Monday, November 29, 2010

A Food Poisoned Society is a Polite Society

The jackbooted thugs enforcing nanny state totalitarianism are trying to pass food safety laws, opposed by Republicans. They evidently think freedom means nothing unless food producers can feed listeria and salmonella to the citizenry:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 5,000 Americans annually die from a food-borne illness. Last year, at the height of a nationwide salmonella outbreak that sickened thousands, spread via tainted peanut butter, the Westco Fruit and Nuts company refused for weeks to recall potentially contaminated products, despite requests from the F.D.A.

And as for spending that extra $300 million every year, a recent study by Georgetown University found that the annual cost of food-borne illness in the United States is about $152 billion...

By one estimate, the kinds of farms that the bill would exempt represent less than 1 percent of the food marketplace. Does the food industry really want to sabotage an effort to ensure the safety of 99 percent of that marketplace because it is so deeply concerned about under-regulation of 1 percent? The largest outbreaks are routinely caused by the largest processors, not by small producers selling their goods at farmers’ markets.

The bill's been amended to answer small producers' worries, out of which arise some of the opposition. The authors of the article, Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, have as much credibility on the subject as anyone in the country.

Barfing, shitting your brains out, and occasionally dying. An American's right, arising out of the Founders' original intent...

The Only Certainties are Debt and Taxes

The average credit card debt in the USA is over $15,000. Worth thinking about: what amounts to a 15-25% tax on consumer spending to banks, voluntarily agreed to, in service of buying mostly crap, which, while entirely unnecessary to a good life, keeps our economy and the world's going, while consuming resources desperately needed elsewhere and enriching, even sustaining, huge financial institutions. Meanwhile, taxes in far lower amounts are bitterly opposed.

The magic of the marketplace: an endless cornucopia, a social good without parallel. We have a kid in college. Turns out that, since the age of majority is 18, they can acquire credit cards, being able to enter into contracts. They're marketed relentlessly. It's common for the kids to have multiple cards, carrying thousands in balance, oft, in effect, guaranteed by their parents. The legislation drafting group I worked with considered the college credit problem. We dealt with actual state legislators who became our clients. The law students researched the matter and came up with policy recommendations, oft constrained by client prejudices in the realm of the politically possible. In this case, the remedy wound up being not limits on credit marketing and acquisition, but better education at middle school and high school levels directed at personal finance. Nothing wrong with that, but the student's paper overwhelmingly documented the case for restriction--less marketing in colleges, perhaps restricting those under 21 to debit cards, or, unless employed, a single card with a $500 limit. A non-starter.

In our school district, you don't give 'em lunch money anymore. They have something called 'Meal Magic'. They have numbered accounts, filled as needed by parental funding over the Internet, refilled as needed. Never too early to teach kids the right habits...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Not Worth The Paper It Isn't Printed On

ql on eschaton this morning wonders why all those laywers didn't earlier note the irregularities and illegalities surrounding the mortgage/financial/foreclosure breakdown. Some did, but most lawyers represent their clients' interests within the various legal and social systems far more than they think about the systems themselves. Lots of that going around: consider, for instance, unions, which in general--there are exceptions--look to their members' interests with little, if any, interest in more general social, political and economic change; those unions even hinting at a larger agenda have been vilified, Red-baited, their leaders jailed and shot, like that. Scientists oft discouraged from speaking about anything even the slightest bit politicized unless in confirmation of a righty agenda. Like that. All part, and symptom, I think, of a general deterioration of any notion of a social contract binding us together, in favor of a competition of opposing interests tearing us apart.

If the whole world's a zero-sum game, everybody loses...

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Law vs. The Self

Linda Greenhouse, in today's Times, on judges and the rule of law:

“America has reached a fork in the road, and the time has come to make a decisive choice,” Daniel J. Popeo, chairman of the Washington Legal Foundation, wrote this week in his monthly column in The Washington Examiner. The choice he posited was between continuing to endure judicial intervention in the conduct of the war on terrorism and “returning control over national and homeland security decisions to the executive and legislative branches.”

I don’t mean to single out the Washington Legal Foundation, a respected conservative research and litigation organization. It is hardly alone in its ritualized framing of a dichotomy between law and national security.

And that’s the point. That the courts — and the lawyers who bring cases to them — are a threat to the country is a trope that has penetrated deep into public consciousness. The typical accompanying warning against “Miranda rights for terrorists” resonates with the doom-saying of an earlier generation of conservatives to the effect that courts make it impossible to keep the streets safe from common criminals.

She's right, of course. Never in my lifetime, not even at the height of the Vietnam War and protest against it, has the notion of what this country is all about been so bitterly contested. I hold that we're about nothing if not the rule of law, and, at that, in not just the easy cases but the most difficult ones.

Superficially, one's hard put to explain the right wing's vociferous rejection of due process under the law for Guantanamo inmates, or, for that matter, accused criminals. The right protests, loudly, against government intrusion on individual rights as it asserts unconstitutional power. Their stance against legal rights for all, amongst the most important limitations on government power we have, contradicts that. And the Fourteenth Amendment, part of, er, the Constitution, explicitly demands due process of law for all 'persons'--not just for citizens, mind you.

The apparent inconsistency is easily explained by noting that the real bedrock of the right is the separation of virtuous, entitled Self from evil, parasitic Other, demanding rights for the former and denying them to the undeserving latter. Over and over again. Those seeing themselves as Self, and those wishing to be included amongst the Good and not the Evil, constitute the right, have no sympathy or empathy for others, and reject any responsibility themselves for solving our problems. They proceed to exclude the idea that even their interests can't be served in such a society, pragmatically and realistically, much less that it's the right thing to do to help others if you can.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Muggle's Take on Harry Potter

We approach the last two Harry Potter movies, closing what, for now, is the story of Harry, Voldemort and maybe a kajillion other characters. The Harry Potter books, seems to me, are far better and more deeply written than is oft noted amidst the commercial hype. Having had three daughters through their emergence, I, too, add that they're almost indecently fun to read out loud; the evangelicals would probably make them illegal on that basis alone. My eldest happened to read, concurrently, the final Harry Potter book and 'The Brothers Karamazov', finding them, to her great surprise, relevant to each other. And how great is it that so many (including yr obdt. svt.) lined up at midnight to buy a book? A BOOK, fakrissake?

Rowling is anti-authoritarian, mindful of the temptations of power and the necessity of making choices, thoughtful about evil and good and their coexistence as well as the need to distinguish them, even of sacrifice to the point of death being required in leading a just life. She loves even her minor characters, and names them better than anybody since Dickens. Her understanding of adolescence entirely reflects mine, and my memories. She opposes institutional racism, elitism and discrimination. And all with a narrative of coherence and wit extending through the series.

The kids are all right. I'll see the movie, joyously delighting in the company of my eldest, now a college sophomore. And Harry will live on; I've no doubt of it...

American Caudillos

Nick Kristof, who railed against increasing income inequality in the USA, calling America a banana republic, continues today:

My point was that the wealthiest plutocrats now actually control a greater share of the pie in the United States than in historically unstable countries like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guyana. But readers protested that this was glib and unfair, and after reviewing the evidence I regretfully confess that they have a point.

That’s right: I may have wronged the banana republics.

You see, some Latin Americans were indignant at what they saw as an invidious and hurtful comparison. The truth is that Latin America has matured and become more equal in recent decades, even as the distribution in the United States has become steadily more unequal.

People have a sense that our economy is going the wrong way, that jobs and growth are expanding elsewhere and diminishing here, that we're a declining power. I'd suggest that that vast income inequality, at the cost of a stable, confident middle class sustained with good jobs at good wages, might just be more a factor than government stimulus of an economy in recession. The job's hardly finished in Latin America, but we've seen a movement away from caudillos dropping dissidents off helicopters into the sea, however much still needs to be done. And we've seen the opposite movement here. The American cult of the CEO, seems to me, is the full equivalent of the Man on Horseback: outsized rewards seen as a just due; cult of personality; celebrated for the exercise of arbitrary, unaccountable power; their companies' stock prices rising when they hurt people by closing plants, laying off workers, downsizing, rightsizing, outsourcing, thinking outside the box, and, in general, giving pig fuckers a bad name..

I know, I know; outdated, disproven Keynesianism, even if Henry Ford knew enough to make the Model T affordable to those who built it. Silly me...

RIP: Allan Sandage; Joys and Sorrows of Failure

The great observational astronomer, Allan Sandage, died last Saturday. He was most famous for studying the age of the Universe, the speed with which it expands (the Hubble constant), and its ultimate fate. His obit in the NY Times concludes with this statement of his, which I find wonderful and thought-provoking:

“It’s got to be fun,” Dr. Sandage told an interviewer. “I don’t think anybody should tell you that he’s slogged his way through 25 years on a problem and there’s only one reward at the end, and that’s the value of the Hubble constant. That’s a bunch of hooey. The reward is learning all the wonderful properties of the things that don’t work.”

I've put a toe in astrophysics, as well as drenched myself body and soul in surgery. The things that don't work in surgery vary from the inconvenient to the catastrophic. Whatever the rewards of studying them with a view towards improving practice, they got under my skin, broke my heart and everything in between. Sandage's statement reminds me of Sinclair Lewis' Martin Arrowsmith, who rededicates himself to science at the end of the novel, whose last line, spoken almost triumphantly, is, 'And probably we'll fail!' But he'd compromised what he saw as his scientific ethics in throwing, uncontrolled, everything he had at his beloved Leora when she got sick, and, I'd guess, would do so again, as, in a similar situation, would I.

Which leads me to the observation all medical clinicians make: statistical significance arising from even the best-conducted study, and the right thing to do for the anecdote sitting across from us in the office, or etherized on a table, can be quite two things...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How to Rate Lawyers

Ben, a generous facebook correspondent, suggests I post the Wombat Lawyer Evaluation System in the spirit of public service:

Their lawyer--an ambulance-chasing, bloodsucking, amoral, system-gaming bit of pond scum, whose greed and evil menaces all honest people, assaults common sense and restricts human freedom. To blame for the plagues of political correctness, outsourcing to China and mediocre supermarket sushi. Unscrupulous,dishonest and,in general, a poopyhead.

Your lawyer--a stalwart defender of the little guy attacked by an immoral system and those foul enough to, in its service, strive to deny him his rights, compensation and justice. Valiantly and selflessly protecting him from vicious, unprincipled attack on behalf of the public good. The last bulwark of liberty before unjust, tyrannous assault.

Glad I could clear that up for you...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Microfinance: Capitalism as Charity

Nicholas Kristof, in Sunday's NY Times, talks about microfinance in Pakistan:

'Roshaneh Zafar is an American- educated banker who fights extremism with microfinance. She has dedicated her life to empowering some of Pakistan’s most impoverished women and giving them the tools to run businesses of their own. The United States should learn from warriors like her.

'Bullets and drones may kill terrorists, but Roshaneh creates jobs and educational opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people — draining the swamps that breed terrorists.

'“Charity is limited, but capitalism isn’t,” Roshaneh said. “If you want to change the world, you need market-based solutions.” That’s the point of microfinance — typically, lending very poor people small amounts of money so that they can buy a rickshaw or raw materials and start a tiny business.'

She's, perhaps, teaching people to fish, in an old metaphor, rather than simply feeding them fish. So, teach a man to fish. Needs education and training for that. Then, he needs to be able to fish where there are, in fact, fish--perhaps in a river where tons worth of PCBs, or a Gulf of Mexico with millions of barrels of spilt oil, have been cleaned up, or, better yet, not dumped because of oversight and regulation from without. Perhaps, a market for his fish, a middle class with money to spend, confident and stable because of good jobs at good wages, with good benefits and security in retirement, the latter vital both for retirees and their families. An organization capable of patrolling the waters for purposes of police and rescue, treaties defining their right to fish in particular waters. You get the idea.

The microfinancier of the article--capitalist and, too, female and active outside traditional roles, in a part of the world where neither is always welcome, exemplifies decency, foresightedness and courage. She's done a lot of good, with little if any help from anybody, or government, or NGO. More power to her. Will such as her always suffice? Can individuals, organizations and governments with resources applied towards bettering the lot of developing countries learn from her example, and deploy their money and actions more wisely, or should they withdraw from the field entirely as inherently counterproductive?

Recast thus, I'd suggest that these remain open rather than solved questions, even in the light of transparent failure of many aid programs conducted from without. But I entirely agree that there's much to learn from, as well as applaud, here. Even that bete noir of the right, the Nobel Committee, recognized with a Peace Prize one of the pioneers of microfinance, Mohammed Yunus (a Muslim). There's a sliver of common ground here. All should recognise it, cherish it, learn from it, not only from an ideologically driven perspective but as a celebration of the potential for Homo (sic) sapiens to better our lot, dry a couple of lachrymal secretions in this vale of wrath and tears and move on. Dare I say, move on together?

Sure, i'll say that..

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ten Minute Hates

The Times does some fact-checking on Glenn Beck and his vile take on George Soros, a target-rich environment were there ever one, and finds this interesting tidbit:

Oddly, Mr. Beck’s conspiratorial reading of the recent history of Eastern Europe puts him in complete agreement with Iran’s intelligence ministry, which for years has been working to discredit the country’s reformist leaders and their calls for fair elections as the puppets of foreign plotters...

In an animated television program produced by the ministry for Iranian television in 2008, Mr. Soros was imagined conspiring in the White House with Senator McCain, the C.I.A. and Gene Sharp, a proponent of civil disobedience, plotting to overthrow Iran’s government with the help of Iranian reformists.

The obvious parallel, which the article doesn't make, is that Beck and the Iranian government use Soros as a convenient Other to demonize, to rally the faithful against a largely manufactured extrinsic enemy, diverting them from real enemies closer to home and their failures. Soros is becoming, ever more frankly, the full equivalent in the real world of Emmanuel Goldstein, who, in '1984', was the subject of 'ten minute hates' orchestrated by the Party as part of keeping their subjects in line. The addition of ever franker anti-Semitism only adds to the ugliness.

This isn't just wrong-headed right wing ideology or policy commentary. Perhaps it never was. It needs to be called by its name and utterly rejected. Not least, I might add, by right wingers who lose every bit of their legitimacy, but, alas, far too little of their faithful's support and the media's acquiescence, with silence on the matter.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Non-Mandate for Non-Change

Charles Blow reorients us to the election results, in the Times today:

A poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center found that people are considerably less happy about the Republicans’ victory than they were about the Democrats’ victory in 2006 or about the Republicans’ victory in 1994. They also approve much less of the “Republicans’ policies and plans for the future” than they did of the Democrats’ plans in 2006 or the Republicans’ plans in 1994. (I must say that that question threw me a bit because I didn’t know that Republicans had “policies and plans” for the future. Silly me.)

About 60 percent of the respondents thought that the Republicans in 1994 and the Democrats in 2006 would be successful in getting their programs passed into law. This year, just more than 40 percent believed this about the Republicans. In fact, unlike in 2008 and 2006, more people than not believed that relations between Republicans and Democrats in Washington would now get worse.

That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement to me.

Doesn't sound, either, like a political environment ossified in inevitable disaster for Democrats. Most of us lefties expect, out of long experience, our side's discourse to be lacking in conviction while the right remains full of passionate intensity, dominating the debate in terms of volume and media coverage. It's well worth noting that despite a general perception that we've been outshouted, the right hasn't swamped us. Another poll (Pew) noted yesterday that there's some support for tax easing, but that more people than not oppose repeal of the health care bill; 52% want the bill left intact or expanded. It isn't as if folk don't know the current system is awful, unsustainable and in desperate need of change.

Seems to me that were Democrats forthrightly, relentlessly and consistently fighting for their views as much as the right does, but with the addition of fact and logic, progress might well be made...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Space Children

Found a web site deeply evocative of my 1950's Space Kid childhood:

Naive children's non-fiction about the coming glories of space travel. The blog doesn't miss much, but doesn't look deeper. The joys and perils of extrapolating a future like the present, only more so, are much in evidence: the years since have given us fantastic computer power as an essential, dirt cheap consumer good, and stunning advances in biology, but not jet packs, Mars colonies, rotating circular space stations and flying cars. It mentions the International Geophysical Year naively, as an exercise in pure science, omitting its role in obtaining data crucial to the nascent ballistic missile program. There's no environmental consciousness at all; the rhetoric is of 'conquest' of space, which today even amongst the remaining true believers is a nonsensical idea. And, always, the leitmotif of a potential nuclear holocaust.

The vision back then presented to kids was unremittingly positive. Not so much, anymore. The JFK assassination, I think, was a watershed after which hope was mixed or replaced by fear. Another factor, I think still underrated, was the emergence of HIV/AIDS as Reagan legitimized greed and racism. It would have been far more frightening had it not been cast as an affliction solely of an immoral Other, arising from immoral conduct--addicts, gay folk, unlikely accidents. Today, the future is more imagined along 'Blade Runner' lines, or subject to more shadowy, vague apocalypses--increasing criminality resulting in a Mad Max world, fantasies of survivalism, plague, a Frankensteinian environmental dread. I'd hope that, as before, the future won't be what it used to be...

Ask Not For Whom the Crooks Troll: They Troll for Thee

Ride, purity trolls, ride:

By putting deep spending cuts and substantial tax increases on the table, President Obama’s bipartisan debt-reduction commission has exposed fissures in both parties, underscoring the volatile nature and long odds of any attempt to address the nation’s long-term budget problems.

Among Democrats, liberals are in near revolt against the White House over the issue, even as substantive and political forces push Mr. Obama to attack chronic deficits in a serious way. At the same time, Republicans face intense pressure from their conservative base and the Tea Party movement to reject any deal that includes tax increases, leaving their leaders with little room to maneuver in any negotiation and at risk of being blamed by voters for not doing their part.

Before the dubious actual threat of a deficit in an economic slump, and the Commission's disgusting recommendations, paralysis in a divided Congress before the demands of either side might not be the worst outcome.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Re: Pelosi

The Republicans say they've won, they claim a mandate, they say they speak for the angry majority. Fine. Don't let them do most of their work behind closed doors, behind anonymous holds and 'gentlemen's' filibusters. Hang every last 'victory' they achieve for their positions around their necks. They think most Americans want Boehner, DeMint and McConnell to prevail? Fine. I welcome the ever more frequent appearance of their easy manner and light populist touch. Oh, yes--and every Democrat, considering how to respond, should read Dionne on Pelosi, which you also posted:

'Yes, there are valid political reasons for House Democrats to change leaders, especially in light of Pelosi's poll numbers. But there's an argument rooted in justice that the person who built their majority should have a shot at winning it back. And aren't Democrats tired of reflexively capitulating to the other side's narrative? That is what Pelosi is counting on.'

I expected that the right would caricature her, between her effectiveness, progressive beliefs and her unseemly y-chromosome deficiency. But it'd be really special were the Democrats to notice that striving, seeking, finding and not yielding is sometimes to be preferred over conceding your opponent's points, sometimes even anticipating them before they're even made, and then bemoaning their success before the electorate...

The Great Simplicity

Found this in an article on India in the Times:

Interestingly, one of India’s top scientists, C.N.R. Rao, recently revealed how he managed to do exciting research in India, despite lacking state-of-the-art lab equipment. His technique was to work on new and interesting ideas and problems, where even crude measurements would work reasonably well. This way, assuming his findings made sense, others with more sophisticated equipment could measure and test out its validity.

It's worth looking up pictures of the astoundingly simple, economic apparatus used by such as Rutherford and Hahn to obtain key results. In an era of Large Hadron Colliders and satellite observatories, they seem wildly anachronistic. That, to some extent, emerges from the nature of the unanswered questions in current physical thought, the proposed solutions and the data one might need to distinguish them. But even recently, for instance, Penzias and Wilson turned cosmology upside down studying noise in microwave apparatus, and a reconsideration of long-standing observational data revealed dark matter/energy, or massive effects otherwise unexplained. As a semi-informed layman, I have to wonder if we should be asking different questions.

Jacob Bronowski, in considering Einstein in his 'Ascent of Man', said that his gift was asking simple questions, for which there were simple answers, in which you could hear the voice of God. As I learned this stuff, nothing has had more impact than the extraordinary simplicity of special relativity--it's all ninth grade math; you don't even need calculus--and Euler's equation e**(pi)(i) + 1 = 0, accessible via fairly elementary calculus. The universe, obviously, is under no obligation to be simple to understand. You can give yourself a hell of a shaving cut with Occam's razor, but it hasn't been used a lot lately. I wonder...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ruth Calvo, on eschaton and Firedoglake, has been rafting on the Rio Grande, with Mexico on one side and the USA on the other. A glance at the (beautiful) pictures suggests the absurdity of sealing the border.

Ruth offers yet another demonstration of humanity's borders as silly pretensions, in a world larger than we are. Then there are the borders in, say, Europe, changing by the decade against shifting marriages, alliances, wars; even signature nation states like Germany and Italy of comparatively recent origin. And in Africa, current national borders were generally imposed by ignorant, powerful imperialists willy-nilly, for their own purposes, on ancient lands whose ethnicity, religious identity, linguistic groupings and mutual history had nothing to do with them.

All those idiots who want to 'take back their country'--the very wording suggests that it isn't everybody's country, that they're exceptionally entitled to it to the exclusion of others--want tighter borders around their gated communities, their churches, their towns, their states, their country, sealing them all hermetically, canning them in Mason jars, proof against change, so they can be stored in their fallout shelters in preparation for a sociological apocalypse. Won't work, that.

Net Neutrality: Not Just For Breakfast Anymore

Looking around these days, it's easy to list the obstacles to change and progress: the Citizens United decision, the corporate concentration of the media and its increasingly frank, no-holds-barred right wing stance, Fox/Beck/Olbermann, all of it. There aren't many places one can look to for change from the baleful present, short of waiting for shifting demographics. One is the possibility of a vacant Supreme Court seat amongst the Gang of Five, which makes it crucial to elect a Democrat in 2012. The other is net neutrality.

There aren't many more important issues out there than net neutrality. It doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves. For all the crazed crap on the net, it's a brake on media domination in a world otherwise governed by it. A friend of mine sends a dumb righty e-mail about the latest Obama horror, and I spend ten minutes Googling and refute it, send it back to him, post on a blog about it. A rich, wild, incoherent stew, the net, not even somewhat settled out in its social role, but offering something found nowhere else. It'd be little wonder were they to try their damndest, overtly and covertly, to rein it in. Can't let them do that.

Too, the politics of the net bears on the conservative idealization of free enterprise. The libertarian fantasy would be for multiple independent, profit-seeking entrepreneurial types, in fair competition, to offer ever better services to rational economic actors, lowering costs and increasing personal freedom. Lefties, meanwhile, would fear consolidation and increasing restriction, as ever larger entities seek ever more economic and political power. I'd think the facts favor one of these over the other.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Romney Agonistes

It seems that Mitt Romney's ties to the 'establishment' aren't to the liking of the Tea Party:

Romney’s decision to interject himself in a Utah primary also has hurt him among Tea Party movement activists. Although Romney has lived in Utah and is viewed as widely popular there, Republicans at a state convention booed his endorsement of Senator Robert Bennett over a Tea Party movement candidate, Mike Lee, who went on to win the nomination and the seat.

“I think he’s done,’’ David Kirkham, a Tea Party movement leader in Utah who was at the state convention, said of Romney. He predicted Tea Party movement followers across the country would reject Romney as too strongly linked to the party establishment.

But some analysts say the extent of the Tea Party movement’s influence on the GOP presidential primaries is unclear after the mixed results of the midterm elections Tuesday. The movement’s high-profile losses, especially Sharron Angle’s failure to knock off Senate majority leader Harry Reid in Nevada and as well as defeats in Colorado and Delaware Senate races, have strengthened contentions among party regulars that electing a candidate strongly affiliated with the Tea Party could hurt GOP chances of capturing the White House.

He's been touted (by himself, of course, above all) as a Republican Great White Hope, an undisputed business and government expert technocrat and conservative contrasting with the Kenyan constitution-shredding America-hating despoiler of small business who's never met a payroll. Fair numbers of Republicans responded to that. That the Tea Party finds him insufficiently pure says a lot about the Republicans at this point. Romney, given his past display of consistency and courage of conviction before the perceived demands of electoral politics, will doubtless provide entertainment along the lines of, say, his joining the NRA in 2008 out of a lifelong love affair with the manly art of varmint plunking. It won't be enough.

I'm to the left of the bulk of the Democratic Party's officeholders, and am ideologically closer to those demanding purity than those willing to compromise. But I've seen countless examples of divisive insistence on the perfect at the expense of the good vitiate the left. The line, obviously, can be disputed; I'd move it a fair amount leftward. But the Tea Party--not only right wing, but intolerant, strident, reality-challenged, its positions impossible to govern well from--and 'establishment' figures such as Romney are on a collision course of a sort I've seen before. If I'm right, then it's vital that the Tea Partiers be challenged every time they make a crazy, ignorant statement, advocate a policy not remotely capable of implementation, demand obedience and capitulation from those the least bit closer to the center.

Compromising With The Great Pumpkin

The act of compromise, in the context of political reality, starts with a position off center on both sides, and, after negotiation, struggle and movement on both sides, emerges with a result somewhere in between the parties' initial positions, and both parties not entirely happy. Obama's been identified not with forthright, energetically presented initial positions, but with the end result, which is mostly seen as imposed on him to the satisfaction of his opponenets. His base is left feeling abandoned, his opponents emboldened.

After the elections, seems to me the precise need is not for further compromise, but recruitment of the disheartened base, recognizing the opposition as irreversibly obstructionist. And he must make his opponents pay a political price for their tactics and their failure, hanging them around their necks like albatrosses. It isn't as if John Boehner, the future Great Pumpkin of the House, and the others are reticent about their intentions with respect to making him fail, rather than working with him. He should respond in kind.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Saving Capitalism and Losing Your Base

Tim Egan, in the Times today, notes that Obama may have saved capitalism, and gets no respect. The auto industry, the stock market, all of it, with unemployment the laggard that cost him:

It's worth noting in this context that Obama's health reform bill owes much of its complexity to the fact that it extends, rather than challenges or limits, the role of private insurance companies, and did nothing to rein in investor-owned for-profit health facilities like imaging centers, specialty hospitals and the like.

Egan's list of Obama's unacknowledged achievements is OK, as far as it goes. He brings up FD Roosevelt, who, too, perhaps, saved capitalism, but whose huge New Deal public works and other programs rallied the people to the government. But Egan doesn't take it far enough.

Obama suffered politically because his base on the left would have preferred a more forthright challenge to the private actors who caused the troubles in the first place: letting the banks fail, no matter how big; offering a public option or single-payer health plan; prosecution of filthy rich businessmen who nearly brought the world to its knees. He suffered because too many on the left, too many in the base he recruited to get elected, felt themselves ignored or thrown under the bus in a vain search for compromise. And he suffered because he let his voice be drowned out by those who not only disagreed with his policies, but think him a Kenyan, socialist, Muslim, America-hating, Constitution-shredding, Cloward-Piven conspiring, white-hating clear and present danger to the country. And, too, because too many in the media accepted too much nonsense at face value, granting it a legitimacy it in no way deserves.

It's vital that a Democrat, probably Obama, win in 2012, if only because a vacant Supreme Court seat might present itself. If he wants to win, he has to revive his base, and he can't do that without being a better political voice, with clearer views, appearing less willing to compromise with opponents ever more strident and crazy in their refusal to compromise.