Tuesday, August 31, 2010

From the Annals of Over-Privileged Jackasses

Via Krugman, Aaron Ross Sorkin's column does not paint Wall Street execs in a good light:

Mr. Obama was viewed as a member of the elite, an Ivy League graduate (Columbia, class of ’83, the same as Mr. Loeb), president of The Harvard Law Review — he was supposed to be just like them. President Obama was the “intelligent” choice, the same way they felt about themselves. They say that they knew he would seek higher taxes and tighter regulation; that was O.K. What they say they did not realize was that they were going to be painted as villains. 

You poor babies! You torpedo the world economy, then get pissy when someone says a few mean things? Try thinking of the millions of people worldwide who are without a job right now. Read Annie Lowrey's heartbreaking piece on the specter of suicide that stalks the long-term unemployed.  Your risky and stupid bets on subprime mortgages caused this mess, and now we're supposed to feel sorry for these millionaires and billionaires because of a little regulation? Give me a break.

Even more disgusting is the cliquey "in-crowd" nature of these comments. Clearly, Obama must be just like the rest of these over-privileged assholes because he went to the same schools as the cool kids! Never did it occur to these plutocrats that he might have deeply held convictions about public policy and moral obligations. No, clearly because he went a cool-kids school, he would be just like them! I swear, this is like reading about a bunch of whiny 5-year olds. Except they have massive amounts of money and power.

“Many people see the collapse of the subprime markets, along with the failure and subsequent rescue of many banks, as failures of capitalism rather than a result of a vile stew of inept management, unaccountable boards of directors and overmatched regulators not just asleep, but comatose, at the proverbial switch,” he wrote. “It is easy to see why so many people have concluded that the entire system is rigged.” 

Maybe because it is rigged? How much political power do the unemployed have? And how much does Jamie Dimon have? And how is the attempt to FIX those problems an unjustified attack on these modern-day aristocrats? If the reason businesses aren't hiring is because of these petulant children, our problems are deeper than economic, they're cultural.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Party over Personality

Ezra Klein makes the case for party-line voting:

Campaigns are built to fool us into thinking that we're voting for individuals. We learn about the candidate's family, her job, her background -- even her dog. But we're primarily voting for parties. The parties have just learned we're more likely to vote for them if they disguise themselves as individuals. And American politics would work better if we understood that. 

I always feel irrationally guilty as I go down the list marking the D candidates and only the D candidates. But at the end of the day, that D represents a list of policy priorities that I sympathize with far more than the priorities of the R. So there's no real reason I should care overly much about the name in front of the letter.

Hooray, beer! (III)

More bloggers are picking up on the thread of pointless laws regulating the sale of alcohol. Conor Friedersdorf:

In New York, supermarkets aren't allowed to sell liquor. What possible reason could there be for this? Were members of the New York Legislature to tour California, they'd see that supermarkets are the most responsible sellers of alcohol, and that high school kids with fake ideas always seek out small liquor stores. 

That same law exists here in Minnesota. Grocery stores are only allowed to sell 3.2% beer. As a consequence, people like me bootleg Target boxed wine back from Illinois, where the laws are nowhere near as strict. On the topic of Target, to make Conor's point, cashiers must ask for ID from everyone, regardless of age, and they scan every ID. Suffice to say, the stoned-looking kid in his 20s at the liquor store down the street isn't quite that careful.

Matt Yglesias jumped on the bandwagon, building off Conor's post:

Indeed, my general view is that booze in the United States should be more taxed but less regulated. Rules that aim to promote public health by restricting the availability of alcohol create a large regulatory surplus that accrues to license-holders. If you try to do the same thing through booze taxes, then the surplus accrues to the state and can be used to finance lower sales taxes or better public services.

Yep. Though this isn't the first time we've been over this ground.

Friday, August 27, 2010

We're Stronger Than That

Over the first couple years of the Obama administration, every little movement away from the conservative movement ideal has been met with howls from the right. "Socialism!" "Destroying the country!" "UnAmerican!" This isn't entirely a new phenomenon. During the Bush administration, liberals were wont to lament that they should move to Canada, that Bush was the worst thing to ever happen to America, etc. (Full disclosure: I wasn't immune to this impulse. "The End of the World As We Know It" got heavy play from me in November 2004.)

As Eugene Robinson pointed out in a characteristically excellent column this week, conservatives have made a habit out of playing the victim since the election of Barack Obama. Everything that happens is a step towards the destruction of the country. The Democrats will end up turning America into a third-world socialist hellhole. Or something.

This kind of hysteria and defeatism has culminated in the inane, asinine, stupid, and depressing argument over the Cordoba Initiative (or Park51 or "Ground Zero Mosque" if you must). How is it that we freak out over the possibility of Muslims in New York City? In a country founded on immigration, how did it become acceptable to discriminate against an ethnic or religious group? I grew up being told that part of what made my country great was the way we acted as a melting pot of cultures the world over. Indeed, America has a much better record on immigrant assimilation than similarly wealthy countries in Western Europe. When did that end?

There's always been a xenophobic fringe in this country. But the impressive part is that it was always a fringe. In France, Jean-Marie Le Pen, of the xenophobic National Front party actually made it into the runoff against eventual winner Jacques Chirac in 2002. Thankfully, our resident xenophobes like Lou Dobbs or Pat Buchanan have never had that sort of mainstream success. If it were just some fringe groups behind this controversy, it would be unfortunate, but understandable. The depressing thing is just how deep into our mainstream it has gotten. Conservatives of every stripe have come out in opposition to the building of the community center with varying degrees of vitriol. Democrats have cowered and either ducked the question or tried to sit on the fence by affirming their right to build but not the wisdom of doing so. It's left to the chattering class (mostly, though not exclusively, on the left) to loudly embrace the principles that this country was founded on.

This brings me to the point of this post. When did America become so fragile? We survived a revolution against the British Empire, the burning of the capital in the war of 1812, a civil war, two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, the assassination of several presidents, and the 9/11 attacks. Through all that, we've survived and thrived. But now universal health care and a Muslim community center will tear the union apart? I'm sorry, I don't buy it.

Is it possible to have legitimate policy disputes without them turning into debates on the very nature of the country? I'm fairly certain that enacting near-universal health care will not destroy the country. Just as I am pretty sure that failure to enact it will not destroy us either. Demagoguery and screaming makes for "good" television, revs up the base and can even make for "good" politics. But it's not necessary. We can have a debate in this country that doesn't come down to a zero sum of "this will catapult the country to success and that will make us Greece." We're a stronger country than that. We can withstand all manner of threats. And the successful assimilation of minorities isn't even a threat, it's an integral part of this country's history.

We're stronger than this. Let's stop acting like we're not.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I Was Wrong

I've mentioned in the past that a raise in the Social Security retirement age is something we should do to help get our fiscal house in order. I was wrong. The retirement age is already set to rise to 67, and that's far enough. Blue-collar workers are the ones who will be disproportionately hit by this, and they're the ones who're least able to work at that age. Many of them would end up filing for disability anyway, negating most of the savings. Besides, while life expectancy at birth has gone up, people only live a few years longer once they reach retirement age than they did decades ago. So I was wrong.

I still think Social Security should be means-tested, however. If you've got an argument against that, I'll listen. But "fairness (to the rich)"  isn't going to cut it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hooray, beer! (II)

Steven Pearlstein approves of Virginia ending the state liquor sales policy:

I admit this may not be the fiscal slam-dunk the retailers and liquor interests claim it to be, and there are lots of non-economic issues to be hashed out. But until there is a definitive plan and a credible economic analysis, Democratic skeptics would do well to keep their minds open and their mouths shut lest they find themselves on the wrong side of Virginia consumers and commuters. 

This is another example of what I would consider pointless regulation. If regulation is serving some public good, then I'll consider it. But this is just arbitrary. And removal of the regulation takes jobs and profits away from the government and puts them in the hands of businesses all over the state. And just as importantly, consumers benefit with better choice, competition, and more easily accessible product. This is more small government I can believe in.

Now if only Minnesota would allow alcohol sales on Sundays...

Samuel Huntington - Still an Idiot

Max Boot takes on the resurgence of the "Clash of Civilizations" framing:

The Huntington thesis, I might add, is equally hard to take seriously because it presents such a cartoonish view of the world. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute (where Hirsi Ali also works) points out one such problem: “China is not a civilization. It’s a nation governed by one party for 60 years and whose one-time dominant ethical regime was Confucian. But also part of this Confucian world were South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—each now firmly part of the liberal and democratic West. Our problem with China is not one of civilization but the fact that it’s ruled by an increasingly nationalistic and ambitious despotic elite.”

The same might be said about each of the “civilizations” identified by Huntington and now endorsed by Hirsi Ali: they seem uniform only if viewed from a distance of 20,000 feet

I've long thought Huntington's thesis was overly simplistic and bordering on racist. It's good to see that there are some people willing to take on those who subscribe to it. Boot also gets in a dig at Francis Fukuyama, whose "end of history" is, if anything, even more idiotic than Huntington's "Clash".

This is a trope beloved of college poli-sci classes — to juxtapose Huntington vs. Fukuyama — and it makes for good debate, but the reality is that it’s hard to think of many people who take seriously Fukuyama’s thesis — and certainly not among “neoconservatives,” who since the end of the Cold War have been warning about new threats (such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamist terrorism) that are potent challenges to American power.

Interestingly, Fukuyama was involved in the PNAC mess that led the drive for the invasion of Iraq. So there is a link between Fukuyama and the neo-cons. But that doesn't really say much for either theory. Anyway, Boot is dead on about just how wrong and fundamentally unhelpful a "clash of civilizations" view of the world is.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Agreed

Yglesias, replying to Ross Douthat's column trying to find a justification for opposition to gay marriage:

And the solution seems to me to be fairly clear—a separation of religious and quasi-religious ideals of marriage from the civil/legal aspects of marriage. You should have a defined legal state, that could be called “marriage” or “civil union” or “civil marriage” or whatever else we want that’s recognized by the state on a non-discriminatory basis. And then religious groups can also have whatever kind of ceremonies with whatever attendant status they like. If the Catholic Church doesn’t want to perform marriages for gay couples or allow divorced people to remarry, good for them. 

Sounds good to me.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Programming Note

If you want to just read the stuff I write over on FDL, the link is here. But I really suggest you read the rest of my fellow guest-bloggers. They're putting up some great stuff!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hooray, beer!

I don't really buy the argument currently popular among conservatives that businesses aren't hiring because of regulatory uncertainty. It seems much more likely to me that mass unemployment means a lot of people who can't afford to buy things. Couple that with a surge in productivity and a lot of excess capacity and there's no real need for businesses to hire.

That doesn't mean, however, that I think all regulation is good. I'm very sympathetic to the argument that there's way too much red tape involved in starting a small business. Some of this is on a federal level, but much is on the local level as well. That brings me to the title of the this post. Minneapolis is set to relax an ordinance that governs exactly how micro-brewers are allowed to sell beer. A seven word change to Minneapolis' laws is likely to immediately bring three breweries to the city. This is low-hanging fruit, and I'm sure there's more where that came from. Like Matt Yglesias, I'm particularly annoyed by short-sighted and often idiotic zoning regulations that stifle investment and create car-focused communities. (That problem is not always a result of laws, it can also be NIMBYism.)

There's actually a federal version of the deregulation going on in Minneapolis now. Under Carter, the brewing industry was deregulated, opening the door for all the delicious micro-brews we enjoy today. There should be common ground to find between liberals and conservatives on this issue. Not all regulation is bad, but there's certainly plenty of anachronistic or industry-written regulation out there that hurts small businesses. Taking a scalpel to those is small government I can believe in.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Enough!

Things I would love to never hear anything about ever again:

  • Bristol Palin/Levi Johnson/Trig Palin/Sarah Palin
  • The "Ground Zero Mosque" that is neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero
  • Birthers
  • Truthers
  • "National conversations about race"
  • Repealing the 14th amendment

Seriously, people. Enough!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Samuel Huntington is Vindicated

Well, Andrew McCarthy certainly believes in a clash of civilizations:

The main front in the war is not Afghanistan or Iraq but the United States. The war is about the survival of Western civilization, and we should make no apologies for the fact that the West’s freedom culture is a Judeo-Christian culture.

Excuse me while I go vomit. It's bad enough reading this kind of bullshit from fringe types like Andrew Breitbart, but this was on the front page of National Review Online. Sane conservative intellectual leadership is an endangered species these days.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Death Panels

Lost in the demagoguery of "death panels" was the fact that palliative care is a massively underutilized and under-emphasized part of our health care system. Dying is a difficult issue, to be sure. The "death panel" smear just took a difficult subject and made it off-limits. We need to talk about tough issues, especially ones this important. Atul Gawande is talking about it in the New Yorker. It is a must read. The element of truth in attacks on hospice care is that it will save money. But it's also very important on a human level, as Gawande makes clear. Read the whole thing.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Bullied Pulpit goes on the attack

I'll be filling in, along with several others, for Spencer Ackerman over at FireDogLake while he is in Afghanistan for Wired. So starting Tuesday, look for me over at Attackerman. If all goes well, I'll be blogging over there until the 19th. Many thanks to Spencer for the opportunity. Hopefully this will make me part of the vast left-wing conspiracy to control the media! I'll probably post periodic roundups here of what I've been writing over at FDL.