Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

How Not to Save the Planet – Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything”

November 27, 2014

imagesGlobalization. Trade. Market Economics. Capitalism. Corporations. Economic growth. Writer Naomi Klein hates it all. Her book, This Changes Everything, argues that global warming’s terrible effects require junking that “neoliberalism,” for a different and more humane economic model. What, exactly? Don’t know.

Kleinites think globalization, trade, and capitalism worsen poverty and inequality. That’s just as factually wrong as climate change denialism. UnknownIn the previous century – despite all its upheavals, the Depression, world wars, Russian and Chinese craziness – worldwide average real dollar incomes rose five-fold – 500%. The average person wound up five times better off than at the start. Poverty ranks plummeted. That didn’t happen through socialism.

Klein believes the only thing trade, capitalism, and “extractive” industries produce is profit – the only reason they exist. It’s just “greed.” There’s no recognition that industry produces stuff people want. Fossil fuel extraction is profitable because it creates energy we need and use (which Klein hates too).

images-1She demonizes free trade without understanding it. Yes, it does make some people richer – a lot of people. Trade happens only when both sides benefit. That spreads prosperity. Freer trade enables poor people in developing countries to sell their products in richer ones. Protectionism keeps them out – and poor. So does “buy local.”

Partly, Klein hates trade because of what’s traded – our “wasteful, materialist, consumerist lifestyle.” (“Consumerism” is buying something someone else disapproves.) Consumerism, extractivism, and economic growth are what cause climate change. We’ve heedlessly raped the planet, and global warming is our “comeuppance.” We’ll be cooked, and drowned by rising seas, unless we stop making electricity with fossil fuels, driving gasoline cars, flying planes, etc. Unknown-1The political right, Klein says, realizes this, and hence rejects climate change science because it blows up their ideology of market economics and unrestrained capitalism. (While Klein loves climate change because it feeds her ideology of blowing up market economics and capitalism.)

Yet science tells us that blowing them up won’t halt climate change. If tomorrow we stopped everything – cut carbon emissions to zero – global warming would continue, only slightly slower than if we do nothing. Klein acknowledges this.

So does she welcome other approaches? No. Klein sees any answer that smacks of technology as just “doubling down” on what got us into trouble in the first place –  like geo-engineering to remove carbon from the atmosphere, or cool the planet by blocking some sun radiation. images-2Replacing fossil fuel power generation with nuclear? That’s so capitalist/industrialist. And if global warming will hamper food production, how about genetic modification techniques that boost crop yields? GAAAA!

While bashing right-wing science denialism, Klein does acknowledge denialism on the left – mentioning the anti-vaccine movement – but denies the science telling us genetic modification is safe and beneficial. And nuclear energy is such an obvious no-brainer in terms of climate impact that many greens are finally embracing it. Klein is actually somewhat persuasive that geo-engineering is problematical, but urges banning further research. Who’s anti-science?

Further, if climate change will mean big trouble, wouldn’t having more money to deal with it help? But Klein hates economic growth, writing zingers like, “having more money won’t help you if your city is under water.”

Unknown-3Ha ha. Well, actually, it would. In fact, Klein bemoans that richer people can escape warming’s ill-effects. The Netherlands has already started raising buildings in anticipation of higher sea levels. Such efforts are costly, and Klein foresees trillions needed. Without economic growth, where will the money come from? Simple: guilty energy companies must pay. But she also says they should be stopped from drilling – so their trillions in future earnings won’t exist.

Klein’s hatred of economic growth (shared by climate zealot Bill McKibben) is also bizarre in light of their anguishing about inequality, poverty, and human deprivation. Growth does make the rich richer, but makes the poor richer too. How can they expect to beat poverty without a bigger economic pie? Just by redistribution? Seriously? With a billion or so people still living on less than $1 a day, I have no patience for those with cushy lives who superciliously call for ending economic growth. (And they are the ones charging capitalists with callousness.)

images-3While Klein wants to dismantle “the system,” her alternative is never clear. But it is clear that stopping the industrial market economy and consumerism would (far from her dream of ending inequality) drastically shrink the economic pie, creating mass unemployment and impoverishment. Klein fantasizes that unemployment would actually be solved with all the new clean energy jobs. How those jobs would be supported, without a consumer economy, is a mystery.

By the way, poorer people tend to have more children – and higher populations are bad for the environment and climate.

Klein faults most environmentalists for misleading people that some modest lifestyle tweaks will suffice. But, reviewing the book, science writer Elizabeth Kolbert (though generally sympathetic) says Klein peddles a similar “fable” in failing to explain just how much energy consumption and consumer spending would have to be cut. images-4Kolbert references a Swiss study predicated on a target “2000 watt society.” Americans currently use 12,000. The only hypothetical person in the study under 2,000 was a woman living in a retirement home with no TV or computer, traveling only rarely, by train.

So Klein’s program is really to give up modern life; while she vilifies politico/economic “austerity” policies, the austerity she herself advocates is far more draconian. What writers like her (and James Howard Kunstler) seem to want is everyone living on small farms, growing their own food, eschewing manufactured goods, and riding bicycles. Probably 80% of today’s Americans would literally die. Pre-industrial farm life was no bucolic paradise.

But in the end, Klein recognizes that de-growth is just not plausible, perhaps even “genocidal.” Yet still she envisions mass movement resistance overthrowing capitalism and extractivism, in favor of what she finally calls “regeneration.” Kolbert calls it “a concept so fuzzy” she “won’t even attempt to explain.” But she quotes Klein: “we become full participants in the process of maximizing life’s creativity.”

That sounds nice.

images-6We have not heedlessly or foolishly raped the planet. Extracting and using energy was necessary for lifting billions out of squalor into decent lives, and still is. There’s no free lunch. Everything has a cost; economic growth does degrade the environment and climate. We will deal with that. Economic growth will help us do so – making life better in spite of warming.

Boy, Was I Wrong – Nonvoters Rule!

November 18, 2014

Before the election, I said “Obama might be forced to get serious about accommodation with Republicans, on such urgent issues as tax reform and immigration, to avoid his second term being even more conspicuously a failure than it already is.”

I should have known better.

UnknownIn his news conference, the President refused to acknowledge the obvious, that Republicans won not due to their popularity, but his unpopularity. Instead, he said, what voters really showed is that they want both parties to get stuff done. Then he proceeded to do all he could to make that impossible.

This is the hallmark of Obama’s presidency, beginning with his first campaign promising some sort of post-partisan politics with old divisions put aside; then even before taking office, closing Republicans out of his putative love-in.

Unknown-1And so it continues. What Obama really means by working together is Republicans just giving in to him. His news conference resembled the bumper sticker, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Just substitute “I” for “God.”

So, after over three years of slow-walking the Keystone XL pipeline, conducting reviews, reviews of reviews, and reviews of those reviews, paralyzed between economic benefits and the environmentalist scolds in his base, Obama finally seems set to coddle them and veto it.

Unknown-2The re-re-reviews have shown no material environmental problem, with the economics clearly favorable. Obama could, perfectly reasonably, give Republicans at least this one thing. But no. Instead, with dubious justification on the merits, he must stick his thumb in their eye.

Likewise with immigration. I actually favor the measures Obama is readying. But doing it by executive order is the political equivalent of suicide bombing. It is simply declaring war against the Republicans – when they’ve just decisively won an election* and will control both houses of Congress. Obama’s action (subject to reversal by a future president) will kill hopes for a permanent legislative solution, which might otherwise have been promising. (And, while perhaps not palpably unconstitutional, such a far-reaching policy initiative without congressional consultation savages the spirit of our republican system.) This will furthermore poison the air for cooperation on any other issues.

Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson says Obama’s action will bring about exactly what voters hate: “overreach, backlash, deadlock, threats and lasting bitterness.” (Just like with Obamacare.)

Unknown-3

Meantime, Obama and Democrats are whining that the election results shouldn’t much count because of all the non-voters who would have voted Democratic. Of course, it’s chutzpah to presume how they would have voted; paternalistically taking people for granted. Dems made gigantic efforts to get their (presumed) supporters to turn out. But many didn’t turn out because they weren’t turned on, by what Democrats were selling. That resounding silence of voters Dems thought were theirs ought to tell the party something. imagesInstead, they continue to act as though these voters belong to them, even though the voters withheld their votes. In a sense they were voting by not voting, conveying a message Obama and Democrats refuse to hear.

Anyhow, in our democratic country, voters rule. Not non-voters.

* Far more so than the supposedly “decisive” 2012 result which, in fact, was just 51% for Obama, with a bunch of key states won by razor-thin margins.

Midterms, Obamasis, and Cuomosis

November 3, 2014

UnknownTomorrow is Election Day. Republicans may well take the Senate, mainly because President Obama is so unpopular. That unpopularity, unfortunately, is justified. He is extremely cerebral, but it seems to make him smugly feel he needn’t bother to actually assert leadership. As Leon Panetta, his former Defense Secretary, writes in a new book, Obama has trouble making decisions, let alone gutsy decisions. And he wants to have everything both ways – as with his declaration of war against the Islamic State – without actually fighting a war, in a conventional sense. Aiming to have the best of both worlds – victory without blood – we’ll likely end up with the worst of both – blood without victory.

This is only the latest symptom of Obamasis. The first was to blow off the recommendations of his own Simpson-Bowles commission. That’s not some arcane inside-the-beltway matter. It was probably our last best chance to avoid long run fiscal disaster. Don’t be lulled by transitory deficit declines. A growing imbalance between Americans productively employed and those collecting various benefits puts us on an unsustainable path.

Unknown-1Another, of course, was Obama’s drawing a “red line” on Syrian chemical weapons use, and then making a fool of himself when it was crossed – shredding America’s international credibility.

As Panetta’s book elucidates, while of course one must carefully weigh the consequences (and unintended consequences) of action, inaction equally has consequences.

Unknown-2Meantime, as my blog readers know, I’m no great fan of today’s Republicans. One particularly ugly thrust of theirs is voter suppression – making it harder for disadvantaged citizens (assumed to favor Democrats) to vote, through restrictive ID requirements and the like – on the blatantly phony pretext of preventing (almost nonexistent) voter fraud. I wish Republicans would think harder about how to attract voters than blocking them. This is not a strategy that befits a serious political party.

The conventional wisdom (on the left, anyway) says that a Republican Senate would just worsen gridlock. But I doubt this. No longer could Harry Reid be blamed for political paralysis. Obama might be forced to get serious about accommodation with Republicans, on such urgent issues as tax reform and immigration, to avoid his second term being even more conspicuously a failure than it already is. And if Republicans hope to win the White House, they might seek to avoid an image as masters of dysfunction.

A word about the campaign. With much of the electorate divided between immovable partisans, close elections come down to battles over the others, who tend to be much less politically sophisticated; resulting in campaigns, via TV ads, that insult intelligence and demean our democracy.

Unknown-3Everyone decries negative ads, but virtually all candidates (in contested races) use them, because they work. And the standard for what they feel they can get away with, in abusing truth, continues to fall, a real race to the bottom. Ohio actually passed a law banning inaccurate political ads, which was overturned in the courts – thankfully – I take a dim view of any governmental regulation of political advocacy. But I would like to see some public service announcements, on billboards, buses, and the airwaves, something like this:

VOTERS BEWARE! TV ADS SLAMMING POLITICAL CANDIDATES ARE OFTEN VERY MISLEADING! THERE ARE TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY!

Unknown-4Here in New York, exactly as I predicted, our loathesome Governor Cuomo has blanketed the state with ads smearing his opponent, Rob Astorino. Also as I predicted, the New York Times and Albany Times-Union, despite previously excoriating Cuomo, held their noses and endorsed him, being congenitally incapable of backing a Republican. For my case against Cuomo, see my 9/7 blog post.*

The T-U did at least urge a “no” vote on the phony redistricting “reform” on the ballot; though while lamenting Governor Cuomo’s “settling” for this cynical charade in lieu of genuine reform, could not bring itself to call this a black mark against him. In fact it’s a smelly disgrace.

Though I rarely vote for any incumbents, let alone Democratic ones, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has earned support. He has shown himself a straight-shooter, and seems immune from infection by Albany’s political culture. He has come out strongly, in an op-ed, against the redistricting referendum. Cuomo seems to despise DiNapoli. That should certainly recommend him.

imagesAnyhow, even if you do see all politicians as rotten scalawags – vote. And remember that voting for a minority no-hoper is not “wasting” your vote. You waste a vote if you bestow it on a candidate you don’t actually prefer. This is not a game, of trying to pick a winner; there are no prizes for that. And your vote doesn’t really have more weight if cast for a major candidate. We don’t participate on the theory that one’s individual vote will actually affect the outcome. Rather, this is our one great communal civic sacrament.

My wife's Halloween costume. Has nothing to do with this topic, but I liked it so much I'm posting it anyway.

My wife’s Halloween selfie. Has nothing to do with this topic, but I enjoyed the picture so much I’m posting it anyway.

* I forgot to mention there Cuomo’s egregious statement that “right wingers” have no place in New York State. I would say that people with that kind of intolerant attitude have no place in America. Meantime, progressives see Cuomo as pandering to them while actually selling out to moneyed interests who fatten his campaign war chest. T-U columnist Fred LeBrun baldly calls Cuomo a “fraud.”

Sarah Vowell’s “The Wordy Shipmates” – Puritan History

October 22, 2014

imagesAs this 2008 book’s title suggests, Sarah Vowell is a funny writer. Yet also a serious one. She writes serious books in a funny way. This one is actually a substantive chronicle of, and rumination upon, the Puritans who founded Boston. She quotes liberally from original sources. Interspersed with wisecracks.

images-2I wonder if her name – it means a type of letter, after all – had something to do with Vowell’s becoming a wordsmith. Such serendipities are more common than chance alone would produce. That a disproportionate percentage of people named Lawrence are lawyers, and Dennises are dentists, is a documented fact. (Or perhaps an urban legend.) Though her own name is misspelled, Vowell is a very good writer. The book’s last few sentences are a killer.

Unknown-2Boston was founded in 1630 by a different lot from the 1620 Plymouth Rock Pilgrims. Their leader and governor was John Winthrop; he’s the main character in this book, mostly portrayed sympathetically. (Vowell confesses she fell in love; though later she calls him a “monster.” Fickle woman!)

Also prominent is Roger Williams. Now, I have a thing for Roger Williams. I happened to live for 11 years with his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grand-daughter.* So I almost feel kin to him, or as much as a Jewish kid from Queens could.

UnknownWe first meet Williams among the early Boston Puritans. These people took their religion very seriously. I’ve always felt that if religion really were true, folks should take it more seriously. But Roger Williams took religion to an even higher level of seriousness than even your standard Puritan. Vowell quotes the letter he sent his wife upon learning she was very ill – not just a sermon, but one exhorting her to prepare for death. Nice.

I’m always struck by the certitude such people felt about their faith. Didn’t they realize millions of others had entirely different beliefs? Indeed, they spent a lot of effort massacring them. Yet never seemed to ponder the impossibility of knowing who’s right. (Most believers still don’t.)

Roger Williams was a titan of certitude. His inability to soft-peddle his convictions – he considered his neighbors insufficiently Puritan – got him kicked out of the colony. Thus was Rhode Island founded.

images-3Now here is the stunning thing. People then were typically killed over religious minutiae. Vowell talks of Mary Dyer, hanged in Boston for religious boo-boos. In Europe the Thirty Years War was raging, with vast slaughterings for God. Williams might have been expected to run Rhode Island as a theocracy brooking no dissent from his harsh views. Yet, zealot though he was, he also – bizarrely, for the time – fervently opposed coercion in matters of faith. Thus Rhode Island was established as a haven of religious tolerance. There, truly, was born this wonderful American idea of letting people think what they like.

images-4Religious liberty was enshrined by Williams in Rhode Island’s Royal Charter. And RI was the last of the original states to ratify the Constitution – holding out for the addition of a bill of rights.

One criticism of this book. Winthrop was famous for his “city on a hill” sermon, so often invoked by Ronald Reagan. Vowell takes this as a pretext for a vicious diatribe against Reagan (and drags in Bush 43 as well). She quotes liberally from Mario Cuomo’s speech mocking Reagan because in America’s “shining city on a hill” there are people suffering. Unknown-1But Reagan never meant the metaphor to describe an achieved state. To the contrary, it was aspirational – what America aims for, and works for. To do a Cuomo on him for that is just mean spirited, as is Vowell’s attack. It is neither clever, enlightening nor amusing. Why does she see fit to introduce (and hammer at length) her partisan political opinions in a book about the 17th century?

But to some people nowadays everything is political, and they are so imbued with (what seems to them) the righteousness of their views, they cannot ever desist from being in your face with them. They’re almost like . . . well, the Puritans.

* Not really special. A typical person 11 generations back would have a lot of modern descendants. And conversely, everyone today has a lot of ancestors back that far – 2,048 to be exact. The number doubles with each generation going backward; so after a few dozen your roster of ancestors would exceed the entire human population. How can that be? Well, your family tree is tangled with everyone else’s. We are all related.

China: The Arrogance of Unchecked Power

October 18, 2014

When I visited Russia in 1994, and a traveling companion asked, “Can we do such-and-such?” I replied, “Why not, it’s a free country.” Being able to say so felt great.

Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping

Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong

That was then.

I was also one of those optimists thinking that as China grew richer, it must become freer. But for now at least, it’s the opposite. President Xi Jinping is consolidating power to a degree unmatched since Mao, and what had been a glacially slow democratization has gone sharply into reverse.

To induce Britain to peacefully surrender Hong Kong in 1997, China made solemn promises for a transition to democratic home rule. Those promises have now been thoroughly flouted, with the regime refusing to countenance any sort of popular sovereignty. And, of course, beating and jailing people who protest.

But with unchecked power, you can do what you want, no matter how vile. Hong Kong today is the most visible manifestation. But Xi’s regime is engaged in an all-fronts assault upon anything and anyone viewed as even remotely challenging to its control.

Ilham Tohti was an ethnic Uighur economics professor at a prestigious Beijing university. He’s from Xinjiang, the (originally) Muslim far-west province, where long-simmering resentment at Chinese rule has been greatly enflamed by China’s ferocity in trying to stamp it out.

Ilham Tohti

Ilham Tohti

Tohti was a critic of China’s policy, and actually a rare calm voice of moderation. But charged with “separatism” he was sentenced in September to life in prison and confiscation of all his assets.

The advanced Western nations (and many copycats) have arrived at a social model wherein governmental power, and especially the power of any one person, is checked. This is more than merely political; it’s a mindset, a way of life, and once achieved it seems to stick. But attaining this level of maturity may be harder than optimists, like Francis Fukuyama (and me) imagined, and if you haven’t got there, everything remains up for grabs. Thus, China; and Russia; and creeps like Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka, Sisi in Egypt, Ortega in Nicaragua, Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Chavez (and his derisory successor Maduro) in Venezuela, and so on.*

Unknown-1Fukuyama’s 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man, argued that humanity’s long ideological struggles have finally ended in a rout by liberal democracy and market economics. He recently published a new book, basically saying, “Not so fast.” The rub is not any virtue in authoritarianism but, rather, problems internal to democracies. America is becoming politically dysfunctional and paralyzed. But Fukuyama’s original argument was that (classical) liberalism feeds our most fundamental human needs. That’s still a powerful counterforce against alternatives; I’d far rather live in a declining USA than a rising Putinist Russia!

The 1992 book ended with a metaphor of wagon trains: some have arrived at their destination while others remain out in the wilderness having lost their way or beset by troubles. But ultimately, Fukuyama said, all will get there.images-4

I still believe that. But a perfect polity exists only in Heaven (and maybe not even there).

* But note Iraq, where despite having eight years to ruthlessly entrench himself, Maliki could still be ousted by the political process; a hopeful sign.

George Lakoff: The (Extreme) Political Mind

October 2, 2014

UnknownGeorge Lakoff is a professor of cognitive and linguistic science at Berkeley. His 2008 book, The Political Mind, says “progressives” are losing out because they imagine people think and vote rationally, whereas in fact most are guided by unconscious narrative “framings,” which conservatives more successfully exploit. And that this is destroying America. Because the un-American conservative ideology encompasses “an authoritarian hierarchy based on vast concentration . . . of wealth; order based on fear, intimidation, and obedience;” it’s “anti-democratic;” and so forth.

This sets the book’s tone, on page 1. As if anyone actually thinks that way. Lakoff seems to believe they do; that conservatives really are that nasty – and pursue these evil ends with an equally ruthless disregard for morality and truth. Unknown-1Whereas “progressives” of course are all truth, justice, morality, and the American way.

An example of what Lakoff means by issue “framing” is the locution “tax relief,” which he calls a triumph of conservative spin. He says progressives should push back by stressing what good things taxes make possible. Well, people do understand why we pay taxes; but still would rather pay less than more. Lakoff’s proposed campaign to make us love taxes seems Orwellian – or just plain silly. (And Lakoff himself is not in love with everything taxes buy – he hates military spending.)

Unknown-3Lakoff’s main theme is that progressives wrongly believe they need only give people the facts and they’ll respond rationally. He says progs should instead wrap their advocacy in morality, specifically the morality of empathy, which he casts as the touchstone of prog politics. Thus progs should argue for, say, higher minimum wages not as (allegedly) good economic policy but as moral, the right thing to do, the empathic thing.

Yet – if someone thought like that – he’d be a prog in the first place, would be for higher minimum wages in the first place. But some people don’t think that way and aren’t receptive to such argument. Not because they’re not moral, or empathic, but because they have a different take on morality than progs. (And maybe they think higher minimum wages would be bad economic policy.)

Lakoff’s ideology blinds him to this. His whole book is, “progressives won’t win with rational arguments.” But it’s just as wrong to think they’ll win with emotive moral arguments. People have reasons for what they believe and feel; progs have no monopoly on rationality and morality; conservatives have not only emotive but also rational and even moral reasons for their views. Changing them isn’t a mere matter of how “progressivism” is packaged and sold.

imagesMoreover, while Lakoff preens as though presenting a dramatically new insight, to say that progs have not sufficiently cloaked their advocacy in morality and empathy is, well, bizarre. In fact, the left has forever been shouting from a high horse of asserted morality, empathy and compassion; while loudly vilifying the right as lacking in the same. What planet has Lakoff been living on? (Maybe Berkeley is a different planet.)

Progressives (Lakoff strangely denies they’re on the “left”) do tend to be baffled when they lose political arguments. images-4Lakoff’s book shows why – not because he’s right about anything but, rather, because the book itself exemplifies the ideological tunnel vision that handicaps the left. If you really believe conservatives want an authoritarian, undemocratic country, ruled by intimidation and heartless corporate power – which Lakoff says on almost every page – you haven’t got a clue.

I’m reminded of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, describing studies wherein liberals were asked to fill out questionnaires as though they were conservatives, and vice versa. While conservatives were pretty accurate in guessing how liberals would answer, liberals did poorly in anticipating conservative answers – because they do tend to harbor the demonizing stereotype of conservatives that pervades Lakoff’s book.

Typifying this obtuseness, Lakoff thinks conservatives’ devotion to free market economics is about one thing only: profit, and the freedom to make profits. Thus, any government intervention that restricts or reduces the opportunity to profit is bad.* But do conservatives really think this way? It’s preposterous. Most are not in business themselves, so why should business profits be the sine qua non of their economic views? No – what any sentient conservative actually believes is that a market economy allowing businesses to profit is desirable not because of the profits per se but because that system benefits society as a whole. You’d never guess this from reading Lakoff.

images-1He is especially scathing about what he calls “neoliberals” whose heart may be in the right place, but who are too coolly rationalistic, not fire-breathing moral scourges like him. So black-and-white is Lakoff’s view of politics that he talks of “biconceptualism” – where people don’t conform to either of his two starkly opposed worldviews, and don’t see an inconsistency. They’re “hypocrites” (though Lakoff puts the word in quotes); or merely confused!

This would apply to me. According to Lakoff’s taxonomy, I actually have a fundamentally “progressive” brain. But I reject most of the prog political ethos. Maybe that makes me especially confused. But I think it’s most progs who are confused, with their heads up their rears on many stances that are illiberal (in the classic sense). To name a few: opposition to free trade, school choice, genetic modification science, and of course their twisted relationship with freedom of thought and expression, which I’ve addressed. (And here’s something delicious on that topic.)

Lakoff says there’s no such thing as a “moderate” center in American political opinion – indeed, he thinks the “mainstream” has shifted way to the right – but it’s the “confused biconceptuals” whom he urges progressives to target with a stepped-up emphasis on empathy. Because empathy is (almost) universally wired into the human brain – even the brains of conservatives, but especially the partly conservative, who should be moveable by such appeals. Yet this seems to contradict the nasty stereotypes with which he otherwise talks about conservatives. He doesn’t seem to notice that inconsistency. Talk about confusion!

At the end of the day, not even most progressives meet Lakoff’s standard for ideological purity. For instance, he says they should have stood up to Bush 43 and opposed domestic surveillance. images-3Well, maybe they should have; many in fact did. But many either felt the surveillance was justified, or else disagreed with Lakoff that opposing it would have been a political winner. Meantime, I seem to recall that a certain amount of Bush-bashing did take place – or, rather, an orgy of it. But whenever Bush comes up in the book, Lakoff says there was far too little Bush-bashing by progressives.

Heaven help us.

* Lakoff sees this as stemming from a “strict father” conservative family mind-frame (as against a prog “nurturing parent” frame), with the market’s rewards and punishments based on merit and effort mirroring patriarchal discipline!

Three Exciting Candidates

September 15, 2014

UnknownI first noticed Neel Kashkari in 2008 as a remarkably young Indian-American, standing beside the Treasury Secretary and being tasked with sorting out the floundering banking system. Having accomplished that, he’s now the Republican candidate for California governor.

Jerry Brown (first elected 40 years ago! – seems like yesterday) has actually been a great governor this time around, resurrecting the state with reforms that few once thought doable. But there’s more to be done, and Kashkari is the one who gets it. In a nation whose economy is hobbled by too much business regulation, California may be the most regulation-happy state of all, virtually building a moat to keep new businesses out, and a catapult to eject existing ones.* Unknown-2No surprise that its unemployment rate is among the nation’s highest.

Kashkari wants to fix this, and also another part of the problem, education, which in California is abysmal and strangled by bureaucracy, which Kashkari pledges to slash. He sensibly favors charter schools too (not that they’re necessarily better than public ones, but because both will likely be better if in competition with each other).

Kashkari also thinks Brown is nuts to budget a gazillion dollars on a high-speed rail boondoggle when California has much more pressing needs, like a water supply crisis.

But, unusual in today’s GOP, Kashkari combines all that economic good sense with classical liberal social views. He’s marched in a gay pride parade. He wants a more humane immigration policy. He wants others to be able to follow him in achieving the American dream.

This is my kind of Republican, embodying the reasons I became one myself, in the Pleistocene, when it was not a party with its head up its rear, but stood for values good for all Americans (and would-be Americans). This kind of Kashkari Republicanism might have a future. A Republicanism of grumpy old white men who don’t believe in evolution will prove themselves wrong by going extinct.

Unknown-1Speaking of grumpy old white men, Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, 78, trying to fend off the Tea Party, turned himself into one of them stoopit Republicans. Kansas hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since 1932, and Roberts’s Democratic opponent has withdrawn, leaving him up against independent candidate Greg Orman, who’s getting much support from Republicans of the non-stoopit variety (yes, there are many of us, even in Kansas). Orman says he voted for Obama in ’08 and Romney in ’12, and, much like Kashkari, seems to make good choices in selecting from both the right and left sides of the policy menu.

Greg Orman,. cartooned in The Economist

Greg Orman, cartooned in The Economist

But Orman’s real attraction is his assertive critique of the partisan enmity that so afflicts today’s U.S. politics, with each side demonizing the other as not just wrong but evil. We need to can this, and boost up that “radical middle.”

Next, Brazil. The line goes, it’s the country of the future and always will be. What keeps Brazil from being an economic dynamo is big government. Yes, even worse than America’s; Brazil’s economy is so strangled with regulation and government meddling that businesses just throw up their hands in despair.

The current caretaker of this stultifying system is President Dilma Rousseff, a standard-issue unimaginative old lefty (sees nothing amiss in Venezuela, etc.), up for re-election. Many Brazilians are fed up and realize something must change. But, frustratingly, the best candidate, offering real change, Eduardo Campos, with a program of unshackling the economy, was running a distant third. Then in August he died in a plane crash.

Marina Silva, an ascetic black woman, risen from dire poverty (taught herself to read at 16!); former environment minister; had run third in the previous election. But trying again, she was blocked from the ballot on a technicality. So she joined Campos as his vice-presidential running mate.

Marina Silva

Marina Silva

And with Campos’s death, Silva has replaced him as their party’s presidential candidate. This seems to have electrified Brazilians. Partly it’s a personality thing – in a country plagued by repeated scandals, Silva’s backstory and perceived unimpeachable integrity are highly attractive. But she also appears to have bought into Campos’s agenda of economic liberalization. And she now looks likely to win the election. It would be a bracing breath of fresh air for Brazil.

* I’ve written about this here, and here.

“Cleaning Up” Albany Corruption: The Cuomo Way

September 7, 2014

Andrew Cuomo ran for governor in 2010 pledging to “clean up” Albany political corruption.

images-1In Cuomo-speak, “to clean up” must mean “to perfect.” (As Humpty Dumpty said, “when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.”)

Back in May, I wrote of the Moreland Commission, a blue-ribbon panel Cuomo set up to investigate Albany. Before it finished, Cuomo pulled the plug, saying it’s his own commission so he can do with it as he likes. His pretext was that its purpose had been accomplished, the legislature having passed a campaign-finance reform. Only that “reform” was the joke of the year (applicable to one office-holder, for one election.)

To me, it all stank to high heaven. Then in July, The New York Times published an extensive investigative report on the Moreland Commission – showing how Cuomo and his stooges systematically interfered with, manipulated, and hobbled its work, trying to stop its investigation getting close to Cuomo or his campaign donors.

UnknownIn launching the commission, Cuomo had repeatedly said it would be free to investigate anything in state government including the executive branch. After the NYT exposé, Cuomo asserted the commission could not investigate the executive branch because it was a creature thereof (not only contradicting his own prior words, but clear nonsense). He also waved about a statement just released by one commission member disavowing any interference – a statement obviously solicited by, and probably drafted by, Cuomo’s team.

Thereupon, Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, who’d also been investigating the Moreland miasma, sent Cuomo a stern letter cautioning him against witness tampering and obstruction of justice.

Since Watergate, it’s a cliché that the cover-up is worse than the crime, and it’s been applied to Cuomo. But here, the crime itself was pretty awful, a cesspool of manipulation and mendacity, selling down the river any hope of the “clean up” New York was promised.

I’ve also written about the Cuomo administration’s dishonest manipulation of a referendum authorizing new casinos. But the real crime is Cuomo’s betting New York’s future on casinos (and the economics of predation upon poor suckers).* Since the vote, the news has been full of casino decline. images-2Casinos were successful and lucrative when they were few and far between. With casinos everywhere now it’s a very different story, of over-saturation. As Times-Union columnist Fred LeBrun put it, New York is too late to cash in on the casino “boom,” but not to reap all the downsides. Nice play, Guv.

Unknown-1This year we have another referendum, to approve another of Cuomo’s sham “reforms,” this one on legislative redistricting (not a mere technical issue, it’s crucial to political control). And once again the ballot wording is blatantly deceptive. It makes it sound like an independent body will control redistricting. However, it won’t be independent, but a creature of the legislature, which can anyway reject the “independent” body’s maps and once more do its own – which the ballot question does not mention! So we’re being asked to vote for a lie. This will actually entrench gerrymandering. And also forever entrench the Democratic party (once Republicans inevitably lose the State Senate). A one-party state is not compatible with democracy.

Zephyr Teachout

Zephyr Teachout

Cuomo is opposed in the September 9 primary by Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Rain Teachout (her real name). His bullyboy attempts to knock her off the ballot, using New York’s arcane election laws, first by challenging the signatures on her nominating petitions, and then her residency, failed. (So New York is not quite Soviet yet.) Cuomo has refused to debate her. (Debates can be a “disservice to democracy,” he declared!) Teachout is a darling of “progressives”**, and I disagree with her on many issues (like fracking). But something more important is at stake. There are standards. So between Zephyr Teachout and Moreland Cuomo, my strong endorsement goes to Teachout. (And running mate Tim Wu for Lt. Gov.)

Cuomo’s Republican challenger is Rob Astorino. The governor will use his huge campaign war-chest (stuffed by the special interests he dissolved the Moreland commission to shield) to blanket the state with TV ads shamefully smearing Astorino. Our local paper, the Times-Union, though it ran absolutely blistering editorials about the Moreland scandal and redistricting, will turn around and endorse Cuomo’s re-election. (The T-U has long been a reliably partisan cheerleader for Democrats.) Similarly, The New York Times, despite its exposé, will endorse him.***

Cuomo will win.

I will throw up.

images-4Once-proud New York will continue its descent down the toilet.

Those are my predictions. (Some optimist, huh?)

* Slot machines do not work randomly. They are programmed to pay out just often enough to string players along.

** A viewer poll by PBS’s “New York Now” show – which they cautioned is not scientific — gave Teachout 93% of the vote!!

*** The Times refused to endorse him in the primary, but would not endorse Teachout, citing lack of experience. Because experienced politicians have served us so well?? The Times did endorse Wu. The Times-Union has been strangely silent about a primary endorsement.

Injustice To Muslim-Americans

August 10, 2014

The other day I did something I hadn’t done in over 20 years: marched in a demonstration. The previous time was a protest against the acquittal of officers who beat Rodney King. As a white person I felt I had to express solidarity with black Americans that day.

Photo by Carl Strock

Photo by Carl Strock

On this blog I’ve been highly critical of Muslims and Islam. Yet this time I marched in solidarity with Muslim-Americans. My reasons were similar. Again, a trial verdict was at issue: the 2006 conviction of two local Muslims on terrorism-related charges.

The demonstrators were mostly what an acquaintance (who is one himself) labeled “the habitual pacifists,” plus 99-percenters, no-nukers, and other assorted lefties. Not my usual crowd! But I felt fine in their company. Unlike too many today, I do not regard people with opposing politics as wicked. To the contrary, these are good people, sincere in seeking a better world – even if misguided on how (IMHO).

Well, we were all encouraged to carry prefabricated signs. Most named organizations I don’t support. So I wound up asked to hold up one end of a huge heavy banner. Probably served me right. At least I had no problem with its message.

The march proceeded to the local mosque, where we saw a short play giving the essential story: showing what a monumental travesty of justice this case was. images

The two men never plotted anything. But the FBI hired a slimy felonious informer to entrap Yassin Aref (then the mosque’s imam) into endorsing a fake loan deal, the money supposedly coming from sale of a fictitious missile. Fearing Aref would balk if he actually understood a missile was involved, they did all they could to obfuscate this. Yet the case against him hinged on his alleged intentional involvement in a  missile plot. But never mind. Meantime, to nail him for conspiracy, they needed a co-conspirator, so they roped in Aref’s friend Mohammad Hossain, who’d otherwise been minding his own (pizza) business.

images-1The judge instructed the jury that the government had valid, albeit secret, reasons for targeting Aref in the first place. The judge had been told (in secret, with defense lawyers barred) that Aref’s name had supposedly appeared in some Al Qaeda notebook.

On this ridiculous “evidence,” both men were convicted (even though the jury actually determined that Aref did not understand about the missile). What they were actually convicted of doing (if anything) was totally obscure. And it later emerged that that Al Qaeda notebook had been mistranslated! Aref was never involved with Al Qaeda.* But never mind. Courts have ruled on appeal that the men got a fair trial. cartoon-236x236

This turns my stomach. This is not the America I know and love, under rule of law. This was a trial worthy of Egypt, or China, or Venezuela. Or to quote a Russian émigré friend (about a different government outrage), “Is like Soviet Union. America is transforming into Soviet Union.”

Aref and Hossain should not be in prison. Instead it should be all the government creeps who conspired to deny them their civil rights, doing more to harm America than any imaginary missile plot ever could have. Unknown

Alas, this case is not unique. There have been hundreds like this, touted by the feds as “successes” in the “war on terror.” A war on American values is more like it. Of all the hundreds jailed, it’s doubtful any were really “terrorists.” The whole thing is reminiscent of putting citizens of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps during WWII.

That’s why I felt that, as an American, I had to be on this march.

A final word: This also shows why libertarians like me have such a skeptical view toward government. It’s somewhat ironic that most of the “progressives” on that march are at the opposite end of the political spectrum. However much government betrays their values (as in this case), yet still they idealize government, like a battered spouse still professing love for the batterer, a triumph of hope over experience. They don’t seem to grasp that government is made up of human beings, with all the defects to which humans are prone. Just like the corporations those lefties hate so much. Except that government has vastly more power.Unknown-1

No corporation can put you in prison.

*Aref is Kurdish. The Kurds have been great friends to America; there is no Kurdish anti-U.S. terrorism.

How Hillary Can Be Beaten

July 30, 2014

UnknownNot in recent memory has one presidential prospect, so far in advance, been so pre-emptive a front-runner. To be exact, not since Hoover in 1928.

But the presidency has been called “the greased pig of American politics,” and there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip. So Hillary Clinton’s coronation could be derailed faster than I can sling metaphors. (Five in the last two sentences, if you’re counting.)images-1

Her candidacy’s vulnerability is that she doesn’t really stand for anything, apart from the novelty of being a woman. That was trumped in 2008 by the novelty of a black man. But by now we’ve had so long to get used to the idea of a woman president that we can just as well move on without actually electing her.

Warren

Warren

And the woman thing could be neutralized this time by Elizabeth Warren – many Democrats would prefer a woman who does stand for something.* Remember, this is party primaries, dominated by activists. Warren’s populism, and bashing their favorite bogeymen, make them swoon as boring old Hillary cannot. She’s also cuter.

And if Warren fails to grasp her opportunity, how about Bill de Blasio? He’s built his political ethos on a single word – using it like some people use the F-word in every sentence – “effin’ this and effin’ that” – for de Blasio the word is “progressive.” Apparently just mouthing the word diddles the erogenous zones of lefty voters. images-3Why not try that shtick in presidential primaries? (Bill’s a white guy, but his wife’s a black ex-lesbian. And a last name beginning with a lower case letter – that’s sure a novelty.)

Remember, it’s not about qualifications, and not about issues, it’s about atmospherics. Obama didn’t beat Hillary in ’08 because his healthcare plan was better. (She favored mandates; he was opposed!) He beat her by thrumming Democrats’ heart-strings, not their dendrites. It was romance, not policy. Cotton candy, not green beans.

images-4And what about the Republicans? Conventional wisdom says guys like Rand Paul or Marco Rubio just aren’t in Hillary’s league; or are too right-wing. Maybe; but maybe not.

Realize that 40-45% of the electorate is locked in to voting for the Democrat, and 40-45% against. Presidential elections are decided by the remaining 10-20% — many of them the least ideological, engaged, or informed. They don’t really know Paul or Rubio or the others, haven’t formed solid views of them. Effectively, these candidates can write on a blank slate, and create a persona in the minds of impressionable swing voters. And for those, even more than for the activist partisans, it’s atmospherics rather than issues that count most.Unknown-1

But I do think there is a role for issues. Issues can shape atmospherics. And I believe a Republican can win the next election through unpopular issue stands.

Let me explain.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has said Republicans must stop being the “stupid party.” They come across like a bunch of frat boys. But a Republican can defeat Hillary by rising above Hillary. By making her seem just another typical tired old pol, the type of politician who has gotten us nowhere lately.** The Republican must instead exude gravitas; leadership; vision; statesmanship.

This is where unpopular stands come in. It’s not just a matter of appearing refreshingly “courageous.” It’s acting grown-up, and treating the American people as grown-ups. That means being serious and telling them the truth; telling them taxes must rise, and popular programs must be cut (no, not for the needy; for the coddled affluent). You may say that’s political suicide. I don’t think so. I think Americans are smarter than they’re given credit for, and will know a true leader when they see one.

Perot

Perot

I keep coming back to Ross Perot in 1992. He ran something like the campaign I envision, showing voters what an unsustainable path we were on. And even though he was a very flawed candidate, with an even more flawed running mate, on a third party, he got a substantial 19% of the vote. Today, of course, the kinds of issues Perot stressed are far more grave.

Today, American politics and government are broken, preventing us from tackling the problems we must face for our future. We have to get out of this cul-de-sac of partisan gridlock. I think many people realize this, even if the zealots responsible for it do not. I see a real market for a presidential candidate who shows he understands the situation, and credibly offers a way out. (Obama had postured as such but unfortunately as president funked it completely). Obviously, Hillary can’t be that candidate either; she’s the total antithesis of that. This is the opening for a non-Hillary.

images-5Of course, the kind of candidate I’m talking about would have to get through the Republican primary gauntlet. The 2012 experience was not encouraging. Can the GOP grow up?

* I make no comment here on the pros or cons of Warren’s stances.

** Anyone remember John Lindsay’s 1965 NY mayoral slogan? “He’s fresh and everyone else is tired.”


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