Friday, May 20, 2011

I'm getting closer...I think

I just finished reading Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? and I have to say that it has given me a clue (I think) to the quandary I have been in about our current state of affairs in this country. Let me restate this in a practical way:

How in the hell can people be supporting the Conservative agenda which is so clearly, unequivocally, blatantly in direct opposition to their personal interests? Or, more bluntly, Why the hell would anybody want to join the Tea Par-Tay?

The first few chapters of the book dealt with the term "backlash" which I associate in a way far different from how he meant it. I remember "backlash" in terms of the Southern Conservative Democratic Party's reaction to the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and I didn't immediately see the connection Frank was trying to make.

As I read on I began to understand that what had happened in Kansas, the backlash, was organized by pretty much the same cast of characters who have been active in the current
conservative revolt or Tea Party movement and it fit a very, very similar pattern. And when I got to the end of the book, I found that Frank realized, after the 2004 election, that he wasn't witnessing something strange about his home state but something that was a petri dish for a conservative movement across America.

He had no idea how right he was.

Here are some quotes:

"American conservatism depends for its continued dominance and even for its very existence on people never making certain mental connections about the world, connections that until recently were treated as obvious or self-evident everywhere on the planet. For example, the connection between mass culture, most of which conservatives hate, and laissez-faire capitalism, which they adore without reservation."'s how it works according to Frank. Conservatives have painted the liberal democrats as elitists, you know, the "latte-sipping, Birkenstock-wearing INTELLECTUALS, who want to impose their values on the good, old, Christian, salt-of-the-earth working man by poisoning movies and TV and all other popular culture and (most importantly) killing babies in abortions. The Democratic party has helped this along by trying to become more "business friendly" and making Democratic Economic policies only slightly less conservative than Republican Economic Policies. So if there's no difference in economic policies, then VOTE VALUES. But by doing so, you are making the true beneficiaries of Republican Economic Policies wealthier and playing into the hands of the true elites.

Frank goes on:

"As a social system, the backlash works. The two adversaries feed off of each other in a kind of inverted symbiosis: one mocks the other, and the other heaps even more power on the one. This arrangement should be the envy of every ruling class in the world."

Frank recognized in 2004-2005 that this could spread:

"Maybe Kansas, instead of being a laughingstock, is actually in the vanguard. May what has happened there points the way in which all our public policy debates are heading."

Wow! Ya think so????? I did head this way. The same corporate players involved in turning Kansas into the "reddest of red" states have been at play all over the country...Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Florida...13 states in total. All using the same formula and all having the same degrees of success.

I haven't figured out how to counteract this on the local or even state level yet but What's the Matter with Kansas has given me some insights into the techniques, tactics and motivation of the conservative movements. I'll figure out the rest after I read, study and inwardly digest more on the subject. One thing I do know, however, the Democratic Party needs to return to its roots...right now it's just a slightly less conservative Republican Party.

much more later

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"...not with a bang, but a whimper...."

My hero of olden days, T. S. Eliot wrote in The Hollow Men, the famous lines:

this is the way the world ends
THIS is the way the world ends
not with a bang
but a whimper.

And that is how the local campaign to recall our State Senator ended on Monday.

After all the bluster, bravado, and hoopla, the campaign led by a former friend of mine gathered only a little over 6,000 signatures of the required 15.800 needed to force her to stand for recall. It was heralded as something just short of the second coming and accompanied by calling her a "union thug" and saying she was "worse than Hitler"....because she was one of the Wisconsin 14.

Well, it's over....the organizers have gone underground to try to figure out how to spin this epic failure...

and me?

I'm "waxing poetic" again...

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing

Shakespear, McBeth

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Talk about coincidence....

This is strange....I spent a good part of the afternoon blasting plastic golf balls around the back yard and arguing with an imaginary...(don't call the guys in the white jackets yet, please keep reading)..opponent about economic theory...(put the phone down and listen)...Before you think I'm totally insane, I'll explain: I often test out my beliefs, my political positions and arguments by arguing with a well-schooled but nevertheless imaginary opponent. This way I can call BULLSHIT on myself by discovering flaws in my reasoning before I publicly air those arguments and make a complete fool of myself. So it's therapeutic and practical.

I am not insane....really...
photo by Getty images...

I was developing my thesis on the absurdity of current conservative economic premises and having trouble calling to memory those economists who posited those same positions...when I came back in to check through the blogosphere, I happened to click on a long-forgotten bookmark called "The Baseline Scenario" which happens to be written by one of the more prominent economic theorist of the current era, Simon Johnson...and he turned me to this link. It was as refreshing as a sip of water from a desert oasis.

Here's the gist of it:

My opponent is a firm ( firm? try DEVOUT) believer in the theory of free markets. He believes all government interference in ANY market is wrong. He is a true follower of Adam Smith in that he believes the "invisibile and unerring hand" of the "market will take care of everything. This borders on Randian or libertarian beliefs but we won't go into that....

The article I stumbled upon is an interview with Peter Temin, a noted Professor of Economics at MIT. This interview gave perfect voice to my are some examples:

"In my opinion, macroeconomics has lost its way. The kind of models that many people use—general equilibrium models—start from assumptions of perfect competition, omniscient consunmers, and various like things which give rise to an efficient economy. As far as I know, there has never been an economy that actually looked like that—it’s an intellectual construct."

The "free market" never has and never will exist. It is an economic construct used to build a theory of macroeconomics that has never worked anywhere in the world. There's more...

But many people claim that the outcomes of
that economy are natural outcomes. When you say “natural,” you already have an emotionally laden term. Deviations from the “natural”—say, like, minimum wage laws, or unions, or governments that give food stamps, or earned income tax credits—are interferences with the natural order and are therefore “unnatural."

This is where the current union-bashing, public employee basing, anti-social welfare and anti-government sentiment itself is coming from...

And this part has a troubling overtone to it:

The general equilibirum (sic)view tends to lend support to those who want to make the economy more efficient in the sense of having fewer “distortions”—you know, all of these neutral economic words—from taxes, from labor unions, from minimum wages, and so on. Now, what has happened in the last thirty years—and this is what Hacker and Pearson note in their book [Winner-Take-All Politics]—is we have gotten ourselves into a feedback situation. As people have gotten richer, conservative people have funded organizations which generate economic research promoting their political views.

Like...maybe the Koch Brothers? Like maybe what has happened at Florida State University?

And he has something to say about Wisconsin should read the whole article. It's short and too his credit, it is one of the most easily understood economic essays I've read in a long, long time...

I'll quit arguing with myself now...

n.b. My golf swing still sucks...

Friday, May 06, 2011

Reading List

I've got two books going at the moment:

What's the Matter with Kansas?


Democracy Inc.

Of the two, Democracy Incorporated is by far the more scholarly of the two even though both are footnoted amply and documented thoroughly... (unlike several well-know right wing authors works, the footnotes ACTUALLY relate to the subject "footnoted".) Democracy Incorporated is harder to follow and requires more careful reading...almost like reading a legal brief...and filled with social science theories and historical notes of prominent political and commercial movements in the United States.

As most of you know...I'm a curious sort...always looking for "the answer"....I think it's buried somewhere inside Democracy if I could just remember the question!!!!!

At Least Krugman is consistant.

My Republican and Libertarian friends think Paul Krugman is a socialist. He's not anything of the sort but I'll never convince them. I think Krugman is probably "center-left" which would have been completely unacceptable to any Democrat worth his salt just a short two decades ago, but now passes for what is left of liberal thought in this country. (Don't even get me started on that)

But back to the point.

I think Krugman is "mostly" right. The emphasis in DC should not be on the deficit but on should be what Boehner promised from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. That is: " unrelenting focus on jobs, jobs, jobs...." (instead it's been abortion abortion abortion). Krugman points out, again correctly, I think, that the dangers from high and persistent unemployment greatly outweigh the (imagined) fears of hyper-inflation or rapid and catastrophic devaluation of the dollar.

Instead, there is a complete fixation with "the deficit" and constant cries of "we're broke" while there is scant or non-existent evidence of either inflation or rapid devaluation. (Quantitative Easing is deliberate inflation and somewhat controlled and not evidence of rampant inflation) There is no acknowledgment by either side that if unemployment were brought back to "normal" levels (3-5%) there wouldn't be any deficit...or "crisis"...or that we would not, in fact, be BROKE.

The part that I think Krugman is missing is that there should be not just a "jobs" policy but also an "INDUSTRIAL POLICY" ...Simply put, there won't be any job creation until we have a manufacturing/industrial base to provide those jobs.

And yet...

Nobody is talking about this.

To my Republican and Libertarian friends I have a warning. If you continue to blindly follow the "cut, cut cut" philosophy without addressing unemployment, you will make your worst fears a self-fulfilling prophesy....the only thing left will be socialism because if there are no jobs then the only way to prevent riots in the street, starvation, lawlessness whatever is...your greatest bogeyman fear....socialism.

Read the article: