Libraries

Glenn Beck is the perfect example of the Conservative fallacy.

Having been raised with the all the benefits of an open, liberal society, he has come out with the belief that all his success is due to his own effort, and not to the structure that modern civilization created for him.

That’s what allows him and his ilk to look down on the unsuccessful: they must not be working as hard as I am.  And therefore they are morally undeserving of success, or even assistance.

“How did I learn about the evils of progressivism? I educated myself.  I went to the library.  Books are free.

I’ve been on food stamps and Welfare.  Anybody help me out? No.”

The essence of the modern Conservative spirit is a blind selfishness, wrapped in ignorance and piety.  Jesus tells us to love one another; to reconcile that with resenting and hating other people, one has to deny reality on a fairly large scale.

Throw Grandma From The Train

It’s “insane,” to use the words of several prominent Republicans, to believe that there are any “death panels” in the current healthcare proposal that will result in a government bureaucracy, directly or indirectly, sentencing the old or sick to death.  Yet the message is spreading in the fearful Right.

Part of the problem is a combination of fear and carelessness in wording. The GOP has been pushing the euthanasia/voluntary suicide hot button for YEARS, and any time any proposal from the left comes with the words “voluntary end-of-life counseling” they’ll naturally go ape because they assume it’s the “end-of-life” that’s voluntary, not the counseling.

Messaging is crucial, and the GOP is expert at turning messages that are intended for the moderately astute into total freak-outs for “Regular Americans.” Living wills get torqued into voluntary euthanasia; family planning becomes mass abortions; coverage for marital counseling becomes decreed divorces; school health counseling becomes homosexual indoctrination. I swear that by the time this is over somebody’s going to take Everett Koop’s statement that gun violence is a public health issue and turn that into “Obamacare will confiscate your guns!”

It’s both intellectually and morally bankrupt, and there’s barely any defense against it other than to gently suggest that Congress will make sure that any plan to make healthcare more available and affordable will not involve mass murder, reeducation camps, or martial law. Because absurd as it sounds, a whole lot of people actively believe that it will.


Palin

Well, well. Fireworks on the 3rd of July.

As much as this is a (self-described) gift to the people of Alaska, I’m not sure it ends up being a gift to the conservative movement, the Republican party, or the lower 49.  As usual, more was left unexplained than was illuminated, and if the historical pattern of surprise-announcements-by-Republican-Governors is followed, many things in Palin’s statement will be revealed to be half-truths, deceptions, or outright falsehoods.

So the huge question is “Why?” and I can really see only three probable answers:

1) Household finances.

Palin has repeatedly cited the legal costs of defending the ethics claims against her (and erroneously cited the cost to the Alaska taxpayer oil industry) and has failed to raise the funds to pay her lawyers.  Pesky ethics rules prevent her from generating outside income while Governor, though her popularity is still strong enough that she could make up the nut in a book advance and a month of personal appearances.  It’s possible that this is just a kitchen-table choice: this job is costing her more than it’s paying her, and she could get out of debt fast and actually start being able to afford that Saks Fifth Avenue wardrobe if she quit.

I consider this the strongest theory because a) it fits the facts in evidence and b) she claimed her real purpose was otherwise.  (For most people, I take their stated reason as the most likely, but for her, that never works.)

2) Another shoe is about to drop.

There’s been little mention that her hand-picked, barely-qualified Attorney General also resigned, suddenly and without explanation, in February.  He was replaced by the head of the Criminal Division, and Palin’s attempt to nominate a heavily-armed good ol’ boy was soundly defeated in the Legislature.  She finally got a nominee confirmed last month, but meanwhile the investigation into whether she inflated the cost of an already-controversial sports complex to tag on construction and materials for a personal vacation home has continued.  The speculation is that subpoenas were issued last week and the Palins were notified that they were targets of at least a state criminal investigation, if not federal.

If true, it still doesn’t provide a full explanation. Resignation in advance of indictment isn’t a great idea; it sort of telegraphs guilt.  There’s certainly an element of wishful thinking, too.  Palin has dodged every single ethics complaint; the one set of charges that was well-founded came from a toothless Legislature.

3) She’s running for President.

The only evidence for this is her cryptic (and misattributed) quote of Douglas MacArthur about “advancing in a different direction.” If she is making a conscious attempt to run for President, the resignation shows almost zero deliberate planning for it; if somebody else is backing her, it is the most incompetently-staged campaign kickoff in history.  Her only credibility in 2008 was her experience in being the executive of a (geographically) large state; by not completing her first term, she will have ceded her only talking point, which was her lead on Obama in executive experience.

As for the other nutty theories—pregnancy, an adultery scandal, truly being sick of the toll politics is taking on her family, cashing in on her fame while she has it, etc.—they’re all pretty speculative and poorly formed.  If she truly doesn’t have the hide for the rough-and-tumble of American politics, her resignation speech was too defiant; if she’s really expecting further personal revelations, the speech was too political.

So, as real journalists say, “it’s too early to tell.”  But this is far from Palin’s swan song. It may be her rambling, incoherent take on a Checkers speech.

Deke

Politico says that a panel of conservative judges may deny Obama the expanded executive powers established by the Bush Administration.

Progressives have been appalled that Obama is defending the Bush policies (even in word, if not in deed). These are the same executive powers that Obama decried as a Senator, and campaigned against in the general election.

One of two things is happening:

Obama is no dummy. He’s a constitutional scholar, and has deep respect for the institution of the Presidency. He realizes that the Presidency expands its power once in several generations; that normally the courts and Congress are continually chipping away at the Executive, not enlarging it. It’s his duty to the office to hold his ground, not just for himself but for future Presidents and the presidency itself. The last thing America needs is an impotent figurehead as Executive, with the Congress and Courts constantly sparring for power with no tiebreaker. So even if he never intends to use those powers, it’s his obligation to defend his right to.

Or the second thing, which I consider less likely, but more brilliant:

He’s aware that there are indeed biased, activist judges in the Judiciary, and that they are more likely to limit the executive powers of a [young, black] Democratic president than they were of Bush.

So this is a deke.

He’s inviting the Judiciary to do his job for him. Rather than ceding the ground that Bush took, he’s making the courts take it away from him, which establishes the precedent that the ground can never be retaken by future Presidents. And he’s letting the conservative circular firing squad put their firm endorsement on it.

He’ll make conservatives implement his policies to the point where they’ll claim it as their victory. And they might not even notice.

Again, I think the odds are long that he’s that Machiavellian. But if he is, and it succeeds, it will be the most masterful Presidential move in decades.

Threat

It seems that the greatest threat to heterosexual marriage is Republican politicians.

I said it first

Twenty-two years ago, in fact.  I’d just finished shipping HyperCard, and was taking a three-month sabbatical to rethink things after a crazy two years.  What hit me during the HyperCard development phase was the inevitability of the collision of personal computers, networks, and media, and that copyright was the nexus at which they all would meet.  (Remember, this was before the CD-ROM, before AOL, before the MP3 format.)

So I started my own company, called Digital Goods.  I read a lot of economics and copyright law. I subscribed to Variety.  And I wrote two issues of a newsletter, the text of which is amazingly lost to the mists of time.

But I remember one central theory that thrilled me, and why I didn’t consider it an understatement to claim that the digital media emergence was a “revolution.” Put simply, with digital goods, the control of the means of production shifts to the hands of the consumer.

Marx and Engels made it pretty clear that it is revolutionary to change the control of the means of production, from the feudal class to the capitalists to the State.  Economists and philosophers have yet to grasp what kind of revolution comes from everybody carrying a factory in their pocket.

Trenchant

Jon Stewart ought to get a Pulitzer for his work this year.

Yes, it’s disappointing that most of the insightful political commentary in the past ten years has come from comedians.  But this isn’t new; look at Lear’s Fool.  Comedians can tell the truth in ways that other members of society can’t.

But the key moment in Stewart’s interview with Jim Cramer was when he made the most trenchant, salient point about the economic collapse and its effect on the middle class.  He acknowledged the existence of two financial systems: the Potemkin economy, where middle-class investors fund worthy companies and are rewarded with dividends and equity growth; and the racetrack economy, where Wall Street brokers and arbitrageurs take those investment dollars and lend, trade, promise, and bet them in increasingly abstruse ways.

Then he accused Cramer (and his ilk) of being the shill that acts as if he’s on the side of the former while sluicing their money to the latter.  And that, more than anything, is the crime of the century.

We know the financiers have a history and a penchant for making capitalism run amok.  Bubbles have been with us since the South Seas and the tulips, and crashes happen repeatedly and frequently.  Credit default swaps are stunning in their magnitude but structurally nothing new: banks traded things of intangible value with each other, and counted them as assets.  When their true worth (or lack thereof) comes to light, the assets go poof.  All this has happened before.

But the real damage this time was the suckering of the middle class into stoking the fire.  With our 401(k)s on the one side and our negative-amortization mortgages on the other, the middle class contributed huge amounts of real money to the financial system in fifteen years, and were rewarded with paper gains that were just as accurate as the account balances of Bernie Madoff’s clients.  And when the web of lies collapsed, the bankers made off with the real money, and the middle class is left holding the bag, in three ways: the real loss (or at best the opportunity cost) of the equity investments; the real loss in home equity, to the point of bankruptcy; and the crushing, long-term tax burden of bailing out the profiteers.

That’s the Pulitzer-winning story of the decade, and the New York Times and Barron’s and CNN are not getting to the bottom of it.

The funny guy is.

And that’s a tragedy.