The State of Our Union

To put it simply – CRAZY!     

I’m beginning to think that there must be something in the drinking water. The Right Wingnuttery has risen to unforeseen heights in the past few weeks. Tracing its beginning isn’t an easy task. I would imagine that, based on our differing ages and our personal experiences that it will be difficult to reach a consensus on exactly what caused the extreme right turn our politics have taken. Let me put forth some of my personal suggestions, not in any particular order:

  • The election of the B movie actor, Ronald Reagan
  • Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority
  • Repeal of the Fairness Doctrine
  • The consolidation of the media
  • The rise of the Mega-Churches
  • Rush Limbaugh and his imitators getting their own bully pulpit on the radio
  • Gingrich’s Contract ON America
  • The stealing of the presidency by George & Jeb Bush & the Supreme Court
  • 9/11
  • The plucking of Sarah Palin from the frontier in Alaska
  • The Fox News Channel
  • The birth of the Tea Party

Some of these may qualify only as fuel for the fire as opposed to being actual triggering events.  Feel free to add to the list.  I’m sure that I’ve forgotten something critical to explaining the mass hysteria that surrounds us.

There is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t spend some time trying to understand the mean-spirited, venomous attacks on nearly everything I support.  Those thoughts are often interrupted by being blind-sided by something else coming under attack.  Let me give you just one recent example that left me speechless and more confused than ever.

One of my employees and I were having a discussion about some mail returned by the post office. She began by complaining about the post office, saying that the first thing she would do would be to get rid of the postal union.

Okay, to some that might not be a moment of confusion.  Her position, however, astounded me. I knew already that she is firmly planted in the Right Wingnuttery camp, but her vehement opposition to the postal union surprised me.  Her husband had worked for the phone company which, because of the CWA, provides its employees with good paying jobs, excellent health care coverage and generous retirement benefits.  I knew this because I had once worked for the same phone company as her husband.  He was able to take early retirement with a 6 figure bonus package.  His job permitted them to live more than comfortably for most of their lives.

None of the benefits this family enjoyed would have been possible without the existence of the CWA.  How could my employee not support unions?  Where was the logic and reason?  My conclusion:  she and the rest of the Wingnuttery bunch do not operate on either logic or reason. Apparently, she and the others who vote for Right Wing candidates have swallowed whole the propaganda fed to them by Fox, Rush, the Republican leadership and their preachers.  That’s the only conclusion I’ve been able to come up with.  If you have a clue, please share.

I can only shake my head and live with fear for the future of America and the rest of the world.  While these Right Wingers look forward to The Apocalypse foretold in their sacred book, I fear the inevitable apocalypse their actions and choices are driving us toward.  I’m grateful I’m on the other side of 60 and hope that younger, stronger, reasonable people can hold off this cataclysm for another 10 or 20 years.

I’ll leave you with two things.  The first is a political awareness test given by The Pew Research Center recently.  I urge you to take the quiz and then look at the results, which are shocking.  I don’t know if the majority of the respondents aren’t interested in politics, are terribly misinformed or a combination of both.

Pew Research News IQ Quiz

And then some of the pictures in a recent email from the employee I referenced above.


Monday Reads

Good Morning!

Seven advertisers have now dropped Limbaugh’s show after intense pressure.  ProFlowers became the latest to remove its sponsorship saying that his comments about Sandra Fluke “went beyond political discourse to a personal attack and do not reflect our values as a company.”

Condemnation has come from a variety of sources outside Republican elected leaders.  Yesterday, George Will said that Republicans were afraid of him even though they thought he was a “buffoon”.

ABC’s George Will said yesterday on “This Week” that GOP leaders have steered clear of harshly denouncing Limbaugh’s comments because “Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh.”

“[House Speaker John] Boehner comes out and says Rush’s language was inappropriate. Using the salad fork for your entrée, that’s inappropriate. Not this stuff,” Will said. “And it was depressing because what it indicates is that the Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh. They want to bomb Iran, but they’re afraid of Rush Limbaugh.”

ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd said the Republicans’ apprehension to say anything negative about the conservative big hitter is based on the “myth” that Limbaugh influences a large number of Republican voters.

“I think the problem is the Republican leaders, Mitt Romney and the other candidates, don’t have the courage to say what they say in quiet, which, they think Rush Limbaugh is a buffoon,” Dowd said.  ”They think he is like a clown coming out of a small car at a circus.  It’s great he is entertaining and all that.  But nobody takes him seriously.”

I was speaking to BB yesterday about how my experience within higher ed was very unlike Rick Santorum’s accusations that universities are turning students against religion and/or conservative thought.  I have had a large number of extremely conservative colleagues and professors in my time.  So, I was pleased when my anecdotal evidence was backed up by some numbers.  Neil Gross wrote in yesterday’s NYT that “College doesn’t make you liberal”.

But contrary to conservative rhetoric, studies show that going to college does not make students substantially more liberal. The political scientist Mack Mariani and the higher education researcher Gordon Hewitt analyzed changes in student political attitudes between their freshman and senior years at 38 colleges and universities from 1999 to 2003. They found that on average, students shifted somewhat to the left — but that these changes were in line with shifts experienced by most Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 during the same period of time. In addition, they found that students were no more likely to move left at schools with more liberal faculties.

Similarly, the political scientists M. Kent Jennings and Laura Stoker analyzed data from a survey that tracked the political attitudes of about 1,000 high school students through their college years and into middle age. Their research found that the tendency of college graduates to be more liberal reflects to a large extent the fact that more liberal students are more likely to go to college in the first place.

Studies also show that attending college does not make you less religious. The sociologists Jeremy Uecker, Mark Regnerus and Margaret Vaaler examined data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and found that Americans who pursued bachelor’s degrees were more likely to retain their faith than those who did not, perhaps because life at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder can be rough in ways that chip away at religious belief and participation. They report that students “who did not attend college and two-year college students are much more likely — 61 and 54 percent more, respectively — than four-year college students to relinquish their religious affiliations.”

Right wing populists frequently attack educational institutions and intellectuals.  There’s an interesting piece at Alternet that addresses this phenomenon.  Basically, democracy relies on an informed citizenry and that is the enemy of demagogues and the plutocrats they serve.

Right-wing fundamentalists such as Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum hate public schools, which he suggests are government schools wedded to doing the work of Satan, dressed up in the garb of the Enlightenment. Santorum, true to his love affair with the very secular ideology of privatization, prefers home schooling, which is code for people taking responsibility for whatever social issues or problems they may face, whether it be finding the best education for their children or securing decent health care.

Actually, Santorum and many of his allies dislike any public institution that enables people to think critically and act with a degree of responsibility toward the public. This is one reason why they hate any notion of public education, which harbors the promise, if not the threat, of actually educating students to be thoughtful, self-reflective and capable of questioning so-called common sense and holding power accountable. Of course, some progressives see this as simply another example of how the right wing of the Republican Party seems to think that being stupid is in. But there is more going on here than the issue of whether right-wing fundamentalists are intellectually and politically challenged. What makes critical education, especially, so dangerous to radical Christian evangelicals, neoconservatives and right-wing nationalists in the United States today is that, central to its very definition, is the task of educating students to become critical agents who can actively question and negotiate the relationships between individual troubles and public issues. In other words, students who can lead rather than follow, embrace reasoned arguments over opinions and reject common sense as the engine of truth.

The Hill reports that a number of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are working on a “grand bargain” including cuts to entitlements.

A small, bipartisan group of lawmakers in both the House and Senate are secretly drafting deficit grand bargain legislation that cuts entitlements and raises new revenue.

Sources said that the task of actually writing the bills is well underway, but core participants in the regular meetings do not yet know when the bills can be unveiled.

The core House group of roughly 10 negotiators is derived from a larger Gang of 100 lawmakers led by Reps. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Health Shuler (D-N.C.), who urged the debt supercommittee to strike a grand bargain last year.

That larger group includes GOP centrists like Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), who has said Republicans should abandon their no-new-tax-revenue pledge, as well as Tea Party-backed members like Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.).

The key test in the coming months will be to see whether the core group can get buy-in from many of the 100 members who vaguely support “going big” on the deficit once real cuts and tax increases are identified.

The talks are so sensitive that some members involved do not yet want to be identified.

Shuler, who is retiring this year, is keen to establish a legacy as a deficit cutter before leaving Congress and he is involved in the drafting effort.

Ezra Klein has some analysis up on how medical procedures in the US are so much more expensive than any place else in the developed world. It’s called “Why an MRI costs $1,080 in America and $280 in France”.

As it’s difficult to get good data on prices, that paper blamed prices largely by eliminating the other possible culprits. They authors considered, for instance, the idea that Americans were simply using more health-care services, but on close inspection, found that Americans don’t see the doctor more often or stay longer in the hospital than residents of other countries. Quite the opposite, actually. We spend less time in the hospital than Germans and see the doctor less often than the Canadians.

“The United States spends more on health care than any of the other OECD countries spend, without providing more services than the other countries do,” they concluded. “This suggests that the difference in spending is mostly attributable to higher prices of goods and services.”

On Friday, the International Federation of Health Plans — a global insurance trade association that includes more than 100 insurers in 25 countries — released more direct evidence. It surveyed its members on the prices paid for 23 medical services and products in different countries, asking after everything from a routine doctor’s visit to a dose of Lipitor to coronary bypass surgery. And in 22 of 23 cases, Americans are paying higher prices than residents of other developed countries. Usually, we’re paying quite a bit more. The exception is cataract surgery, which appears to be costlier in Switzerland, though cheaper everywhere else.

Prices don’t explain all of the difference between America and other countries. But they do explain a big chunk of it. The question, of course, is why Americans pay such high prices — and why we haven’t done anything about it.

So, that’s a few stories to get things started this morning!  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


About 99 percent of us have that sinking feeling

You know me and my wonky graphs.  You also know I blog a lot about rising income inequality and that I think it’s a huge problem.  So, this MOJO Power graph and the article it came with piqued my curiosity.  It’s from an article by Kevin Drum writing on a Timothy B Lee blogpost on the preemption of ‘genuine left wing voices’ by libertarians.   I’m not sure how libertarians could be confused for moderates, liberals or lefties but given that establishment conservatives have an orthodoxy so tight that few fit, I suppose everything else gets to wear the liberal label. But, maybe there’s more to it than that.

We talked about this a little on a thread yesterday.  Both Ariana Huffington and Kos used to be Republicans.  They left the party when the religious right took over and because, frankly, I don’t think they like the fact that so many blue collar Reagan Democrats had just up and joined their old country club.  There’s also the odd phenomenon of tea party populists that don’t seem to know where they are or where they belong either.  We’ve seen how a  lot of these folks have made their way into policy circles through their support or their horror of the current administration so I think it’s worth viewing three blog writers on that topic.  Why are so many people confused about their political identity any more?

Libertarian ‘insight’ used to the butt of jokes at academic cocktail parties where you discussed Utopian moonbattery and even worse fiction.  Now there seems to be an industry around producing what they call journals, institutions, and philosophy that is some how running loose in mainstream conversations demanding to be taken seriously.    It’s hard to do that because they don’t associate with data and they seem to thrive on passing memes that have no basis in reality.  (The ones on the FED just kill me.) They’re in the tea party, they’re all for Rand and Ron Paul, and yet, some of them have made their way to the liberal blogosphere.  What’s going on? Plus, what’s the deal with all these solid working class–in some cases UNION folks–heading to tea party rallies?  Haven’t they ever heard of Dick Armey?

Drum shows how the worst of the libertarian assumptions they hold up as facts just don’t hold up to the light of day.  He starts with a shared assumption from the right wing and libertarians as described by Will Wilkinson. This meme is the mild form libertarianism from the Hayek-Friedman sect.

It’s best to just maximize growth rates, pre-tax distribution be damned, and then fund wicked-good social insurance with huge revenues from an optimal tax scheme.

We’ve got scads of data that show this meme to be a completely false assumption.  We’d have a better economy right now if that were true.  In fact, the only time we had a decent economy in recent history was when that particular assumption was rolled back during the Clinton years.   But, don’t take it from me, read what Kevin Drum has to say.  Those assumptions are very wrong.

First, it contains an implicit conviction that libertarian notions of tax and regulatory structures will maximize growth rates. This is practically an article of faith on the right, but there’s virtually no empirical evidence to support it. As it happens, I’d argue that my preferred brand of the modern mixed economy is, on the whole, probably more efficient than a stripped down libertarian state, even one that includes lots of centrally-directed income redistribution. But not by much. Personally, I’d be pretty happy if both sides accepted the notion that within a fairly wide range of modern capitalist systems — from Sweden to the U.S., say — overall growth rates change very little. For the most part, we’re really arguing about other things.

Second, I suspect there’s no feasible path to Will’s state of the world. The problem is that a system that generates enormous income inequality also generates enormous power inequality — and if corporations and the rich are allowed to amass huge amounts of economic power, they’ll always use that power to keep their own tax rates low. It’s nearly impossible to create a high-tax/high-service state if your starting point is a near oligarchy where the rich control the levers of political power.

Third, look at the graph. We’ve had this trickle up to the one percent form of economic nonsense since the Reagan years and all it’s done is made things radically worse.   It’s led to this situation where the supply side of the curve completely craps all over the demand side of the curve in product markets.  The outright hostility to unions and the abuse and disempowerment of human beings–not human “capital”–have completely shifted  income levels and underlying market power to some place where you truly think you’d see some kind of general revolt, strike, or overthrow.

It should be patently obvious now that Wall Street has recovered, bonuses have recovered, and corporate profits have recovered while  any one not up at the top of that racket can hardly survive these days.  The unemployment rate, the numbers of foreclosures, and the numbers of bankruptcies are tips of the icebergs.  We’re not going to see growth rates of GDP that will clear that up too.  More frightening is that the powers that be don’t seem to even fake caring.

When you point all these things out to libertarians, they’ll shift the ground on you and say point me where it says in the constitution and mutter something about Wilson and the imperial presidency.  This is the place where they firmly intersect the right wing. Look, Wilson is dead.  The Bush legacy lives and the Obama legacy is still being written.  Still, some of them have crept over and become neoliberals and identified with the left.  Why?

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Why, oh, why, can’t we have better dialogue on Political Philosophy?

I’m not sure why I even to bother read articles with provocative headlines that ensure you know the conclusion before the discussion even opens. This Washington Post Article by a conservative political science professor Gerard Alexander (also associated with the American Enterprise Institute) just rang all the bells and whistles implied by the title “Why are liberals so condescending?”. If I were to write a similar piece–which come to think of it I’m about to–it would be titled “Why are conservatives so close-minded?”

Okay, right from the get go, he starts with the presupposition that his conclusion is the right one which is pretty much the problem I have with conservatives. They start with the conclusions being firmly grounded in some truth they’ve devised and then let the arguments spew from there. Facts be damned! Full speed ahead! My argument is already moot because of his first paragraph. I’m already trapped by having to argue the argument from the label ‘smug’. I have to prove I’m not smug before I get around to proving him wrong. But what’s worse, being smug or being hypocritical?

Yes, I believe conservatives adhere to ideology over evidence. Still, I try to argue based on fact and reason and expect the deduced conclusion to be so resonant it is self evident. How is this ‘intellectual condescension”? Better yet, how can I successively argue with some one who is so convinced that they’re right from the get-go and from whom you can expect no real evidence? You’re doomed to be the only one that recognizes you’re right in that situation. All you get is argument based on ideological presuppositions with which you disagree. Yes, mind closed. Straw man erected. Straw man knocked down. Argument over.

Every political community includes some members who insist that their side has all the answers and that their adversaries are idiots. But American liberals, to a degree far surpassing conservatives, appear committed to the proposition that their views are correct, self-evident, and based on fact and reason, while conservative positions are not just wrong but illegitimate, ideological and unworthy of serious consideration. Indeed, all the appeals to bipartisanship notwithstanding, President Obama and other leading liberal voices have joined in a chorus of intellectual condescension.

To me, this article is just wrong from the get go and let me tell you why. Let’s just say I take issue with labeling President Obama ‘liberal’ (or socialist or marxist) when he his clearly no such thing. Most conservatives spit the word liberal through the teeth in such a pejorative way that you can’t help but wonder if they even read from the same dictionary. Most liberals–like me– don’t consider Obama to be one of us.

Let me borrow from another liberal economist whose words caught me on a similar subject.Oregon Professor Mark Thoma has a thread called Why is the Left More Successful in Europe? based on an article at the Boston Globe by Edward Glaeser, a professor (economics) at Harvard. Thoma had issues with this statement by Glaeser in the cited article: “A year ago, I wondered if the Obama victory signaled the declining significance of race and an American lurch to the left.” This is Thoma’s response.

What’s new is the observation that the Obama victory didn’t signal a lurch to the left as he thought it might.

People who believe Obama is a far left populist type haven’t been paying attention. Obama himself is no lurch to the left. The far left has been quite disappointed as they’ve unwrapped the gift they received last November. It wasn’t what they asked for or, in may cases, what they thought they were getting. But it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

The election wasn’t so much a lurch to the left as it was a movement away from the right (a different sort of movement conservatism). People didn’t want four more years of anything resembling George Bush. Sure, there’s been some reversion to the mean, there always is with midterm elections, but the election did ratchet our collective politics to the left. Moving the nation further to the left might might very well be a long, slow process, i.e. the long fight predicted above. And Republicans do manage to make lots of noise when they engage the enemy. But they are struggling to hold on to what they have rather than trying to take new ground. It’s the Republicans, not the Democrats, who need to worry about fighting to hold on to their party.

Americans do tend to be a conservative lot, but not quite in the way that either Glaeser argues in his article or Alexander argues in his. There’s a dialectic going on here that seems to me to miss a bigger picture. When I read the rant on the dismissive attitudes of liberals cited by Alexander, I find utter hypocrisy. He dismisses liberals in the same way he accuses liberals of dismissing his sociopolitical arguments. Then, when I return to the Glaeser article where he tries to explain what slow changing people Americans really are, all I can think is these two guys spend way too much time either on the east coast or in their offices at their respective campuses.

There’s an oversimplification here on both sides on the motivation of the American electorate who, to me, is just figuring out who they can trust after years of bamboozling by both sides. Who even knows what most people think being liberal or conservative represents after years of framing based on political ads and talking heads? How can you have civil discourse when every one is name calling instead of defining themselves?

Let me demonstrate the essential Alexander argument with this quote from the article. He borrows not only from Obama but the big giant talking Cheeto; another person whom I believe is NOT a liberal in the traditional sense of the word. He also quotes Paul Krugman, Howard Dean, and Jon Stewart as examples of condescending, liberal elites. Of course, he trots out the ultimate Obama snafu made during the campaign of speaking of bitter working folks clinging to god, guns, and bibles. Offensive yes? Liberal elitist? I don’t think so. It’s just your basic class snobbery.

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