Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Laura Flanders Interviews Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva is a hero of mine, but she has much more of a presence in my classroom than on my blog, generally speaking (here's a post about her from awhile back, tho).

Friday, April 29, 2011

To Each Their Own

I don't give two shits about either the Royal Wedding or the NFL Draft, and am spending the afternoon in a long hot bath with a freshly arrived copy of Terry Eagleton's Why Marx Was Right. Lovely!

I Know You Are But What Am I?

Karl Rove, Prince of the Pig People, editorializes in Pig People's Daily Gazette:
Since Mr. Obama can't make an affirmative case for his re-election, he has decided to try convincing voters that Republicans are monstrous. As a result, America is likely to see the most negative re-election campaign ever mounted by a sitting president.

For more on this stunningly effective and elegant GOP rhetorical strategy, go here.

From Pain to Punish to Perish

In an epoch of resource descent the convulsive reflex of the so-called "Independent Voters" -- that is to say, the palpably ignorant, unprincipled, emotion-driven voters whose idiocy has been, predictably enough, denominated by our punditocrats as "moderate," of all things, for no reason that makes any sense and whose votes must nonetheless somehow be courted since neither the consistently sane Base of the Democratic Party nor the consistently insane Base of the Republican Party is quite large enough on its own to win elections -- simply to throw the bums out, whoever they are, whatever the facts are, whatever the context might be, whenever the price of gas rises too steeply (as it simply, straightforwardly must do in any world in which the price of gas actually reflects the least bit the realities of its increasing scarcity and difficulty of extraction not to mention its ramifying and amplifying planetary costs), is to make it literally impossible for people of good sense and good will to address actually existing problems that beset us.

Needless to say it makes no sense that the costs and pain of the vast social and cultural transformations demanded by climate change and resource descent should be borne exclusively or disproportionately by the very people who are most vulnerable and least capable of doing so. Steeply progressive taxes funding programs to ameliorate inevitable distress and subsidize helpful behavior is all perfectly sensible and possible, however remote from prevailing conditions.

And it isn't just empathy that drives these considerations -- majorities are required to organize the collective will equal to the realities of climate change and resource descent. The devastation and demoralization of these very majorities by pampered elites who refuse to take on their share of the burden to save their own asses simply ensures the eventual destruction of all: And just let me say, no security wall is high enough to protect you from every starving mob, no bubble dome will insulate you from every climate-change pandemic, no isolated rugged individualist or minority subculture, however elite in fact or fancy, can sustain the skills, knowledge, and infrastructural base necessary for civilization to survive.

But our public discourse now is just so completely crazy and denialist and so beholden to these indulgent incoherent pain-averse "independents," while our incumbent elites are themselves so irresponsibly entitled and spastically pain-averse themselves, there is almost no way to see anymore how we get where we need to go from here, how the evidence really gets through, how the address of the problem really gets organized and sustained. And it actually gets harder by the day to get there, and the likely pain of the necessary changes looms larger by the day, and our very collective capacity to address the dangers at any cost, with any action grows more remote by the day.

PS: And don't even get me started on the corporate-military flim-flam artists who peddle masturbatory futurological "geo-engineering" fantasies as a way out of this impasse, so that even smart, well-meaning, concerned citizens who might otherwise be working in the heartbreaking trenches educating, agitating, organizing for legislation and lifestyle change on the ground where it counts, the only place that it counts, are now instead vapidly can-do cheerleading and fiddling while the planet burns, all just so that the richest of the rich might indulge at any rate in the swankest possible end-time orgy.

Looking in Vain for the Stormcloud's Silver Lining

Surveying the scene of destruction and heartbreaking distress, I find myself hoping all this horrifying heavy weather lately, all these crazy unprecedented tornado outbreaks, of course, but all the massive floods and hurricanes, too, all the persistent droughts and proliferating wildfires, all the unseasonal insect infestations and epic species displacements exacerbated by anthropogenic climate change might impel enough of the greedy corporate tools and misinformed corporate dupes, enough of the ignorant, the stubborn, and the indifferent to inquire for once into causes, to shake up their complacency, to hesitate and re-think their climate change denialism to change their lives a little or at least stop supporting those who are blocking legislation to address these problems… and found myself wondering in exasperation for how many climate change denialists an inquiry into causes would just lead them instead into a more ferocious opposition to gay marriage or into the eager arms of some dot-eyed End-Times congregation or air-conditioned Mall to binge on whatever cheap toxic crap is on sale.

Mind Twister

I wonder, if you're a die-hard Republican in a town devastated by tornadoes, do you still think the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help"?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Birth Certificate Is A Death Certificate

Every single second spent on the inability of white racist assholes to cope with the fact that an African American was elected to the White House is a second which is tragically squandered, a second not devoted to the urgently necessary exposure of the hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent right now, this very moment, by rich Republicans to lie about how the Ryan budget they overwhelmingly voted for and approve is "saving Medicare" even though it literally calls for dismantling and destroying Medicare so that they can get away with it, get away with larding the richest of the rich with still more tax cuts even though that means countless older Americans who worked hard and followed the rules all their lives will needlessly suffer and die in poverty of treatable illnesses in the midst of one of the richest and most technically sophisticated societies in the history of the planet. Birtherism is altogether ugly and heartbreaking, but the Ryan Budget is the premeditation of mass murder for money. Focus, people, for heaven's sake.

Producer of Atlas Flopped Threatens to "Go On Strike" Rather Than Complete His Universally Panned, Completely Unwanted Trilogy

It sounds like a parody, but it's not.

Needless to say, this gesture constitutes the first element connected to the making and marketing of this execrable film adaptation of the already execrable novel about which one might be tempted to say there is some real artistry.
"Critics, you won," said John Aglialoro, the businessman who spent 18 years and more than $20 million of his own money to make, distribute and market "Atlas Shrugged: Part 1," which covers the first third of Rand's dystopian novel. "I’m having deep second thoughts on why I should do Part 2."

Just listen to him, this would-be Galtian Overlord, it's all there: The inept business decisions, the lack of aesthetic standards, the bulldozing superiority deflating upon the least contact with resistance, the scene of the would-be superman whining about the unfairness of the world in rejecting his hymn to the awesomeness of unfairness, the fantasy that pampered mediocrities who appointed themselves an indispensable overclass could bring history to a screeching halt were they to remove their utterly unwanted crap from the world… yes, it's all there, in a single tantrum, an encapsulation in mere moments of elapsed time of the whole plot of his whole ponderous trilogy as well as the exposure of its imposture, a kind of performance piece, a bit of artistic truth at last.

In townhall meetings across the country, Republicans who blithely leaped off the cliff doll-eyed dolt and Ayn Rand fanboy Paul Ryan told them to, are confronting facets of this same truth, as they discover to their annoyance and shock that the majorities they claim to represent aren't actually eager to deliver themselves needlessly into feudalism and lives "nasty, brutish, and short" simply to lard with ever more treasure and authority the heartless parasites and flim-flam artists who throng the richest of the rich in our country and have come to fancy themselves indispensable and entitled to all whatever their failures and follies. The release of Atlas was presumably timed to co-incide with sweeping public sentiment on questions of fairness and good government, and so, I suppose I'll grant some artistry, however ironic and unintended, in some of the promotional decisions for this flop as well.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Maddow Leans Forward

From a rhetorical standpoint (for those of you who don't know, my PhD is from Berkeley Rhet), Rachel Maddow is better than almost anybody else anybody is paying attention to at the moment at showing the Liberal Left how to frame and argue for a more sustainable secular equitable and diverse democratic America even in the midst of our present distress. She's been one of my heroes since I first heard her on Air America, a couple of years before she started showing up on my tee vee.



Watch all nine segments (just keep clicking "Next" at the end of each one), collectively, they tell much of the story Democrats should be telling and repeating to the whole country all the time, and loudly, every chance we get, to the extent that what we need to be doing as a major party in the service of actually progressive ends, is re-writing patriotism in the image of public service and trust, progressive investment for all, and liberty as equity-in-diversity.

Pressuring the Emerging Conventional Distinction of a "Fact-Based" Left Versus a "Culture-Based" Right

New York Magazine did a sort of "human interest" profile of Paul Krugman this weekend, which as is usual in instances of the genre did not generally hold much interest for me. The thing that lodged in my attention, oddly enough, ended up being a rather incidental quote from Ezra Klein, who declared that “liberals understand politics as a policy argument… On the right, there’s something of a cultural underlay to the worldview: We are the real Americans, and they are not. Liberals want to say, We are correct on the evidence, and they are not.” One hears variations of this observation all the time, actually, and it amounts by now to a fairly familiar refrain. Part of what strikes me in the comment is that though Klein, who surely identifies with the liberal side of the divide he is sketching, attributes a "cultural underlay" to the Right, while his mapping is itself a cultural one: one arraying a liberal "fact-based culture" against a right-wing "culture-war culture."

Further, it seems to me that what is most glaring in this familiar framing of the terrain is the way it elides, of all things, certain indispensable facts. It seems to me that the modern conservative movement emerged in the opposition to the implementation of the New Deal. If that is right (however over-simplified), two things deserve careful attention here: First, that the American right-wing was founded out of the loss of the argument on the merits that Klein thinks Liberals are still having. And, second, that ever since they lost that argument the American right-wing has actually been winning quite a lot of the time.

In a nutshell, I would say that the American Right since the New Deal has been the project to preserve plutocracy in the face of the evident superiority of a democratically responsive social insurance state by deceiving majorities to vote against their own interests or not to vote at all through cynical and deceptive campaigns of disinformation, disenfranchisement, demoralization, and derangement (almost invariably mobilizing race-hatred, sex-panic, or war-fever). I would add that this effort has been, in the main, flabbergastingly successful.

To the extent that Klein is correctly describing what both sides of the American political landscape imagine themselves to be doing, I notice that there would seem to be something importantly delusive in play in each camp: Liberalism in treating politics as debates over policy pretends that the triumph of administration is settled when clearly it is not, when clearly the "losing" side of that question immediately turned (as of course anybody should have expected them to do) to politics by other means whereupon they promptly began winning political debates as often as not. The Right, in turn, in treating politics as the cynical deception and manipulation of majorities in the service of incumbent-elite minorities pretends it can fool all of the people all of the time, when clearly it cannot, hence the painfully slow and convulsive vicissitudes in the accumulation of reforms in the rough direction of the democratically responsive social insurance state after all.

And now allow, if you will, the theory-head in me to dig a little deeper for a moment. As it happens, questions of fact are always grasped as such through a prior settlement indispensably indebted to a contestation of norms and values that are themselves anything but settled facts themselves. That is to say, what we attend to as the relevant facts of the matter in any question are always determined as such in light of what we take to be possible and important given what we think we know with confidence and what we think we share in the way of concerns. Given the extent to which the academic humanitarian left is ridiculed and excoriated by reactionaries and ignoramuses precisely for taking such pragmatic and pluralistic premises on board, it has often perplexed me when mouthpieces for the liberal left in America then take up as theirs the moniker of the "fact-based community" in ways that suggest too facile an understanding of the formation and force of factual descriptions as such.

(It should go without saying, but I fear it does not, that one can easily and comfortably accept the inescapable contingency of well-warranted statements of fact and the embeddedness of factual and administrative discourses in ultimately unresolvable normative concerns, while still supporting for perfectly good empirical and logical and consensus-aspiring reasons the verdicts of climate science, evolutionary biology, Keynesian macroeconomics, multilateral diplomacy, harm-reduction models of healthcare policy, and so on.)

If "fact-based" liberalism takes on an appropriately pragmatic understanding of the factual, then I must say I cannot understand why it would ever occur to it to distinguish its own basis in fact from the Right's basis in "culture" in the first place, why it would have been the least bit surprised -- let alone bested in debate after debate, for generation after generation -- by opportunistic mobilizations of "culture" by its opponents, why it would fail to notice that the deceptions of the Right, to the extent that they are deceptions, actually would have to involve a discourse based in understandings of fact (to be manipulated, deflected, covered up) quite as much as Liberals do after all, and so on.

To the extent that the cynical plutocrats of the post-FDR American Right have always hitherto depended on racism to distract majorities from supporting policies from which they would benefit ultimately and to the benefit of incumbent elites, it matters that the demographics of an ever more multiracial multicultural America are rendering this strategy unworkable (just think how different the history of the twentieth century would have been had the New Deal not been derailed by the successful Right-wing deployment of racism from the implementation of universal healthcare even before World War II). To the extent that the "market spontaneists" of the post-FDR American Right have always hitherto benefited from the stealthed central economic planning and welfare for the already rich denominated "The Defense Budget" (the military-industrial complex providing yet another fork in the road originating historically and thematically in the turn of the New Deal to the administration of a World War), it matters that the imperial construal of American armed forces and bases has been exposed by serial failures as an essential imposture to which the multipolar powers of the planet are increasingly indifferent.

These are facts, sure enough, as are the facts that peer-to-peer formations and climate change have shifted the normative and institutional terrain of the political onto a planetary field in which the verdict of the contest between democratizing and anti-democratizing forces is far less settled than it had seemed for a generation to be in the national and international terrain. For it is also a fact that despite all the foregoing, the triumph of anti-democratic elite-incumbent corporate-militarist norms and institutions has never been so nearly total in America than it is now.

If that plutocratic triumph is shaken up by demographic and military-industrial and ecological and networked realities so as to renew for a time the chances for democratizing politics here and now, and if American liberals would contribute their proper measure to that struggle, they must grasp a thing or two that I fear is too readily obscured in Klein's commonplace about the politics of the moment: For one thing, that theirs is a movement grounded no less profoundly and indispensably in the fraught mobilization of contingent cultural concerns than is the plutocratic movement of their opponents, and never more so than in those very moments in which Liberals appeal to matters of fact -- And to grasp as well, for another thing, the essentially and necessarily deceptive character of plutocratic politics in a world universally but only notionally devoted to democratic institutions, and that deception relies no less than consensus policy discourse does on a public, if secretive, understanding of facts.

Friday, April 22, 2011

2011: Festival of the Woman Haters

The Guttmacher Institute's Report, "Laws Affecting Reproductive Health and Rights: Trends in the First Quarter of 2011" gathers the horrifying details in one place. Here is the first paragraph:
To date, legislators have introduced 916 measures related to reproductive health and rights in the 49 legislatures that have convened their regular sessions. (Louisiana’s legislature will not convene until late April.) By the end of March, seven states had enacted 15 new laws on these issues, including provisions that:

• expand the pre-abortion waiting period requirement in South Dakota to make it more onerous than that in any other state, by extending the time from 24 hours to 72 hours and requiring women to obtain counseling from a crisis pregnancy center in the interim;

• expand the abortion counseling requirement in South Dakota to mandate that counseling be provided in-person by the physician who will perform the abortion and that counseling include information published after 1972 on all the risk factors related to abortion complications, even if the data are scientifically flawed;

• require the health departments in Utah and Virginia to develop new regulations governing abortion clinics;

• revise the Utah abortion refusal clause to allow any hospital employee to refuse to “participate in any way” in an abortion;

• limit abortion coverage in all private health plans in Utah, including plans that will be offered in the state’s health exchange; and

• revise the Mississippi sex education law to require all school districts to provide abstinence-only sex education while permitting discussion of contraception only with prior approval from the state.

In addition to these laws, more than 120 other bills have been approved by at least one chamber of the legislature, and some interesting trends are emerging. As a whole, the proposals introduced this year are more hostile to abortion rights than in the past: 56% of the bills introduced so far this year seek to restrict abortion access, compared with 38% last year. Three topics -- insurance coverage of abortion, restriction of abortion after a specific point in gestation and ultrasound requirements -- are topping the agenda in several states. At the same time, legislators are proposing little in the way of proactive initiatives aimed at expanding access to reproductive health–related services; this stands in sharp contrast to recent years when a range of initiatives to promote comprehensive sex education, permit expedited STI treatment for patients’ partners and ensure insurance coverage of contraception were adopted. For the moment, at least, supporters of reproductive health and rights are almost uniformly playing defense at the state level.

This is what Republicans in power do. This is what you voted for or failed to vote against in November, America. Learned your lesson yet?

"The People's Budget"

The Congressional Progressive Caucus Budget Proposal is here (warning: .pdf), is just 12pp. long, and makes worlds of good sense.

The Actually Courageous, Actually Responsible, Actually Sensible Progressive Caucus Budget Proposal Gets A Welcome Mainstream Shout Out

The Economist:
Have you ever heard of the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget plan? Neither had I. The caucus's co-chairs, Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Keith Ellison of Minnesota, released it on April 6th. The budget savings come from defence cuts, including immediately withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq, which saves $1.6 trillion over the CBO baseline from 2012-2021. The tax hikes include restoring the estate tax, ending the Bush tax cuts, and adding new tax brackets for the extremely rich, running from 45% on income over a million a year to 49% on income over a billion a year.

Mr Ryan's plan adds (by its own claims) $6 trillion to the national debt over the next decade, but promises to balance the budget by sometime in the 2030s by cutting programmes for the poor and the elderly. The Progressive Caucus's plan would (by its own claims) balance the budget by 2021 by cutting defence spending and raising taxes, mainly on rich people. Mr Ryan has been fulsomely praised for his courage. The Progressive Caucus has not.

I'm not really sure what "courage" is supposed to mean here, but this seems precisely backwards.

"This isn’t a matter of charity; it’s a matter of what we think it is to live in a good society."

Obama Draws the Contrast on Taxes in Reno:
[W]e’ve got to go back and say to ourselves, you know what, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Taxes are lower now than they have been in a generation. Taxes are a lot lower now than they were under Ronald Reagan. They’re lower than they were under Bill Clinton. They’re lower than they were under George Bush, in many cases.

And what I’ve said is, at minimum, we should say, for those like myself who can afford it, let’s pay a little bit more. Let’s go -- we can go back -- if we went back to the Clinton rates for the wealthiest 2 percent, going back to the Clinton rates -- you remember back in the ‘90s, the economy was doing really well, and rich people were doing just fine. And I can afford it.

It’s not that I like paying taxes. I don’t like paying taxes. Nobody likes paying taxes. But if the choice is keeping my tax break, or 33 seniors having to pay an extra 6,000 bucks for their Medicare, why would I want that -- why would I wish that on those 33 seniors? If the choice is between me keeping my tax cut and a couple hundred kids being to go get their Head Start, why would I want that?

This isn’t a matter of charity; it’s a matter of what we think it is to live in a good society. And I think it is good for me, it is good for my life if when I’m driving around, I’m saying to myself, you know what, that school is producing all kinds of kids who are smart and are going to help build America’s future.

And I drive around and I see some seniors, and they’re out for a walk. And I know, you know what, I’m glad that I live in a country where in their retirement years, they’re going to be secure. That makes me feel good. That’s the kind of country I want to live in. (Applause.) That’s the kind of country you want to live in. And we’ve got to make sure we’re willing to fight for it.

the future!

Future Accumulator, 2011 from Ian Alan Paul on Vimeo.



Work in progress, as it were, by a student at the San Francisco Art Institute, Ian Paul.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Obama Continues to Draw the Contrast

Undaunted by the squalling infants of the cruel nonsensical Randroid Right who declared the Black Man in the White House mean for pointing out and arguing against what he takes to be the damaging consequences of their budgetary policy proposals, and taking up anew the themes of his George Washington University speech last week, Obama had this to say yesterday in his Palo Alto Town Hall:
The Republican budget that was put forward I would say is fairly radical… [but] I wouldn’t call it particularly courageous…. Nothing is easier, than solving a problem on the backs of people who are poor, or people who are powerless and don’t have lobbyists or don’t have clout…. I do think Mr. Ryan is sincere. I think he’s a patriot. I think he wants to solve a real problem, which is our long-term deficit. But I think that what he and the other Republicans in the House of Representatives also want to do is change our social compact in a pretty fundamental way.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

When Do We Reach the Limits? How Do We Know? What Is Our Responsibility Then?

Upgraded and Adapted from the Moot:

It is actually wrong to assume that America can weather infinitely many pointless blows to its legitimacy, credit, and ecology. There really are limits beyond which it is no longer possible to function. There really are consequences to the things we do.

Americans just think we can always start over, clean the slate, re-invent ourselves, because of our comparative geographical isolation historically, our richness in resources and the resilient resourceful diversity of our population -- not to mention the fact that we've stolen and wasted so much of the treasure of the planet with our military might that we live in bubbles of utter inconsequence and unreality: The futurology I rail against here is of course an amplification often bordering on transcendentalization of this mainstream American complacent-progressive magical thinking.

I am honestly not sure that America could have pulled out of a McCain/Palin presidency intact, and I am not even sure the mid-term recapture of the House by the GOP is something we can pull out from either. America is very much at the end of the road in my opinion as a going concern if we cannot change course. Obama seems to me to represent a last chance at something resembling American sanity, and in a way very redolent of too little too late at that.

Soon intelligent people of good will have to shift from our present struggle to wrest from the US status quo a sane sustainable secular social democracy, to an acceptance that this outcome isn't possible enough to justify the harm we are doing to ourselves and the world that shifts the struggle to bringing this evil empire down in earnest.

Some of the anti-Obama and party-equivalence performance artists who like to handwave their superior radicalism and deride my hopelessly compromised assimilation here in my comments section may fancy they have already made this very shift ahead of me, but this shift would not be for me as it appears to be for them a matter of posturing as more radical than thou on blogs -- but of actual revolutionary agitation and organizing. I'm still not there myself, as this blog attests to regularly, and I frankly don't hold out much hope for the results should I be brought there, but a sober contemplation of our circumstances and their stakes says we're too close for comfort to precisely such a juncture.

Recommended Preface to the Provision of Any and Every Needed Assistance to Citizens in Red States From Here on Out

"I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."

(suggestion from my partner Eric)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Progressive Case for a Do Nothing Congress

So, if we do manage to get the debt ceiling raised in a comparatively timely comparatively low muss low fuss manner (too late!) the very best thing to do next is to do nothing at all until Obama gets re-elected. That's right. Pray, children, nothing gets done.

Anything done when this Republican crazytown crowd has to sign off on that doing is doing damage worse than doing nothing. And Republicans prefer government do nothing anyway, so what's not to like?

Given how horrible that kind of paralysis looks (and actually is) given how horrible everything actually is, there must of course be lots of white-racist furriner-fearing woman-hating gay-bashing money-grubbing corporate-cocksucking war-mongering city-hating gun-lusting muscular baby jesus licking cultural theater to fill the emptiness and that will be hard to live through. But that is the price for the palpable insanity of the mid-term elections, so suck it America, this is what you voted for or failed to vote against in November (I told you so).

Anyway, doing nothing means the Bush tax cuts die, which is a good thing, and Dems can at any rate posture and handwave about Republican obstructionism on lowering tax cuts for everybody but the rich as a way to hurdle whatever hairball candidate the weak GOP field throws up for the killer clown show horse race of 2012. And get your barf bags ready in advance for that grotesque spectacle, kids.

Otherwise, I say we should just fund the government with continuing resolutions and forego any 2012 budget until after the election once Republicans actually grasp that Obama's Presidency is a really-and-for-true fact with which they really-and-for-true have to deal.

For a while there I was thinking it would be good for Obama to draw a moral and pragmatic contrast with Ryan's cruel stupidity, but apparently "independents" think that makes Obama a scary black man so morning in America vacuities are the order of the day instead. Good thing Obama loves Reagan so much.

Maybe Democratic Base organizing and agitating at the State level in response to neo-feudal Movement Republican zealotry will provide the energy to improve the congressional terrain for a marginally more sensible second term. It's all pretty awful and depressing to contemplate, all the unfathomably stupid fake drama and all the ignoring of reality and stuff, but that's where we are.

Added

The fact is that soaking the rich is very popular in addition to being the right thing to do and so my complaints about American ignorance and laziness shouldn't be taken as pining for an aristocracy of the best and the brightest (which is always just pining for an aristocracy of the rich and the whitest who inevitably fancy themselves the best and the brightest and can usually back up their claim with hired muscle), so much as pining for more actually-responsive institutions and for better, more reality-based, education-agitation-organizing to bring about more actually-responsive institutions when all is said and done. Part of that responsiveness would arise via greater democratization of national politics, but another part can only arise through a planetary leveling and democratization that exposes people to real-world consequences of ongoing historical and environmental crimes from which we are benefiting and from the costs of which we have been insulated.

Americans May Be Too Uneducated to Grasp and Too Spoiled to Undertake What We Know to be the Solutions to Our Socioeconomic and Ecological Problems

Recent budget battles and debt ceiling games of chicken are just symptoms of the deeper problems posed by our longstanding ignorance and privilege.

Managing to raise the debt ceiling after protracted pyrotechnical posturing and last-minute seat-of-the-pants legislative half-measures of the kind that characterized the recent 2011 budget and government shutdown battle would be only a marginally better outcome than not managing to raise the debt ceiling at all, to the extent that what is being played with here is whether or not we can justify institutional confidence that the United States will make good on its promises to creditors.

The reason failure to raise the debt ceiling is regarded as "unthinkable" by actually serious lawmakers and administrators is because the loss of the full faith and credit of the United States in a global context translates to the altogether pointless loss of a whole host of advantages (many not actually deserved) and tools (many once lost never to be regained) on which the United States has to count if it hopes to claw its way out of its manifold vast and deep structural socioeconomic problems any time soon.

Those who are now posturing as "serious" in their worries about long-term budget deficits by holding the debt ceiling hostage and are making with this posturing what they take to be an essentially symbolic theatrical gesture, but in so doing they are behaving in ways that could provoke a radical loss of confidence that pushes interest rates into the stratosphere (even if the debt ceiling were raised, after all, "just in time") making the address of precisely those epically swelling long term deficits incomparably more hopeless.

The Republicans who are indulging in such fun and games are patently irresponsible to the point of lunacy and are clearly just a kind of organized insanity or infantilism at this point, a klatch of folks who don't understand even remotely what they are playing at or whose politics are so sociopathic that they don't care about avoidable catastrophic outcomes or even fancy they can actually use such outcomes to their parochial advantage.

Meanwhile, Democrats who fail to grasp what Republicans are now capable of or who suavely behave as though a pretense of "business is usual" makes it so are functionally a complementary organized insanity enabling these Republicans at this point.

I suppose such feel-good pretenses have their reasons, as we observe Obama's poll numbers dropping now presumably because the permanently spoiled adolescent ignoramuses denominated "independents" apparently found his recent even minimally truth-telling speech on the budget "partisan" and "divisive" and also because they are upset that gas prices are going up (man, are these jigheads gonna behave well for Peak Oil for real or what?) -- in other words, any realism about our circumstances will yield uncritical spasms of punitive tantrum as likely to be directed at those who are struggling to serve their interests as not.

Needless to say, many Republicans will be more than happy to lie loudly to the electorate when the consequences of their irresponsible posturing come due, and will declare macro-economically illiterate pieties to the effect that wholesome stimulus measures enacted in an economy in freefall and in a liquidity trap by Democrats caused the deficit Republicans created in fact with their tax-cuts for the rich and their war adventures and their stubborn allegiance to surreally inefficient for-profit healthcare spending.

You better believe that Republicans won't let a good crisis of their making go to waste, and will be more than happy to use the resulting catastrophe as a pretext for the further dismantlement of our notionally equitable and representative civic institutions, the better to usher in the anti-democratic neo-feudalist order they have been crowing for since the New Deal for anybody with ears to hear.

America, I begin to fear, is simply too uneducated not to fall for their charlatanry on such complex questions (macro-economics, environmental science, harm-reduction administration), and too spoiled from too protracted an insulation from the consequences of their bad behavior to sustain the will for any substantial address of the problems at hand.

America will remain the beneficiary of its comparative geographic isolation, the richness of its resources, the diversity of its population, and so this failed empire probably won't be the worst notionally representative authoritarian plutocratic backwater in the world to live in while the world goes to hell -- and in any case if the United States finally fails to rise to our promise as a sane sustainable secular social democracy the world is probably better off for the eclipse of our prevalence anyway, though I can't say the candidates on offer to assume such prevalence fill me with much confidence about out earthly prospects.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Let's Ask Alexander Hamilton

According to TPM, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has declared that, "No one can seriously believe that the constitution's authors intended to create a right to same-sex marriage." He may be right. No doubt these sacred constitutional authors were too busy at the time enshrining human slavery in that document.

Onward Christian Soldiers Marching to Galt's Gulch

To the extent that the Christian Right worships their rather unbiblical white-racist war-mongering money-grubbing baby Jesus there really are fewer obstacles to their support of the film adaptation of relentlessly atheist Ayn Rand's execrable omni-incompetent novel Atlas Shrugged than there might initially appear to be (certainly, relevant considerations of taste are little likely to figure with that crowd either). So, I'm wondering if the megachurches will be shuttling their congregations to the multiplexes before this turkey makes its way to bargain DVD bins a la its potboiler cult-bible cousin Battlefield Earth?

Eight Propositions on Taxes

One

Taxes are not theft, but a precondition for the constitution and intelligibility of the claim to ownership on which notions of theft depend in the first place.

Two

Taxes are not involuntary charitable contributions, since the basic rights secured through taxation cannot be regarded as matters of charity else they are not rights in the first place.

Three

Taxes are not, however annoying they may seem, burdens on our freedom, so much as indispensable enablers of freedom -- and hence they are a precondition for the constitution of the very experience of the "voluntary" on which notions of the involuntary depend in the first place.

Four

Taxing more those who profit more by their personal recourse to the shared inheritance of knowledge and culture, to the shared inheritance of the limited environmental resources on which we all depend for our survival and flourishing, and to the benefits of collaboratively maintained infrastructure, institutions, norms, trust, legitimacy, and security is not unfair so much as a basic recognition of the fact of our radical inter-dependence as creative and vulnerable individuals in the world, peer to peer.

Five

Taxes, as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., famously put the point, are the price we pay for civilization. Anti-tax zealots would appear to believe that you can eat civilization and have it, too.

Six

Taxes pay for the social administration of basic needs that ensures the scene of consent to historical developments is non-duressed by the threat of deprivation, inequity, or insecurity.

Seven

Taxes ensure sufficient equity among citizens so that the diversity also valued by democracy does not disable the shared commitment to democratic processes, the preservation of democratic institutions providing nonviolent alternatives for the resolution of disputes and the ongoing reconciliation of the diverse aspirations of the stakeholders with whom we share the world.

Eight

Taxes coupled to representation itself ("No Taxation Without Representation") ties the maintenance of government as such -- an organization invested with legitimate recourse to force with all the authoritarian dangers inhering in that state of affairs -- inextricably to the maintenance of its democratic legitimacy.

A Repost in Honor of Tax Day.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fainting Couch Fascists

Aunt Pittypat, my smelling salts! That Black Man in our White House said mean things -- in Public! -- about my plans to fuck old people over after fucking them over all their lives so the filthy rich can be even richer still! The incivility! I feel faint! My smelling salts, Aunt Pittypat! My smelling salts!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"I Know You Are But What Am I": A Survey of the Fantastically Rich, Subtle, Original, Powerful Rhetorical Arsenal of Today's Republican Party

If you notice Republican proposals make no sense you're unserious!

If you notice Republicans are advocating the dismantlement of civilization you're uncivil!

If you notice Republicans are indifferent to the suffering caused by their policies you're insensitive!

If you notice Republicans ignore consensus science you're advocating junk science!

If you notice Republican racism you're a racist!

If you notice Republicans are weirdly obsessed with gay people it's because of your gay agenda!

If you notice Republicans are indifferent to issues of child health, safety, and education it's because you're a baby killer!

If you notice Republican cruelty you're mean!

If you notice Republican warmongering harms the country you're unpatriotic!

If you notice Republicans celebrate avoidable violence it's because you hate freedom!

If you notice Republicans attack civil liberties it's because you want to be a jackbooted thug!

If you notice Republican hostility to diversity it's because you don't know the Real America!

If you notice Republican policies harm the overwhelming majority of the American people you aren't listening to the American people!

If you notice Republicans lard the richest of the rich with power and privilege at everybody else's expense you're engaging in class warfare!

If you notice Republicans serve the heavy hand of plutocracy it's because you don't understand the invisible hand of free markets!

If you notice Republicans want to eliminate the taxes on which indispensable public services depend it's because you don't understand that there's no such thing as a free lunch!

If you notice Republicans keep winning policy debates on mainstream media outlets by simply declaring "I know you are but what am I?" every time anybody makes a salient criticism of them it's the work of that liberal lamestream media!

Another Anti-Wingnut Chestnut

The enabling delusion of every historical empire is that it is history's umpire.

Lots more such.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Everybody Poops (Unless They're An Android And Should Be Destroyed)

BadLipReading Theater:



Now, that's some profound and powerful anti-transhumanist agitprop there.

Republicans Leap Gleefully Into the Feudal Abyss

Randroid Ryan’s Republican budget has passed the House of Representatives, 235 to 193. No Democrats voted for it. All but four Republicans voted for it.

This unutterably cruel and nonsensical proposal will not survive the Senate, nor could it survive the President's inevitable veto, but as the doll-eyed dolt has declared in the breathless tonalities of piety he reserves for efforts to make majorities suffer needlessly and to transfer treasure to the already rich, this isn't about sensible governance, this is about "A Cause" (you know, kinda sorta like slavery was "The Cause" for the rich white racist assholes and duped dumbasses of the Confederacy before him).

The GOP's official and now congressionally-affirmed proposal to destroy Medicare, to defund public investment in the education and support of young people, to pretend climate change isn't a threat if you pray really hard for it not to be, to ignore insane Defense spending, all the while larding the richest of the rich with even more tax cuts at a moment in history when all but the rich are suffering at the edge of ruin is a bald bid to impose unqualified feudalism on a nation whose diverse people and whose precious precarious democracy he and the rest of his party have come to fear and loathe utterly, even in its present debased state.

If the rich plutocrats and their Teatard Army and the Party-Equivalence dead-enders prevail in upcoming elections in the face of all this, then America really probably needs the consequences coming to it to constrain its capacity to murder the rest of the world while it's busy so pointlessly and extravagantly committing suicide in this way.

Surely More Republican Tax Cuts for Billionaires Would Help

SFGate
A fire gutted the defunct Cadillac dealership in Vallejo Thursday, displacing about 50 homeless people who had taken up residence in the showroom and sales offices.

America's Very Own Berlusconi

Trump leading the entire crappy GOP Presidential field by nine points at the moment.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

So, the Speech

Not only was it better than my worst fears, but actually it was even not bad.

Obama framed his case with a clear defense of a commonsense progressive vision of governance and ferociously attacked doll-eyed dolt Paul Ryan's GOP budget on moral grounds -- both of these profoundly welcome, powerfully good things for him to do.

He proposed defense cuts and raising taxes on the rich as the way to go, and that message is as right now as it always was. Defending the economies of insurance reform, putting bargaining to lower prescription drug prices back on the table, shrinking Pharma IP terms to get cheaper generics out, giving IPAB legs (expect the public response here to be about half dumb-dumb lies that this is do-nothing smoke and mirrors and half dumb-dumb lies that this is do-too-much death panels), all good substantive stuff especially compared to Teatard magical market thinking and the Cruelty Caucus' pointless austerity sadism.

Those liberals who are already hyperventilating about the sound-bite declaring Obama's plan three dollars of cuts for every one dollar of tax increase should really try for once not to be bamboozled by creative framing designed to bamboozle their enemies into accepting best-practically-possible liberal outcomes. Lots of savings that needn't be called cuts are being called cuts to make Obama's plan seem cruel and unfair enough to pass muster as "serious" inside the beltway as far as I can tell.

Needless to say, a compromise taking us halfway from Obama's proposal toward the direction of the brutal nonsense of Randroid Ryan and the Teatards is a compromise taking us all the way to disaster. But Obama's vision, outlined in this speech, while not my own dream plan, is perfectly acceptable, not even that bad, and should be taken as such.

We need to hold the line here, though, and to the extent that Obama has yoked governance to campaigning for re-election via this vision, I think we may have the bully pulpit on our side for once for such an effort. That's not too shabby.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ziiiiing!

Willie Brown:
Mitt Romney -- Sarah Palin -- Mike Huckabee -- Michelle Bachmann -- and now Donald Trump. The Republican lineup for presidential contenders is starting to look like a cast party for "Dancing With the Stars."

Funny cause it's troo.

What, Me Worry? Wednesday's Speech Will Set the Tone for Obama's Campaign and Hence A Whole Year's Public Discourse

Steve Benen gently proposes "it's time to revisit the assumption that the Obama White House got rolled" on the last-second budget deal of days past, since upon closer examination it appears that "a lot of the cuts related to money that wasn't going to be spent (leftover Census money, for example), eliminating programs that were set to expire, and not repeating expenditures intended to be one-time infusions anyway."

In other words, Obama let the GOP fulminate dramatically while his own technocrats tinkered around the edges to ensure best-possible outcomes under cover of all the crazytown atmospherics. Also, Obama's rising approval numbers and Boehner's plummeting numbers suggest that Obama read feckless independents correctly this time around and also that Boehner's fractious caucus really won't be satisfied with anything less than apocalypse (an outcome which wouldn't satisfy them remotely as much as they think it would, hence the caucus is pretty much unsatisfiable on principle).

I can't say that any of this is particularly surprising. Obama has always been consummately good at such delicate maneuverings. Given the context in which Obama found his way to this outcome, however, that is to say, given the actual realities of widespread misery, consolidating wealth disparity, a liquidity trap, media distortions of fact, a GOP captured by its most reactionary elements, well, it is hard to find anything to cheer in such an outcome, whatever the effort and skill to which it testifies.

It's likely that a hard line on raising the debt ceiling creates a game of chicken from which Democrats can only win and Republicans can only lose, and so the fiscal and political ends align sufficiently serendipitously -- not to mention that corporate-military GOP funding teats are among those who would suffer conspicuously from failure to raise the debt ceiling and so I just don't believe they will bite however idiotically they bark on this one -- that I am less worried right now about how that is going to play out, even if a bad outcome really would be calamitously bad (none of which is to deny that Democrats can still easily snatch defeat from the jaws of ready victory in any case, it's just to say that there is no reason to expect them to do so until we see actual evidence to that effect).

No, it seems to me that the Obama response to the profoundly cruel, incoherent, polemical budget drawn up by doll-eyed dolt Paul Ryan will be the real battleground in the months to come. Coming on the heels of Obama's announcement of his re-election campaign, the terms on which he fights a budget which Ryan himself has declared the manifesto of a "Cause" will tell us all what we will have to work with between now and November 2012.

It is a truism that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose, and part of the reason this is true is that few are inspired let alone not plain demoralized by prosaic campaigns to infuse them with the kind of energy and imagination that yields victories with legs (not to mention coat-tails). It is also a truism that budgets are moral documents, and to the extent that this is true, the profoundly immoral document that Randroid Paul has delivered to the world calls for a moral response just as ferociously as the location of this speech at the beginning of a new Obama campaign calls for the kind of poetry a moral respond would provide.

Again, it is not surprising that Obama may cunningly win policy skirmishes on the budget deal and on the debt ceiling. But it is crucial to grasp that to win the budget battle with Ryan on such terms (however competent and comfortable he may be on such ground as a sitting President) will not win him the election of which this skirmish is a part.

As progressives at the level of the States are reconnecting the Democratic Party via a defense of organized labor with the politics of the majority of people who work for a living, now is the time for progressives at the level of the National politics of a Presidential campaign to do the same via a moral battle over the GOP budget to punish suffering and vulnerable majorities in order to lard the richest of the rich with ever more wealth and privilege.

Those who are worried about Wednesday's speech are worried that a golden opportunity will be squandered for progressive change in a pre-emptive surrender to phony, immoral, unsound "bipartisanship," and we are worried that an utterly demoralizing tone will be set with which we must all cope for many long months of long days of long hours of effort all to an uncertain outcome in which even victory would feel ambivalent at best.

Steeling Myself for Wednesday's Budget Speech

One rarely goes far wrong these days expecting bad (Randroid-Lite, "bipartisan" crap sandwich, more pain for the precarious, giving your own voters the finger, and endorsing the Catfood Commission) as one hopes for better (being a Democrat, drawing a contrast, endorsing sense, doing the right and also popular thing, and calling on the rich to pay their fair share for once while cutting ruinous defense spending). In an update, Ezra Klein reports that the White House has explicitly declared to him that Wednesday's speech will not be an endorsement of the Catfood Commission while admitting, not very reassuringly, that confusion reigns. I'm still voting for expect bad, hope for better.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Is There Such A Thing As A Reasonable Compromise With Total Catastrophe? Worries Over President Obama's Upcoming Speech on "Deficit Reduction"

Everybody is talking about the announcement that this Wednesday President Obama is delivering "a major speech" laying out an aggressive plan for deficit reduction. The language of the announcement has everybody spooked, me included.

But I am adopting a wait and see attitude for now, hoping for the best. After all, he could re-cast "deficit reduction" as a matter of raising revenue, making corporate tax-cheats and the lucky rich pay a fair share for once in the taxes that pay to keep the America that has served them so well intact to the benefit of all. He could also change the terms of the debate, pull out of the gravity well of GOP frames in which he disastrously got caught in the recent government shutdown drama, and re-frame "deficit reduction" as a matter less of cuts than of investments that create jobs and grow the economy out of deficit.

This would constitute "a major speech" indeed, and a popular, ethical, economically sound, and winning proposal, a perfect foil to the brutality and illiteracy of proposals coming from the Teatard Right.

But, given the ominous references we are hearing to reforming entitlements, such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to be rolled out in the speech, it is hard not to expect the very worst, frankly.

Again, it wouldn't be a hard thing at all for Obama to sketch out an incomparably more reasonable more reality-based more fair-minded raft of proposals than the flabbergastingly cruel and nonsensical proposals of doll-eyed dolt Paul Ryan. But the problem is that Randroid Ryan's proposals are actually so bad that the "reasonable" compromise between Ryan and Obama would still be sure to be a complete moral and fiscal catastrophe for the country.

One thing that must be grasped is that to undermine the universality of entitlement programs in the spirit of parochial cost-savings, for example, risks the fatal undermining of the very nature of these programs. Everybody must be invested in these programs, as part of what it means to be a citizen and a participant in the American compact, including those few who would not need them to survive in a medical emergency or upon retirement.

No Democratic President should be complicit in the erasing of the bright line that protects these programs the battles for which define the legacy and pride of our party and our nation. Hell, we should always only be pushing for the widening, not the circumscription, of these programs. I'm for single-payer healthcare, I'm for Medicare for all, via Buy-In and lowering the retirement age, and I'm for all this even now, especially now, in our present distress, because these policy outcomes are not only morally but practically the right thing to do if one wants both fairer but also most cost-efficient administrative outcomes.

Any "reasonable compromise" that constrains the nihilism of Randroid Ryan's GOP "plan" but still relinquishes the universality of the promotion of general Welfare (see, Constitution, Preamble) will share with Ryan's effort the crucial and lamentable consequence of a disastrous dismantlement of the American aspiration to administer the civic scene out of which an equitable, diverse, and consensual civilization is substantiated.

Obama will offer Republicans a lot of rope to hang themselves with on Wednesday, to be sure, and plenty of wiggle room for himself, and these moments need not yield panic that he is out to sell the store, but there should nonetheless be illustrative policy proposals in the speech that, as it were between the lines, reveal to what extent his opportunism as an Executive facing the demands of re-election in a divided government filled with ignorant sociopaths under profoundly difficult economic circumstances is leavened by principles at the heart of the Democratic party of which he is presumably the leader. I'm worried, but I'll be paying attention.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

In the Coming Crises We Will Need Much More Drama from Obama

The first -- and, mind you, by far the easiest -- of the three government shutdown crises made inevitable in the year 2011 by the frankly idiotic mid-term election gains of Republicans in this most nihilist phase of their life as a party would seem to have been averted. Now, two more shutdown crises continue to loom as the nation confronts the necessity of raising its debt ceiling and then the necessity of coming up with its next budget.

By the way, one hesitates to describe entirely as an "aversion of crisis" last night's eventual resolution of a hostage crisis by GOP gangsters involving billions upon billions in spending cuts that harm always only the most suffering and vulnerable of our fellow citizens in a time of extreme economic distress while the incompetents and criminals responsible for that distress are rolling in dough (a state of affairs glibly designated as "shared sacrifice" by privileged pundits and politicos who seem to think cruelty is "courageous," magical market thinking is "seriousness," and who apparently never met an injury that didn't call out for the instant addition of an insult), especially given the fact that in an extreme recession aching to double-dip a nation caught in a liquidity trap what is wanted above all is the opposite of yesterday's actual result, what is wanted is stimulative spending and not depressive spending cuts.

Be all that as it may, economically illiterate and brutally cruel Republican cuts have been made in exchange for which the Republicans have kindly permitted the government they so crow about despising to continue to exist for a day.

Meanwhile, their warm gun remains unhappily aimed at our nation's temple and the hostage-crisis resumes for a threatened refusal to raise the debt ceiling, which, were it to occur, would of course prompt a new and needless global economic crisis and proclaim to the world the faithlessness and discredit of an American Republic beholden to the Randroidal Teatards of Movement Republicanism just in case anybody in the world has failed to notice this rather flabbergasting state of affairs already.

Needless to say, doll-eyed dolt Randroid Ryan's neo-feudalizing Medicare dismantlement proposal -- no doubt to be peddled as the Rainbow Brite Job-Bonanzification Magic Money-Tree Basket of Puppies Budget Act of 2011 -- will be the next occasion for Democrats to compromise sanity in the face of the now usual Republican berserker-choir of barking and bullets and blood-letting.

Although Ryan's early roll-out of his immiserating and hallucinating proposals did seem to inspire some fight in Nancy Pelosi and some other Democrats, I remain chilled to the bone by the spectacle of the Administration's pre-emptive accession to the economically false and morally reprehensible Republican framing of the deficit as first and most of all a profligate spending problem and Obama's subsequent "no drama" ascension to a space "above the fray" of congressional budgetary skirmishing. This created a near-empty space in which all that false reprehensible GOP framing endlessly ramified with what seem to me disastrous results even if the disaster of a government shutdown itself (in which GOP ideology would be subjected to devastating scrutiny along with many other, more terrible, consequences) was averted.

It may be that this hands-off strategy exposed the extreme fractiousness of the Republican caucus and revealed their vile hand ahead of the larger battles to come, but for that to be true requires an engaged, fighting Obama getting out ahead of the utterly predictable Republican talking points and gambits and framing these looming battles in terms congenial to Democratic priorities.

To the extent that Obama has begun his 2012 campaign, and hitherto Obama the campaigner has had more fight in him than has Obama the elected executive has seemed to, this is faintly encouraging but far from the pudding where the proof is. We have need of a bullhorn if not an actual bully at the bully pulpit in the months to come, and Obama cannot afford to be "above the fray" in the fights to come, not for a moment.

Unless No Drama Obama gets a Mo Drama makeover, we're all in the soup.

Many elected officials seem to me still to underestimate the present nihilist mood of the GOP (no doubt because many of them fail to grasp the extent to which unadulterated market pieties with which they still sympathize in qualified forms themselves in their bubbles of privilege actually really are indistinguishable from nihilism), and think there is no really and for true chance that Republicans won't raise the debt ceiling given the consequences, and I think this is a profound and perilous underestimation of the level of ignorance and bile driving the GOP at the moment.

Randroid Ryan's advocacy of the dismantlement of equitable civilization as some kind of fucked up holy cause calls forth a teachable moment in which a certain charismatic President I know must speak in simple straightforward terms about the contrary cause of Democrats who believe in equity, diversity, consent, and investment in the institutions and services without which equity, diversity, and consent languish and all but the richest of the rich suffer in vain.

These are dramatic times, with dramatic stakes, and dramatic dangers are looming. None of us can sit this one out, whether you are a disappointed progressive contemplating sitting out upcoming election contests and indulging demoralizing loose-talk of Republican-Democratic equivalences, or you are an opportunistic (not always the same thing as pragmatic, by the way) legacy-minded President with a temperamental tendency to mediate disputes on terms set by others when your responsibility, in large part, is to take a hand in setting them in the spirit of the people who put you where you are.

Friday, April 08, 2011

20 Minutes Into the Present

WikiLeaks + YouTube = Max Headroom.

YouTube
Today we're announcing the initial roll out of YouTube Live, which will integrate live streaming capabilities and discovery tools directly into the YouTube platform for the first time. This begins with a new YouTube Live browse page (www.youtube.com/live), where you can always find the most compelling live events happening on YouTube and add events to your calendar. Subscribe to your favorite YouTube live-streaming partners to be notified of upcoming live streams on your customized homepage.

Fuck the facebook boosters: Just how many times, after all, are assholes going to keep getting on the cover of Time by re-packaging geocities and calling it New? Quite apart from the fact that there really never is such a thing as the sooper-gizmo that "changes everything," it's YouTube more than anything else I can think of online that changed everything already, and now it's changing everything again.

Hectic Time of the School Year

My apologies...

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Randroid Ryan Through A Rude Prism

Rude Pundit:

If a Democrat had proposed a budget that radically cut the military, raised the top tax rate by nearly a third, ended all the wars, created a national health care system through a new payroll tax (thus relieving businesses of a huge financial burden), expanded EPA and food safety enforcement, and jacked up discretionary spending on education, scientific research, and more, and still yielded trillions of dollars in long-term savings, and then explained the document by saying, "This isn't a budget. This is a cause," do you think that that Democrat would have been hailed as "courageous" by any Republicans? Do you think that anyone in the media would have taken the thing seriously? Don't be fucking stupid. What would have happened is that most Democrats would have run away like beaten bitches afraid of Rush Limbaugh's switch, Republicans would have called it "un-American" and "the mostest radicalest budget that anyone has ever put out in the history of forever" and taken the word "cause" to mean "Marxist rape of your children," and Fox "news" would gone to TardCon 5 in demonizing everything: "Do you want the government telling you what diseases you can have? Do you want Barack Obama to decide how much shit should be on your chicken?" Paul Ryan's budget is not a serious document. It is, instead, a few pages of dried ejaculate on paper. It is a wishlist out of every conservative wet dream, and, as such, it is ballsy just how brazen it is. If nothing else, you can't say in the future that Republicans didn't warn us.


Rude goes on to predict sweeping Democratic capitulation to the rampaging Randroid Death-Eater Orc Teatard army. And what Democratic paying attention hasn't yanked their head bald and screamed themselves hoarse at the spectacle of such capitulation over the last fifteen years, after all? But I must say that the actual Democratic response so far has seemed to me more encouraging than not.

Pelosi is pulling on her Ninja mask and even dusting off her gavel when she thinks nobody is looking. Obama is making the suave opportunistic noises he makes when a minutely progressive outcome is in store rather than the lame opportunistic noises he makes when a massively reactionary outcome is in store. The surly unpaid natives of the left blogipelago and the lefty wonks both underpaid and overpaid are all holding hands without too much prodding rather as they did during Bush's electoral-capital-(heh heh)-squandering social security privapalooza debacle, and for the same reasons.

So, I dunno, I personally think this is looking more like a big win for us than not, knock wood.

Now, if we win the budget debate by arguing that cruelty isn't actually courageous and magical market thinking isn't actually serious (which rather looks like the way the case is shaping up so far to my delighted surprise) then this looks like a big win that can also yield longer-term benefits in the larger ongoing this-shouldn't-be-so-goddamned-hard effort to get Democrats to remember who they are and Americans more generally to remember why they are all Democrats, except for a few white-racists, would-be theocrats, patriarchal pricks, and rich assholes everybody actually hates.

If, failing that, we win the budget debate in a way that does nothing else but also simply managing to get folks to stop calling that doll-eyed dolt Randroid Ryan an Exciting Up and Coming Leader with Big Ideas I will be quite pleased enough.

The Politics of Design. The Anti-Politics of Design.

I'm teaching a graduate seminar on the political theory of design practice at the San Francisco Art Institute this term into which I've been pouring an enormous amount of the agony and enthusiasm for technoscientific and anti-futurological topics that usually play out instead in my writing online here. A participant in the seminar sent me one of those end-of-term e-mails one always gets, in which a distinction on which much of the conversation has productively turned the whole term suddenly gets called into question as she sits down to write her own paper about one of the seminar's objects at greater depth. The question had to do with getting clearer about what really has been a kind of foundational distinction for the course, that there is a sense in which design is at once political but also anti-political (of course this anti-politics is also political, and round and round we go). The student seemed embarrassed to ask the question, but of course the truth is that such questions at such times are the whole reason to take a course such as ours. Anyway, since the course replays themes that also preoccupy the blog, and because the blog may have suffered this term because of my preoccupation with the course, I thought I might publish here some of my answer to my student's question for my interlocutors here as well:

"Good question -- this is, of course, THE question of the course. And here at the end is the best time to be asking it in earnest.

"At the root of all political thinking is the recognition that a diversity of people live together in a shared world. Quite simple, right? The key is diversity/plurality. As Arendt said, when one is looking at the world politically, 'Plurality is the Law of the Earth.'

"The people with whom we share the world are different from one another, their histories are different, their capacities are different, their aspirations are different. Even an authoritarian politics imposing its will on that diversity must take into account the complex dynamics produced by such diversity as it tries to manage, control, and get desired results from diverse subjects, but of course in more notionally and substantially free and democratic political orders this becomes ever more clear as one struggles to reconcile stakeholder differences at the legislative level and manage stresses at the administrative level and reconcile competing aspirations at the cultural level, right? This insight is what gives Foucault the confidence to say that wherever there is power, politically speaking, there is also always resistance.

"When I say that design is political I simply refer to the way particular designs reflect a host of decisions arising out of such political questions: how will this made thing serve best the most problems and ends of its diverse stakeholders, how will it be taken up by the rich dynamic social and cultural worlds of which it will become a participant, how does it bespeak the designer's own contribution or intervention in ongoing struggles and conversations of which it is a part, how will it constrain and enable certain outcomes over others all of which have constituencies?

"Designs reflect politics, designs are symptoms of politics, designs are participants in politics, designs contextualize and articulate politics. This is an obvious insight, I should think, but one that it is easy to lose sight of to the cost of understanding what one is really up to when one is doing design, and even when one contemplates the furniture of the designed world that is at once the setting for present-onto-futural politics as well as the archive of politics present-out-of-past.

"It would seem, however, that we are always tempted to pretend that design is engineering, to pretend that the made is the natural (never forget the kinship of the natural to the customary), and hence pretend that what is now in the world has not been otherwise and could not be otherwise and will not be otherwise the better to evade the responsibilities and responsivenesses demanded by and promised to the political dimension of human life.

"When I say that design is anti-political, then, I refer to the way design as a discourse would achieve ends (for example, sustainability, democratic participation, 'optimal' humans) of a kind that are, properly speaking, political and whose problems and possibilities are political through and through. But design in some of its current (and, I would add, prevailing) construals as a discourse, and The Designer as an actor/actant within such a discourse, assumes a vantage in respect to these political ends that disavows their profoundly political character and fancies that clarity and power results from this assumption.

"This amounts to a particularly dangerous form of kidding yourself about what you are up to when you are designing or contemplating design -- for example, denying the parochialism of your own political vision, ignoring the difficulties that actually attend the accomplishment of what are actually political goals, mistaking the substance of your vision as something it is not, pretending something controversial is really neutral or that an effort at political reconciliation and liberty is really an effort at scientific prediction and capacitation.

"People can't be tricked or cajoled into sustainability by a priestly elite of architects. Permaculture really is cultural, just as it says it is, and so, a matter of a conviviality (etymologically: a living-together) of the diversity of lifeways, of compromises, conversations, shared sacrifices and mutual aid in a shared (and finite) world.

"People can't be tricked or cajoled into citizenship by a priestly elite of software coders. Code, like every tool/technique, can be taken up in political efforts to rule, to fool, to steal, to cheat, to spy, to help, to agitate, to educate, to organize, but it does not circumvent the political itself. It always has politics but it never has a politics -- as say the boosters: inherent democracy! as say the conspiracists: secret plutocracy!

"People can't be tricked or cajoled into the Good Life by a priestly elite of geneticists. When one speaks of 'enhancement' one is always actually speaking of enhancement -- of what capacities? for which constituencies? in the service of whatever ends? at the cost of the frustration of what other ends? with which other constituencies? The Human, properly so called, has never been given but has always been a site of contestation and collaboration, human being has always been a becoming one dimension of which is absolutely and ineradicably political.

"As we will see in seminar tomorrow, once all this has been grasped, the interesting questions become a matter of thinking the temporality and spatiality of design as political/historical struggle rather than (or by means of) scientific/instrumental rationality."

Monday, April 04, 2011

Demand Insanity, Accept Obscenity: Today's GOP

While this may seem, flabbergastingly enough, to be a winning strategy for the GOP at the moment in their congressional skirmishing and especially in their media messaging, it pays to grasp that the consequences of the recent palpably crazy Republican policy proposals and their hard-line negotiating stance in support of them is either overreach -- in which case they lose everything sooner than they expect -- or success in destroying the country -- in which case they lose everything sooner than they expect.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Krugmania!

Krugman
I know that some people find this hard to understand -- perhaps because they don’t want to understand -- but people like me have never claimed that fiscal expansion is always and everywhere the right policy, even in response to recession. Nor are other arguments, like the argument that falling wages reduce, not increase, unemployment, universal. All of the unorthodox policy recommendations and conclusions are contingent on the economy being in a liquidity trap, in which short-run nominal interest rates are up against the zero lower bound and can’t go lower. And liquidity-trap conditions are rare; in fact, they’ve only happened twice in US history. Unfortunately, we’re living in one of those episodes right now.

Hell, if he intends us to read "only" there after that "contingent" rather than, say, "primarily," then compared to Krugman I guess I really am a wild eyed socialist and the Krugman of the last ten years isn't so different, really, from the one fifteen years before. Just a nice moderate post-Friedmanian Keynesian who thinks clearly and writes well. Of course, in these days of "serious" loons drooling cannibal blood between prayer meetings anybody to the left of Attila is indistinguishable from Kropotkin, so why split hairs, I guess?

Randroid Ryan Wants to Loot Medicare to Build a Mountain of Gold Plated Turds for Billionaires to Die On and the Rest of Us to Die Under

NYT:
Mr. Ryan proposed that Medicaid financing be converted into a block grant program, with states given a set allotment of money and new discretion to shape health coverage programs for the poor. Their Medicare proposal would allow those nearing eligibility to remain with the current system, and it would create a program that would provide payments to Medicare enrollees to buy private health insurance.


What is there to say? Awesome!

Randroid Ryan (GOP intellectual eminence and dead-eyed palpable dolt) wants to privatize/loot Medicare into oblivion, you know, for kids! all in answer, no doubt, to those white racist get-a-brain-morans who banshee shrieked their way through the long bacchanal of Tea Bag Summer 'bout gettin' big gu'ment's hands off mah Medicare!

Can the Democrats manage to preserve one of their literally indispensable literally party-defining signature achievements with literally all the facts on their side and literally universal support across the political spectrum on their side as well? Who the fuck knows anymore?

I have to believe that these stunning, sudden, wildly unpopular, often acrobatically alter-legal GOP union-busting child-labor-law busting non-existing sharia law busting womb-busting bring a grenade launcher to the food court shock and awe overreaches in statehouse after statehouse represent the spectacular convulsions of the dying ballooning body of the GOP, the convulsions of the hysterically terrorized white racist patriarchal prick feudalist minority clinging to their unearned privileges like Charlton Heston to his rifle in a rapidly multiculturalizing secularizing planetizing nation, fighting the last fight with all they've got before vanishing in a sigh like a distended fart into the permanent marginal minority of a regional rump incapable of summoning the resources to be taken seriously as a national party.

And I have to believe that comparable GOP efforts at the national level to dismantle Medicare and Social Security and public education and to dis-invent Keynesian macroeconomics and climate science and at least half of their oh so cherished Constitution which they happen to hate by means of magic spells or legislative fiat or fervent PR repetition are all similar evidence of the rather spectacular death throes of the Killer Clowns of an atavistic Movement Republicanism the world has by now left behind.

If instead the worst happens, if the dumb-dumb deathcult manages to pull this particular criminal idiocy off, I really am going to have to give up on idiot America in spite of my inner Mouseketeer. These war mongering climate change denialist anti-civilizationists are getting hard to distinguish from some thug literally pulling a gun on me in a goddamn alley -- they're really trying to do us in, for crying out loud!

By the way, not only should the Democrats resolutely refuse this latest GOP effort to murder people who work for a living via Medicare privatization in order to give the richest of the richest some more short-term profits there won't even be a world worth living in to spend them in, not only should the Democrats refuse this blood-soaked Randroidal fairy tale without the slightest contemplation of any mushy Catfood Commission-endorsed gruel of "compromise" with sinister insanity, either, but I think Democrats should be pushing hard, here and now, precisely to the contrary, for something even closer to a single payer healthcare system that makes sense via widening eligibility for many and Medicare buy-in for all in tandem with lowering the retirement age (to promote employment).

But, you know, what the hell do I know?

I hear "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help'," after all, so let's just dismantle society and let everybody die while a few hundred rich assholes roll around on a mountain of their own gold-plated turds until they die too.

I say it again: Awesome!

Job Destruction Isn't Job Creation

Republicans are very good at robotically repeating their talking points until these phrases assume the force of common sense even when they are wrong, even when they are destructive, even when the majority of people repeating these destructively wrong phrases are themselves the chief targets for the destruction policies based on these falsehoods produce.

Democrats, on the other hand, are not at all good at explaining their own views, I fear, and this is so even after a generation of Democrats waving their hands and screaming that we need to be better at explaining our own views. This is troubling.

Sometimes it seems as though many Democrats themselves can't exactly say why the Republican's pet falsehoods are false, and that their own views differ from the Republicans on moral grounds rather than factual ones, say, worries about the pointless suffering that Republican views and policies cause or insisting on more equitable outcomes, however these are accomplished. Of course, there are also plenty of Democrats who can and do see that Republican views are not just ugly but dangerously false -- but many of these seem insular and incommunicative, too intellectually restless to repeat their messages enough to build up a congenial hegemonic commonsense for everyday people to weave their disparate experiences into, too self-indulgent to grasp that just because they have figured an issue out for themselves that doesn't mean that the issue is "over" and that everybody has "moved on" with them to a new issue, or a more complex re-casting of that issue, or what have you.

Yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) delivered the Republicans' weekly address, and in the address he repeated Republican pieties I have been hearing repeated over and over and over throughout the nearly three decades of my voting life.
"Despite some recent signs of life, our economy still isn't creating enough jobs. And one of the reasons for that is the spending binge that's been going on here in Washington…. To support job creation in America, we need to keep the cuts coming, and we need to do much, much more. That's why it's important for Congress to get moving and pass a final bill that resolves last year's budget mess while making real spending cuts -- so we can tackle the bigger challenges facing job creation…. The president has also asked Congress to increase the national debt limit -- without any commitment to stopping the runaway spending that got us into this mess in the first place."

Many of the things Boehner said were dangerously wrongheaded, and none of them were new. Why after all this time can Republicans propound false notions about how destroying actual jobs is creating jobs -- or, for that matter, about how giveaways to the richest of the rich will trickle down to everybody else, about how industries and corporations that care first of all about profits can be counted upon to regulate themselves to be safe, honest, fair even when this is not profitable?

None of these claims is at all true. More to the point, none of them is even particularly plausible. These notions are counter-intuitive on their face, and hence vulnerable to easy refutation. All of these pieties have proven disastrously wrong in actual results experienced by majorities of people in their actual lives.

So, how on earth can Republicans still be repeating them so confidently for over thirty long years without facing by now instant, clear, concise, devastating rejoinders from all sides? Why do we still not have equally pithy slogans to fling against theirs, to put them on the defensive where they belong, to disrupt their pet narratives and metaphors. Aren't we supposed to have all the creative writers on our side? The problem has been clear for over a generation, and the effort to address it remains meager and sporadic at best.

And so, here we are, yet again, this time less than a week before a government shutdown deadline driven by even more extreme variations on these very falsehoods than Boehner's own, especially in the rabid forms cherished by the right-most "Tea Party" and Randroid zealots in the GOP who presumably made themselves a force to be reckoned with in their party and across the whole country in the mid-terms, here we are, yet again, hearing as ever the same erroneous, facile, frankly illiterate slogans and frames and formulations from the mainstream leadership of a party that holds the entire nation's policy apparatus hostage, putting us on the road to nowhere in a full-throated empty-headed mammalian roar of idiot enthusiasm via the threat of yet another ruinously expensive GOP government shutdown and even a threatened future default on our national debt, all to no purpose and in frank defiance of facts.

To avoid indulging the sin myself I accuse Democrats of committing so promiscuously, let me respond very briefly to Boehner's falsehoods myself, starting with the last one in the passage and moving backward to the first.

When Boehner accuses the President and Democrats of lacking "any commitment to stopping the runaway spending that got us into this mess in the first place" he is lying. Simple as that.

The "runaway spending" that got the United States into this mess involved the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans, which Obama tried to end and continues to advocate ending and hence is absolutely committed to stopping. As everybody knows, it was the Republicans who fought to keep this from happening by holding the entire agenda of the Democratic party hostage to their literally historically unprecedented obstructionism.

I want to add, by the way, that this unprecedented obstructionism was directed at Democrats who had just been elected to control of all three branches of government, the President with a higher proportion of the popular vote than any President in over a generation, a mandate incomparably more sweeping than the ambivalent "wave" of understandable but utterly inchoate mid-term discontent which Republicans now declare makes them the will of the American people incarnate, with a mandate so shattering that the rest of us need to shut the fuck up as they declare us corporate serfs, declare climate change nonexistent by fiat, and for all I know declare twice two makes five. Boehner makes this very hypocritical appeal himself, for example, when he says elsewhere in his little speech: "Americans rose up and demanded we stop the spending binge and start working together to create a better environment for job creation." One wonders why he showed so little respect for the far greater number of Americans who "rose up" for real to elect a man who advocated single payer, cap and trade, EFCA, and taxing the rich on the campaign trail for all to hear? Indeed, one wonders why his party shows their "respect" for Americans who presumably rose up to demand jobs here and now by presiding over an agenda that seems instead monomaniacally devoted to abortion bans and union busting rather than jobs? But I digress.

One imagines that by "runaway spending" in the quoted passage, Boehner probably means to refer primarily to healthcare reform, that great GOP bugaboo despite taking the actual form of GOP rather than better Democratic single-payer proposals. Of course, rather than representing "runaway spending" healthcare reform was a flawed but grownup and actually comparatively effective effort to constrain the single largest structural source of waste and economic instability in our economic system, the source of hyperbolically spiraling costs and bankruptcies almost all of which are avoidable in a more rational system reform brought us a step closer to, and all this very much in contrast with the reckless unpaid-for Republican sponsored Bush era provision of a Prescription Drug benefit, another key source of the "runaway spending" that got us into this mess and which Obama showed he is indeed "commit[ed] to stopping" by proposing policies that are actually paid for.

In addition, that "runaway spending" involved Bush's two ruinously expensive, strategically catastrophic, immoral and illegal war adventures, from which we have not yet managed to extricate ourselves, far from it, which would make Boehner's critique of Obama in this case a bit more apt were anyone to pretend for a moment that Boehner or the rest of his crowd weren't cheerleaders for those wars as Obama was not, or were offering to extricate us from them more diligently than Obama is now (not enough for me, but there remains even here a difference that makes a difference to anybody who cares about facts).

Three times in the quoted passage Boehner implies that cutting government spending yields the result of creating jobs. The clearest statement of the connection is this sentence: "To support job creation in America, we need to keep the cuts coming." But by the time this sentence has arrived he has already made the claim once and he makes it yet again once more afterward. Given how short the passage was it is pretty clear that the endless repetition of this particular Republican piety constitutes the primary substance of Boehner's and the GOP's "case" for what they mean to do this country in the days and weeks and months to come.

It should go without saying that what these "cuts" Boehner is championing literally refer to is the elimination of services and programs that are administered by actual human beings doing a little number called their "job," and hence, whatever else one might think might be happening when one cuts spending, it is literally true that at least one of the most conspicuous things being cut when spending is cut is jobs, and hence that cutting spending is unquestionable job destroying. Literally, incontrovertibly, and flabbergastingly obviously so.

There are obviously economic debates about whether such spending cuts manage to create more jobs elsewhere in the economy to overcome the jobs the cuts also destroy: And I think the series of jobless recoveries, the lowering real wages and standard of living coupled with productivity gains in general, the ongoing shift and concentration of wealth toward the richest of the rich (all of which point to the precarizing effects and downward pressures of conspicuous structural unemployment in epochs of deregulation, privatizing, regressive taxation, and lowered public spending), the endlessly many empirical studies demonstrating the stimulative effect of jobless benefits, food stamps, and comparable programs, the historical record of infrastructure spending in the past (all of which point to the stimulative effects of public spending, ideally paid for in the longer term by adequate revenues although this is a secondary consideration in a deep recession in which we are caught in a liquidity trap for which government spending is one of the few remedies available that do not involve incredibly widespread immediate unnecessary suffering for majorities who are not responsible for most of the mess a nation finds itself in at times like these) all provide ample material reason to believe people who say that cutting public spending creates more jobs in absolute terms are straightforwardly wrong to say that.

But I think it should be enough as a phrase to repeat endlessly in public simply to point out the obvious truth that cutting public spending is destroying the jobs that spending pays for, and so it is obviously true that cutting spending is destroying jobs rather than creating jobs. I think most of the other evidence is also on our side, and I think a clear case can be made for most of it in the give and take of deeper arguments should we be drawn into them.

People feel in their bones and in their everyday lives that public spending diverts economic resources to ensure security and opportunity for majorities so I think these debates are all winnable if only the debates are actually had. I think Rachel Maddow for one provides endless clear examples of the way such cases should be made in public, clear, accessible, while doing justice to most of the complexities at issue.

But be that as it may, I think it would be enough simply to stop this endless Republican repetition of the bulldozing vacuity of "spending cuts = job creation" simply to respond "spending cuts = job destruction," with the justification always waiting in the wings: "because that spending is literally spent paying people for doing indispensable jobs."

Elsewhere in making his idiotic "case" for destroying the country, Boehner claims "Washington's inability to get spending under control is creating uncertainty for our job creators." I know that this probably looks like just another repetition among many of the false and facile Republican connection of "spending cuts equals job creation" which I have already discussed. It is that, but in this variation there is something more that deserves to be highlighted, and by way of conclusion let me just say a word or two about that.

Republicans really do endlessly genuflect to the "Job Creators" to whom we apparently owe so much, to those apparently Randian supermen who must be courted and feted and supported and cajoled, who must be relieved of the burdens of taxation and regulation and uncertainty at every moment. These are the "our job creators" -- our cherished job creators! -- to whom Boehner is referring in his little catechism here.

One wonders why the point is not emphasized more often by Democrats that in making these claims Republicans are clearly declaring their allegiance to the richest of the rich, while at once exposing their comparative indifference and hostility to the great majority of people who actually work for a living. Just as there is an easy and immediate riposte to the declaration that "cutting spending equals job creation," namely, that "cutting spending equals job destruction" it seems to me that every time Republicans cry out "Won’t somebody please think of the job creators!?!" that Democrats should respond that every single person who works for a living is a job creator.

Quite apart from the patent absurdity of declaring richy rich parasites the real, true producers while declaring everybody who literally does all the work of producing anything at all to be the real, true lazy parasites, quite apart from the patent absurdity of the masturbatory cult to these so-called titan corporate CEOs and banksters who piss down your back and tell you it's raining, quite apart from the patent absurdity of Randroidal GOP hard-ons to these would-be stainless steel rugged individualists who also somehow need to be endlessly pampered and petted and reassured lest they retreat delicately forthwith with their imaginary toys into their hidey-holes leaving us bereft of their fabled fabulosity, there remains the scalding abiding truth that in even so notionally representative a democracy as our own there aren't enough of these plutocratic assholes to elect one of them dog-catcher let alone Senator and we the people actually have the power to vote and agitate and organize in our own actual interest the moment we actually respond with clarity and passion to the bullshit they repeat endlessly to the ruin of us all.