Thursday, March 27, 2008

Carnival of the Liberals #61 - Better Late Than Never!

My abject apologies go out to everyone who sent in an article, and especially to the esteemed proprietor, the Neural Gourmet, who I enjoyed meeting in DC last November with Americans United for Separation of Church and State (the long name with the short URL!). If it was not for my horrendous computer crash it would have been up yesterday.

So, I would like to belatedly offer up for your perusal and edification the cream of the liberal blogging crop for Carnival of the Liberals #61. I now have more new great blogs to add to the ol' BlogRoll.

Starting us off with a bang is Divided We Stand, with an ode to the departing doughball that is Denny Hastert, "Oh Denny Boy" (appeals to my Irish heart), and what it signifies for the implosion of the Republicans.

Tracee from BlogFabulous makes a point that ought to be front and center of any discussion of the abortion issue - Stop Abortion, Vote Healthcare!

The mighty T of The Republic of T tells it like it is about the 'Ownership Society', or, more correctly, the Society of the Owned, Pt. 1. This is a series, BTW, and one that you should read every installment of.

Are you as sick of the selfish smugness of Objectivists as I am? Matthew Wilder, the Wild Philosopher, undresses Ayn Rand with Philosophically Fucking Humanity.

Although I understand we don't cotton much to 'candidate chatter' around the Carnival, I think my reasonably conservative friend Jon Swift has a word or two worth noting about the way Dems (and many liberal bloggers) are attacking each other and doing Grampa McCain's dirty work for him in Hillary Clinton Supporters at Daily Kos Go On Strike! C'mon, you krazy kids, knock it off, why don'tcha?

Greta Christina, she of the eponymous Blog, is a blogger I didn't know before, but who I will be reading regularly now that I have discovered her. Her post On The Amazingness of Atheists...and Why It's Doomed is thought-provoking and smart.

MBB at Money Blue Book has an informative and pithily-titled post up about Making Fun Of Late Night Infomercials Using Hotties With Assets To Sell Get Rich Schemes. Another blog very much worth visiting, especially in this economic free-fall.

Another blogger that I was fortunate enough to meet in DC with Americans United was the formidable PZ Myers of Pharyngula, a free-thinking evolutionary biologist who is on the front lines of the battle between science and superstition. He was interviewed for the pro-'intelligent design' film Expelled!, featuring the always-scintillating Ben Stein. Since he was rather prominently featured in the movie, he and some family members planned on attending a screening at the local theater. I won't give away the details to those who don't know the story, but Greg Laden, a biological anthropologist and scienceblogger of...wait for it...Greg Laden's Blog, has all the details in PZ Myers Expelled, Gains Sainthood. You'll laugh, you'll, you'll just laugh. It's that rich.

Charles H. Green of Trust Matters brings us a word to the wise with Great Moments in Self-Regulation: Financial Planners and CFP Board. Any time you hear those magic words 'self-regualtion', hold on to your wallet and run the other way! The fleecing is about to commence.

Well, that's it for my first edition of Carnival of the Liberals. Many thanks to all the bloggers who sent posts. See you on the merry-go-round!

Back Up. Back Up. Back Up.

It has taken me an entire day of troubleshooting, and finally completely erasing the drive and reinstalling the OS and restoring in order to get my laptop (with my whole life on it) working again.

Can I tell you how glad I am that I had made a complete backup of my drive the day before?

I've always known that you're supposed to back up, but I'm ashamed to say that for years and years I always put it off till 'later'. I've been unbelievably fortunate in that I've never had the kind of crash where losing everything was an option. When I put Leopard on my laptop, it has a great little backup program called Time Machine and I actually only started using it a month ago.

I will continue to make regular backups from now on. Religiously.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Carnival of the Liberals

Will be up as soon as possible - I have had a massive crash after an update, so please bear with me.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I Got Mine - A Conservative Worldview

(cross-posted at The Smirking Chimp)

My kids are big fans of the 'Blue Collar Comedy Tour', and especially of Larry the Cable Guy, a comedian so conservative that he named his daughter Reagan (I kid you not.) They have Tivo'ed several of the shows and so I hear a lot of it from the living room. Most of the time I tune it out, but one bit of Larry the Cable Guy's caught my attention. He was extolling the virtues of Wal-Mart, and deriding liberals who don't like Wal-Mart because they pay their employees so little. His advice to those weenies who don't like how employees are treated at Wal-Mart is - "Don't work at Wal-Mart!"

Those four words (or five, depending on whether Wal-Mart is one word or two) sum up the basic precepts of conservative philosophy.

You'll hear conservatives say, "If you don't want to work at Wal-Mart, then get an education and work hard and you won't have to." Pull yourself up by your bootstraps; put your nose to the grindstone; have some self-discipline. The old 'personal responsibility' routine.

What that does not address is the question, "If I don't work there, then who else should be working there?"

In other words, a job that pays so little that a full-time worker is still below the poverty line and is eligible for welfare is fine and dandy - as long as it's not me working there?

That's the essence of the conservative worldview: as long as I've got mine, I don't care if you have yours. The idea of everyone pursuing his or her own self-interest, then by the invisible hand, the self-interest of all will be maximized, or in the parlance of the Eighties, "Greed is good!" - is the one-size-fits-all answer to poverty, to injustice, to inequality. But what it boils down to in real life is "I've got mine." The idea that every person that works full-time is due enough compensation to support themselves, let alone a family, doesn't even enter into the calculation. It's okay for other people to be underpaid, overworked, taken advantage of. All that matters is - it's not me.

This is why conservatism just plain doesn't work - at least for the kind of society we say we want as Americans. There has to be some kind of consideration for more than just 'me and mine'. The place we're at right now - teetering on the brink of an economic collapse that could easily become a depression, embroiled in a grotesque, bloody occupation with no end in sight, pretending to be 'liberators' with no concern as to whether the country we're occupying wants us there or not, with a Vice-President who doesn't care how many Americans object to the war (apparently the two-thirds of Americans who say it's not worth fighting are merely exhibiting 'fluctuations in opinion', like toddlers who don't like apple juice today, but loved it yesterday), with the largest divide between rich and poor since the robber barons of the Gilded Age - is a place that conservatism, with its selfish, childish and short-sighted "I got mine" has brought us to.

And eventually, my conservative friends, even you may find yourself holding the short end of the stick. You may end up being the one treading water while someone else roars away to safety in the speedboat, oblivious to your cries for help. The policy of "I got mine" only leads to fewer and fewer people who have "got theirs" and more and more people who get next to nothing. Sooner or later, you'll be one of the latter. It's just a matter of time.

If you don't object to the mistreatment of your brother or sister, what will happen when it's your turn? Maybe you'll end up competing with Larry the Cable Guy for that swell greeter job at Wal-Mart.

How uniquely American.

From The Horse's Mouth: Read Adam Smith Online

The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, from which the 'Invisible Hand' line comes, is online and you can read it for free here. It is also searchable.

Here is a site that has many Adam Smith quotes.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Strangulation By The 'Invisible Hand'

(cross-posted at The Smirking Chimp)

Ain't nothin' like the 'free market', is there?

Yee haw.

For years now, we've heard conservatives go on and on and on ad nauseum about the miracle of the free market. Yes, that magical 'invisible hand' that leads to properity, prosperity and more prosperity! Why does it work? Uh, because it's supposed to, that's why! Of course it works! See how rich I am?

Call it 'faith-based economics'.

Conservatives are all about faith. The same people who pooh-pooh evolution as 'only a theory' and believe global warming is a hoax have an almost religious belief in laissez-faire capitalism. It is an article of faith with them that if the shackles of regulation and taxation were thrown off, a perfect economic miracle would occur. Everyone would be well-off – some more well-off than others, of course. The Market would ensure that competition was fair, and that therefore there would be no need of regulation! The Consumer would decide whether to buy a company’s products, and so the company would be forced to be ethical or else be punished by the Consumer. But the twin devils of Taxation and Regulation keep this miracle from happening.

This economic theory does not need any empirical evidence to be believed in fervently. The theory is more important than the results. If the results don't pan out, it only means that the theory has not been applied properly. More tax cuts! More deregulation!

You serfs who are losing your homes - it's all your own fault! If you can't afford the usurious interest rates, then you have no business buying houses. You mean you believed what your mortgage broker told you? Hey, not our fault. Caveat emptor, baby. Don't expect the government to come to your rescue, you freeloaders!

Yes indeed, it's all about taking risks - those CEOs deserve their zillion-dollar salaries because they take such big risks, and of course are completely reponsible for those risks. That is, unless they're not. Then it's Titty Time! Belly on up to the Big Government Boob! But only for the big guys. There's always a way to get someone else to pay for your mistakes when you're in the big leagues. The rest of us can go pound sand.

How come you don't hear anyone saying, "You shouldn't have taken on debt that you can't afford!" to Bear Stearns? These companies are, instead, fĂȘted for their boldness and aggressiveness.

Here's what happened with the housing crisis.

How do you get Americans to spend money on consumer goods when their wages have stagnated? Business profits depend on consumer spending, but if consumers' wages have declined in real buying power while prices have gone up, how are businesses going to make profits after they've cut salaries as far as they can cut them?

Make up for the lack of wages by artificially inflating housing prices, then induce people to borrow against their equity. Did I say induce? How about force? Yes, force. When you suppress wages in order to fatten your bottom line while the cost of living continues to rise, then dangle out hope in the form of equity, and the only other alternative is bankruptcy (which, after the Bankruptcy Bill of 05, is even less available), then I would call that an 'offer you can't refuse' a la The Godfather.

But, consumers can be squeezed only so much, and eventually these vultures will pick every bit of flesh off of the bones of our carcasses. The 'invisible hand' has strangled the last breath out of us. The corporations have shifted all of the costs of their doing business onto us, and have kept the profits for themselves. And now that the top-heavy pyramid is about to crash, we're expected to pay for their sins even more by taking on the cost of their bailouts, and the CEOs who steered these companies into the iceberg float merrily away with their golden parachutes.

But those of us losing our homes, or in danger of losing our homes? That's a different story entirely. Bail us out? Oh, noes! Why, that would be enabling our irresponsibility! Moral hazard, don't you know! Hard-working, honest George Bush, who has been such a successful self-made businessman himself and has never needed a bailout or a handout, wouldn't consider it.

I understand the idea that to not bail out the big palookas would mean that the whole economy would come crashing down. So, if you're going to bail out these guys, why not bail out us as well? After all, we seem to be able to pony up three billion every week to keep on killing people. How about a few billion so regular Americans can stay out of the poorhouse? I sure could use a hand right about now.

That last one was a joke, I know. Who do I think I'm kidding?

But I sure wish I could get that 'Invisble Hand' from around my neck. It's hard to breathe.

Monday, March 17, 2008

And You Wonder Why Spitzer Got Popped? Read What He Wrote On Valentine's Day

I don't usually just paste entire articles verbatim, but I think this article that Spitzer wrote for the Washington Post speaks for itself:

Predatory Lenders' Partner in Crime

How the Bush Administration Stopped the States From Stepping In to Help Consumers

By Eliot Spitzer
Thursday, February 14, 2008; Page A25

Several years ago, state attorneys general and others involved in consumer protection began to notice a marked increase in a range of predatory lending practices by mortgage lenders. Some were misrepresenting the terms of loans, making loans without regard to consumers' ability to repay, making loans with deceptive "teaser" rates that later ballooned astronomically, packing loans with undisclosed charges and fees, or even paying illegal kickbacks. These and other practices, we noticed, were having a devastating effect on home buyers. In addition, the widespread nature of these practices, if left unchecked, threatened our financial markets.

Even though predatory lending was becoming a national problem, the Bush administration looked the other way and did nothing to protect American homeowners. In fact, the government chose instead to align itself with the banks that were victimizing consumers.

Predatory lending was widely understood to present a looming national crisis. This threat was so clear that as New York attorney general, I joined with colleagues in the other 49 states in attempting to fill the void left by the federal government. Individually, and together, state attorneys general of both parties brought litigation or entered into settlements with many subprime lenders that were engaged in predatory lending practices. Several state legislatures, including New York's, enacted laws aimed at curbing such practices.

What did the Bush administration do in response? Did it reverse course and decide to take action to halt this burgeoning scourge? As Americans are now painfully aware, with hundreds of thousands of homeowners facing foreclosure and our markets reeling, the answer is a resounding no.

Not only did the Bush administration do nothing to protect consumers, it embarked on an aggressive and unprecedented campaign to prevent states from protecting their residents from the very problems to which the federal government was turning a blind eye.

Let me explain: The administration accomplished this feat through an obscure federal agency called the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). The OCC has been in existence since the Civil War. Its mission is to ensure the fiscal soundness of national banks. For 140 years, the OCC examined the books of national banks to make sure they were balanced, an important but uncontroversial function. But a few years ago, for the first time in its history, the OCC was used as a tool against consumers.

In 2003, during the height of the predatory lending crisis, the OCC invoked a clause from the 1863 National Bank Act to issue formal opinions preempting all state predatory lending laws, thereby rendering them inoperative. The OCC also promulgated new rules that prevented states from enforcing any of their own consumer protection laws against national banks. The federal government's actions were so egregious and so unprecedented that all 50 state attorneys general, and all 50 state banking superintendents, actively fought the new rules.

But the unanimous opposition of the 50 states did not deter, or even slow, the Bush administration in its goal of protecting the banks. In fact, when my office opened an investigation of possible discrimination in mortgage lending by a number of banks, the OCC filed a federal lawsuit to stop the investigation.

Throughout our battles with the OCC and the banks, the mantra of the banks and their defenders was that efforts to curb predatory lending would deny access to credit to the very consumers the states were trying to protect. But the curbs we sought on predatory and unfair lending would have in no way jeopardized access to the legitimate credit market for appropriately priced loans. Instead, they would have stopped the scourge of predatory lending practices that have resulted in countless thousands of consumers losing their homes and put our economy in a precarious position.

When history tells the story of the subprime lending crisis and recounts its devastating effects on the lives of so many innocent homeowners, the Bush administration will not be judged favorably. The tale is still unfolding, but when the dust settles, it will be judged as a willing accomplice to the lenders who went to any lengths in their quest for profits. So willing, in fact, that it used the power of the federal government in an unprecedented assault on state legislatures, as well as on state attorneys general and anyone else on the side of consumers.

The writer (is) was governor of New York.

Men Bite Dogs - Novakula, Ben Stein Say Something That Isn't Completely Asinine!

Whew! Give me a moment to catch my breath! It appears that Ben Stein, he of "Expelled" fame, who wants to use his formidable academic reputation to support faith-based science, and Bob 'No-Facts' Novak, have actually come out with pronouncements that do not appear to have been pulled directly out of their asses!

Raw Story reports, from an appearance on CBS' Sunday Morning:

Stein is troubled by what he calls the actions of a few "nosy civil servants" using evidence gained from wiretaps to unravel the career of the outgoing New York Governor, and undo a majority vote by the people of New York.

"Something sinister is happening," he says, "and it scares me."

"Men hire prostitutes by the thousands," Stein continues, "maybe tens of thousands, every day. They also bring women across state lines for sex every day.

"The punishment for the men who hire hookers is usually nil, or at most, a small fine, close to what you'd get for a traffic ticket."

Spitzer, on the other hand, was humiliated and run out of office as punishment, with Stein protesting a small number of federal officials having what he essentially calls veto power over the electoral process. Spitzer, he continues, has been stripped of his career for something picked up on a wiretap that was not a high crime like terrorism or treason.

"Having elected officials kicked out of office by appointed officials is a very dicey proposition," argues Stein.

He concludes: "Elections are a lot more important than call girls."
And from Novakula:

"Republican political operative Roger Stone, Eliot Spitzer's longtime antagonist, predicted his political demise more than three months in advance," Novak writes. "Spitzer's entrapment by federal authorities investigating a prostitution ring raised speculation that Stone, with a 40-year record as a political hit man, somehow was behind it."

"Eliot Spitzer will not serve out his term as governor of the state of New York,'' Stone said Dec. 6 on Michael Smerconish's radio talk show," Novak added. "He gave no details."

Novak's post was titled "GOP strategists at work."

In an interview last week, Stone cheered the governor's demise, and hinted further that he'd known about the governor's fall.
Also, Alan Dershowitz, writing last week in the Wall Street Journal, averred that the story of Spitzer's 'capture' doesn't entirely ring true to career prosecutors.

"There is no hard evidence that Eliot Spitzer was targeted for investigation, but the story of how he was caught does not ring entirely true to many experienced former prosecutors and current criminal lawyers," Dershowitz wrote. "The New York Times reported that the revelations began with a routine tax inquiry by revenue agents 'conducting a routine examination of suspicious financial transactions reported to them by banks.' This investigation allegedly found 'several unusual movements of cash involving the Governor of New York.' But the movement of the amounts of cash required to pay prostitutes, even high-priced prostitutes over a long period of time, does not commonly generate a full-scale investigation."

"We are talking about thousands, not millions, of dollars. We are also talking about a man who is a multimillionaire with numerous investments and purchases," he added. "The idea that federal investigators would focus on a few transactions to corporations -- that were not themselves under investigation -- raises as many questions as answers."
That last paragraph makes a lot of sense to me.

Yeah, yeah; I get the argument - "It's not the crime, it's the hypocrisy!" But the hypocrisy only matters if you are a Democrat. Republicans embrace the hypocrisy; they proudly own the hypocrisy.

Head spins.

When these guys are starting to make sense, you know that the Apocalypse is upon us.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

For the Record...

I'm not going to be blathering on about the primary race. I know it's going to be sucking up bandwidth for the next couple of months, but since I will be voting for a Democrat no matter what, the particulars of the race are, for me, a distraction from what the Bush Administration is doing while the rest of the country is all het up about name-calling.

So if you want a respite from the primaries, come hang out with me!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bush: "We'll Spy On You Whenever We Feel Like It - And You'd Better Be Grateful!"

(cross-posted at The Smirking Chimp)

Just when I think George W. Bush can't get any more insulting, condescending, arrogant, and despotic, I hear this, about telecom immunity:
"Now the question is, should these lawsuits be allowed to proceed, or should any company that may have helped save American lives be thanked for performing a patriotic service; should those who stepped forward to say we're going to help defend America have to go to the courthouse to defend themselves, or should the Congress and the President say thank you for doing your patriotic duty? I believe we ought to say thank you."
"Thank You?!?"

Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick.

It's times like these that, I swear to God, I would vote for a stinking, sweaty, soiled jock strap if that jock strap were the alternative to Bush.

"Defend America?" We need to defend America from the likes of Bush and Co. We need to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which this administration has treated like Charmin.

What is it about the Bush family that insists upon gratitude from those it screws over? This is a consistent pattern with them. They seem to feel that not only are they entitled to destroy, steal from and trample on anyone they choose - but their victims must be grateful into the bargain!

From the invasion of Iraq (Bush: "I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude"), to the imposition of his will upon poorer countries (Bush, during his visit to Latin America:“I don’t think America gets enough credit for trying to help improve people’s lives”), to the suffering of those left homeless by Katrina (Barbara Bush:"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this is working very well for them."), the hallmark of the Bush family seems to be imperialism. This assumption of superiority is evidenced in every word that spews out of Dubya's pie-hole. His smug, smirking frat-boy bonhommie turns into annoyed petulance in a flash if he does not receive what he considers his 'due' from anyone he perceives to be below him, which pretty much amounts to anyone who isn't a Bush or a member of his 'base', the "haves and have-mores". To be fair, that was a joke told at a fund-raiser; Al Gore was also in attendance and poked fun at himself in a similar manner. Nevertheless, it's a joke with more that a grain of truth - more like a wheelbarrow-full. As the scion of four generations of wealthy international power-brokers and string-pullers, his sense of entitlement is simply gargantuan. He has always attempted to mask it with his faux-Texan bumptiousness, but his Eastern-elite prep-school peevishness surfaces every time he is crossed in any way.

Bush's attitude of "L'etat, c'est moi" is painfully obvious. When he says others should be grateful to America, what he really means is that they should be grateful to him. There is no distinction in his mind between America's interests and wants, and his own. His interests are America's, so by proxy, anyone who opposes his will opposes America. He truly carries the 'White Man's Burden'. Like imperialist Britain, he believes that those he tramples upon are his inferiors, who should be thankful for the opportunity to be of service to him.

He is also a bully, and those that have the temerity to oppose his will must be not only vanquished but humiliated in the process. It is not enough for him to get his way; like a dog, he lifts his leg on those that he triumphs over. Witness the craven and embarrassing John McCain 2000 embrace after Bush used the lowest, most loathsome dirty tricks to smear him in South Carolina. With Bush, it's all about dominance and submission. It is not enough to obey Big Brother; you have to love Big Brother.

In the words of the ultimate frat-boy (sorry, Chris!): "Thank you, sir - may I have another?"

And here we are, on the brink of giving Bush a 'get out of jail free' card. Four simple words: Telecom immunity=Bush immunity.

He knows it; we know it; everyone knows it. This business about "punishing the telecoms for keeping Americans safe" is a gigantic, stinking sack of horseshit. Don't tell me that these obscenely wealthy corporations don't have the best lawyers that money can buy - no doubt better than the lackeys in the government - and somehow didn't know they were being asked to do something illegal - even before 9/11! And they "won't be so cooperative if they're going to be sued"? More shit. If they had a warrant, they wouldn't have a choice - and would be immune to prosecution!

The most secretive, unaccountable President in American history - the man who told reporters in the haughtiest manner imaginable that
"I don't email, however. And there's a reason. I don't want you reading my personal stuff. There has got to be a certain sense of privacy. You know, you're entitled to how I make decisions. And you're entitled to ask questions, which I answer. I don't think you're entitled to be able to read my mail between my daughters and me."
feels perfectly entitled to deep-six the most basic privacy that ordinary Americans are guaranteed under the Bill of Rights. Guess what, asshole? I don't want you reading my personal stuff, either. But I'm just a citizen, a lowly peon, not the Divinely-Ordained King of America™.

My 'personal stuff' is fair game, to be stolen and sold without my knowledge or consent.

This 'personal stuff'? It's called data. As in data-mining. Information about me has a monetary value as well as a personal value. Big businesses pay huge sums to buy lists that have every transaction I make, every person I call or e-mail, every place I travel to, my school records, my medical history, my financial and credit history, my political preferences and every single detail about my life, in a nice, organized, cross-referenced file. This file can be used by companies to increase their business, target their advertising, fine-tune their audience and in a host of ways, add to their bottom line. It can also be used to deny me medical coverage, jobs and a home, throw me in jail, and it can be sold to other 'interested parties' for still more profit.

And this treasure-trove, that makes others wealthy - where did they get this from? Did they purchase it from me? Do I receive even a penny of the money that my 'personal stuff' is generating?

Hell to the no.

In fact, not only is it taken from me without my knowledge and without compensation, to be used against me, but here's the kicker:

I am paying them!

Yes, friends, you heard me right.

You and I pay these companies to steal information which brings them even more profit, and can be detrimental to our own interests. Do these companies share any of their ill-gotten wealth with the parties they took it from?

Hell to the no.

They use that information to their benefit and my detriment. And when they sell, not give (remember, the oh-so-imperative and life-saving wiretapping was cut off at one point for non-payment! And Al-Qaeda didn't manage to swoop in and take over America during that time?), that information to the government, again without our knowledge, permission or compensation, what does the government buy that information with?

Tax dollars. Our tax dollars.

I know I harp on this a lot, but I think it bears repeating: we are paying - on both ends - to be stolen from and spied upon! And on top of that, we're supposed to be grateful for it!

But even that, as grotesque as it is, is only a smokescreen. FBI director Robert Mueller inadvertently tips the White House's hand when he opines that telecoms should be granted immunity even if they acted in bad faith! The real issue is that Bush is immunizing himself and his thugs from culpability for crimes they have knowingly committed. They began immediately upon seizing office, when Dick Cheney convened his energy cronies to decide how to divvy up the future spoils, and told the American people, "Go fuck yourself. It's none of your goddamned business." They sealed Presidential records, lied us into an illegal, but hugely profitable (for them - it has been devastating to the rest of America, and the world) occupation of a sovereign nation, and generally told America to STFU and do as we're told.

Right now I couldn't care less about the goddamn primaries, or who said what about who. I don't care about delegates, or super-delegates, or super-duper-delegates. Not when the Kommander-in-Thief, the Kowboy Koward of Krawford, is about to neatly let himself off the hook, aided and abetted by this shameful excuse for a Democratic Congress.

Telecom immunity=Bush immunity.

"I believe we ought to say thank you"?

I believe we ought to say, "Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect 2 trillion dollars."

But I'm not holding my breath.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Say It Loud - I'm Liberal and I'm Proud!

(cross-posted at The Smirking Chimp)

In Austin last week, Barack Obama spoke these words to his supporters:

"Oh, he's liberal,” he said. “He's liberal. Let me tell you something. There's nothing liberal about wanting to reduce money in politics that is common sense. There's nothing liberal about wanting to make sure [our soldiers] are treated properly when they come home. There's nothing liberal about wanting to make sure that everybody has healthcare, but we are spending more on healthcare in this country than any other advanced country. We got more uninsured. There's nothing liberal about saying that doesn't make sense, and we should do something smarter with our health care system. Don't let them run that okie doke on you!"

Begging your pardon, Barack, but there is something liberal about all of these things.

These are liberal policies, liberal goals.

It's a crying shame that one of the contenders for the Democratic nomination (and, at this point at least, the likely nominee) feels as if he must deny the word liberal - even as he advances liberal policies!

As Obama goes on with his 'nothing liberal' rant - "Who, me? Liberal? No way! Uh-uh - not me!", the Republicans are falling all over themselves trying to 'out-conservative' each other. To them, 'conservative' is a badge of honor; in fact, if you don't embrace conservatism, you're not even worthy of consideration. As I've said before, the worst epithet one Republican can hurl at another is 'liberal'. Crazy-ass John McCain has been called that by his detractors.

He should be so fortunate.

What has this wonderful conservatism brought us over the last forty years? A black hole of war and war profiteering that is sucking our nation dry as it kills millions? An economy that has taken money from the poorest to give to the richest and decimated a once-thriving middle class? A social climate of bigotry and division, where discrimination is not just morally acceptable, but divinely ordained? A place where the 'Golden Rule' is "He who has the gold makes the rules"? Where we kill others to force 'freedoms' upon them while eviscerating our own freedoms at home? It has turned a once-respected country into the most feared and reviled country in the world, run by lawless thugs who have no aspirations beyond their own enrichment and power.

Some legacy. How proud they must be.

The Sixties brought the Republican party to a place of crisis. The defeat of Goldwater, the civil rights movement, the explosion of social and cultural upheaval – riots, assassinations, hippies, feminists - all these left conservatives floundering like a fish out of water. Scornfully branded ‘the Establishment’, their traditional way of life had gotten away from them, and they were determined to get it back. Capitalism itself was under attack. Everything that was wrong with the world, it seemed, could be directly attributed to liberalism. It was time for serious measures.

In 1968, a group of conservative millionaires and corporate heavyweights convened to discuss this alarming state of affairs. There had been a seismic cultural shift, and conservatives were on the wrong side of it. Lewis H. Lapham, editor emeritus of Harper's Magazine, tells the story:

The hope of their salvation found its voice in a 5,000-word manifesto written by Lewis Powell, a Richmond corporation lawyer, and circulated in August 1971 by the United States Chamber of Commerce under the heading Confidential Memorandum; Attack on the American Free Enterprise System. Soon to be appointed to the Supreme Court, lawyer Powell was a man well-known and much respected by the country's business community; within the legal profession he was regarded as a prophet. His heavy word of warning fell upon the legions of reaction with the force of Holy Scripture: "Survival of what we call the free enterprise system," he said, "lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations."

The venture capital for the task at hand was provided by a small sewing circle of rich philanthropists—Richard Mellon Scaife in Pittsburgh, Lynde and Harry Bradley in Milwaukee, John Olin in New York City, the Smith Richardson family in North Carolina, Joseph Coors in Denver, David and Charles Koch in Wichita—who entertained visions of an America restored to the safety of its mythological past—small towns like those seen in prints by Currier and Ives, cheerful factory workers whistling while they worked, politicians as wise as Abraham Lincoln and as brave as Teddy Roosevelt, benevolent millionaires presenting Christmas turkeys to deserving elevator operators, the sins of the flesh deported to Mexico or France. Suspicious of any fact that they hadn't known before the age of six, the wealthy saviors of the Republic also possessed large reserves of paranoia, and if the world was going rapidly to rot (as any fool could plainly see) the fault was to be found in everything and anything tainted with a stamp of liberal origin—the news media and the universities, income taxes, Warren Beatty, transfer payments to the undeserving poor, restraints of trade, Jane Fonda, low interest rates, civil liberties for unappreciative minorities, movies made in Poland, public schools.*

*The various philanthropic foundations under the control of the six families possess assets estimated in 2001 at $1.7 billion. Harry Bradley was an early and enthusiastic member of the John Birch Society; Koch Industries in the winter of 2000 agreed to pay $30 million (the largest civil fine ever imposed on a private American company under any federal environmental law) to settle claims related to 300 oil spills from its pipelines in six states.

Although small in comparison with the sums distributed by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, the money was ideologically sound, and it was put to work leveraging additional contributions (from corporations as well as from other like-minded foundations), acquiring radio stations, newspapers, and journals of opinion, bankrolling intellectual sweatshops for the making of political and socioeconomic theory. Joseph Coors established The Heritage Foundation with an initial gift of $250,000 in 1973, the sum augmented over the next few years with $900,000 from Richard Scaife; the American Enterprise Institute was revived and fortified in the late seventies with $6 million from the Howard Pew Freedom Trust; the Cato Institute was set up by the Koch family in 1977 with a gift of $500,000. If in 1971 the friends of American free enterprise could turn for comfort to no more than seven not very competent sources of inspiration, by the end of the decade they could look to eight additional installations committed to "joint effort" and "united action." The senior officers of the Fortune 500 companies meanwhile organized the Business Roundtable, providing it by 1979 with a rich endowment for the hiring of resident scholars loyal in their opposition to the tax and antitrust laws.

And so the conservative movement began its climb up from the abyss. They knew that it would take many years and billions of dollars to build their machine. They put into place an interlocking series of organizations designed to produce a new generation of scholars, pundits, and intellectual leaders, supported by think tanks, scholarships, internships, and media outlets. Promising young college Republicans were nurtured and cultivated, and the path to prominence made smooth as they were escorted to high-profile jobs to establish them as leading lights and deep thinkers. The overriding idea was to denigrate liberalism in every way possible – the ‘liberal media’, liberal education, liberal values. This was not a natural ‘swing of the pendulum’ – it was bought and paid for. It was slow-growing, but inexorable, and soon the term ‘liberal’, which only a few years before was how most people described themselves; which stood for society’s values – a safety net for the poorest, tolerance, intelligence, inquiry, progress – became an epithet. Liberals were irresponsible, unrealistic, immature, decadent, and wasteful of other people’s money. They were immoral, licentious, hedonistic, irrational and self-indulgent. With the concerted efforts of the new think tanks, newspaper and magazine articles, and pundits-for-hire, these ideas seeped into the national consciousness.

Forty years later, it is time to understand that the assault against liberalism did not just happen. It was planned, financed, and implemented, and we are living with the results today. This is what happens when unregulated capitalism is allowed to rampage without the checks and balances that liberal policies foster.

Conservatives have spent billions and billions of dollars to make 'liberal' into a dirty word, and they have succeeded when people who should be calling themselves liberal emphatically deny the word in the same breath as they espouse liberal policies and values. Even the word 'progressive', which is nothing to be ashamed of, and represents the idea that society should be improved upon through action, is used by liberals who want to express their values without using the 'L' word.

I think this has to stop.

I've done it myself - I have called myself both liberal and progressive interchangeably, and I feel that both terms express my value system. However, when I choose not to use the word 'liberal', I am making sure that the conservative movement's money has been well-spent. If I back off of the word 'liberal', they win!

I don't know about you, but I am ready to take back that word. Wouldn't it be great if all that conservative smear money was wasted? We need to get back to what liberalism really means.Yes, we made mistakes as liberals (notice I'm not saying 'mistakes were made'?) but instead of scrapping the policies that brought us back from the Depression and gave us a middle class, we should learn from our mistakes and work towards making our great country the best it can be. We can't let fear of being called 'liberal' stop us from claiming our great legacy. Conservatives will revile us no matter what we do, and abandoning our values and moving towards theirs is not the correct response. It only makes them more arrogant, and we validate their position if we pander to them in the name of bipartisanship and compromise. You sure won't see them reaching across the aisle in the spirit of moving forward. As we saw just last week over the FISA issue, if they don't get their way, they simply walk out.

Senator Obama, there is something liberal about wanting to reduce money in politics that is common sense. There is something liberal about wanting to make sure our soldiers are treated properly when they come home. There is something liberal about wanting to make sure that everybody has healthcare, but we are spending more on healthcare in this country than any other advanced country. And the sooner that some candidate has the sack to stand up and say that proudly, the sooner we'll start down the path of getting our country back.

Being called a liberal is 'okie-doke' with me, Senator.

Say it loud: I'm liberal and I'm proud!