Archive for the “Politics” Category

The amazing thing about this crisis is the extent to which suffering and responsibility are completely out of proportion with one another. If you think about the people who are really suffering in the developed world today, none of them were executives at major banks, none of them were politicians involved in the construction of the euro, none of them were senior financial policymakers in any government, etc.

…via Matt Yglesias at ThinkProgress

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Back in April I reviewed Christopher Hitchens’ memoir, “Hitch 22”. In my remarks, I focussed on the literary style and the content of the work, without offering any opinions about the positions which Hitchens has endorsed. Regular readers of my blog will know that I generally agree with him on the topic of religion, and strongly disagree with him when it comes to the United States’ disastrous policies of regime change, nation building, and other military adventures. One thing that I did not do, however, was to discuss how Hitchens thinks. In a recent review in the New York Review of Books, Ian Buruma does exactly that. The result is a powerful indictment of the way in which Hitchens abandoned skepticism and irony in favor of simplistic emotion.

Another typical word in Hitchens’s lexicon is “intoxication.” This can literally mean drunk. But that is not what Hitchens means. Writing about his early political awakening, when he shared with his fellow International Socialists a “consciousness of rectitude,” he claims:

If you have never yourself had the experience of feeling that you are yoked to the great steam engine of history, then allow me to inform you that the conviction is a very intoxicating one.

This must be true. When Hitchens became a journalist for the New Statesman, after graduating from Oxford, he adopted a pleasing kind of double life, part reporter, part revolutionary activist, imagining how he might help an IRA terrorist hide from the law. He found this double life “more than just figuratively intoxicating.” One can only assume that intoxication again played a part when he took the view that yoking himself to George W. Bush’s war was to hitch a ride on the great steam engine of history.

The trouble with intoxication, figurative or not, is that it stands in the way of reason. It simplifies things too much, as does seeing the world in terms of heroes and villains. Or, indeed, the dogmatic notion that all religion is bad, and secularism always on the right side of history.

(My emphasis.)
The biggest challenge for a soi-disant skeptic is to hold his or her own thinking – and that of one’s comrades – to the standard applied to others. And in this Hitchens has generally failed:

Again, the narcissism, the narrow scale of characters, and the parochial perspective are startling: “We were the only ones to see 1968 coming.” It is as if the central focus of the Iraq war was about scores to be settled between Hitchens and Noam Chomsky or Edward Said. It is odd that in all his lengthy accounts of the war, the name of Dick Cheney is mentioned only once (because he happened to share the same dentist with Hitchens). What is utterly missing is a sense of perspective, and of the two qualities Hitchens claims to prize above all: skepticism and irony. A skeptic would not answer the question whether he blamed his former leftist friends for criticizing the war with: “Yes, absolutely. I was right, and they were wrong, that’s pretty much it in a nutshell.” Asked about his literary influences, Hitchens mentioned Arthur Koestler. He was right on the mark. Koestler, too, lurched from cause to cause, always with the same unshakable conviction.

I love Hitchens’ writing, and his bravura performances of rhetoric. I do not believe that they would be diminished by a modicum of reflection and humility. I would love to read his thoughtful response to this insightful review by Buruma.

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Quote of the day:

I’m not an economist, but we’ve got five applicants for every single job opening. If you tell me that the best response to that situation is to lay off hundreds of thousands of teachers, I will not accept that this means that you’re smarter and more expert than I am. I will instead conclude — regardless of your prestige or position or years of study — that you’re a moral imbecile.

— Fred Clark at Slacktivist

Those who voted for Cameron in the UK: is this really what you want?

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Via Michael Cohen, here’s the part of Article 88 of the Uniform Code which deals with insubordination:

Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Americans are fond of quoting John Adams’ description of their country as “a nation of laws, not of men.” So when do the courts-martial start?

UPDATE: I was just reminded of Truman’s wonderful assessment of MacArthur:

I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.

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Via Andrew, this graph shows the US Incarceration Rate from 1880 to 2008:

US Incarceration Rate, 1880-2008

As the CEPR report cited in the original post points out, the financial cost of this absurd policy is astronomical. “[A] reduction by one-half in the incarceration rate of non-violent offenders” would save U.S. state and local governments at least $14.8B/year, and would still leave the incarceration rate quite high in historical terms.

So what tipped the country into collective lunacy in 1980? Ronald Reagan? Or was he just a symptom?

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Larison considers the world reaction to Israel’s incompetent attack on the flotilla, and nails the big lesson for Israel:

Regardless, Gelb should regard the outrage as a good sign. It means that most governments around the world have not resigned themselves to thinking of Israel as nothing more than a dangerous pariah. It will be a far worse day for Israel when the reaction to the next blunder is the sigh of resignation, “Well, really, what can you expect?”

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More from James Fallows:

Counting the new Republican Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts, the 41 Republicans in the Senate come from states representing just over 36.5 percent of the total US population. The 59 others (Democratic plus 2 Independent) represent just under 63.5 percent. (Taking 2009 state populations from here. If you count up the totals and split a state's population when it has a spit delegation, you end up with about 112.3 million Republican, 194.7 million Democratic + Indep. Before Brown’s election, it was about 198 million Democratic + Ind, 109 million Republican.)

Let’s round the figures to 63/37 and apply them to the health care debate. Senators representing 63 percent of the public vote for the bill; those representing 37 percent vote against it. The bill fails.

Makes me quite nostalgic for the three-line whip. And reinforces my long-held belief that the USA is simply too big to govern as a single country.

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James Fallows has written a fascinating piece on How America Can Rise Again which turns conventional wisdom on its head. Most people seem to worry about economic competitiveness, global conflict, and social degeneration, and all cling to the unifying principles of the US Constitution (albeit with differing emphases).

Fallows argues that this is a-historical and unnecessarily pessimistic: Americans have always worried about falling short, and have always muddled through. The biggest threat is not that the American people will fail to adapt and innovate, but that the increasingly inflexible and undemocratic nature of their political institutions will make it more difficult to implement the necessary changes:

The Senate’s then-famous “Gang of Six,” which controlled crucial aspects of last year’s proposed health-care legislation, came from states that together held about 3 percent of the total U.S. population; 97 percent of the public lives in states not included in that group. Just to round this out, more than half of all Americans live in the 10 most populous states—which together account for 20 of the Senate’s 100 votes. “The Senate is full of ‘rotten boroughs,’” said James Galbraith, of the University of Texas, referring to the underpopulated constituencies in Parliament before the British reforms of 1832. “We’d be better off with a House of Lords.”

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I just sent the following email to the White House via their contact page.

Last year I flew nearly 100,000 miles on business: business that generated much needed US economic activity. And I flew almost all of those miles on US airlines, which desperately need the business. Travel is stressful enough these days, without the US government indulging in “security theater” to mollify people who bleat that Something Must Be Done.

The latest TSA regulations will do nothing to make us more secure, but will be extremely burdensome to many passengers and airline staff. They will drive away passengers, especially the elderly and parents with children, at a time when airlines are struggling to avoid layoffs and bankruptcy.

The last Republican administration used fear as a way of manipulating public opinion and pandering to the neo-cons. I had thought that the Obama administration was above such cynical tricks.

Get rid of these stupid knee-jerk regulations, please. Instead of increasing security, they simply punish law-abinding travelers.

I have no idea if this will do any good, but maybe if enough people make their voices heard…..

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The protestors keep saying that they want their country back. Sorry, my fellow small-governmenters, but this country is a democracy, and you didn’t lose your country, you just lost an election. You had your chance for eight years. You blew it, and you lost. What Obama is doing is what he was elected to do. The principled response is not a massive, extremist-riddled hissy fit a few months in, but a constructive set of proposals to build on universal care for a more market-friendly and cost-conscious system in the future. You have to win some political credibility for that; and then you have to beat the man you lost so badly to last year. That’s the civil and civilized way forward for the right. It also seems, alas, to be the one they are currently refusing to take.

Andrew Sullivan.

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