing the poor, and wanted to protect the social order by silencing the radicals, using the powers of the government to do so.

In turn, Mill argued that the government did not have unlimited rights to silence people, but could do so only if they were in violation of “one very simple principle,” which is now usually called the harm principle, and which states, “…the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

But what did Mill mean by “harm”?  That question is the subject of debate, but I think Mill intended to narrowly limit what constitutes harm in these circumstances to actions that harm or violate another person’s rights, or threaten to do so.

For instance, a corn merchant could be harmed by someone publishing information that resulted in the boycott of his business with a resulting loss of profits.  But this sort of harm does not appear to be what Mill had in mind  because it does not violate the rights of the corn merchant.  In other words, the merchant has no right to force people to patronize his business in order to guarantee his profits.

On the other hand, a merchant could be harmed by someone denouncing him to an angry mob gathered in front of his house for hording grain in order to drive the price up.  If someone did that, it could incite the mob to violate the merchant’s property rights (e.g. by burning his house down), or even to violate his right to life.  Consequently, the speech of the person denouncing the merchant could in this case be legitimately suppressed.

As I said, what Mill meant by “harm” is debatable, but I think it can at least be argued that he wished to narrowly limit what constitutes harm.  Whatever the precise meaning of it, Mill’s harm principle became for generations the traditional liberal ideal for imposing limits on speech.

In the 1980s, Mill’s harm principle came under attack from the American philosopher, Joel Feinberg.  Feinberg asked, “whether there are any human experiences that are harmless in themselves yet so unpleasant that we can rightly demand legal protection from them even at the cost of other persons’ liberties.”  That is, do we have a right to be protected, not merely from harm, but from offense, as well?  His answer to the question was to argue that at least some forms of harmless but profoundly offensive conduct can properly be criminalized, and he urged that Mill’s harm principle be replaced with his offense principle.

Feinberg’s offense principle provided the initial philosophical justification for the infamous attacks on free speech by the Regressive Left that are in the news today.  The Regressive Left — as distinct from the Progressive Left, which still strongly supports free speech — has now built on Feinberg’s work to go further than him.  For instance, Jeremy Waldron, an Oxford professor, suggests these days that speech that merely attacks the dignity of others should be banned.  “We have gone from the principle that only speech that incites crime can be banned to the principle that speech that incites gross offence can be banned to the principle that speech that provokes discomfort can be banned.”

What most strikes me about the theorists of the Regressive Left is that they do not seem to notice — or perhaps they notice, but do not fully grasp — that they are putting themselves at grave risk of having the tables turned on them.  As Nick Cohen writes:

Few contemporary theorists grasp that people oppose censorship not because they respect the words of the speaker but because they fear the power of the censor. It is astonishing that professed liberals, of all people, could have torn up the old limits, when they couldn’t answer the obvious next question: who decides what is offensive?

If it is the representatives of a democracy, you have the tyranny of the majority to discriminate against “offensive” homosexuals, for instance. If it is a dictatorship, you have the whims of the ruling tyrant or party—which will inevitably find challenges to its rule and ideology offensive. If it is public or private institutions, they will decide that whistleblowers must be fired for damaging the bureaucracy, regardless of whether they told the truth in the public interest. If it is the military, they will suppress pictures of torture for fear of providing aid to the enemy. If it is the intelligence services they will say that leaks about illegal surveillance must be stopped because they might harm national security, just as pornography might harm women. Why should they have to prove it, when liberals have assured them that there is no need to demonstrate actual damage?

Yet, they are not only putting themselves at risk of having the tables turned on them, but everyone else as well.  A society that embraces the notion rights can be abridged simply because their exercise causes someone, somewhere profound offense, much less mere discomfort, is a society ripe for dictatorship.  Were such a notion to prevail here in America, our notably thin-skinned president would have legal standing to shut down any criticism of himself whatsoever.

I think perhaps the best thing that can be said about Feinberg’s position is that, to see the truth of his notion that offenses can be profound, one only has to recall some instance when one suffered grievous hurt from a mere slight.  “Only sticks and stones” can harm us is a lie: The emotional fallout from words alone can at times outlast the pain of a broken arm.  That’s to say, his position is well grounded in human psychology.  Yet, to recognize that fact is not necessarily to endorse his views that certain behavior should be criminalized simply because it causes profound offense.

Whether we like it or not, all societies require of their citizens some sacrifices in order to preserve the society itself.  It seems to me that liberal democracies, especially, require their citizens to accept that they will at times be disgusted, repulsed, shocked, shamed, or embarrassed by the opinions and behaviors of their fellow citizens and yet, they will be unable to suppress those opinions and behaviors, least their society descend into tyranny.   For the real choice here is not between being offended and not being offended, but rather between freedom and oppression.

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Some Reactions to the Debt Ceiling Deal

We currently have a deeply depressed economy. We will almost certainly continue to have a depressed economy all through next year. And we will probably have a depressed economy through 2013 as well, if not beyond.

The worst thing you can do in these circumstances is slash government spending, since that will depress the economy even further. Pay no attention to those who invoke the confidence fairy, claiming that tough action on the budget will reassure businesses and consumers, leading them to spend more. It doesn’t work that way, a fact confirmed by many studies of the historical record.

From “The President Surrenders”, posted in The New York Times, by Paul Krugman.

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How can the leader of the Democratic Party wage an all-out war on the ostensible core beliefs of the Party’s voters in this manner and expect not just to survive, but thrive politically?  Democratic Party functionaries are not shy about saying exactly what they’re thinking in this regard:

Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, said polling data showed that at this point in his term, Mr. Obama, compared with past Democratic presidents, was doing as well or better with Democratic voters. “Whatever qualms or questions they may have about this policy or that policy, at the end of the day the one thing they’re absolutely certain of — they’re going to hate these Republican candidates,” Mr. Mellman said. “So I’m not honestly all that worried about a solid or enthusiastic base.”

In other words: it makes no difference to us how much we stomp on liberals’ beliefs or how much they squawk, because we’ll just wave around enough pictures of Michele Bachmann and scare them into unconditional submission. That’s the Democratic Party’s core calculation: from “hope” in 2008 to a rank fear-mongering campaign in 2012.

From “Democratic Politics in a Nutshell”, posted on Salon.com, by Glenn Greenwald.

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Overheard: Thanks for protecting the job creators, you know for creating jobs for chauffeurs, valets, domestic help, and most importantly seamstresses who specialize in crafting $100 bills into luxurious overcoats. ~ Jim Cutler

From “US Debt Highlights ~ The Day After…”, posted on The Bis Key Chronicles, by Gandalfe

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The protracted negotiations over the debt ceiling, as well as the final package agreed to by President Obama and the congressional leadership, show what happens when a small minority is allowed to gain control over national debate. While polls consistently show that the vast majority of the public sees jobs as the main problem facing the economy, there has been a well-funded crusade to ignore public opinion and make cuts to social insurance programs and other spending the top priority for Congress and the President.

From “Statement on the Debt Ceiling Deal“, posted on The Center for Economic and Policy Research Website, by Dean Baker.

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“Shame on you! you who make unjust laws and publish burdensome decrees, depriving the poor of justice, robbing the weakest of my people of their rights, despoiling the widow and plundering the orphan. What will you do when called to account, when ruin from afar confronts you? To whom will you flee for help?”

– Isaiah 10:1-3

From “A Warning to Congress”, posted on Dover Beach, by Θεόφιλος.

 

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Paul Krugman on How the Media is Distorting the Budget Debate

The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation. And Democrats — who would have been justified in rejecting this extortion altogether — have, in fact, gone a long way toward meeting those Republican demands.

As I said, it’s not complicated. Yet many people in the news media apparently can’t bring themselves to acknowledge this simple reality. News reports portray the parties as equally intransigent; pundits fantasize about some kind of “centrist” uprising, as if the problem was too much partisanship on both sides.

The cult of balance has played an important role in bringing us to the edge of disaster. For when reporting on political disputes always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty for extremism. Voters won’t punish you for outrageous behavior if all they ever hear is that both sides are at fault.

From “The Centrist Cop-Out”, posted in The New York Times, by Paul Krugman

A lot has changed about America in the past dozen or so years, but I think it’s still safe to say most Americans like to play fair.  And the notion that both sides are to blame, or the notion the truth lies somewhere in the middle,  appeals to our sense of fairness.

Unfortunately, that sense of fairness is no longer of much use in sorting out the facts.  Today, most of the problem is being caused by one side, the Republicans, who have turned into extremists on nearly every issue under the sun.  To portray both sides as equally responsible for the mess we’re in is unfair to those who are opposing the dominance of Republican Extremism.

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Are We About to Get Screwed Again?

Naomi Klein’s book on disaster capitalism, The Shock Doctrine, contains a number of — and this is being polite — difficult to defend claims.  Yet, I haven’t seen anyone discredit her core claim — and people have been trying.

Her core claim, as I understand it, is that Free Market Capitalists have learned to take advantage of emergencies, disasters,  and calamities in order to impose the social, economic, and political changes they desire:

At the most chaotic juncture in Iraq’s civil war, a new law is unveiled that would allow Shell and BP to claim the country’s vast oil reserves…. Immediately following September 11, the Bush Administration quietly out-sources the running of the “War on Terror” to Halliburton and Blackwater…. After a tsunami wipes out the coasts of Southeast Asia, the pristine beaches are auctioned off to tourist resorts…. New Orleans’s residents, scattered from Hurricane Katrina, discover that their public housing, hospitals and schools will never be reopened…. These events are examples of “the shock doctrine”: using the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks – wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters — to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy.

Indeed, I agree with those critics of Klein who state that, despite its flaws, The Shock Doctrine is one of the few books that really help us to understand the present, and that Klein may have revealed a master narrative of our time.   One can disagree with some of the things Klein offers as specific examples of disaster capitalism, but it seems no one has been able to refute her thesis that disaster capitalism is being practiced — and practiced routinely — these days.  There are about a half dozen “big ideas” that go very far to explain the political world we live in.  The notion that Free Market Capitalists have been taking advantage of calamities to first destroy the order of things, and then to replace that order with Free Market Capitalism, is almost certainly one of those six big ideas.

When disaster capitalism was in its infancy about thirty or forty years ago, the Free Market Capitalists would wait for a calamity to naturally occur.  Apparently, they don’t always wait for calamities nowadays — instead, they sometimes manufacture them.  And it seems the current budget crisis might be just such an example of a manufactured crisis.

As Yves Smith points out this morning on her blog, Naked Capitalism, this budget crisis stinks all the way to satellite orbit:

Let’s review how we got here. Obama made it clear before he took office (hat tip reader Hugh) that he intended to go after Social Security and Medicare. As we discussed, shortly after he took office, Obama was privately reassuring conservatives that he’d curtail entitlements once the economy was on a better footing. Clearly, he’s been willing to settle for “better” being tantamount to “not in imminent danger of falling off a cliff.” And if you had any doubts, Obama made his intentions abundantly clear (to use that Nixonianism) by creating a Deficit Reduction Commission and staffing it with enemies of Social Security, former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles and Senator Alan Simpson.

The second thing to keep in mind is that his deficit ceiling crisis is contrived. The Bush Administration bumped up against it multiple times and never used it as a basis for budgetary theatrics, even though it was also keen to cut Social Security. Obama could have taken action long ago, before the midterm elections, which were seen as putting the Democratic majority in the House at risk, to gain more headroom.

So it seems possible to me that what we have here is another instance of a conscious effort to panic the American people into supporting something that it is against their best interests to support — namely cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

And I think it will probably work.  Just as the Gulf War worked.  Even thirty, forty, or fifty years from now a lot of folks will still be swearing that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and that we invaded Iraq because that country helped Osama Bin Laden conduct the attacks of 9/11.  I seriously doubt many people are going to question — genuinely question — what has been so carefully fed to them about the existence of a budget crisis.

To easily form an opinion is human nature; to easily change one’s mind is not — which is precisely why the Free Market Capitalists rely on calamities, real or manufactured, to create the fear and panic that are necessary to get most of us to change our minds.

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Recommended Further Reading:  “The Audacity of Dopes“, posted on Slobber and Spittle, by Cujo.

Budget, Citizenship, Conservative, Democracy, Economic Crisis, Economics, Economy, Late Night Thoughts, Liberal, News and Current Events, Political and Social Alienation, Political Issues, Politicians and Scoundrels, Politics, Progressive, Society, Work

What Matters to Most of Us, Doesn’t Matter to Washington

If you listen to Americans, most want their politicians to focus on improving the economy and creating jobs.  But if you listen to their politicians, the economy and creating jobs are less important than dealing with the Federal budget deficit/debt.

More than 25 million people are either unemployed, can only find part-time work, or have given up looking for work altogether.   In a March CBS News poll, nine out of ten Americans called the budget deficit a serious problem, but more than half of all Americans thought jobs were more important than the budget deficit.

The importance Americans give to the economy and jobs seems to hold up over time.  In a Gallup poll released two days ago, about six in ten Americans named the economy and jobs as the most important problems facing the country today.  Less than two in ten Americans named the Federal budget deficit/debt as the most important problem.

If the U.S. had a representative government at the Federal level, at least one of the parties would most likely be bent on fixing the economy.  Both of them though are bent on fixing the deficit/debt — which appears to be more a priority of Wall Street than of Main Street.

Bad Ideas, Barack Obama, Budget, Class War, Conservative, Economic Crisis, Economics, Economy, Equality, Fairness, Liberal, News and Current Events, Obligations to Society, Political Issues, Politicians and Scoundrels, Politics, Progressive, Society, Taxes

Dean Baker on the Budget Deal

The ability of Washington to turn everything on its head has no limits. We are in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Even though the recession officially ended two years ago, there are still more than 25 million people who are unemployed, can only find part-time work or who have given up looking for work altogether. This is an outrage and a tragedy. These people’s lives are being ruined due to the mismanagement of the economy.

And we know the cause of this mismanagement. The folks who get paid to manage and regulate the economy were unable to see an $8 trillion housing bubble. They weren’t bothered by the doubling of house prices in many areas, nor the dodgy mortgages that were sold to finance these purchases. Somehow, people like former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan and his sidekick and successor Ben Bernanke thought everything was fine as the Wall Street financers made billions selling junk mortgage and derivative instruments around the world.

When the bubble burst, one of the consequences was an increased budget deficit. This is kind of like two plus two equals four. The collapsing bubble tanked the economy. Tax revenue plummets and we spend more on programs like unemployment insurance and foods stamps. We did also have some tax cuts and stimulus spending to boost the economy. The result is a larger budget deficit.

All of this is about as clear as it can possibly be. The large deficit came about because the housing bubble, which was fueled by Wall Street excesses, crashed the economy. Yet, we are constantly being told by politicians from President Obama to Tea Party Republicans that we have a problem of out-of-control spending.

The claim of out-of-control spending is simply not true. It is an invention, a fabrication, a falsehood with no basis in reality that politicians are pushing to advance their agenda. And that agenda is not pretty.

According to numerous reports in the media, President Obama wants a “big deal” on the budget, which will involve cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. The last is especially ironic, since Social Security is financed by its own designated tax. Therefore, it does not contribute to the deficit.

Dean Baker

The rest of the article is worth reading.

It seems to me Obama is just as firm of a believer as any of the Republicans in the principle that, if the rich and powerful cause the problem, the middle class and poor should pay for it.