A Level Gaze

"What effect must it have on a nation if it learns no foreign languages? Probably much the same as that which a total withdrawal from society has upon an individual."
--G.C. Lichtenberg


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Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Da Goils

"We love you [Grandma], but you're not very hip."

Barbara's much better spoken.

They're dying. Just dying.

Oh well. Mom's up soon.

Rod Paige Speech

No one applauded at (roughly) "I was at college when Brown vs. Board happened." A democratic convention would have given a standing ovation. I'm just sayin', is all.

Oh, and John Kerry is not a "Johnny come lately," I'm pretty sure.

I can't figure out why they put him up there in the first place. It's not like he has any credibility.

Apples and Oranges

The Congressman's votes against gay rights no more made his private, consensual sexual life a legitimate public issue than Bill Clinton's pro-feminist issues stances made his tomcatting a legitimate public issue.

Mark Kleiman believes that Ed Schrock's gay private life isn't "a legitimate public issue." Normally, I'd wholeheartedly agree, but given Schrock's stridently anti-gay voting record, I'm not so sure.

I can look past a politician who misrepresents himself, especially if he's hiding the fact that he is a member of a unjustly discriminated-against minority. However, when, perhaps to cover himself, he's advocating discrimination against that same minority, it becomes reprehensible. If Schrock was saying that one's consensual sexual conduct should be legally relevant (to be fair, I cannot find anything where he explicitly does), I don't see how his own can or should be somehow priveleged.

And, if Schrock was making the gay sex in Virginia before June 2003, he was breaking the law, which certainly merits public scrutiny.

By the way, I am unable to figure out how "tomcatting" and feminism are directly opposed to one another in the same way as are "gay" and "anti-gay." Bill's affair(s) did not constitute discrimination against women or their interests. There is nothing intrinsically inconsistent about a feminist philanderer.

Monday, August 30, 2004
Real Time News

Wow. Just got word directly from the mouth of Kos--what an inversion of the entire blogging/internet paradigm--that Virginia Congressman Ed Schrock--Pat Robertson's congressman--is resigning effectively immediately. One can only presume that this action was precipitated by blogger Michael of Blogactive. First congressman brought down by a blogger. A red letter day!

The Tank

I finally made it to Blogger Ground Zero, at least outside of the convention. It's not much of a place, but it's somehow commensurate to the capital investment required to put a blog together.

And, as soon as I walked in, I got to see Kos, and to meet Atrios. If nothing else happens tonight, this counts as a success.

It's quite a heady atmosphere. I'll try to put something intelligent together worthy of the presence of such a brain trust.

The better posts will go to The American Street, while the personal-type stuff will go here.

Shorter Katherine Q. Seelye:

"John McCain and Rudy Giuliani will give speeches in praise of President Bush at Madison Square Garden tonight as the first part of a quid pro quo that each of them believes will enhance his standing with the GOP and his chances to be the party's nominee in 2008. Neither man has any integrity whatsoever, and no one should believe a word they say."

Saturday, August 28, 2004
Shorter David Brooks:

"Mark Souder (R-IN) is a human being and a Republican. In fact, rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, the Republican party is wholly comprised of human beings, amongst whom past divisions are now yielding to concerns about, and opposition to, their own policies."

Slightly longer:

Then in 1994, he ran for Congress himself, and in that great Republican year, won. He immediately behaved in ways that defy the stereotypes. He's worked with members of the Black Caucus to steer federal scholarship money to urban kids. He voted against three articles of Bill Clinton's impeachment - he thought Clinton's behavior was immoral but not impeachable. He was one of the House Republican leaders of an unsuccessful coup against Newt Gingrich.

Actually, Souder did think Clinton should be impeached. He voted yes on the third of four impeachment articles, that Clinton had obstructed justice (it passed).

The fact is, the Republican Party is less riven into ideological camps than it used to be, and the issues that used to divide it, like abortion, are less salient. Now fundamentalists, moderates, libertarians and old-fashioned Main Street types all express the same sort of concerns: about the need to win the war and anxiety that we're not fighting it properly; about the need to restore fiscal discipline and the anxiety about egregious Republican pork-barrel spending. Across the party, there is a great deal of admiration for Bush's core instincts, but a belief that his administration has not performed that well.

In short, ideological disputes have been replaced by problems of governance. Old coalitions are breaking down. New ones have not yet formed. We media types love to report about rifts in Republican ranks. But most of those clich├ęs are obsolete.

Republicans are more united these days, unlike the bad old days when they fought tooth-and-nail over a woman's right to choose. All they fight about now is their own overspending habits and inability to get anything right in Iraq. Souder's in the thick of it, this year voting with only 46 other House members, including Tom DeLay, Dennis Hastert, and Katherine Harris, 100% in support of President Bush.

Our eternal gratitude is due to Mr. Brooks for another in a long line of content-free, yet still misleading, columns.

Friday, August 27, 2004
Not Qualified for the Job

There's a lot of interesting stuff in this NYT interview with Bush, stuff like he didn't know anything about a White House report concluding that greenhouse gasses, including CO2, are the only likely explanation for recent global warming patterns, that he might have "miscalculated" when it came to conditions in Iraq, that Kerry had been truthful about his record in Vietnam, etc., etc.

There's a lot of meat for our side in the interview. But what caused the bottom to drop out from under my jaw was this:

Mr. Bush also took issue with Mr. Kerry's argument, in an interview at the end of May with The New York Times, that the Bush administration's focus on Iraq had given North Korea the opportunity to significantly expand its nuclear capability. Showing none of the alarm about the North's growing arsenal that he once voiced regularly about Iraq, he opened his palms and shrugged when an interviewer noted that new intelligence reports indicate that the North may now have the fuel to produce six or eight nuclear weapons.

He said that in North Korea's case, and in Iran's, he would not be rushed to set deadlines for the countries to disarm, despite his past declaration that he would not "tolerate'' nuclear capability in either nation. He declined to define what he meant by "tolerate.''

"I don't think you give timelines to dictators,'' Mr. Bush said, speaking of North Korea's president, Kim Jong Il, and Iran's mullahs. He said he would continue diplomatic pressure - using China to pressure the North and Europe to pressure Iran - and gave no hint that his patience was limited or that at some point he might consider pre-emptive military action.

"I'm confident that over time this will work - I certainly hope it does,'' he said of the diplomatic approach. Mr. Kerry argued in his interview that North Korea "'was a far more compelling threat in many ways, and it belonged at the top of the agenda,'' but Mr. Bush declined to compare it to Iraq, apart from arguing that Iraq had defied the world community for longer than the other members of what he once called "the axis of evil.'' Nor would he assess the risk that Pyongyang might sell nuclear material to terrorists, though his national security aides believe it may have sold raw uranium to Libya in recent years.

(Emphasis added)

The guy who killed almost 1,000 of his fellow citizens and tens of thousands of Iraqis, who shredded decades' worth of diplomatic capital, and who got us into a quagmire that could well sap our strength for years to come, for the express purpose of removing from power a dictator he erroneously claimed to have weapons of mass destruction and the desire to distribute them to terrorists, "opened his palms and shrugged" at the prospect of a dictator of a country with which we are technically in a state of conflict who actually has nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, and who has distributed nuclear weapons technology to at least one known terrorist. (whew!)

He's like "regular folks," who don't have the first idea what to do about North Korea, all right. Thing is, it's his fucking job to deal with the biggest threat in the world. That's why we have a president. We need a leader, or at the very least, someone who takes this kind of thing seriously.

And, George, you're on record giving timelines to a dictator. That's how we got into Iraq, remember? Or are you admitting the whole "let weapons inspectors in or else" thing was bullshit and you were going to invade no matter what? Did you lie to us, George?

This needs to be in a Kerry ad, stat.

Friday, August 20, 2004
What If

According to this story in the LA Times, the CIA is preparing a report on what WMD capabilities Iraq might have had in 2008 if we had not invaded.

Some folks thought Saddam already had lots of chemical and biological weapons, in quantity and weaponized, and had been six months away from having nuclear weapons back in 1998.

If he already had every kind of WMD imaginable, what would be so special about 2008? Was it that he would finally have enough that he could part with some of them to give to terrorists?

Or do we assume that we knew he didn't have any WMDs in the first place, but that he intended to get them in the near future? In that case, invading Iraq to prevent it from acquiring them could be construed as a good idea, except for the fact that it would mean that virtually all of the Bush administration's statements on the subject before the war were brazen, willful lies and grounds for immediate, unanimous impeachment.

via Kevin Drum

Self-Reliance is Slavery

Up on Noam Scheiber's blog, Scheiber substitute Josh Benson has a review of Tom Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas?, which attempts to answer the question of why so many economically disadvantaged whites in rural America vote for politicians who don't address their economic concerns.

In the course of the review, Benson brings up a very interesting question he says Frank "barely addresses" in the book: "How do these white, working-class Kansans process the economic implications of their vote?" He offers four possible perspectives they might be approaching this question from. They're all worth thinking about, but it's the first one that got my attention:

1: The cultural and economic appeal of the Republicans is one-and-the-same. The same religious ideas that sanctify unborn life also sanctify individualism, hard work, and personal responsibility, the tenets of Republican economic thinking. Society works best when communities and neighbors look after one another--not the federal government. Be disciplined and pious, and God will provide. In this worldview, the Democrats have got just about everything wrong.

Instead of relying on the government for assistance, people should rely on themselves. If things get really out of hand, your community will step up to help, presumably with the aid of (some of) the resources they're no longer giving to the government for this purpose. If your kid gets leukemia, the town can hold bake sales, car washes, and solicit donations to help you out. Appeals like this draw communities closer together, and give everyone concerned something to feel good about.

There's a problem, though: having your community be your safety net makes you less independent and self-reliant.

Federal programs are by definition impersonal. They have to be designed to help everyone who needs it equally. It's the law. If you meet the criteria, you can fill in the forms, get the help, and go about your business.

Communities, on the other hand, are free to excercise goodwill at their discretion. If community leaders don't like you, they're under no obligation to help you when you need it. To enjoy the security that collective mutual aid, one is obliged to submit himself personally to the whims and judgements of others.

Such an arrangement would give enormous power to those disposed to mold and enforce local norms. As everyone can easily envision needing help at some point in the future, it would become essential to win the approval of community leaders. A culture of conformity would quickly follow.

Cultures of conformity repress minorities, stifle new ideas, and engender xenophobia. While they're good at engendering and perpetuating political power, they're not good for much else.

The whole "self-reliance" thing isn't about people not wanting to be led, it's about people wanting leaders who are like themselves. That's why so many people who claim to hate any and all government power feel perfectly comfortable with George W. "Government Spending" Bush. For people like this, there's nothing more natural than the blind leading the blind.

Thursday, August 12, 2004
Rich People Have Accountants

Picking up where Kevin Drum left off...

Seniors would sure be pissed off about this. And who can blame them? All their lives their income was reduced by the amount of income tax they paid, and now that they're retired this reduced amount of money is suddenly subject to a brand new sales tax. Talk about your double taxation!

(Don't get it? Think of it this way. Suppose you make $100 today and it gets taxed at 20%. You have $80 left over and you put it in the bank. Tomorrow the income tax is abolished and a 30% sales tax is implemented, so you can only buy $60 worth of stuff with your $80. Your original $100 has essentially been taxed down to $60. For senior citizens, this applies to everything they've socked away over their entire lives.)

...it applies to everyone with money, not just seniors. The rich are going to take a historical view of their money, even if they didn't earn it themselves. The very idea of double taxation makes their blood boil. Many of them remember every tax as if it were a public slap in the face. Every $1 million in the bank (stocks, bonds, houses, etc.) will effectively turn into $700,000. I don't see the rich going for it, somehow.

In the medium term, it might just wind up being a partially Good Thing: ultimately it amounts to a universal 30% estate tax.