Monday, May 28, 2012

How Would I Run the Country? (Part Two)

In my last post, I laid out my views on justice and the law. Now let's go with money, finance, and economics:
  1. Raise taxes and moderate spending. There's one caveat here in that, like the Keynesian I am, I'd use the current downturn for infrastructure spending as stimulus. I'd also funnel more money to the states to make up for the catastrophic reduction of services on the state and local level, such as in education and health. Contrary to conservative views -- which are largely fantastical constructs such as the theory of expansionary austerity ("tax cuts lead to increased revenues") that have no actual basis in reality -- the way to grow revenues is to spur growth through government spending on things of intrinsic value, which will lead to higher GDP and actual increased revenues through increased personal and business income. There is no mystery about this.
  2. Reduce government spending in the long term to get deficits under control. There is no mystery here, either. The vast majority of academic economists and federal and state agencies like the Congressional Budget Office agree on this. The only economists that disagree appear to be reading from a talking-points script or work for "think tanks" bought and paid for by rich people with political agendas associated with reducing taxes on the rich and cutting services for the poor.
  3. Maintain and expand programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid: And stop calling these "entitlements." They're not. Social Security is a program paid for by its recipients, as subsequent generations pay for the previous ones, who paid into the system during their productive years, etc. If the formula is insufficient for future outflows, repair it by tweaking the current inflows. If current contributions are insufficient, it's undoubtedly because more of the national income is captured by rich people, who are sheltered from much of the contribution they make. Raise the contribution level and use a surcharge on the filthy rich to fund the program forever. Even the rich will benefit by this, in that guaranteed incomes for retired people stimulate increased consumer spending and higher tax revenues, etc. & etc. As for Medicare, its problems are related to the inability to control healthcare costs, though increases in Medicare taxes can help. As for Medicaid, spending on it will go down if we institute a national healthcare system, whether it be the modest Obamacare programs or an even smarter, more effective system like all the other advanced nations of the world have adopted except ours. In any event, lack of healthcare services for the working poor is one of the biggest drains on productivity this nation suffers from. It's idiotic not to grasp this.
  4. Slowly, over time, cut defense spending dramatically. Of course, if we reduce defense spending too quickly, it will have a deleterious effect on overall GDP, but if we reduce it slowly we can use this reduction in spending to alleviate our long-term budget deficits. We can be ready to defend ourselves without giving in to the urge to attack any nation we feel like on a whim. Rely on diplomacy for more of our international relations. Libya is a good example of a combination of a limited military role -- with real allies -- and diplomacy to create a reasonable outcome without lengthy entanglements. Money saved from defense is better used on other, more healthy aspects of society, such as education, health, and research, or reducing deficits.
  5. Stop listening to the zombie lies that have been the stock in trade of the conservative movement. This is not an ad hominem attack. The right, beginning with Ronald Reagan's famous "the government is not the solution, the government is the problem" declaration, has maintained its mantra against government for more than thirty years, all the while driving up deficits as much or more than liberals. The real damage of the drumbeat has been evident in recent years, as the Tea Party and what's left of the Republican Party that spawned it have forgotten what a government of the people, for the people, and by the people is supposed to be doing, and that's helping its people with services and public goods. The failure to collect adequate tax revenues while failing to curb spending (yes, in spite of the zombie lies, Republicans spend as much or more on government than Democrats) has decimated the quality of life for our entire nation. It's evident everywhere.
  6. Evaluate spending on what it delivers, not just with knee-jerk opposition based on ideology. We can create new programs that cost money as long as we see value from the spending. To simply say, "Government programs are always inferior to the private sector" or "time to pay the tab" or "It's our money, not the government's" isn't helpful. The whole purpose of government is to serve the people. If it doesn't, it's the people's fault. The people are the government.
  7. Curb the influence of the wealthy in defining the role and scope of government. Once again, if you are deeply suspicious of government serving the interests of the elite, do something positive to stop it, like joining protest movements, boycotts, facebook and Twitter campaigns, and voting with your feet. Think Bank of America is too big? Don't access any of their products.
Once again, I could go on, but you know where I'm coming from. I believe in government spending on public goods and services, and I believe the government plays a vital role in the lives of its people, on every level from federal to state to local. I believe the people should constantly educate themselves on issues and bring pressure to bear on all elected officials to do the people's will. And I believe the people's will should be more community-oriented than individual-oriented. We're better working together to solve problems than we are when we work apart.

Finally, I can't help but tell everyone to stop misunderstanding the word "socialism." It got a bad rap during the fifties and sixties when it was conflated with "communism." Both are words that describe types of political economies. "Communism" as a word was destroyed by the totalitarian governments that ruled under the guise of a communist society. The Soviet Union, "Red" China, and North Korea were never actually communist societies. If they were, they would have had to be democratic ones.

By reminding people of that, I'm not advocating communism. I believe that we're not mature enough as humans to live such an idealistic way of life as is required of true communist political entities. So it's not so much of a bankrupt ideology as an impractical one.

Socialism, on the other hand, is different. Socialism is defined as "a social and economic doctrine that calls for public rather than private ownership or control of property and natural resources." If you think for a minute, all government activity, which is carried out as instructed by the people's will, is by its very nature socialistic, just as free enterprise is by its very nature a capitalistic undertaking. An advanced social democracy -- as I plainly advocate -- can and does incorporate the best of both systems, with many government enterprises organized strictly as public enterprises for the good of the general public, and many private enterprises organized for the good of the individual in the form of profit, with regulation being a natural component in order to guarantee that greed and parsimony doesn't overtake its value to both society and the individuals of which it is made.

Anyone who seriously believes that a society can exist successfully for any length of time without regulation of private markets and without the support of public enterprises obviously hasn't been living in and observing the nature of the social and political entities of the world in which we live.

Yes, I advocate a form of social democracy, which is, by the way, not simply a European system. The advanced free nations of Asia, such as South Korea and Japan, are such systems. In fact, they are more socialistic than many of the nations of Europe. Why? Because they are socially driven societies. They know very well that communities, whether towns or nations, can only succeed to the extent that all members of the community succeed. It's true there, it's true in Europe, and it should be here in the U.S.

Give it some thought.

Addendum. I happened on The American Conservative website and discovered a blog post entitled "Liberalism Means Discrimination." I pretty quickly realized that the author was either academically isolated -- discussing a concept outside of its actual place in space and time -- or playing rhetorical games. The former is the more generous view.

In any event, the author was speaking not of modern liberalism (which Wikipedia defines as interchangeable with social liberalism) but of classical liberalism, a 19th-century tradition that is best understood in today's terms as libertarianism, which is quite dissimilar from modern liberalism, obviously.

The author quoted Spinoza's Critique of Religion by Leo Strauss, an intellectual darling of the right:
[Classical] Liberalism stands or falls by the distinction between state and society, or by the recognition of a private sphere, protected by the law but impervious to the law, with the understanding that, above all, religion as particular religion belongs to the private sphere. Just as certainly as the [classical] liberal state will not “discriminate” against its Jewish citizens, so it is constitutionally unable and even unwilling to prevent “discrimination” against Jews by individuals or groups. To recognize a private sphere in the sense indicated means to permit private “discrimination,” to protect it and thus in fact to foster it.
I added the "classical" to remind you that Strauss is referring to something more akin to libertarianism. My takeaway from this passage is an insight that, in today's terms, libertarianism does indeed foster discrimination because it despises regulation, even social regulation such as civil rights laws. I had only grasped libertarianism's -- and hence current conservatism's -- revulsion for economic regulation; it never occurred to me that the ideology stands against any regulation, including civil rights.

Obviously, I stand against such notions. Strauss came to the conclusion that men were not going to evolve morally, as Hume and Kant speculated, and that tradition -- the necessary means by which such moral evolution might take place -- was antithetical to reason and universality. When Shadia Drury criticized Strauss as claiming that "perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to tell them what's good for them," we can see why neoconservatives, who might rather apply this dictum to foreign countries we might want to shape in our image through force than to our own country, might also revere Strauss as one of the father's of neoconservatism.

Any way you slice it, I don't like it and feel that Strauss' notions reek a bit too much of fascism, as I've felt about neoconservatism all along.

All this discussion, as interesting as it was to me, really only had the effect of making me want to clarify what my political philosophy is, and that the term social liberalism is much closer to what I adhere to than socialism. From now on, I'll speak of myself as a social liberal, which hopefully will prevent those of another persuasion from lumping me with the communists.

In the next post, I'll speak to my views on social justice.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How Would I Run the Country? (Part One)

This is not a dream exercise. It's a way of stating my policy preferences. Okay, some of these policy prescriptions might not be adopted nationwide in my lifetime or even my children's, but since political campaigns tend to obscure the truth or dilute it beyond recognition, I thought I'd take a break from my usual political screeds to attempt something of actual substance. Here goes, in somewhat random order: (Update. I've decided to handle one topic at a time, starting with the law.)
The Law: I'd actually enforce it, most particularly when it comes to white-collar crime, which in dollar terms vastly outpaces petty crime or even armed robbery.
  • Stiffen regulations on banks, securities firms, and insurance companies and be prepared to use the laws to criminally attack our highly corrupt financial sector.
  • Fully fund any state and federal agency charged with investigating bank and securities fraud of any kind. March the perps in front of the courthouses and the cameras in shackles whenever they're indicted, which should be often.
  • Relax sentencing guidelines on all non-violent crimes, especially involving victimless crimes. We lock up too many of our citizens at considerable unnecessary expense. Even financial fraud crimes don't require 20-year sentences. If you convict a banker of $5 billion in mortgage fraud, take all his money and all the money his associates got for helping in the fraud until all of them are flat broke. With this money, create a victims fund that specifically helps the crime's victims. Then, after a suitable amount of time -- say, 3 years -- release the banker back into the wilds. Line up a job for him at his old firm as an entry-level cashier. Don't let his wealthy friends give him a consultant job for $10 million or more (see Michael Milken/Ted Turner). In fact, don't let convicted fraudsters back into the profession in which they committed their fraud.
  • Decriminalize most drug use or possession. Turn it from a legal problem into a health problem. Legalize marijuana outright, treating it similar to alcohol. Allow it to be prescribed for medical use as it is now in many states. Look into ways of turning hard drug use, such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine into a regulated activity instead of a criminal activity by making it available only from licensed facilities that require counseling and rehab opportunities in order to participate. Look to Portugal's experience in decriminalization for guidance.
  • Ban all guns from private ownership except those guns directly related to hunting, such as single-action rifles and shotguns. Regulate them severely, with gun sales only through licensed dealerships with brick-and-mortar addresses, and require proper training and regular re-registration similar to motor-vehicle use and registration. No one who owns a gun should be anonymous or untrained, again as with motor-vehicle use.
  • Police should be equipped to enforce the law and not to be the law. Police agencies should not be allowed to become paramilitary powers with paramilitary equipment. We need community policing, not community shock troops. The Department of Homeland Security should not help every borough and hamlet to have their own highly weaponized attack squads with tanks, Humvees, and troop carriers. Police should be trained to deal non-violently with acts of non-violent civil disobedience.
  • Fully fund the courts! Depoliticize the appointment of judges! Speedy trials mean speedy trials! Having a right to an attorney means just that, not to some ne'er-do-well has-been who sleeps through capital cases! Right? Right.
  • Prosecutorial misconduct should have harsher sentences than the ones that were served by the suspects whose rights were trampled. Send a man through misconduct to jail improperly for 24 years, do 24 years. Maybe that's a dream, but no prosecutor, judge, or police officer should be allowed to get by without severe and permanent punishment including jail and loss of livelihood.
  • End the death penalty, period, no exceptions.
Clearly, policy is very complicated. Just dealing with the law took a long time, and I didn't cover everything. But the thrust of my approach is clear: don't allow criminals in suits to live better than criminals in T-shirts and Levis. Don't lock everybody up for such a long time. Don't let our citizenry end up so armed and dangerous; don't let them be armed at all. The damage bleeds all over the place. Don't let law enforcement and justice systems act as criminal enterprises. Restore justice through common sense and with a common sense of community and old-fashioned stern mercy. We can become a civilized society again. (Hint: we aren't one right now.)

Next: Heath care.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Why Democrats Must Win, Part Two

Now let's get to specifics. Why must Democrats win?
  1. Republican ideologues are over the edge, and they're not coming back. Examples of their wildly destructive behavior are everywhere.
  2. Republicans are violating their conservatism because of the overabundance of libertarian sentiment. For example, JP Morgan Chase has lost a bundle, now at $2 billion and likely to exceed $3 billion, playing with credit default swaps not directly tied to the bank's current risk. That's the heart of the Volcker Rule, though lobbying by banks softened its current form to allow the very kind of trade that cost JP Morgan big-time. So what do the conservatives say? What we need is less regulation! That's the same as having your local bank robbed at gunpoint and the police recommending that you cut your security guards from two to one. No, we need a stronger Volcker Rule, as well as a return to Glass-Steagall.
  3. The conservatives won't be happy until all the wealth is set to transfer from the have-nots to the haves. They don't want to save Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, they want to end them.
  4. The conservatives are willing to cut taxes and increase defense spending -- even when the Pentagons says no thanks. This clearly proves that they don't care about deficits. They never have. They just want to end social programs because the poor are bad people. And we can't help them! They're slackers!
  5. When there's a chance to save money, increase alternative energy sources, or back off on corporate welfare like oil and agricultural subsidies, the conservatives fight it tooth and nail. Why? Aren't these savings at the heart of conservative values? Of course they are. But this is not about conservative values. It's about transfer payments from government to the wealthy or from the poor -- in higher costs -- to, yes, the wealthy.
  6. The same goes for anything that has to do global warming or the environment in general. Conservatives poll that they actually believe in global warming and environmental concerns, but they also poll that they are against spending a penny to do anything about it. Again, if it hurts the wealthy, no dice. Why the working-class conservatives think this will benefit them beats the hell out of me.
  7. The Republican leadership has shown absolutely no intention of negotiating in good faith about anything that would help heal any of the broken systems in American government, finance, or health care. In fact, they are becoming more fiercely ideological every day. We can't count on them working to improve any aspect of American life. Oh, there's one possibility: if they ever get complete power -- White House, Congress, and the courts -- they might find themselves having to please some constituency other than the rich, if only for self-preservation. We saw that a bit in the Bush administration, but that led to debacles like Medicare Part D, in which a drug program for seniors actually disallowed price negotiations on drugs. Nuts.
  8. The Tax Pledge is the great immobilizer.  Conservatives will adhere to it for the foreseeable future. Progress can't be made if there continues an all-out war on common sense.
  9. If Republicans take control of the executive and legislative branches, the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court will follow. Sure, they already own the Court, but imagine two more Republican appointees in a Romney administration. I shudder to think about it.
  10. If we allow the Republican Party to take control of this country, they'll continue to destroy the very fabric of our society. Education, food safety, water and air quality, infrastructure, in fact just about the whole of the American experience will degrade. Conservatives are hell-bent on this. At some point, when they're staring into the abyss, they'll have a real holy-fuck moment when they realize they've just been tools of the overlords, who never intended to give much back, let alone power. By then, it'll likely be too late.
  11. The Republicans need to be fought on the state and local level, too. As the federal government shrinks, so, too, does government at all levels. As state governments are forced to pick up more costs, they, in turn, will shrink. This is that crazy thing known as the Paradox of Thrift, in which saving money means declining growth leading to decreased revenues that lead to even less growth and so on. Soon, we're not saving anything but instead are devouring ourselves. Yuck.
I could go on. But this is already a grim enough picture. Every voter should just, as rationally as possible, examine the policy implications of everything the Republican Party says today -- even if it requires deft translation from phony talking points to the real meaning behind them -- and think long and hard about what kind of America is left. Then, vote. Democratic. Please.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why Democrats Must Win

Good luck with that, but not my constituency. No, really. Not.

I've been around long enough and paid enough attention to the political life of this country to know that radical progressives -- of which I consider myself one -- see little difference between the two major parties. There's even an acronym for it, LOTE, meaning lesser of two evils. This code word is used with the most bitter contempt: radicals on the left really, really hate the Democratic Party because, they say, at least Republicans are honest about their allegiance to the elite ruling class, or our Galtian Overlords, as Atrios would say.

I get why they'd feel that way. However, I profoundly disagree, mostly because I don't see us as a society at a "to the barricades" point yet. Sure, we've got a little Occupy movement going, which I tacitly support. But a few dozen of the usual suspects occupying UC Berkeley agricultural fields until they're predictably led off in plastic-tie handcuffs spouting "Why are you doing this, man??" doesn't equal a revolution or even a serious beginning of one.

Pretty sure this isn't a revolution.

I'm with them in spirit, and I hope they find a serious way to mount a successful non-violent civil disobedience campaign that can harness itself in a way that doesn't destroy the optics they need to display. By that I mean the anarchists are fucking up their cause and always will until they can be driven from the field. I don't know how you do this today.

So in the meantime, I choose the lesser of two evils. Why? No choice.

And the lesser of two evils is the Democratic Party. Let me add that the Republicans are quite rightly called evil. There's enough proof that the conservatives really do hate a majority of Americans. Their policies prove it. The Democrats on the other hand are almost but not quite bought off by the same elites. But the cover they offer to those elite takes the form of throwing a few bones to the underclass.

I'll take those bones for now. And press for more. Not much to speak of, I admit, but better than swallowing the bitter pills of Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney et al. And seriously, if the radical progressives who want to leave the system refuse to settle, for now, for some meager bones -- hoping instead for a future violent revolution brought on by enabling an even more bitter present dominated by conservatives -- then they lose the less rabid radicals like myself that they'd need to even have access to power once the smoke clears.

And I don't particularly pretend that I'm a player. I'm just part of that class of aging hippie intellectuals that can support a radical agenda. If you lose the votes and support of even 10% of us, then the radical progressives will never truly find a voice that speaks loudly enough to mean anything.

Radical progressives long for the day when it's "to the barricades!" But honestly, don't hold your breath. The rednecks of the Bible Belt will go violent nuts long before you can do anything except burn a few SUVs as an environmental protest or chain yourselves to the top of a few trees on the Berkeley campus. Big whoop.

Do this until they're out of plastic. Otherwise, give the fuck up. (Hint: Don't give up.)

Meaning no disrespect, of course. But real movements don't grow on trees. They're built from the ground up, and violence doesn't work anymore. Take a look at the Arab Spring: the only clear winner so far is Tunisia where the most peaceful revolution took place. Everywhere else is in chaos still and may not emerge as democracies.

So build a new party. Call it Green, call it Blue. I'm not totally against you and somewhat with you in spirit, but the Democratic Party still feels like home because it's got a slim chance of halting the slide into the abyss. If I'm a bit against going Green -- or another third party -- it's because I remember 2000 when some of my impatient LOTE friends went Green for Ralph Nader. So we got George W. Bush. And don't try to tell me, "Don't blame Ralph Nader." I do blame him, and I blame you if you voted for him.

This guy, president? Give me a fucking break.

Just go through the litany of things George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, and the rest of the whole cabal, just take a little time to contemplate the damage done and how long it'll take to restore the soul of America after that catastrophe, and tell me I should go Green to protest the two major parties for being too close to the same thing? Give me a break.

The Democratic Party may offer something only slightly beyond the margin of tolerable, but the conservatives offer something clearly unacceptable. Given that no movement toward any other clear path is in sight, I'm sticking with the thin gruel on the table. I don't have to like it, but right now it's all I've got.

Ike's looking a lot better these days.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Romney's High School Hijinks

It's hard to know what to say about the reports about Mitt Romney's bullying, but a few things come to mind:
  1. The reports are credible and relate multiple episodes that range from stupid to illegal. That two gays were targeted reminds us that Romney engaged in behavior that is severely condemned in this day and age. True, that was not so back then. I know. I saw similar behavior at my Catholic high school but never so severe.
  2. Romney's non-denial denials and non-apology apologies, coupled with the nervous laughter that is characteristic of the way he's handled difficult subjects, also coupled with "I don't remember the incident but who knew the kid was gay?" bullshit brings out the worst that we know about Romney: He's a serial liar. As Gail Collins of the NYTimes put it, "The idea that Romney could have absolutely no recollection of this event is way more shocking than the incident itself. Did he engage in this sort of behavior so often that things just sort of ran together? I don’t believe he’s that lacking in feeling. So I propose that we give him the benefit of the doubt and agree that he is lying through his teeth." Yeah, that's about the size of it.
  3. Sure, we should forget it unless there's a continuing pattern into adult life. Now, many people think that private equity firms engage in legitimate commerce. I've never agreed. Much of the business of private equity, especially in the hostile takeover area, amounts to bullying as a way of doing business. That Mitt the high-school bully chose a profession that inflicts pain on companies for profit indicates to me that a core character defect can be detected here.
  4. Lastly, Mitt Romney, unless you're deaf, dumb, and blind, clearly has an empathy problem, a sensitivity problem, and, yes, an honesty problem. The fact that he can lie openly and repeatedly as a natural way of doing business tells me that Romney is missing a morality gene.
When a pattern is clearly demonstrated, it makes sense to go with what that pattern leads to. In this case, I have to assume from facts in evidence that Mitt Romney is missing an important human trait. We see it constantly when he's forced off-script. He doesn't know how to give a concise, clear answer.

The most serious indictment of Mitt Romney is how he is handling it. A leader with any sense of conviction would take this opportunity for a teachable moment, one with a clearly embedded mea culpa. That he can't do this, won't do this, or didn't even think to do this, is the clearest marker of who this man is. My takeaway is that I don't like him, don't trust him, am highly suspicious of what makes him tick. Heart clearly plays no part.

Update. Here's a Ron Paul ad -- not a Democratic one -- that speaks to the issue of Mitt Romney's credibility -- or lack thereof.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Obama's Support of Gay Marriage

Obama knows how to do this.

This is an easy post to write. Barack Obama did something good yesterday. He made public his personal belief that disallowing gay marriage is discriminatory. He hedged by saying that it's up to the states to choose whether or not to permit gay marriage, a position, I admit, is a bit of a muddle.

He's already on record that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and will longer to be supported by the Department of Justice. If you don't think discrimination against gay marriage is constitutional, then why suggest the states are free to choose?

I suspect that the former constitutional law professor in Obama gets that states are free to pass laws that will later be overturned by courts. So to defend states' rights is just good optics and softens his move in the eyes of some states' rights adherents in the center who aren't opposed to gay marriage. But these are just quibbles.

Barack Obama has made the sea change that the younger generations already have made without difficulty, just as many older Americans have as they work past the old bugaboos. I've made that journey from young homophobic buck to a more mature advocate of gay tolerance and on to the even more mature realization that as citizens, gays are entitled to everything I am.

Leave it to Atrios of Eschaton to say it best:
Deny basic rights to people because it makes you feel a bit icky. Dumbasses. It's not fucking about you.
That's exactly right.

Beyond that, there might lie a little political calculus. My own take is that Obama did it now because he could; he did it now to fire up the right-wing crazies, making them look both grotesque and out of touch during an election year; he did it now to fire a shot across the Supreme Court's bow, as they're likely to rule this year on the subject; he did it now because more people every day are marching with him on the issue, and not against him. By November even more will support gay marriage, that's just how fast attitudes are evolving. And, most definitely, he did it now to excite the youth vote, who are out front of everyone on this.

Romney bullied gays in prep school. Here he is explaining it. Good luck with that.

Of course, one hopes he did it because he believes in it. For me, that's not a stretch. He is who he is. He's a centrist who knows where the center is moving. For Barack Obama, that's into the 21st century. Let the Republicans show they're the party of the 19th. You know they will.

Yesterday, Barack Obama made history simply by joining history, which is already moving inexorably on.

Sunday, Joe Biden picked lemons. Yesterday, Obama made lemonade.
Update. I apparently misjudged one aspect of this. It seems that the Republican elite -- those who decide the "face" of the party -- don't want a culture war on gay marriage. That says that the insiders of the party, surprisingly, suspect this is a losing issue for them. Sure, they want a fired-up conservative white Christian base, but the elite probably believe that'll happen by itself. But they don't want the crazies mucking up the more important battleground, which they feel is the economy. Read this memo by President Bush’s 2004 pollster Jan van Lohuizen. It sums up the issue quite clearly, and from the guarded way current Republicans, including Mitt Romney, are behaving, they've taken the memo to heart. (h/t Josh Marshall.)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

It's the Tribe, Stupid. adapt James Carville's famous dictum to the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign.

So, thanks to Paul Krugman for yesterday's framing of the problem public discourse is having. His blog post entitled "Economic Tribalism" makes clear what my motivation has been for a string of posts here at The American Human.

In my recent scolding of white America it would be easy to assume that I don't like white Americans. Nothing would be further from the truth. For many reasons -- that I'm a white American being not the least -- I relate well to this tribe because I'm a member, however reluctant I may be to acknowledge it from time to time.

My tribe?

No, my problem with white Americans, especially the segment I abhor, is their tribalism. It's not easy holding humanist positions while being a charter member of the white tribe, especially these days -- you know, when a splinter group broke off from the white Borg, as Krugman might say, to become the Tea Party. Now that's a tribe if I ever saw one. Funny thing is, right now it seems able, as a minority subgroup, to wag the Borg, so to speak.

But to my point: The American experiment, so touted as "the greatest nation on Earth," is fracturing like an egg dropped on the kitchen floor. We've broken up into tribes, each not trusting the other, and, most importantly, not seemed to speak even remotely the same language. What's more, we don't seem to accept the same facts.

Not my tribe?

An apparent black man, Barack Obama, was elected president. A significant portion of the white American tribe known best as white Christian conservatives simply freaked out. Anything that supports this freakout, no matter how trivial or untenable, has been assembled into a world view that specifically delegitimizes Barack Obama. This world view, this set of factoids, could best be called the we-weren't-really-ready-for-a-black-president canon.

I call Barack Obama an apparent black man because his mother was a white Kansan. I know there's a kind of Spike Lee graduated scale of blackness that makes most everyone with mixed-race heritage -- which is most of black America anyway -- into a more or less black person. Obama is black, I'll accept it. White America does.

My tribe?

Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said that everyone's entitled to their own opinion, not their own set of facts. A good and serviceable notion, that. But it doesn't apply anymore. Fox News has taken care of that. Rush Limbaugh has taken care of that. Conservative Christian radio has taken care of that.

Now, the knee-jerk reaction should come that my tribe, narrowed to my subgroup of highly educated liberal progressives, has its own set of facts, that we've distorted reality to suit our own canon, to support our own mythology. I simply counter that it's not so.

Our set of facts tend to track reality better for the not insignificant reason that we employ the scientific method for most of our information gathering: we test it, we roll it around, and we accept it or reject it based on an earnest attempt to get to the truth, whether we like it or not. It's what my tribe does. We get educated, we study, we read, we grow, we develop, and at any point where we intersect with society -- which, except in some remote regions, like a research lab, means pretty much with everybody everywhere -- we make a forthright effort to figure stuff out. Full stop.

My tribe.

Sure, if I have the faintest idea what it's like to be raised in a black urban ghetto, it's probably more because I watched all five seasons of The Wire than because I've hung out in the 'hood. But I have made an effort. I want to understand people of differing tribes. My education is imperfect, but it's not for the lack of trying or caring. It's just because we don't always spend time together. We are a fractured society.

But my point about white America getting over its diversity panic is that we should be, as Rodney King tried to point out, learning to get along. It's not that I'm so evolved, so racially colorblind. It's that I've uncovered much of my institutional racism that I've harbored over a lifetime, and I've worked hard to overcome it. I probably never will, but I feel the better for making an effort to root it out, to accept that there are a lot of tribes with a lot of viewpoints, with their own challenges and successes.

My tribe.

Goodness knows the years I spent in Japan made me realize that the Japanese are not like me. I mean it, they're a ton not like me. They're, well, completely unAmerican. I could go into it, but my point is that despite the differences between me and the Japanese I've grown to understand them and appreciate them. I could join their tribe and have a reasonably happy life.

That goes, I suspect, for a lot of societies, a lot of races, a lot of tribes. Hell, I'm a bassist, and I bet playing bass in Lynyrd Skynyrd would be a major kick in the ass. But, let's face it, their Sweet Home, Alabama anthem is much too narrowly tribalistic for my tastes. I'd probably get drunk after a gig and let it slip how I really feel and get thrown out of the band but quick.

So, then, not every tribe is for me, but I'd like to think I'm ready to walk a mile in most people's shoes. Whether it shows, I have sympathy for white Christian conservatives; I can understand how their world seems to be slipping away as America becomes browner, gayer, less paternalistic, and less religious. Barack Obama's famous "that's why they cling to guns and religion" line was impolitic but nonetheless true: he was genuinely sympathetic toward their tribe's plight. The ecosystem of the white Christian biome is shifting beneath their feet. They don't know where home is anymore.

Not my tribe!

Fox News figured this out. Rush Limbaugh figured this out. Glenn Beck also possibly figured this out, only it's hard to listen to his rants and not think that Beck has not so much cleverly leveraged a tribe's paranoia as learned how to leverage his own paranoia, his own personal distortion machine, into a schtick that worked in the media, however blessedly short his run might have been.

Thus, if they can say it long enough, larger segments of America will come to believe that Barack Obama is a communist Muslim Kenyan born in Indonesia, raised on dog meat, grammar-schooled in Indonesian madrassas, and further educated in the liberal bastions of Columbia and Harvard -- oddly the same university Mitt Romney received his graduate and post-graduate edification -- so that he, Obama, could come to power to destroy the American world as we know it and replace it with a big-government machine that will insinuate itself into every last filament of our lives. This foreign bastard, this Spawn of Satan, this law professor, was placed on Earth to bring on the end of days.

Wow, nice gig if you can get it. Too bad none of it is true. Barack Obama is a mild-mannered political centrist and certified American who actually resides in the heart of the American experience. His views span many tribes. He "gets" us, he accepts us, he wants all of us to do well. His policy prescriptions are not to the liking of everybody, but they're not out of touch with most of America.

But there's that one sticking point, that one non-negotiable item. He's black. If he were white, he'd be more like Ronald Reagan than me, more like Richard Nixon than me, more like Mitt Romney, fer chrissakes, than me.

I get that. Why's it so hard for the Tea Party? Oh yeah, it's tribal. They access reality through their own special echo chamber. And that's a damned shame. We all could have gotten along. Now, we're a bunch of Humpty Dumpty's, fractured as all get out. Someone like Barack Obama could put us back together if, if, well, what I just said.

Keep this in mind this election season and beyond.

The end of the world as we know it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

White America: It's Not 1950 Anymore

Not affirmative action.

Hey, White America. You had a great run. Along the way, you did your best to hang onto slavery, but eventually you had to give it up. After that, you tried to rule through Jim Crow laws and a few lynchings now and again. In 1955, Brown v. The Board of Education  took away your right to your own public schools. In 1964 and 1965, civil rights laws made you lose some of your last bastions, like the right to your own lunch counters and voting and such. Now African-Americans are still down but not out.

Indian life: great mesa, lousy town.

You did get your way pretty much with the Indians. They were killed off or swept aside into out-of-the-way reservations. Okay, they've made a minor comeback with casinos, but most of them are insignificant sideshows while the general Native Americans live in quiet desperation. In general, though, they're not part of your world.

My test scores are higher than your test scores.

Asians you could never get a handle on. They're clever, thrifty, with good family values and a penchant for education. They're quiet and hardworking, and while you weren't looking they got educated. Even new immigrants come ready to take your jobs in high tech, medicine and elsewhere. They're enough like you that, what the hell, whaddya gonna do?

Why do they keep buying up all the small businesses? Oh yeah, equal opportunity.

Even the "other" Asians, like the Pakistanis, get over on you by buying out Seven-Elevens, gas stations, convenience stores, liquor stores, and whatnot, and the Indians -- if they don't become doctors -- buy up all the motels across the country. They're darker than the East Asians, but by and large they're quiet and successful, so waddya gonna do?

Who hires undocumented workers? America does.

The Hispanics, though they did own the southwestern third of our country until we chased them out with a trumped-up war, have come back with a vengeance. They now have almost all of our unskilled jobs -- like Taco Bell, Burger King, and McDonald's -- including all the maid positions and landscaping and, of course, the entirety of the backbreaking farm and ranch work. They even dominate in meatpacking, construction, and probably a lot of our dockside work, too.

Truth is whites won't do this work anymore. Does that mean Hispanics are tougher?

Right now, the Hispanics are moving back to their homelands in droves because of the down economy. The handful of anti-immigration laws have taken their toll, as well. Even the fences have slowed them down a bit. When the economy gets better, however, they'll be back. Somebody's got to do the farm work, so eventually the harsh laws in Alabama and Georgia will be changed (they're hurting pretty bad there already). What isn't stated very often is that a lot of Hispanics have citizenship already, and even those that aren't have a couple of million kids who are citizens. One way or another, no matter what our panicked legislatures do, the Hispanics will be a growing segment of our population for the foreseeable future. After all, they have higher birthrates than you.

So you, dear White America, have a choice. You can thrash around, get mad, get even, pass laws, grumble, vote with the ever-shrinking Republicans -- you know, your people -- but there's really very little you can do. Oh, you could build little enclaves in Montana and Idaho and arm yourselves and wear camouflage, but that's not going to change a thing, except maybe give you Lyme disease.

I found this picture with this caption: "There are a lot of nice people in Montana."

Now, I didn't just decide to pick on you this morning out of the blue. And there is that little pesky thing I could have mentioned: I'm really quite white, too -- I burn easily and all that -- but I don't count myself among you, if only because I'm a liberal progressive who doesn't mind diversity. No, what motivated me to present this picture of your bleak, much browner, future was a Jonah Goldberg contribution to the Washington Post's "Five Myths" series. His was entitled "Top five cliches that liberals use to avoid real arguments," and it's a real doozy.

Besides the astounding fact that anyone takes Jonah Goldberg seriously or would even publish his work outside his native habitat, The National Review, there's the simple, blithering-idiot grandiosity of his pronouncements. But this isn't really about him, it's about one of his "myths."

In his article, which you can read at your peril here, his very first myth, or "cliche," is Diversity is strength. Goldberg makes the case:
Affirmative action used to be defended on the grounds that certain groups, particularly African Americans, are entitled to extra help because of the horrible legacy of slavery and institutionalized racism. Whatever objections opponents may raise to that claim, it’s a legitimate moral argument.
But that argument has been abandoned in recent years and replaced with a far less plausible and far more ideological claim: that enforced diversity is a permanent necessity. Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, famously declared: “Diversity is not merely a desirable addition to a well-run education. It is as essential as the study of the Middle Ages, of international politics and of Shakespeare.”
  It’s a nice thought. But consider some of the great minds of human history, and it’s striking how few were educated in a diverse environment. Newton, Galileo and Einstein had little exposure to Asians or Africans. The genius of Aristotle, Socrates and Plato cannot be easily correlated with the number of non-Greeks with whom they chatted in the town square. If diversity is essential to education, let us get to work dismantling historically black and women’s colleges. When I visit campuses, it’s common to see black and white students eating, studying and socializing separately. This is rounding out everyone’s education?
Similarly, we’re constantly told that communities are strengthened by diversity, but liberal Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has found the opposite. In a survey that included interviews with more than 30,000 people, Putnam discovered that as a community becomes more ethnically and socially varied, social trust and civic engagement plummet. Perhaps forced diversity makes sense, but liberals make little effort to prove it.
What Jonah Goldberg is doing here -- using rhetorical devices -- requires that I admit he has some native intelligence and what he perceives as skills, such as the organized ability to deceive, but there you are. He is using rhetorical tricks. First, he frames "diversity is strength" as a liberal cliche. Who says? Jonah Goldberg. Me, a liberal, not so much. I think of it as a reality, one to be proactively dealt with.

Oops, sorry, Jonah. I thought this was Birmingham, Alabama. Wrong, it's Birmingham, England.

Second, he's conflating affirmative action with diversity. They are not one and the same, and no amount of rhetorical slight of hand will change that. Affirmative action is a set of laws and regulations formulated to advance a set of policies for the betterment of a certain class of people. Diversity, on the other hand, is a fact of life. Nice try, Jonah.

Third, making the case that the ancient Greeks and other brainy Europeans of the past few hundred years didn't hang out with brown people while they were having their brainy attacks does not make a case against diversity. It only proves that Goldberg is capable of ignoring troubling facts such as the origin of western mathematics -- our counting system is composed of Arabic numerals, for chrissake, and the term "algebra" comes from the Arabic al-jebr meaning "reunion of broken parts." Jonah conveniently forgets that some of the great mathematical minds have been Indian, the Chinese invented gun powder and printing -- I could go on -- but that wouldn't make his case either.

This may be Greek to you, but it isn't.

I'll stipulate that a lot of people throughout history who made major contributions to our western civilization have been "white." Great. That has absolutely nothing to do with diversity.

My essential point is that the world is friggin' diverse. Get used to it.

No, a liberal's notion of diversity and what to do about it, one would hope, is that it's here and how we deal with it will greatly determine how we thrive as a nation and a world.

Jonah Goldberg's declaration that we break up into our little enclaves anyway, and his declaring that "my Greeks are better than your Turks," or whatever, doesn't do anything to advance his tribe, unless it's to prove that they're fraidy cats or, worse, an ever-shrinking band of blithering idiots, a rump Republican Party, if you will.

I feel for you, Jonah, I really do. And I feel for you, White America. Your safe, little world of Ozzie and Harriet and Wheaties and Wonder Bread in which you had the jobs and your wives stayed home and did the ironing is over. Over. Over. And so is the world where people of color will always be your servants. That's on it way out eventually, too.

I admit it: I thought this was America, too. Turns out it was just the Nelson family.

What's left? Reality. If this reality contains all manner of people not to your liking, so what? I, as a liberal, do in fact acknowledge one thing that resembles Jonah's cliches: we need to move forward as a diverse nation, and that means we all need education, we all need opportunity, we all need health care, we all need justice, we all need a place in this world. Is that affirmative enough for you?

If not, move to Montana or Idaho. But watch your back. They're coming to get you. And I'll be egging them on, and rooting for them, too. Why? Because, white as I am, they're my people. Whoa. I guess that makes me a liberal. Good for me.