Wednesday, June 27, 2012

We the People Should Just Mind Our Manners!

Essayist and rights advocate Glenn Greenwald today responds to a comical, revolting essay by ESPN something LZ Granderson. Granderson normally writes on sports issue, but he's a reporter at a major news outlet, so he must be an expert on anything for CNN. Now he's an expert on issues of American government secrecy and popular demands of openness, demands once aired but now violently opposed by Barack Obama.

The obvious test — one which the LZ Grandersons and George Wills (and George Packer and Bill Kellers ignore) — is revealed in the double standard. Do citizenry of other nations have obligations to resist nosiness? Iranians? Iraqis? Venezuaelans? Granderson's — sports expert and therefore expert on government — assertions (there is no argument or reason there) is brutally absurd.

The most obvious point is that government is exactly a creature of peoples' creation. Even dictatorships are. Governments are not sports or movie stars victimized by paparazzi pawing through garbage or hovering near bedroom windows. Governments have exactly and only those rights We the People give them.

 To the extent that there might be something remotely substantive in Granderson's confusion it might be that somethings are necessary that are unsavory. At least the revolting Alan Dershowitz gets that those things still need to be public, hence his call for "torture warrants." If the people decided to make public all the top secrets of American nuclear weaponry, for example, it might indeed by unwise, might give guidance to 'enemies' up to no good, but it would not be a problem of "nosiness."

I think Granderson's is another example of class-blame. What he is really endorsing is what some endorse in Citizens United or endless protection of the wealthy against redistributive policy. We the People are getting too uppity. He's expressly rejecting the notion that government can be too nosy in its spying on American citizens (or worse — in its assassination of American citizens). It's we lesser Americans — the 90 or 95 percent — who should just accept our station in life.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Why Tax the Poor More? They "Deserve" It.

James Kwak offers some comments on the determination of conservatives to increase taxes on the poor while reducing those on the rich. My overwhelming impression is that conservatives see the poor and less fortunate as inferior in deep sense. This was betrayed in a Gregory Mankiw blog post that should have gotten far greater attention than it did. That it didn't suggests, I think, the extent to which essentially conservative thinking pervades even many liberal arenas. Mankiw is an economist at Harvard and is now among those advising Mitt Romney.

In a 2009 post, Mankiw offered a social-Darwinist account for children's school performance, including an allusion to reductionist genetic explanations of a kind very popular these days among conservatives and liberals (like, for example, Barbara Ehrenreich). The post is here.

Mankiw clearly thinks that different outcomes are in significant measure a result of fundamental, intrinsic, biological differences between individuals. The rich are more successful because they are just better — better workers, better thinkers, better innovators.

This thinking is very widespread in the anglophone, industrial democracies — Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and of course the US. Moreover, it closely tided to a kind of supremacist thinking (and I do mean supremacist) found among the wealthy. Scan the comments of Michael Bloomberg or the Koch brothers or Bill Gates, and you will see a pervasive contempt for the less fortunate that is coupled with a conviction that these less fortunate are just less well-endowed with the natural talents enjoyed by the better-off. Centuries ago, this was overtly embraced as the divine right of nobility. Today it is far more subtle.

More importantly, it reflects a close intwining of tacit assumptions about social status, native talent, education, culture, heritage — many things. For example, Mike Bloomberg simply has no substantive interaction with those who are markedly less well-off; so, predictably, he views the less-fortunate as "Other." This view is reinforced by the socio-biological, reductionist account that says that behavioral differences are outcomes of genetic differences. It is further reinforced by the need all people share to view their own good fortune as something more than plain good luck. If Bloomberg is just lucky, then what justification is there for his holding the staggering fortune he does. He must "deserve" that wealth because he's better than the rest of us.

Why raise taxes on the poor then? Well, they "deserve it." In the view of the Michael Bloombergs — and, crucially, also in the view of the Arne Duncans and (I suspect) the Barack Obamas — the poor aren't just poor in a socio-economic sense; they are "poor specimens of humanity."

How do we test such contention as mine? Probably not in the neatly numerical way that economists and political scientists today demand. That, in turn, raises yet another issue of how our very methods of inquiry tend to promote some conclusions over others.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Good Dog Fido

Maybe the story is far more simple than anyone has supposed. Maybe the reason we see supposedly "liberal" thinkers constantly kowtowing to Obama is that the brand of Obama-obedient liberal asks not what "politicians owe us" but what "we owe them." Maybe what conservatives are getting right is that they do indeed ask "what politicians owe us."

Certainly, the balance of sycophantic go-along-to-get-along thinking seems to be found among safe, obedient liberals. They whine when conservatives are in power. Then when Obama-style liberals do exactly the same thing the conservatives did, they scream bloody murder at any progressives' objections to the crimes.

At least conservatives express their dissatisfaction when they feel it. The Obama-obedient liberal brigade seems to think that as long as you're sufficiently obedient, you'll be rewarded — like a good dog.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Transit of Venus

It gives me great comfort to think that no matter how grossly the revolting barbarian war-mongers like Barack Obama or Angela Merkel or Hu Jintao mess things up here on Earth, the planets orbit, stars shine, life thrives (despite all human efforts to annihilate the living planet).

Here, then, is my thrill today, Tuesday, 5 June 2012. The Transit of Venus, taken at about 7:30 pm, Eastern time.

You can see Venus in the upper right quadrant of the sun. Through the clouds and roughly about the middle of the Sun, you can see some sunspots.

Monday, June 4, 2012

This Republican (and Democratic) Economy

Paul Krugman writes this Monday of "This Republican Economy" and Barack Obama's and the media's unwillingness or inability to state the obvious regarding GOP obstructionism. I think Paul Krugman fails to grasp the nettle (to paraphrase the great left political philosopher G. A. Cohen speaking on John Rawls).

The most obvious liberal-progressive response to Mr. Krugman is that Obama and the media have failed to highlight know-nothing Republican obstructionism because they largely agree with it. On healthcare, foreign policy, education, Social Security, domestic security and a raft of other issues, Obama is conservative. The media in the US is likewise conservative. News organizations like the Times have supported war almost without qualification. They have raised only the most tepid challenges to Obama attacks on American civil liberties. They have largely supported talk of privatizing Social Security, even after the crimes of Wall Street. The list goes on.

If Paul Krugman's question for Obama is "Why the weak response," a question for Mr. Krugman is, "Why not take your own reasoning to the conclusion evidence supports?" This country, not just GOP fanatics, is largely conservative and anti-Keynesian. Obama is anti-Keynesian, just not as extreme as the GOP (on economics; he's more extreme on foreign policy and domestic security). When he had the choice, the opportunity, and the swell of opinion with him, Obama nevertheless surrounded himself with substantially anti-Keynesian economic thinkers (the exception being Christina Romer, who was soon forced out). Keynesians like Paul Krugman or Joseph Stiglitz were pointedly excluded.

Media elites (with some like Bill Keller related to industry executives, some like Cokie Roberts related to government elites, or some like Thomas Friedman being actual economic elites) identify with wealth, not with common Americans. Many academic elites do also.

As John Kenneth Galbraith noted decades ago, these people's interests align with wealth. Moreover, the perceptions of self among media and government elite align with wealth. Elite interests and ideas — to borrow a phrase economist Dani Rodrik has recently used — are highly homogeneous. The contempt Mike Bloomberg shows average Americans is widely shared among Democrats, not just Republicans.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Wealthy, the Powerful — They're Just Better than Us

Again, some thoughts motivated by Glenn Greenwald's observations of the revolting hypocrisy of Barack Obama on whistleblowing, leaks, terrorism, acts of aggression and war.

Let's suppose that all 'leaders' in positions of power are inclined to abuse that power. What is changing? Is it that Obama knows he can get away with it? Does he know that neither the GOP nor any in Congress or in the court system will oppose him?

Or is there a new sense of divine right that overrides prudential considerations? Do Obama and Bush and others now think that they are just so much better than the rest of us that they have the right to do whatever they please? This seems to be the attitude of supremacists like Mike Bloomberg and Lloyd Blankfein. I think it is the attitude that underlies the glaring advocacy of a two-tiered educational system — well-funded and private for the wealthy, and poor and public for the rest of us. So, too, for health care.

This, I think, is the New Feudalism — the attitude of those in power that they are just better than us.