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

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How Taxpayers Subsidize Fast Food Profiteers

Raise the Minimum Wage to $15 and index it to inflation.

Pacifica Is Moving on Climate Change

My Governor Jerry Brown, of California, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and Premier Christy Clark of British Columbia are not waiting for Washington or the Canadian Parliament to act to address anthropogenic climate change. They just signed the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy in San Francisco (Clark, appropriately enough, via telepresence from Caprica City, er, you know). Implementing and funding the plan comes next, but it pays to remember that these states taken together are the world's fifth most powerful economy with over fifty million inhabitants.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Big Assumption

When he said people who like their insurance could keep it, President Obama may have assumed that people wouldn't still like their insurance after they discovered it doesn't actually insure them. You know, like sane people who aren't stupid.

When Ignorance Is Bliss Enlightenment Yields Hiss

Apparently, lots of people who were perfectly happy with insurance so bad it's now illegal are unhappier to discover their happiness was idiotic than happy to discover their dangerous problem's been solved. On top of this, many are declaring at the top of their lungs their costs are rising without determining whether they qualify for subsidies or services that make their actual costs change negligibly at best. Needless to say, this amounts yet again to President Usurper Obama telling lies with his blackety black black kenyamuslisocialist self. I'm pretty sure this is why Benghazi happened.

Monday, October 28, 2013


I've been grading mid-term papers for days, finishing up today, hence all this rather easy skimmy political bloggity blogging. Soon to change, I hope and I think.

The GOP Mirror Has Two Extreme Faces

Upcoming gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia are being punditocrapically narrated less as conventional contests between Republicans and Democrats than as a match up of a Tea Party radical Republicanism represented by patriarchal prick Ken Cuccinelli (who looks sure to lose his race against the fairly awful DLC Democrat Terry McAuliffe) and a more "moderate" "establishmentarian" Republicanism represented by Chris Christie (who looks even more sure to win his race in a blue state against Democrat Barbara Buono, who is running in a media blackout against the enormously popular governor who has a terrible economic record and disagrees with New Jersey citizens on a host of social issues, but who "talks tough" and is willing to hug the President in public places). Of course, Christie is no "moderate," if that term is pressed to exhibit any kind of policy substance. There are no Republican moderates, Republicanism is immoderate all the way down now. The Tea Party versus Moderate schism in the Republican Party is better understood as a schism between the True Believers and the Opportunistic Hypocrites when it comes to the host of cruel, intolerant, ineffective, macroeconomically illiterate assumptions and aspirations Republicans share across the board at this dismally low point in the GOP's history. Neither am I sure I agree when this schism is described as a matter of a Tea Party "half" of the party against a Chris Christie "half" -- I doubt that fully half the Republican caucus shares Christie's willingness to meliorate his avowedly intolerant plutocratic vision in the face of the changing vicissitudes of real world politics, but perhaps it is understandable that even a marginal minority of Republicans including Christie will seem like at least half.

"The Trap" For Republicans Began When They Ran

Greg Sargent documents House Republicans warning each other that engaging in actual budget negotiations as they promised to do in ending their latest idiotic catastrophic shutdown budget default would constitute "a trap" in which they might be expected to make concessions to their negotiating partners the Democrats (suggesting, in a surprise move, that they actually know at some basic level what the word "negotiation" means), and also that Marco Rubio is now warning House Republicans not to pass the Immigration Bill he himself famously championed because passing the bill and bringing it to conference in normal order would constitute "a ruse" in which compromise legislation to solve what is universally regarded as a huge problem might actually result. That this portends the continued prevalence of Tea Party radicalism and another year of pointless crisis governance threatening a fragile economy for no reason and delaying the solution of a host of painful but palpably treatable problems is obvious. The larger point is that if you hate the very idea of governing and regard the very idea of good governance as a scam, "the trap" and "the fraud" really happens when you choose to run for elected office in the first place.

Also, too, why pretend to resist it?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

More Genius Anti-ACA Strategery from the GOP

One has to note with amusement the usual GOP tone-deafness in seeking to discourage especially young, comparatively healthy folks from enrollment in ACA via website poutrage -- when young people are of course the most familiar and comfortable generational cohort when it comes to buggy software roll-outs. Perhaps next they will try to discourage enrollment by shouting Get off my lawn! Dang kids!

Democrats Should Indeed Own the Rocky Rollout But Republican Sabotage Shouldn't Get A Pass

The Republicans clearly smell blood in the water. They are howling for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to be fired for the rocky rollout of the website. Needless to say, there is nothing they would love more than to manage to render such an indispensable position vacant at just this fraught moment in the implementation of this vast, complex, transformative legislation. You can be sure that they would obstruct any replacement for the position in absolute lockstep. They don't think it would be helpful in any way to fire Sebelius. They simply want to wreak havoc and cause pain. This is all they have ever done where the Affordable Care Act is concerned, and lately it is all they have been able to manage more generally.

The clip above has been circulating ever more deliriously online today. In it, Secretary Sebelius mentions that Republican obstructionism and sabotage has made a substantial contribution to the problems is having right now. Of course, Republicans are doing unseemly dances in the aisles over this claim, screeching about her incompetence and buck-passing and so on. Their reaction is as ugly and disproportionate as her stated critique is, to say the least, understated and restrained.

As it happens, I would say that the Obama Administration has bent over backwards to assume full responsibility for the difficulties of the rollout, and I would say that even the more progressively partisan outlets of the "liberal media" (like one finds in certain blocks of MSNBC, in between the old straight white guys defending "the Middle" shows like Morning Joe and Chuck Toddler and the awful prison exploitation films) have not hesitated to demonstrate their "evenhandedness" by declaring the rollout a complete catastrophe and megaphoning endless variations of the question: Is Obamacare DOOMED?!?!

To be honest, I think that in their zeal to own the website's problems and testify to their seriousness the left has actually given Republicans more or less a complete pass when in my view they are indeed primary authors in the present distress. The Medicare expansion was always one of the key ways the Affordable Care Act brought us closer to universal healthcare coverage, but the Supreme Court enabled States to opt out of participation in this expansion and many of the states with the most substantial uncovered and under-served populations are controlled by Republicans who want the program to fail. In the absence of medicare expansion in these benighted Republican states, the marketplaces are taking on an increased load. The Administration expected each state to create their own tailor-made portals to the regulated marketplaces. In part this was an obvious accommodation of the state-centered conservative governmentality. In states like Kentucky (more conservative) and California (more progressive) that created their own exchanges as planned, few to none of the problems that are attracting so much attention otherwise are happening at all. But, of course, many of the same Republican controlled states opted to frustrate rather than facilitate access to the marketplaces for their citizens, and hence the website is taking on incomparably greater numbers of users than anyone anticipated.

Also, to those who roll their eyes at the incompetence of an Administration that had three years to create this website for its signature history-making accomplishment, it actually matters that many of the states which opted to stress the site by refusing to create their own did not indicate this in any definitive way until the very last possible moment, not three years ago but months ago. Just as people across the right and the left endlessly parrot the objectively non-true "pundit fact" that Obama had two years of control of the House and Senate to get anything he wanted passed when the truth is that in the face of absolute Republican obstructionism Obama had the relevant majorities for just the period of weeks between the late settlement and seating of Al Franken and the replacement of the deceased Edward Kennedy by the Republican Scotty Brown, so too I believe that the objectively non-true "pundit fact" of the Administration's wasted three year lead in to the unveiling of the site will be parroted to the cost of sense from here on out. I agree that the Obama administration might have circumvented some of the scope of its terrible rollout by trying to code for the worst, or by regionally segmenting under different contractors and then drawing from successes as Howard Dean has recently proposed. But the simple fact is that hindsight is twenty-twenty and I do not honestly think one can responsibly demand that policymakers always manage to anticipate in advance the precise form irrational Republican obstruction will take in the name of foresight or due diligence. The shape of Republican sabotage is articulated precisely by their sense of the weaknesses available to hand from moment to moment, their sabotage and obstruction adapts in real time to the best efforts of the responsible people who are trying to make this massive unwieldy program work for the nation's citizens.

Hell, I wanted Medicare for All or some other single payer alternative -- and many of the difficulties Republicans are screeching about arise from the inherent mess of providing public universality (actually, generality) via private competing profiteering means. At every single stage of this process, Republican obstruction and sabotage has yielded suboptimal compromises the weaknesses of which it has then exploited to undermine their best effects. When Secretary Sebelius speaks of the role of the "political atmosphere" created by Republicans as "not ideal" for the proper coding and testing and implementation of the website -- when this "atmosphere" includes states making it illegal for in person Navigators hired by the Administration to provide information and help for citizens in need trying to access the benefits of a program passed by both houses of Congress, validated by the Supreme Court of the United States, and then mandated by a general election that turned on the question of the validity and desirability of the program in question -- it is hard to imagine a more flabbergasting understatement of the case at hand. Yes, the atmosphere created by the Republicans is non-ideal. Indeed. Needless to say, the modesty of her complaint has been and will continue to be rewarded with the bestial howl of jackals setting upon wounded cub.

By the way, jackals, the ACA is here to stay. Howl all you want, Republicans, but policies are improving because of ACA regulations, more and more people are covered by ACA, the refusal of Republicans to accept the Medicare expansion will topple them from State governments as citizens demand what their neighbors have from the ACA, the success of medicare expansion and nonprofit co-op options in the ACA marketplaces as compared to the private insurers will create the conditions for further expansion, eventually medicare buy-in might provide the public option that leads to single payer, meanwhile the ACA's control of rising healthcare costs will eliminate budgetary bullshit arguments for austerity while affordable healthcare provided by the modest compromised ACA for people who work for a living will still provide a position of more security from which to resist elite incumbents in their unfair practices and unjust demands. Watch out, reactionaries, the blood in the water you smell may be your own.

President Obama Says It All In Five Minutes

A few weeks ago, we launched an important new part Affordable Care Act. It's called the marketplace. And for Americans without health insurance and for Americans who buy insurance on their own because they can't get it at work, it's a very big deal. If you're one of those people, the Affordable Care Act makes you part a big group plan for the first time. The marketplace is where you can apply and shop for affordable new health insurance choices. It gathers insurers under one system to compete for your business. And that choice and competition has actually helped bring prices down.

Ultimately, the easiest way to buy insurance in this marketplace will be the website But as you may have heard, the site isn't working the way it's supposed to be yet. It's frustrating for all of us who have worked so hard to make sure everyone who needs it gets health care. And it's especially frustrating for the Americans who have been trying to get covered. The site's been visited more than twenty million times so far. Nearly 700,000 people have applied for coverage already. And that proves just how much demand there is for these new quality affordable health care choices, and that's why in the coming weeks we are going to get it working as smoothly as possible. We've got people working overtime twenty four seven to boost capacity and address these problems every single day.

But even as we improve the website, remember that the website isn't the only way to apply for coverage under these new plans. We've updated to offer more information about enrolling over the phone, by mail, or in person with a specially trained Navigator who can help answer your questions.

Just call 1-800-318-2596.

And don't worry, these plans will not sell out we're only a few weeks into a six-month open enrollment period, and everyone who wants insurance through the marketplace will get it.

Some people have poked fun at me this week for sounding like an insurance salesman. And that's okay. I'd still be out there championing this law even if the website were perfect. I'll never stop fighting to help hardworking Americans know the economic security of health care.

That's something we should all want. That's why it's also interesting to see Republicans in Congress expressing so much concern that people are having trouble buying health insurance through the new website; especially considering they spent the last few years so obsessed with denying both same people access to health insurance that they just shut down the government and threatened default over it.

As I've said many times before, I'm willing to work with anyone or any idea who's actually willing to make this law perform better. It's well past the time for folks to stop rooting for it's failure, because hard-working middle-class families are rooting for its success.

The Affordable Care Act gives people who've been stuck with sky-high premiums because of pre-existing conditions the chance to get affordable insurance for the first time. It also means that women can finally buy coverage that doesn't charge them higher premiums than men for the same care. And everyone who already has health insurance, whether through your employer, Medicare, or Medicaid, will keep the benefits and protections this law already has put into place. Three million more young adults have health insurance on their parent's plans. Because of the Affordable Care Act more than six million people on Medicare have saved on average over a thousand dollars on their prescription medicine. Because of the Affordable Care Act last year more than eight million Americans received half a billion dollars in refunds from their insurers. Because of the Affordable Care Act for tens of millions of women, preventive care like mammograms and birth control are free.

Because of the Affordable Care Act. That's all part of this law and it's here to stay. We did not fight so hard for this reform for so many years just to build a website. We did it to free millions of American families from the awful fear that one illness or injury to yourself or your child might cost you everything you've worked so hard to build. We did it to cement the principle that in this country the security of health care is not a privilege for fortunate few but a right for everyone of us to enjoy. We've already delivered a part of that promise and we will not rest until the work is done. Thanks, and have a great weekend.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Two Cheers for the Latest GOP ACA Strategery

Every second Republicans devote to complaining about the ineffective rollout legitimates and even promotes the post-glitch ACA being implemented, even now, day by day, across the country.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ignore Those Silly Congressional Republicans, Look to the Governors!

So, when their terribly unpopular, utterly ineffectual Governors also get toppled state by state (FL, LA, ME, MI, PA, VA, WI...), who will apologists point to as the true, real, pragmatic GOP, the GOP with some kind of future as a viable national party? As Republican governance fails branch by branch, layer by layer, it can get really hard to keep up with the panicky spin.

Republicans: Obamacare Is the End of the World! And So Difficult To Sign Up For!

Won't it be nice when the bugs at get fixed, and the GOP goes back to screaming about eeevil socialist death panels rather than how inconvenient it is for folks to sign up for the eeevil socialist death panels?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Carless, Clueless, Confess

"Jay" tells me, "It seems highly plausible," to him, "that over 75% of Americans live in areas where carlessness is not a practical option," in the Moot to a post from a few months back, Driverless Cars As Dead-Ender Car Culture Apologia. To this, I respond:

"Not to me. Unless "practical" denotes the convenience (so-called) of a life indistinguishable from one shaped by lifelong personal car use. Nevertheless, I am quite happy to agree with you that a non-negligible proportion of the rural and suburban population presently does need access to cars for now, hence that the focus should be, as we already agree, on the expansion of public transportation infrastructure, electric carshares, and zoning for walkable cities for now. Else, I now know from ample experience this conversation becomes roughly as impossible without needing to be as conversations with people who think gun safety regulation is taking their guns away or freedom of conscience kills baby jebus and so on."

That last bit was not directed to Jay, but I do know from reading Atrios and others that when it comes to Americans and their cars, the least suggestion that Americans rely on their cars in defiance of sense or that cities might sensibly rethink themselves as anything but vast parking lots sited between million lane sooper-highways often provokes wildly disproportionate howls about inconvenience and totalitarian eco-fascists from car owners who could easily walk more.

I'll grant that I have access to transit options that are unavailable in much of rural and suburban America, but there are car owners by the hundreds in my immediate vicinity who drive to the grocery store I walk to with my handcart who pretend that what I am doing represents some kind of surreally unimaginable hardship. There is no kind way to point out how crazy that assessment is.

When I think of the dollar amount the price of gas has risen over the last five years while consumers sigh histrionically but "let the market decide" what they must pay as compared to the pitchfork mob scenes these same people inevitably threaten at the prospect of the price of gas rising by pennies in years past were environmentalists to have implemented gas taxes to fund renewable alternatives from which we all would be benefiting right now, I must say as somebody who has never had a car of his own in his adult life that it is awfully hard to understand where you car people are coming from.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Our Civil War, Like Our Revolution, Rages On

In the aftermath of the government shutdown and debt ceiling debacle, and the tales of a GOP Civil War unleashed in it or by it, there are a lot of autopsies and historical sketches out there this weekend, offering up contexts and advice and predictions. My own follows, but at the risk of spoiling the mystery by flipping to the last page and telling whodunit, let me just say that I don't think the Republicans have the intellectual or political resources in fact to force a sane reformation of their party right now. The left that thinks otherwise usually does so speaking of a "return" to sanity that is simply premised on myth, since the post New Deal Republican coalitions, especially in the period of their Southern Strategy prevalence in either its frowny-faced Nixonian or smiley-faced Reaganist modes, has never been the least bit sane, but merely indulged in an opportunistic deception of the majority of its voters that rendered it comparatively functional, and that particular deception, now exposed, cannot be re-instated so another path must be found on a hopelessly tractless and forbidding terrain. Others on the left are now indulging, I notice, in thought-experiments about parliamentary democracy which, like comparable thought-experiments about Third Parties over the last twenty years or so, seem to me to be complete wastes of time and energy, completely divorced from political reality (by which I mean to say that the practical political processes necessary to shift into a parliamentary form or to form an actually viable third party would require more time and energy than the direct address through our present debased institutional terrain of the harms and ills they are proposed to counter), except to the extent that they probably symptomize a recognition at a deeper level of just how fucked we are, which is, after all, also political reality.

David Frum provides a nearly apt summary of the catastrophe of the killer clown administration of George W. Bush, America's worst and most disastrous presidency with the quip: "The Bush administration opened with a second Pearl Harbor, ended with a second Great Crash and contained a second Vietnam in the middle." Of course, this summary fails to begin at the actual beginning and hence misses the mark in one key respect: The Bush administration actually opened with a stolen election, as perhaps many elections historically had been brokered, burgled, finagled before (John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes and even JFK made, let us say, conspicuously questionable ascents up the White House stairs) but never before in plain sight, in ways that suggested the failure of definitive political processes and institutions like ballots in Florida and an obviously partisan Supreme Court decision that knew itself to be too illegitimate to allow itself to become a precedent -- and hence threatened to become a precedent of another sort. The trauma of the failure of institutions that brought George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to the White House mixed a witches brew of denial, paranoia, and despair that invested Frum's "second Pearl Harbor" with conspiracy, and articulated the experience of institutional failure and decline of his "second Vietnam" with a saucer eyed horror at the realization that the case for war was based on lies and that the war itself was a pretext for indefinite detentions and torture. By the time Frum's "second Great Crash" arrived -- a Crash engineered in truth quite as much or even more by his predecessor Clinton's trade policies and deregulatory enthusiasm as by Bush policies, Brownie's "heckuva job" losing of a great American city in a Greenhouse Storm amidst rampant climate change denial had set the stage for the dysfunctional narrative of collapse into which Barack Obama, the Change candidate, would arrive on the scene.

Given all this, it might seem hard to believe that within a single year the Tea Party would be unleashed on the world (a "grassroots movement" funded and organized by reactionary billionaires) howling about palpably fictional "death panels" and by the mid-term elections a wave of union-smashing science-denying forced-abortion zealots would take over the House of Representatives and half the country's Governor's mansions. Where did they come from? How is it that their know nothing crusades and obvious white racist hostility to the President did not prevent his ascension to the White House in the first place as certainly it has relentlessly obstructed his agency in the years since?

There are two kinds of answers being offered up to these questions that make sense to me. One is embedded in a longer view and another focuses on more recent history. Martin Longman reminds us that the Bush administration wasn't only disastrous from the perspective of the democratic left but of the reactionary right, but for different reasons than the ones we are likely to focus on. He writes:
[T]he Bush administration… made Republican ideology incoherent. One moment the GOP was calling for the liquidation of the Department of Education and planning to let Medicare "wither on the vine," and the next moment they were giving us No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D. One moment they were closing down the government because they wanted spending cuts, and the next moment the vice-president was telling us that Ronald Reagan proved that deficits don't matter. One moment Bush was campaigning on a more humble foreign policy and the next moment, if you weren't with us, you were against us. The Bush administration was awful from every perspective you might wish to view it, and that includes the movement conservative's perspective. But movement conservatives were nonetheless willing to go along with the Bush administration and defend it with the harshest, coarsest, most vituperative language and rhetoric. As they unlearned logical consistency, they also lost the ability to think clearly. Logic became a kind of threat.
I think it is important to read this point in light of an awareness that the Republican coalition was already incoherent -- a matter of attracting electoral majorities to benefit plutocratic minorities by whomping up irrational passions, mostly an ugly white racist patriarchal mix of class resentments and fears of change. The inept contradictions of Bush epoch policy were exacerbated by changing demographics and planetary pressures, the irrational negotiation of these contradictions by the Bush apologists who became his accusers were exacerbated by the very same changes and pressures. But I think BooMan is right to emphasize the experience of the Bush years as the cauldron in which the present Civil War was brewed: the left was first shell-shocked and then lost in despair and then enraged by the failure of institutions in these years but the right lived the contradictions of those years in ways that generated rage and despair as well, not to mention for many of them the shocked recognition that they were being used by elites.

Martin Longman proposes that two more events followed the lived crazy-making experience of the contradictions of Bush's killer clown administration to bring us to the specificity of our present distress. The first was the selection by John McCain of Sarah Palin as his running mate on the brink of a financial catastrophe second only to the Great Depression, and that only because the tatters of New Deal regulation still managed to mitigate the scope of the disaster after a generation of eager neoliberal deregulatory irresponsibility. In BooMan's words,
Sarah Palin was a colossal moron who had absolutely no business on a presidential ticket. It also became clear that John McCain had no idea how to deal with the financial crisis, as he suspended his campaign, unsuccessfully tried to skip a presidential debate, and called for an emergency meeting at the White House where he had nothing to say. This forced the conservative movement to defend both McCain and Palin i[n] ways that no sentient human being should ever defend other human beings. I believe the experience caused permanent collective brain damage to the entire Republican community. Arguing that Sarah Palin should be a stroke away from the nuclear football will do that to a brain, and a political party.
I quote the whole point, because to do so reveals a tension in the formulation. It seems that Longman is pointing to Palin's lack of qualifications and the necessity of rationalization to defend her as a further breaking down of the critical intelligence of conservatives that rendered them more susceptible to the madness to come. But by yoking the point to the revelation of McCain's lack of qualifications in the face of the financial crisis the point becomes more perplexing. Although I for one would never have voted for John McCain, it doesn't seem right to suggest that he is unqualified for the office of the Presidency in the way that Palin was -- after all, I considered him more qualified than George W. Bush was in 2000 even if I obviously thought Al Gore incomparably better qualified than both of them (even after his own horrific choice of a vice presidential running mate). It is easy to see that Palin is an utterly unqualified political figure in a way that has set the stage for other conspicuous fools -- Herman Cain, Ted Cruz -- to pretend to Presidential viability in ways that risk the viability of the office as such, but it also easy to see how Palin may have seemed a sequel to the earlier choice by Bush the Father of Dan Quayle as his running mate, and hence as less threatening on first blush than it seemed so soon after. In part, Palin's choice was buttressed by the sense that her position in office at the time surely must have signaled a level of vetting that would historically have long since rejected as unviable a figure as unqualified as Palin actually turned out to be. In other words, the choice of Palin reflected institutional failure as well as hasty judgment, but in a context that renders the choice legible if lamentable.

Despite all this, I still do agree that the choice of Palin represents a key inflection point in the trajectory to our current distress. But it is not so much her palpable lack of qualifications but her amenability to circulate in a conservative media culture (she resigned her actual elected office in advance to marinate exclusively in that mediated politics soon enough, after all) that matters most about the choice of Palin. The sense of the McCain operatives that Palin would "excite the base" and "change the narrative" reflected a superficial awareness of the force of this emerging media reality but also revealed that the Republican establishment had not yet grasped the danger of mobilizing these energies to the sustainability of a nationally viable political organization -- a mistake they would re-enact on a much more grandiose and ruinous scale in the 2010 mid-term elections, symptomized most perfectly not in the Republican re-capture of the House in a wave election but in the toppling of the eminently electable Mike Castle by the utterly unelectable Christine O'Donnell, which perfectly presaged the ineffectuality of the new Republican Speaker of that House majority. The politics of the new mediated populists caters to the satisfaction of the emotional lives of isolated individuals (who are resentful and afraid of the lived reality of a diversifying, secularizing, planetizing nation reflected in prevailing multiculture and hence are ultimately unassuageable) and to the short term greed for attention and dollars of celebrities and wannabe celebrities -- also isolated individuals -- who are likely to profit most from energized minorities than the organized majorities who accomplish conventional legislative politics. When Republicans run for President in order to acquire an attentional base from which to launch reality TV shows and national book tours and discipline their messages within the confines of Rush Limbaugh's latest narrative requirements rather than those of legislative compromise then their party is no longer engaged in the work of representational politics except, possibly, at a highly symbolic level that can only connect to reality in catastrophically unpredictable ways and times.

Longman completes his diagnosis by proposing, last of all,
The final straw, however, was the decision to oppose every single thing the president tried to do. They turned him into a monster when he was never a monster. He became the Kenyan socialist usurper. That was a decision that Mitch McConnell made before the president was even sworn into office… At that point, with all the bad habits already ingrained, the party just lost control of its base… They… had ramped up the fear of the Democrats to such a height that the base decided that they were facing some existential crisis. Basically, the big steps were ideological inconsistency followed by epic failure which both required people to defend the indefensible which broke people's logical brains and respect for the truth which then caused them to respond to manufactured fear with rebellion against their own puppet masters.
There is a lot of truth in BooMan's tale. One of its virtues is that it enables us to assign blame to really bad actors who deserve to be blamed, the irresponsibility of Republican appointees to the Supreme Court who stopped the Florida recount, the irresponsibility of Bush and Cheney who lied us into a war of choice, the irresponsibility of John McCain in selecting the unfit Sarah Palin as his running mate, the irresponsibility of Mitch McConnell to flout norms and exploit procedural weakness to unprecedentedly obstruct a popularly elected President and Congressional majority, the irresponsibility of the establishment to embrace the Tea Party extremists rather than face the changing realities that threatened the continued relevance of the GOP as a long-term viable national party, and so on.

All of this is very true, but there remain questions as to why McConnell and these others made the irresponsible choices they did. McConnell's reckless enactment of all-out obstructionism to make Obama a "one term President" represents the same kind of burn the whole place down mentality now bemoaned by the so-called establishment types (including Mitch McConnell) in the government shutdown over defunding Obamacare, after all. Did the potential of an Affordable Care Act seem like an existential crisis to McConnell before the inauguration as it did to the Tea Partiers in the madness of Death Panel summer so soon after? When Democrats bemoan the rejection by Republicans of the Heritage-approved health care mandate first implemented by a Republican governor, do they overlook the key difference between half-hearted Republican advocacy of a least worst but to them still bad policy in the face of the Clinton's and Kennedy's spirited defense of progressive "HillaryCare" as if it represented an earnest conservative effort at actually solving what they agreed with Democrats to be an urgent problem of inequities in healthcare provision in the United States? Republicans famously battled Social Security and Medicare, and still look keen to dismantle them, and so the passage of RomneyCare in liberal Massachusetts hardly represents the unambiguous accomplishment of a conservative ambition. It is a mistake to overestimate the overlap of liberal and conservative goals, just as it is to disavow the historical context in which present calculations appear to make sense to those actually undertaking them. It is important to ask the question of what it says about McConnell and the establishment he represents that he himself embraced extremism in the moment of Obama's victory and McCain's defeat.

The necessity to ask this question becomes glaring when we turn from reflections on what is happening in our politics right now, to proposals of what should come next if we are to change what is happening for the better. For me, the larger context in this moment of demographic diversification of the endless echoes of America's original sin, the existence of chattel slavery in the land of the free, rationalized by white racism, is as indispensable as ever to our understanding of our present distress. We can never forget that while "Lincoln freed the slaves" his Republican Party was far from accomplishing the program of "free soil, free men, free labor" of which emancipation was just a part (and, hence, in a very real way, slavery abides), and that the Democratic party of the New Deal took up that larger Republican program decades before LBJ's New Society took up the dismantlement of segregation and hence the mantle of unfinished emancipation which eventually effected the radical restructuring of the American political partisan landscape, aligning the neo-Confederate South with the Republicans in the monolithic way that remains to this day. The failure of Reconstruction in the aftermath of the Civil War and then the amplification of Jim Crow in the aftermath of the Second World War by the creation of a white middle class by a New Deal that did not extend to migrant crop labor or domestic service, and then by the failure of Truman to establish a national health service at the same time European states established theirs, all as sops to the racist South to keep the Democratic coalition in power, set the scene for the current Civil War in the Republican party and of the culture wars recently won by the secular left which are fueling that Republican Civil War (in which geographic, demographic, discursive vestiges of the earlier Civil War still conspicuously reverberate for those with ears to hear them).

Deeply entangled with this context, and always enabled by it, is a second deep confusion and conflict over the terms in which America understands its place in history more generally. This is a larger story, a story I ramble on about quite a bit in this blog, and for which my own sense of the answers are admittedly idiosyncratic ones. More widely recognized is that modern movement conservatism was an organized resistance to the New Deal, that it involved the mobilization of long quiescent go along to get along big business interests (many of which had accommodated themselves to New Deal conditions as before they had accommodated to the Gilded Age) into investing in the long-term support of an anti-academic, anti-scholarly, anti-science insurrectionary think-tank and media infrastructure devoted to market fundamentalist ideology as delineated by figures like Mises, Hayek, Hazlitt, Rand, and Friedman. The stealthy dependence of this market fundamentalist movement politics on ugly disavowed white-racist energies (see my American Libertarianism Is Racist Through and Through for more on this) became less obscure in the Reagan epoch, when religious fundamentalism re-enacted the earlier organization of big business but this time to divert patriarchal conservative religiosity into the organized evangelical Religious Right, creating an electoral coalition of market and religious fundamentalism the incoherence of which was sublimed away by the momentum of its potent ascendance.

But just as important in my view, and less well understood, was a deep discursive vacuum this organizational energy sought practically and also rhetorically to fill. I believe that the American idea of multicultural governance is democratic in a way that is profoundly mischaracterized as capitalist, socialist, anarchist, or mixed -- to take up the terms ready to hand in our political lexicon. I believe it is a lack of clear headedness about the discernment and defense of our diverse democratic governance that renders us vulnerable to fundamentalist derangements, especially given the deeper racist and patriarchal and incumbent irrationalities they feed and which we so readily disavow rather than address. While Karl Marx (one of Lincoln's correspondents, recall) and John Maynard Keynes both proposed systems of political economy premised on the repudiation of laissez-faire capitalist assumptions, it is clearly important to distinguish the very different, to my mind equally radical, alternative visions they proposed -- it is easy to discard the Fox-watching know-nothings who treat Marx and Keynes as more or less interchangeable, but it is harder and worthier to grasp the specific differences that make a difference between the materializations of radical democracy they differently aspire to. But it is harder and worthier still in my view to grasp the ways in which FDR's New Deal was itself a different and uniquely American vision of both governmental but also economic democracy than the one Keynes proposed, let alone Marx! The story of Roosevelt's New Deal is a story indebted to Alexander Hamilton and DeWitt Clinton, and Teddy Roosevelt, too, and the rhetoric with which he championed it, in the positive promulgation of the Four Freedoms as well as in his negative attacks on the Economic Royalists, has a clarity and coherence that has never really been matched except by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the next generation.

I believe that there is a revolutionary vision of multicultural democracy shared by FDR's New Deal and King's Beloved Community that names more clearly than most otherwise available formulations the specificity and radicalism of the American Revolution and the long history of its ever more perfect union. Compare these rhetorical projects of articulation to that of, say, John Kenneth Galbraith, who recognized that there was indeed something different about "American Capitalism" from laissez-faire idealizations as well as from Keynesian productivist forms (though, unlike today's true tenured radical ideologues in Econ departments, Galbraith wasn't macroeconomically illiterate, he thankfully understood and accepted the advances represented by the achievement of the new Keynes-Hicks commonsense), and understood the "countervailing powers" of regulation as of a piece with Constitutional separation, federation, and subsidiarity of powers, but he nevertheless got caught up in the inevitably distortive metaphorics of the "mixed economy." To me the only theorist who really has managed to grasp the uniqueness of the American form of revolutionary democracy was the immigrant thinker Hannah Arendt, who described it not as capitalism but as consensual civitas and always recognized the links between the American Revolution, the American Constitution, and the American tradition of civil disobedience and nonviolent social struggle. (Of course, the name of this blog, Amor Mundi, is my genuflection to Arendt's personal motto, her own subversive mis-citation of Nietzsche's anti-political amor fati.)

About civitas, and about the indispensability of nonviolence to democratic civitas as well as the autonomy of that civitas from historical capitalism, socialism, anarchism, and mixtures with which it is sometimes confused or for which it is too often disdained, I have already written many times, as I said, most recently this:
The metaphor of the "mixed economy" is absolutely mystifying. The idea of sustainable consensual equity-in-diversity, of democratic commonwealth, is the unmixed expression of civitas. Civitas would guarantee equitable lawful recourse for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes (including disputes over what properly constitutes violence and equity and democracy); would ensure nonviolent transitions in authority through periodic elections, universal enfranchisement and office-holding and freedom of assembly and expression; would provide a scene of informed, non-duressed consent to the terms of everyday commerce through the provision of generous welfare (education, healthcare, social support, living wage, unemployment benefits) paid for by steeply progressive income, property, and transaction taxes; and would eliminate the violation of common and public goods through their accountable administration in the service of commonwealth. All of these ideas have been implemented in comparatively democratic welfare states -- many of them have been implemented less well lately due to the influence of facile, falsifying capitalist and socialist ideologies, and most of them could be implemented incomparably better simply if the process and spirit of stakeholder compromise were to prevail (which you might say is another "mix" that isn't actually a mixture at all, but the substantial if interminable accomplishment of reconciliation of which the political actually, essentially, consists). The ongoing generational churn of the plurality of stakeholders who make up the present world, peer to peer, ensures that the ongoing accomplishment of equity-in-diversity is endlessly re-negotiated, re-enacted, re-figured. What tends to be called "capitalism" and "socialism" are historically unrealized, logically unrealizable derangements of either the diversity dimension or of the equity dimension of the democratic value of equity-in-diversity. The contractual arrangements to which moral cases for capitalism are devoted will always depend for their actual legibility as consent on a substantial provision of general welfare and socialization of common and public goods typically denominated socialism from those argumentative vantages, just as anti-authoritarian cases for (eg, democratic) socialism will inevitably allow for differences of preference and outcome typically denominated capitalism from those argumentative vantages. This is because civitas, the democratization of the struggle for sustainable equity-in-diversity, is the political base from which capitalist and socialist abstractions are strained and deranged. It is what passes for capitalism and socialism in thought that is mixed up, the "mixed economy" is not a mixture of these two derangements from good sense.
It is important to return to what might seem abstract theoretical considerations like these, not least because they remind us that Movement Republicanism was born in the mischaracterization of the American Way with capitalist idealizations that mask even deeper, far uglier, mis-recognitions of America with its white-racist and Christianist-fundamentalist traditions.

William F. Buckey, Jr, famously fumigated the Republican Party of its Birchers and Randians half a century ago in a bid for national viability, but it is crucial to remember that when he just as famously defined conservatism as a matter of standing athwart history, crying "Stop!" he was locating himself as continuous with the very forces he publicly disdained. The New Deal was indeed something New, but it was also something uniquely American, and world-historical -- as was the American Revolution of which the New Deal self-consciously considered itself a vital continuation. To resist its implications was indeed to stand athwart history in ways that have never been quite sane, even if there have been moments in which that Republican stance has at any rate seemed a bit saner than at other times. The nonviolent social struggles and legislative struggles for civil rights have slowly supplemented the economic and political democratization of American multiculture represented by the New Deal and the GI Bill and the New Frontier and the Great Society, and the emergence of the diverse Obama coalition has by now fatally exposed the imposture of sanity that has sometimes bolstered the politics of irrational Republican reaction.

Those who now counsel the Republican establishment to exert their energy to effect a return to such sanity fail to recognize that this would be the return to what has never been more than a semblance of sanity, and one that can no longer pretend to relevance in the diversifying, secularizing, planetizing lived reality of Obama's America. The Republicans have embarked on a Civil War because the alternative was to admit final defeat in the Civil War itself, to put white racist patriarchal corporate-militarism to rest at last and embrace the radical democratizing force of the American Revolution and its Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitutional Preamble's Declaration of Interdependence for good. The white racist patriarchal Christianist theocrats and neo-Confederates with their insurrectionist private gun arsenals and secessionist threats are dying into harmless marginality, and the plutocrats who have opportunistically mobilized their irrational energies for so long in the support of libertopian pieties confront the terrifying demand not of a return to sanity but an arrival at sanity, a re-assessment of a nationally viable and historically sustainable role for the conservative temperament in the actually real America that besets them. I know of no Republican, however "establishmentarian," "institutionalist," "moderate" they may be, who seems ready to take up this painful, costly, thankless work on the realistic terms it demands. Until then, our Civil War will rage on, as indeed our Democratic Revolution does as well.

New Jersey, Surely?

Number Six seems par for the course, but the rest make Christie's lead in deep blue New Jersey, and the complacency of liberal activists there, seem to me utterly surreal. Red States clearly don't have a monopoly on the Stoopid.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Google Unveils Driverless Car Future In the Driverless Bus Present

Classic: Privatized corporate transport exacerbates urban dislocations, competes with and so undermines still-necessary public services, can't scale or sustain itself on its own terms, and so Google responds to difficulties not by proposing better pay for drivers or more public investment in the communities of which it remains a part but by retreating into futurological fancies about robot bus drones in tomorrowland. I have criticized the futurological "Driverless Car" conceit as a Dead-Ender Car Culture Apologia, but one shouldn't forget the more usual narrative is also available should the implausible proposal actually come off in any substantial measure short of the utopian promises which are obvious moonshine: at best, the "driverless car" would amount to another profitable corporate repudiation of necessary public investment in sustainable mass transportation infrastructure (the earlier round being the catastrophic smashing of city streetcars and thriving urban neighborhoods to enable white racist traffic snarls to environmentally and economically unsustainable suburbia), together with yet another round of automation peddled as a democratizing distribution of leisure but cashing out inevitably instead as elite wealth concentration and another loss of jobs and lowering of buying power for the majority of people who work for a living.

The Futurologists Should Be Defending These Brave Geo-Engineers!

GeBro-neering to the rescue!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Asked To Speak, Wingnuts Whine About Being Silenced

Shooting fish in a barrel, I know, but it really is incredible that Republicans can hear in an explicit exhortation by the President for them "argue for your position" that he is saying the opposite, ordering them instead to "Shut up." Republicans try to disenfranchise voters, they refuse to accept the verdict of legitimate elections, they lie about their priorities in their own campaigns, talking jobs on the stump and then forcing pregnancies and putting a gun in every pot when they're in office. It calls to mind the way the intolerant always demand tolerance for their intolerance, the way bigots always decry as violence and as bigotry the restraint of their bigotry from the worst of its violence, the way racists always declare racist the exposure and denunciation of their racism. This is more than hypocrisy, hypocrisy lacks the scope of the fissure in lived reality out of which these crazy reversals arise... it is an endless unquenchable victimhood in the face of an American reality that has left them behind, that justifies every deception, every fraud, that turns every fact into a testament to loss, a hole that can never be filled, a wormhole megaphoning fear and hate unto death.

Victory Lap

The last, quite pointed, lines from the speech deserve special note:
I will look for willing partners wherever I can to get important work done.  And there's no good reason why we can't govern responsibly, despite our differences, without lurching from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis.  In fact, one of the things that I hope all of us have learned these past few weeks is that it turns out smart, effective government is important.  It matters.  I think the American people during this shutdown had a chance to get some idea of all the things, large and small, that government does that make a difference in people's lives.

We hear all the time about how government is the problem.  Well, it turns out we rely on it in a whole lot of ways.  Not only does it keep us strong through our military and our law enforcement, it plays a vital role in caring for our seniors and our veterans, educating our kids, making sure our workers are trained for the jobs that are being created, arming our businesses with the best science and technology so they can compete with companies from other countries.  It plays a key role in keeping our food and our toys and our workplaces safe.  It helps folks rebuild after a storm.  It conserves our natural resources.  It finances startups.  It helps to sell our products overseas.  It provides security to our diplomats abroad.

So let's work together to make government work better, instead of treating it like an enemy or purposely making it work worse.  That’s not what the founders of this nation envisioned when they gave us the gift of self-government.  You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position.  Go out there and win an election.  Push to change it. But don’t break it.  Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building.  That's not being faithful to what this country is about.

And that brings me to one last point.  I’ve got a simple message for all the dedicated and patriotic federal workers who’ve either worked without pay or been forced off the job without pay these past few weeks, including most of my own staff: Thank you.  Thanks for your service.  Welcome back.  What you do is important.  It matters.

You defend our country overseas.  You deliver benefits to our troops who’ve earned them when they come home.  You guard our borders.  You protect our civil rights.  You help businesses grow and gain footholds in overseas markets.  You protect the air we breathe and the water our children drink.  And you push the boundaries of science and space, and you guide hundreds of thousands of people each day through the glories of this country. Thank you.  What you do is important.  And don't let anybody else tell you different.  Especially the young people who come to this city to serve -- believe that it matters.  Well, you know what, you’re right.  It does.

And those of us who have the privilege to serve this country have an obligation to do our job as best we can.  We come from different parties, but we are Americans first.  And that’s why disagreement cannot mean dysfunction.  It can't degenerate into hatred.  The American people’s hopes and dreams are what matters, not ours.  Our obligations are to them.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

McConnell Deal Making Reveals He Fears Grimes More Than Tea Party Challenger

I saw the always vapid Chuck Todd this morning complimenting Mitch McConnell's deal making with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the face of the ongoing GOP government shutdown slow-motion catastrophe and debt ceiling fiasco. Todd seemed to believe that McConnell is exhibiting a kind of courage Speaker of the House John Boehner lacks in working with Reid, presumably because this deal makes McConnell more vulnerable to his Tea Party primary challenger, while Boehner's paralysis represents his capitulation to his own Tea Party caucus. Todd also implied that this demonstrates a deep reservoir of adult professionalism in McConnell that has impelled him to put the country's interests before his own. This is absolute nonsense. In working with Reid the relentlessly opportunistic and utterly cynical McConnell has revealed his calculation that Tea Party overreach this month has changed the mid-term election dynamic enough that his Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes is more a threat to his re-election chances than Tea Party challenger Matthew Bevin. Meanwhile, McConnell's unprecedentedly irresponsible and disastrous policy to make "Obama a one term president" through a policy of absolute obstruction of an elected President and Senate majority is a permanent and frankly devastating rebuke to any suggestion of professionalism or patriotism on the part of the Republican leader (and casts a shadow of deep suspicion about the standards of anyone who could forget this glaring evidence in publishing his judgment of McConnell). Not to put to fine a point on it, McConnell's present show of moderation in the face of what has always been the obvious defeat of an obviously ill-thought strategy represents not a risk but a glaring opportunistic pivot. As it happens, the fact that McConnell's calculation has changed this way over the last few days suggests that the rightward skew of the GOP inaugurated by the primary toppling of eminently electable Mike Castle by thoroughly unelectable Tea Party darling Christine "I'm Not A Witch" O'Donnell in 2010 has reached an inflection point. One would think a gossip columnist like Chuck Todd would be quite eager to be one of the first to pick the bones of this sort of breathless Beltway story for the political junkies who tune into his morning show. But the siren call of spinning McConnell's obtuse gyrations as the latest in the endlessly trumpeted never real always idiotic American Moderate Middle re-emerging to re-establish Washingtonian order was apparently as irresistible as ever to Todd as to his guests who nod.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Know Nothingism

It pays to remember that the same macroeconomic illiterates who are ready to crash the global economy are also climate change denialists ready to crash the environment.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Medical Device Tax Will Not Stand!

Everybody knew the Tea Party meant business about that tyrannical medical device tax when they shut down the government and a weeping John Boehner unfurled the Sadzden Flag.

Mea Culpa to the Singularitarians, Transhumanoids, and Techno-Immortalists

It's been twenty years since I started sparring with Extropian transhumanoids online and a decade since I began to elaborate my formal critique of Superlative Futurology, and I am forced to confess, here at the end of history, in Techno-Heaven, in my prosthetically barnacled, forever young, model-hott comic book sooper-bod, next to the sexbot orgy pit and my gold-plated nano-poop pile, under the loving beneficent ministrations of the post-parental post-biological Robot God, that I was obviously so, so very wrong to doubt all the compelling arguments and well-substantiated predictions of the sooper-elite, sooper-brained, sooper-scientific White Guys of The Future in the many righteous sects of the futurological Robot Cult for so long. Now that we actually live in The Future you believed in so fervently for so long, the verdict quite simply is in, and as I am sure you luminously reasonable people would be the first to do if the results were otherwise, I publish hereby my change of mind and of heart to the world. Thanks be to the Robot God, you were right.

Pretzel Bun Singularity

Where the hell did all these goddamn pretzel buns come from anyway? Did an automated factory go haywire or something? Is it a grey goo harbinger? Are all the artisan loafs of the last fast foodie fad weeping by the telephone, waiting for a call from their fickle lovers, saucer-eyed with anxiety to hear the knock on the door that shunts them off to the landfill? Where will capitalist progress take our fast food sandwiches next?

BooMan Is the Political Animal

Washington Monthly has BooMan Martin Longman blogging at Political Animal again. I assume his guest hosting a couple weekends ago was something of an audition he has passed with flying colors. Although I think I am probably somewhat to his left politically, I have been reading BooMan for years now and consider him one of the most sensible analysts around the blogipelago -- a couple of times he has actually managed to be the only completely sensible analyst I'm reading on the left at all as far as I'm concerned (sure, I disagree with him sometimes too). It is important to be able to situate ideal outcomes in respect to the lay of the land and BooMan's analyses are often indispensable aids in this. Anyway, greater exposure of his writing is not only good for us and for the long-deserving BooMan, but I think it is also good for the Political Animal blog, which has never seemed to me as consistently relevant since Steve Benen left a few years back to work with Rachel Maddow.

"Politics Is A Battle of Ideas, But You Advance Those Ideas Through Elections and Legislation -- Not Extortion."

The President's emphasis on the norms of electoral and legislative processes connects as well, needless to say but I am saying it anyway, to Republican efforts to disenfranchise voters, limit elections, insulate Representatives through gerrymandering from diverse constituencies, and so on. Refusing to accept the verdict of legitimate elections and interfering with elections are of a piece.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013


This whole week I'm a bit swamped with MA Reviews and Dept meetings in addition to lecturing, and so, as you see, blogging has been a bit low to no. Yes, I have indeed noticed that neither the Republicans nor the Robot Cultists have stopped saying and doing ludicrous things this week. More, as soon as may be.

Monday, October 07, 2013

The One With the Gun in His Hand Is the One Who Isn't Negotiating Or Having A Conversation

And everybody knows it. Republicans are trying to get things they couldn't get with elections or legislation by smashing the government and threatening to smash the global economy. Recognizing that these criminal shakedowns and hostage crises aren't what the words "negotiation" and "conversation" isn't refusing to negotiate or have a conversation. In related news, pointing out a Republican has indulged in racism is not racist.

Enough Already

Sunday, October 06, 2013

The Stability of the Grave

"I think, personally, it would bring stability to the world markets." -- Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL)... on breaching the debt ceiling.

WIRED Discussion of Techno-Immortalist Flim Flammery

Klint Finley's recent discussion of the futurological flim-flammery of the "Lifenaut" techno-immortalists is pretty good (and I might even say so if he hadn't quoted me in it). Finley does fall into too many of the usual pop-tech traps when talking about futurological faith-based initiatives -- he begins by confusing science with science fiction in a way that undermines both (eg, science fiction like most literature is not essentially predictive but a critical engagement with the present, science is recognized as such in part by its testability and fasifiability, which neither literature nor futurological belief ever is), he proceeds to give futurological nonsense a substance it could never earn on actual scientific terms (eg, robots "ensouled" through surveillance profiling, gee, it sure sounds completely stupid on the merits but, heck, it's "nearer than you think!"), and then he falsely suggests that criticism of futurological conceits derives from a feeling that they are "creepy" rather than from the straightforward recognition that they are extremely implausible or even utterly incoherent (eg, you are not a picture of you, portraits -- including data profiles -- are no more immortal than mammalian persons are, and even if they somehow were their longevity wouldn't amount to longevity for the selves to which they refer). And like so many journalists more generally who like to end on an "evenhanded" note that empowers cranks at the expense of sense he writes: "People are very much afraid of dying, but that’s also why organizations like Terasem -- and companies like Google and people like Larry Ellison -- will always look for new ways of extending lives. And it only stands to reason that, one day, we’ll make some progress." Of course, medical doctors and researchers and policymakers have indeed been making convulsive progress for centuries and one is right to expect that we will continue to cure diseases and improve human wellbeing if we continue to support public investments in research and organize our politics to ensure equitable access to its results. But this is a very separate question from whether futurologists peddling wish-fulfillment fantasies about cyberangels uploading into Holodeck Heaven to scared, greedy, or otherwise foolishly credulous True Believers so that they will drop more donations in Robot Cult collection plates provides any support at all for this research or organizing and hence provides any substance for our true hopes. Finley very sensibly gives the last words to Paul Graham-Raven, with whom I heartily concur: “It turns out that technologies which extend, augment or otherwise improve human life are already here! You may have heard of some of them: clean water; urban sanitation; smokeless cooking facilities; free access to healthcare; a guaranteed minimum income; a good, free education.” Hear, hear! You can take a look at a transcript of the much longer, more carefully elaborated exchange I had with the author, from which he culled his choice quotations here.

Boehner's Bluff And Why He Can't Budge

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner did a round of Sunday shows asserting that he does not in fact have the votes to pass a "clean" continuing resolution to end the Republican engineered shutdown of the government now in its sixth pointless and poisonous day.

To be clear, a "clean" CR means in this case a resolution to fund the government for the few weeks that remain until the next ridiculous Republican engineered shutdown, and its "cleanliness" refers to the fact that it simply would not include provisions to defund or delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the historic healthcare insurance reform legislation that is the signature accomplishment of the Obama administration, now the law of the land, duly passed after months of negotiation by both houses of Congress, including many Republican sponsored amendments even though no Republicans had the basic sense or decency to vote to pass the resulting legislation reflecting their input, found to be Constitutional by the Supreme Court after years of challenges, and then endorsed by the landslide electoral college victory of President Obama after a two year campaign in which one of the central issues before the people was a dispute over whether the Act should be implemented or repealed.

So-called "moderate" Republicans (if any remain) have expressed various degrees of public displeasure over this shutdown spectacle, mostly because they see it as bad politics, though some, presumably, have some principled opposition to the Tea Party anti-governmentality for which a shut-down is an end in itself. If all the Democrats in the House minority were allowed to vote for the "clean" CR and most of the so-called "moderates" on record voted with them, the shutdown would end and something like normal order would resume, presumably the budgets passed by both houses would go to committee to hammer out their differences.

When this eventuality is discussed, it usually leads immediately to the question whether this would provoke a Tea Party revolt likely to topple John Boehner's Speakership in a symbolic auto-da-fe to ward off far right primary challenges across the GOP. This is an interesting and splashy discussion to have, but it is important to remember that the reason the House GOP has not been willing to go to conference committee in normal order has been because to do so their abstract commitments to "cut spending" would be translated into a host of explicit commitments to cut actual spending on actually popular programs that would transform the electoral winner slogan for the GOP of "shrinking big government" into the electoral loser slogan for many in the GOP of "killing jobs in hard economic times for folks in my district in order to preserve low taxes for billionaires." This underlying reality has not changed, even as the stink of the government shutdown attaches to the GOP and brings the House into play from a different direction anyway.

When John Boehner says he does not have the votes to pass a clean CR despite the fact that more than enough non-Tea Party Republicans are on record expressing willingness to vote to pass such a clean CR, it is just as likely that Boehner denies the existence of the votes because the votes are not actually there (and hence the "moderates" are lying about how they would vote in order to appear moderate in districts unsympathetic to Tea Party rhetoric) as that he is lying about the votes to postpone a vote that would likely end his Speakership in order to create the conditions under which a different face-saving outcome around the debt ceiling might preserve his Speakership intact.

Of course White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has called Boehner on his claim, saying: "If he's right, why not prove it?" That is to say, if Boehner is right that the GOP votes are not there, why not demonstrate this by allowing the vote to show where everybody really stands? Sure, from Boehner's standpoint, such a vote could only be a symbolic one if what he says is true, but then he has allowed over forty purely symbolic votes to defund Obamacare to go through, so he clearly has no principled opposition to symbolic votes as such. (Of course, I jest.)

Needless to say, the White House is not really encouraging such a vote because they think it likely that the vote would end the shut down at all, any more than John Boehner refuses it because he thinks it will not.

If such a vote were held, come what may, it would demonstrate that the majority of Republicans want the government to be shutdown and the majority of Democrats want the government to be working -- and all this "messaging the shutdown" blame-gaming nonsense would be over for good. Of course, recognition of the stakes of this exposure might be one of the few things at this particular juncture that could actually bring into existence a Republican voting block large enough to partner with the Democrats to end the shutdown after all -- even if Boehner is quite right for now in saying that the numbers are not really there.

This means, that if the shutdown were to continue after the symbolic vote the White House is calling for it would be on terms that place the blame unambiguously on the GOP in the run-up to the 2014 mid-terms, and that if the shutdown were to end as a result of the vote it would end in a way that would humiliate both the GOP leadership and the Tea Party base. Democrats who point out that the "clean" CR funds the government at sequester levels of austerity of which they rightly utterly disapprove, are not mentioning that the next occasion for negotiation over these terms comes in just a few week's time and that to enter such a negotiation in the aftermath of the utter demoralization of the GOP leadership and base in the House, with their majority in the Senate, and their control of the White House, as well as with the healthcare exchanges up and running with millions of users, and without the pressure point of another debt ceiling or funding deadline to provide cover for unpopular GOP demands is not exactly a state of affairs Democrats anticipate with alarm.

Of course, the Republicans are in a terrible place even if they do not fall for this bluff calling on the part of the White House this time. Boehner's eventual deal will be the merest cosmetic face-saving, and is hardly going to satisfy Tea Partiers who are hell bent on stopping the now unstoppable Obamacare because of unreasonable expectations raised by the extraordinarily inflated promises made by Ted Cruz as a way of raising donations from the rubes in anticipation of his phony upcoming 2016 presidential bid slash PR tour to get his inevitable Glenn Beck-Sarah Palin-esque wingnut tinpot media fiefdom on the road. Even if he does manage to survive the present storm, to proceed in a way that even approaches normal order in coming months is likely to embroil Boehner in one after another Speakership challenge come what may, and barring unforseeable calamities the mid-term elections may well topple his Speakership ingloriously enough soon enough anyway.

Republicans are now a white-racist misogynist know-nothing theocratic neo-Confederate rump seeking to maintain a figleaf of relevance by whomping up the energy and dollars of ignorant angry aging bigoted out of touch reactionary straight white guys who still listen to Rush and watch Fox. America is a diversifying, secularizing, urbanizing, planetizing nation ever more open to social democratic equity-in-diversity. It's only a matter of time before the GOP must change or die, and the reliance of the GOP on stupid and evil people is leading to the kinds of mistakes that exacerbate their crisis and hasten the moment they adapt or vanish for good.

SNL Reveals How Republicans Are Managing the Messaging On Their Shutdown Tantrum Over Obamacare

Of course, I have personally found it rather hilarious to hear GOP Representatives "defending government" after shutting it down and shedding crocodile tears over foodstamps and medical research for kids with cancer when year after year they shred the budgets for these programs. But just in case anyone is worried that Rand Paul's suggestion to Mitch McConnell via open mic that Republicans might win the "messaging war" over the shutdown (remember when the Shutdown was supposed to be about stopping Obamacare? You know, the Obamacare exchanges which are up and running and exposing Republican lies about death panels, ruinous prices, socialist takeover for thousands upon thousands of newly enlightened Americans every single day) by casting Democratic refusal to cave in the face of their reckless ruinous tantrums as somehow creating a mirror world in which Democrats in the era of Obama are the ones who won't compromise and Republicans are the ones who care about saving welfare for "the takers" and "blah people," SNL reveals how the Shutdown is playing for real.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Change Or Die

Democrats to Republicans: We're right, we won, and we outnumber you.

Who Pays?

Where does the money for general welfare come from? Why, it comes from the same place the money for private fortunes comes from! All accomplishments are indispensably collective in substantial measure, and the distribution of their costs, risks, and benefits never perfectly reflects the efforts and stakes of their contributors. Indeed, the proper distribution of credit and risk in the vicissitudes of everyday commerce cannot be determined with certainty any more than the results of our collective actions can be predicted with certainty in advance. This distribution, hence, always reflects instead prevailing norms, be they democratic, plutocratic, theocratic, or what have you. In democratic societies the ideal is the maximization of equity-in-diversity, and hence: freedom of thought, expression, and assembly; equal recourse to the law, franchise, and office; maintenance through general welfare of the scene of informed, nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday commerce; and the sustainable, accountable administration of common and public goods. In plutocratic societies the ideal is maintenance of wealth and authority of incumbent elites at the expense of equity, in theocratic societies the ideal is maintenance of the terms and authority of moral minorities at the expense of diversity. In every society the existing distribution of wealth and authority is the result of social redistribution, much of it stealthed through naturalized material and ritual infrastructural affordances. It is always ignorance or denial of this basic recognition which gives rise to the question with which this little post began, and its affirmation is the best way to end it.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Elizabeth Warren Defends Good Government Against the "Anarchy Gang"

I cannot stress enough how indispensable this sort of thing is (scroll down a bit for the video clip I am responding to). You know, for over a generation, the American left ceded the rhetorical space in which basic claims about the nature and role of government were offered up to the general public to profoundly ignorant, incoherent, cynical, anti-democratizing, plutocratic, spontaneist, right-wing formulations. I really think many of the good dedicated people of the left either contented themselves with an impressionistic, temperamental defense of justice as fairness and an aversion to suffering that did not stand up well to forceful reactionary arguments even when these arguments were frankly superficial and stupid on their own terms, or they lost themselves in wonky micro-administrative formulations that took the premise of the necessity of good governance for granted and were uninterested or incapable of defending their perspective at that level of generality, unaware that their cleverness was rendered largely irrelevant in an inhospitable popular environment unmoored from the commonsense of good government.

Of course, the trumpeting of movement conservative and libertopian nonsense as "new ideas," "emerging thought," "youthful energy and enthusiasm," "transformative," "revolutionary," "where the action is," and so on by corporate media outlets that saw short term gains in higher profits and deregulation (before their eating turned to getting eaten before they knew it, though they should have known better), and also through the generational efforts of a vast movement conservative investment in an archipelago of think-tanks and wingnut-welfare support for pseudo-intellectual shills which saturated the public domain with false and facile anti-democratizing formulations and a countervailing power to the expertise of the academy, providing instead macroeconomically illiterate pre-Keynesian chestnuts, anti-Darwinian and anti-climate science sops to would-be christianists and polluting plutocrats, and shifting public discourse from sensible rehabilitative harm-reduction policy models for gun safety, sex education, drug abuse, crime response instead into punitive puritanical models that did no practical good but exacerbated social stratifications and undermined emerging organizational solidarities that threaten incumbent interests.

President Obama has often gone back to basics and defended good democratic governance in very clear, very accessible, very passionate, very persuasive ways. I believe that scholars and schoolchildren will study and emulate his speeches for generations, speeches that garner a day's attention at best in our relentless news cycle. In so doing, Obama is indeed making good on his widely derided early campaign promise to be a transformational figure like Ronald Reagan once was. Reagan offered up endless variations on his affable but deadly proposal that "government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem" and Obama has megaphoned equally affable defenses and celebrations of the power and virtue and sanity of good democratic government. The President who we already expect will be remembered as the spearhead of the "Obama Coalition" of the secularizing, diversifying, planetizing post-white racist patriarchal plutocratic hegemony, as re-invigorating social democratic reform with his the first stimulus and Affordable Care Act (and even more will be possible if Democratics retain the Senate and regain the House), and presiding over the breathtaking civil rights achievements of queer Americans, will also be remembered, I think, for his popular defense and promotion of the very idea of good democratic government after a long dark brutal winter of anti-democratic anti-civilizational anarcho-capitalist insult and injury.

Elizabeth Warren has also repeatedly demonstrated an awareness of the need to make this basic case, to do the intellectual infrastructure maintenance without which democratic participation and problem-solving cannot be expected to do its indispensable work and resist the inertial, parochial, fearful, mean-spirited, aggressive energies elite-incumbents readily deploy to their anti-democratizing ends. The clip is less than six minutes long and is a model of the sort of indispensable democratizing rhetorical maintenance that is always so necessary.

By the way, I don't entirely agree with Warren's own emphasis on administrative practicality as the foundation for good democratic rhetoric. I think her case is unquestionably useful and forceful, but I think there are also deeper connections to be made. Warren restricts government to the collaborative doing of what we decide to do together, but of course democracy is even more deeply a matter of deciding together in the first place, of deciding what counts as a decision, of doing justice to those who decide differently, and so on.

I agree that the initial Constitutional formulation of providing for justice, domestic tranquility, defense, and general welfare is substantially an administrative matter but I think it is incorrect to read the Preamble as a laundry list rather than the proposal of structural connections.

I would define and elaborate democracy as the provision of nonviolent alternatives for the determination and solution of shared problems and for the adjudication of disputes (including disputes over the question of what constitutes violence), by giving people a say in the public decisions that affect them (including a say in the determination of what having a say means, what counts as the public, what a decision amounts, who is affected and so on). I believe that democracy is an ongoing and in fact interminable experimental implementation of the idea and practice of people having a say in public decisions affecting them, the provision of responsive processes like periodic election, jury courts, oversight through separation of powers and community advisory boards, the insulation of certain historically vulnerable and yet indispensable norms from collective passions through the defense of certain natural rights as naturalized rites, the provision of a legible scene of informed nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday intercourse through the provision of universal basic healthcare, education, access to reliable knowledge, and income (mostly in the form of generous unemployment, retirement, family leave insurance and a living wage), and the elimination of the structural violence of externalities through the public investment and accountable maintenance of public and common goods (mostly public services and infrastructure).

Warren's emphasis on fair and effective administration of public goods in her powerful defense of good government can be defended even more forcefully as the maintenance of a scene of general welfare that secures consent and maintains fairness in the service of the deeper democratic defense of civitas, the vision of equity-in-diversity, a consensual and sustainable way of everyday life, the living expression of King's classically American nonviolent re/conciliative Beloved Community.

Ultimately this ground must be defended, else it is vulnerable to the readily available, lazily appealing negative conceptions of liberty and vacuous conceptions of openness that de-policitize the irrational hierarchies of the status quo and reduce non-violence to contractarian agreements whatever the conditions of actual misinformation and duress prevail over their terms (these are the discursive roots of what Warren rightly decries as the "Anarchy Gang").

All that said, I am still enormously encouraged by Warren's efforts here. Not to mention how pleased I am to see that the stiffness of some of her early speeches is gone -- if Hillary can't or doesn't run in 2016, Warren might well emulate the example of another charismatic freshman Senator. I hope Kirsten Gillibrand, Wendy Davis, and Nina Turner are paying attention to what Warren is doing here.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Teaching Day

As with every Thursday this term, most of today I'm in the City teaching and meeting, meeting and teaching.


Brian Lennon:
"Digital Humanities as an emergent formation has either simply missed, or else has deliberately rejected, the "postcolonial" critique of the academy, substituting for it a basically (cyber-)libertarian critique of the academy that is less concerned for global social justice than it is focused on opportunity for a particular fraction of a new technocratic elite. In that sense, DH represents precisely the "academy" that needed and deserved the critique originally delivered by postcolonial studies; and represents, as well, the need for that critique to be delivered again... DH debates are profoundly U.S. -centrist; but I think the U.S.-centrism of these debates is intrinsic to... the discourse of DH itself -- which, all protest and promotion notwithstanding, simply does not have that much of a foothold outside the combined Anglophone North American and British academic spheres." -- h/t David Golumbia

From Gavel to Gravel

The essence of the Shutdown is that John Boehner has thrown thousands of people out of their jobs in a pathetic effort to keep his.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Republicans Hold Gun To Their Own Heads, List of Demands Left Blank

"We're not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is." -- Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN)

Darkest Before the Dawn

This isn't a serious prediction or anything. I'm not a futurist, I'm an Unfuturist. I'm not privy to the counsels of our elite lawmakers. But I must say I cannot see exactly how Republicans extricate themselves from the shutdown now that they made it happen.

I'm not even going to dignify the claims of Republicans that it is the Democrat's fault that we have a shutdown: we only have government shut downs when Republicans have enough power to make that happen, Republicans have been repeatedly threatening and bringing us to the brink of a shutdown since the 2010 mid-terms put them in a position to do so, Republicans are on record and on tape salivating over the prospect of a shutdown, giddy with excitement in anticipation of a shutdown, clapping their hands like toddlers on a sugar high after voting for a shutdown, hell, Republicans hate government, hate governing, are philosophically committed to drowning government in a bathtub and shutting it down permanently, there is no question who wanted this and who owns it.

All that aside, I just don't see what forces or arguments can be brought to bear by the so-called pragmatic or moderate Republicans to end this debacle any time soon. Those forces and arguments were already available and failed to prevent the shutdown itself and so it is hard to see how they will end the shutdown once begun. I must say, those who believe pressures will be brought to bear on these inexperienced Republican Representatives to change their minds seem to be indulging in the same daydream that lead so many of them to say that reason would prevail before a shutdown occurred in the first place, ignoring all the palpable evidence to the contrary in the yahoo congress.

Snug in white undereducated rural districts in which Obama lost the election in a landslide, it is hard to see what sorts of impacts are going to nudge the calculations of these reactionaries in some new direction. I doubt many of the worst Republicans will be voted out in mid-terms despite their present unbelievably bad, almost traitorously bad, nearly criminally bad, behavior -- it is more likely that comparatively better (but still awful) Republicans will be voted out in districts that somewhat better reflect the reality of the diverse urban society that America has become, ideally enough so that Democrats regain the majority and hence the gerrymandered idiot-brigade is marginalized into complete irrelevance thereby (for people who disdain Darwin and Keynes, or gun or global temperature statistics you can be sure that such considerations are far beyond their capacity). That's a long shot, but these fools are doing their damnedest to make it possible.

To return to more near-term stakes, since it is hard to see just what might change the minds (I use the term loosely) of the authors of the present fiasco, I tend to suppose it will continue on not for hours or days but for weeks. I will be pleasantly surprised but am not at all hopeful that the shutdown will be resolved before the debt ceiling negotiations which would have been a second bite at the shutdown apple had this first one not succeeded anyway.

I actually do not think that the Republicans will be able to come to an agreement to raise the debt limit, flabbergastingly insane though this eventuality may be. At that point, one of two things likely happens. John Boehner, who is on record saying that the full faith and credit of the United States is not something he believes should be trifled with (he is also on record saying he would have nothing to do with a government shutdown, by the way), may break the Hastert Rule and circumvent the lunatics with a vote drawing its majority from Democrats, this time inevitably precipitating a crisis in his Speakership which Democrats either allow him to lose or support him in, making him speaker of a House coalition the majority of the members of whom are actually Democrats (making Nancy Pelosi the effective Speaker) -- or, President Obama will make recourse to one of a few Constitutionally arguable strategies for raising the debt ceiling unilaterally as the Executive, probably citing a fourteenth amendment rationale (tho' I prefer, of course, the Scooby Doo five trillion dollar coin).

Either action would marginalize Republicans into non-players, which in my view would almost certainly provoke an Impeachment crisis. Just as these white-racist know-nothing patriarchal pricks have been itching to shut the government down since they were inappropriately elected to government, so too most of them have been declaring Obama an islamofascist non-native illegitimate non-President who should be impeached for living and I have as little doubt that they would seek his impeachment once given the rationale of an executive remedy to an engineered debt-ceiling crisis as I had a doubt that they would shut the government down the minute they could swing as they so obviously have wanted to do from the beginning and now have done.

Of course, it's hard to see how Republicans can maintain a House majority in the aftermath of such a spectacle, nor regain a majority in the House or Senate, let alone the White House, after the stink of this kind of epic nonsense has played out: Even a few election cycles of Democratic dominance would transform the composition of the Supreme Court and lower courts, deliver a public option and pre-retirement Medicare buy-in on the road to single payer, a Social Security modeled paid child care and family leave act, immigration reform with a generous pathway to citizenship, serious investments in renewable infrastructure and heavy regulation of carbon polluting industries, a new tax bracket or two for the richest of the rich, a financial transaction tax, a raising of the taxable cap on income to save Social Security for generations, a refurbished Glass-Steagall to re-impose a firewall between investing and gambling, a raising of the national minimum wage to twelve to fifteen dollars an hour pegged to inflation, institute card check to facilitate collective bargaining (even in Right to Serf states), unify fair and easy election standards to secure reliable election results and increase the franchise and voter participation across the nation, impose a host of commonsense gun safety regulations and bans on military style weapons, invest in medical research and space exploration with who knows what extraordinary benefits to human well being, continue a shift from unilateral militarism into multilateral diplomacy, aid, and outreach as well as ending the war on terror and shuttering the violations of civil liberties enabled by the authorization of force agreement that inaugurated the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq based on lies and implemented in war crimes, and provide safe and easy access to abortion and other healthcare services in every county in every state in the entire United States.

There are Democratic Representatives who actively and repeatedly advocate for all of these outcomes all the time, and with sizable Democratic support, versions of many of them got through the House but not the Senate when Nancy Pelosi was Speaker, none of these are pie in the sky proposals, I am not even mentioning even more progressive possibilities I think might be entertained in a generation of Democratic control of all the branches (nor am I dwelling on the danger of an even stronger resurgence of corporatist influence on the Democrats as cash was diverted from the moribund Republicans to a Democratic Party that was the only game in town), but suffice it to say that the results of the current Republican foolishness in the face of demographic realities and planetary dynamisms is likely to be radically otherwise than they anticipate or intend.

UPDATE: By indulging his Tea Party know-nothings in their every idiot tantrum right up to the deadline, Boehner was able to keep and perhaps even somewhat strengthen his Speakership (it had nowhere to go but up) despite breaking the Hastert Rule as predicted to raise the debt ceiling and end the shutdown after all. Boehner's capacity to manage his zealots fee fees has thus averted the darker Impeachment crisis eventualities that worried me when I posted this. Of course, the can has simply been kicked down the road yet again and we may have all that to look forward to still. I would prefer to think, in our President's phrase, that the fever has finally broken and that we may be moving from the darkness to the dawn without the darkness getting quite as dark as I feared (which is not to deny it's been pretty damn dark).