Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Political Ideology Research

I recently finished reading an intriguing article summing up social science research on political ideology. The direct link is here, but you can also access it by going to NYU Professor John Jost's webpage here and scrolling down until you find this item:

Jost, J.T., Federico, C.M. & Napier, J.L. (2009). Political ideology: Its structure, functions, and elective affinities. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 307-333.

The benefit of going to his page is that you can see the many other papers he's authored or co-authored on this and related subjects, including a number of more recent efforts. While this article was from 2009, I found it extremely useful as a recap and evaluation of the major research on political ideology. I had read news articles about some of these studies, but certainly not most of them. (It does cite Bob Altremeyer's useful book, The Authoritarians.) The bibliography is extensive if you're looking for further reading. The article is written for a professional journal versus for a lay person, so the authors take it for granted that certain terms are well understood, but I thought it was pretty readable for all that. While some of the findings are intuitive, it's always good to have actual research to confirm and quantify those notions, and challenging false conceptions is even more valuable.

Hat tip to bradjshannon for passing it on.

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Serious" Culpability on the Debt Ceiling Hostage Situation

The American national media's main failing during the recent debt ceiling hostage situation was its frequent refusal to describe it accurately, instead insisting that 'both sides are equally to blame.' However, some supposedly sober, responsible "serious" journalists and political players not only failed to halt the madness – they joined the far-right and urged it on.

Jonathan Chait identifies some of the culprits in "The Debt Ceiling Crisis And The Failure Of The Establishment" (7/29/11). The "pro-hostage-taking" crowd included the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the Concord Coalition, and The Washington Post editorial board. Head over to Chait's post for the evidence and links. As he observes (my emphasis):

The basic problem [with Megan McArdle's analysis] is that Wall Street has massively underestimated the loony determination of the Republican right. McArdle's description reminded me of Ellis, the financial hot shot in "Die Hard" who thinks he can deal with the terrorists the way he deals with corporate takeovers in his regular work…

The failure to understand the crisis we were entering was widely shared among centrist types. When Republicans first proposed tying a debt ceiling hike to a measure to reduce the deficit, President Obama instead proposed a traditional, clean debt ceiling hike. He found this position politically untenable for many reasons, one of them being that deficit scolds insisted that using the debt ceiling to force a fiscal adjustment was a terrific idea, and that connecting the deficit debate to a potentially cataclysmic financial event was the mark of seriousness.

The political assumptions here turned out to be badly wrong. The main problem is that the Republican Party does not actually care very much about the deficit. It cares about, in order: Low taxes for high-income earners; reducing social spending, especially for the poor; protecting the defense budget; and low deficits. The Obama administration and many Democrats actually do care about the deficit and are willing to sacrifice their priorities in order to achieve it, a desire that was on full display during the health care reform debate. Republicans care about deficit reduction only to the extent that it can be undertaken without impeding upon other, higher priorities. Primarily "deficit reduction" is a framing device for their opposition to social spending, as opposed to a genuine belief that revenue and outlays ought to bear some relationship to each other.

The Post has since published a series of increasingly terrified-sounding editorials pleading for a debt ceiling hike backing away from its bold hopes that the debt ceiling would produce a bipartisan compromise. In retrospect, they now see what should have been obvious: Increasing the political leverage of the Republican Party made a Grand Bargain less, not more, likely. Moreover, the deficit hawks who represent the center of Washington establishment thought badly underestimated the danger entailed by tying high stakes negotiations involving the Republican Party to a cataclysmic event. Happy visions of Bob Dole and Tip O'Neill danced in their heads, oblivious to the reality of what they were facing.

Paul Krugman comments on the piece and the mindset of the Very Serious People (VSPs):

This was terrible policy, even if it had worked: now is not the time for fiscal austerity, and the way the VSPs have shifted the whole conversation away from jobs and toward deficits is a major reason we’re stuck in the Lesser Depression.

But it also showed awesome political naivete. As Chait says, the first thing you need to understand is that modern Republicans don’t care about deficits. They only pretend to care when they believe that deficit hawkery can be used to dismantle social programs; as soon as the conversation turns to taxes, or anything else that would require them and their friends to make even the smallest sacrifice, deficits don’t matter at all.

I can’t help but notice that Chait’s list of chumps is basically the same as the list of people who puffed up Paul Ryan and gave him an award for fiscal responsibility. Enough said.

What’s really awesome here is the blindness. Anyone reading the newspapers with an open mind had a pretty good idea of what would happen in the debt fight; only Washington insiders managed to fool themselves.

But they’re Very Serious.

Let's recap. These Very Serious People somehow completely ignored the lessons of the Great Depression, one of the seminal events of the 20th Century, and they don't understand the Keynesian economic principles that drove America's recovery. They're hardly alone in that, with austerity being all the rage these days (for the lower classes only, of course). However, it's further proof that the Beltway Conventional Wisdom is often pretty dumb, and the chattering class just does not know or care much about policy – even if that policy is absolutely crucial. They actually thought (and still think) that cutting government spending in a recession is a great idea.

These Very Serious People also thought that taking a routine but vital action, raising the debt ceiling, and holding it hostage, was a good idea. Seriously. They thought threatening the very functioning of the government and the American economy was a good idea.

The Very Serious People also thought, somehow, against a mountain of evidence, that the Republican Party was at its heart reasonable, and would never actually go all the way through with their threat – a threat the VSPs were cheering on. Even though many of these people are paid to cover politics, they completely misread GOP inflexibility and insanity, which is nothing but, oh, the major political development of the past 10-30 years.

Lastly, the Very Serious People refused to report the debt ceiling situation accurately, continually insisting that "both sides are equally to blame." This made the situation even worse. Needless to say, they also ignored their own culpability in egging it on.

In rough stupid-evil-crazy terms, that would be a whole mess of stupidity, followed by astounding recklessness and irresponsibility, followed by are-you-fucking-kidding-me stupidity, followed by gutlessness and dishonesty.

Unfortunately, this is a recurring pattern, in general terms, at least. Most glaringly, consider media conduct leading up to the Iraq War and afterward. The chattering class does not value policy. That would take time. Plus, as a privileged class, most policies that hurt the middle class will not after the political class much. This means they've both unable and unwilling to make fact-based, qualitative judgments about most political issues. Others will suffer, not them.

Meanwhile, even if they're not right-wing, or don't identify themselves as such, they are often simpatico with the right-wing's goals. At the very least, they are strangely indulgent of, oh, threatening the government's basic ability to function, cutting tax cuts further for the rich and calling war skeptics traitors.

Finally, they whitewash their own role in creating these messes. How many Iraq War cheerleaders have truly repented, and detailed how they were wrong? I can think of a handful, but not many. Many reporters offered unduly rosy accounts of Iraq years after the invasion, I suspect because they thought it would somehow vindicate their colossally poor judgment. They were likewise subservient in the coverage of the Bush administration's torture regime. Similarly, even now, many reporters are reluctant to point out exactly how disastrous the Bush administration was economically.

So, how many supposedly "serious" and "objective" cheerleaders for the debt ceiling hostage situation – an inexcusably irresponsible move – have owned up to their role in manufacturing that crisis? I'm guessing that number is about nil.

It's a Herculean struggle to get accurate media coverage due to journalists' dishonest, shallow, continual insistence that "both sides are equally to blame." But what makes that struggle downright Sisyphean at times is that very often, the media is also to blame for creating the mess itself. If there's one thing harder to say for a pundit to say than "conservatives deserve the overwhelming share of the blame on this," it's "I was completely, utterly wrong." The conservative base is mean, crazy and dumb, while the chattering class is mostly dumb, decadent, craven and vain. They view themselves as savvy, worldly and smart, of course. Upton Sinclair said that "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it." That's true, and it's also true that it's hard to get someone to admit error, even (or especially) a glaring one, when that will shatter their entire self-image.

(Related posts: "Extremism in Defense of Nihilism is a Vice" and "Partisanship, Policy and Bullshit.")

Addendum: Chait's piece isn't the whole story. Digby points out that Obama wanted to make a "grand bargain" cutting programs to at least some degree, and wasn't forced as much as Chait portrays. David Dayen adds more to the picture, exploring how conservative "blue dog" Dems played a key role in introducing the horribly irresponsible notion of a debt ceiling standoff. Meanwhile, driftglass takes Chait to task for his "magical thinking" in a related post. I find Chait to be a mixed bag (and perhaps that's fodder for another post) but it's certainly possible for someone to write well on some subjects but not on others, or to make both good and poor points in the same piece. Hey, give credit where and when it's due, critique with what's sincerely offered but inaccurate, and challenge the outright bullshit.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bloom on Speaking Poetry Out Loud

Scott Horton recently interviewed Harold Bloom, who has a new book out. Last year, Horton posted a video of Bloom reading Wallace Stevens' poem "Tea at the Palaz of Hoon." Apparently, Bloom feels understanding this poem is essential for understanding Stevens and his evolution as a poet. Here's the poem itself:

Tea at the Palaz of Hoon

Not less because in purple I descended
The western day through what you called
The loneliest air, not less was I myself.

What was the ointment sprinkled on my beard?
What were the hymns that buzzed beside my ears?
What was the sea whose tide swept through me there?

Out of my mind the golden ointment rained,
And my ears made the blowing hymns they heard.
I was myself the compass of that sea:

I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.

–Wallace Stevens

Here's Bloom reciting it:

Bloom's style is halting and slightly declamatory, but he has excellent diction, and it's clear the poem holds great weight for him. He delivers it almost as an incantation, or scripture. At the end, he quotes part of another poem (with an unfortunate title).

In any case, I found the interview interesting, particularly this exchange:

6. We recently posted footage of your marvelous reading of Wallace Stevens’s “Tea at the Palaz of Hoon.” When you begin to work your way into a poem, do you find that intoning, or reading the poem aloud, is essential to its appreciation?

We start the academic year early here at Yale, and by the end of this month I’ll have two classes — one of them devoted to Shakespeare, the other to poetry. For my poetry students, there is a process I commend — take a poem that finds you, I will tell them, read it to yourself, then go to a quiet place, to your own space, and chant that poem, come to possess it. Find the space that the daimon of that poem inhabits and occupy it yourself. Then I ask my students to read the poem aloud in class. At this point in my life I find I’ve spent far too much time talking in class myself, and it is a pleasure for me now to listen to them. They are very bright, maybe brighter than students from decades ago, though also perhaps less well read. But I’ll ask my students also to begin a process of exegesis, to pull apart the thoughts of the poem, to delve into the words used, and that also is a process of appropriating, of coming to possess the poem, making it your own. But back to your point: poetry is an art of sound as much as an art of the printed word. The great work of poetry is to help us become free artists of ourselves. That work requires us to hear, and not merely to read, the poetry.

This process is also immensely important to the training and preparation of the mind. It was essential to the old tradition in education, a tradition to which we bid farewell in our graduate schools in the sixties. Now we live in an age of distraction, an age dominated by bombardment coming from the screen. Poetry, the process of making poetry your own, can be a refuge from that bombardment. But it’s also an essential disciplining of the mind, preparing one to think and speak critically and well. We live, too, in the age of the Tea Party, a movement that cherishes stupidity and zealotry and hates thinking, reading, and teaching. If these people had their way, we’d be done with teaching. It shows the weak-mindedness that has descended upon America, the proclivity for nonsense and political hatred, the disrespect for literature, history, and serious thinking. There is only one remedy to the current predicament, and that is to encourage people to think independently. And that, in turn, begins with reading. People need to remember the best that has been said and thought in the past. That is the starting point, and that is the path, out of our current appalling situation.

Ignoring the political angle for a moment, former National Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky is a very strong proponent of reading poetry aloud as well. It leads to a deeper, more personal understanding. Pinsky calls poetry the most "bodily" of the arts. Pinsky, who plays jazz sax as well, explains what he means in this interview:

PINSKY: There’s a lot of cant about poetry and jazz. And yet there is something there in the idea of surprise and variation, a fairly regular structure of harmony or rhythm—the left margin, say—and all the things you can do inside it or against it. There are passages, like the last two stanzas of “Ginza Samba,” where I try to make the consonants and vowels approach a bebop sort of rhythm.

In Poetry and the World, I wrote: “Poetry is the most bodily of the arts.” A couple of friends who read it in draft said, Well, Robert, you know . . . dancing is probably more bodily than poetry. But I stubbornly left the passage that way without quite having worked out why I wanted to say it like that. Sometimes the ideas that mean the most to you will feel true long before you can quite formulate them or justify them. After a while, I realized that for me the medium of poetry is the column of breath rising from the diaphragm to be shaped into meaning sounds inside the mouth. That is, poetry’s medium is the individual chest and throat and mouth of whoever undertakes to say the poem—a body, and not necessarily the body of the artist or an expert as in dance.

In jazz, as in poetry, there is always that play between what’s regular and what’s wild. That has always appealed to me.

INTERVIEWER: In one of your essays, you quote Housman’s wonderful statement that he knows a line of poetry has popped into his head when his hair bristles and he cuts himself shaving. Is that the kind of thing you mean by the body of the audience?

PINSKY: Well, there is certainly a physical sensation that even subvocalized reading of some particular Yeats or Stevens or Dickinson poem can give me, just the imagination of the sounds. This sensation is as unmistakably physical as humming or imagining a tune.

What Pinsky's describing is probably familiar to poetry lovers who read out loud, as well as many an actor who's worked on a speech. The rehearsal process, or private recitation of a poem, is a time to become better acquainted with the text. There are several theater rehearsal techniques one can use to explore a text more fully, but the most important factor is simply spending time with it. Gradually, you make it your own, although this shouldn't be from projection onto it, but through a deeper, more intimate understanding of the text itself. Robert Pinksy's wonderful Favorite Poem Project encourages this approach.

As for Bloom's political observations, regrettably, he's absolutely correct. Movement conservatism, particularly the far right, authoritarian strain that dominates these days, is mean, reckless, ferociously anti-intellectual, and occasionally downright nihilistic. While I would prefer to keep the arts separate from politics, the unfortunate fact remains that the arts, education and at times empiricism itself are being assaulted by this breed of conservatives. As long as they keep doing so, it's not only fair to point it out – it's essential. We've examined their mentality before, and surely will again (Roy Edroso often does). Art is capable of saying more than one thing at a time, and deals with nuance and ambiguity. Good art often encourages self-reflection, thoughtfulness, attentiveness and empathy. It'll keep ya honest. For all these reasons, authoritarians hate it, and if they use art at all, they try to shackle it to narrow, propagandistic goals. In one sense, treating the arts this way is their loss, but the problem is their burning desire to inflict that loss on everybody else as well.

However, as Bloom says, poetry can be a 'refuge from the bombardment' of the current climate. George Orwell wrote that "A thing is funny when it upsets the established order. Every joke is a tiny revolution." The same is true of much art, and certainly many a good poem. The reason to Sing the Body Electric isn't to make a teabagger cry – but it is a nice bonus.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I'm Not Judging You, But You're Going to Burn in Hell

David Gregory is mostly awful, but he's correct here to press Michelle Bachmann on her anti-gay views:

Here's the transcript (you can also watch the full interview, if you like):

MR. GREGORY: OK. I want to also ask you about your interpretation of the Bible and your feelings about gays and lesbians. You have said in recent years that opposition to same sex marriage is defining a political debate in this country. You're opposed to it, you'd like to see a constitutional ban against it in this country. And during a speech that you gave in 2004 at an education conference, you spoke openly and in detail about gays and lesbians. And I want to play just a portion of that speech and have you react, react to it.

(Videotape, November 6, 2004)

REP. BACHMANN: It's a very sad life. It's part of Satan, I think, to say that this is gay. It's anything but gay. ... It leads to the personal enslavement of individuals. Because if you're involved in the gay and lesbian lifestyle, it's bondage. It is personal bondage, personal despair, and personal enslavement. And that's why this is so dangerous. ... We need to have profound compassion for people who are dealing with the very real issue of sexual dysfunction in their life and sexual identity disorders.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: That is the view President Bachmann would have of gay Americans?

REP. BACHMANN: Well, I am running for the presidency of the United States. I'm not running to be anyone's judge. I do stand very...

MR. GREGORY: But you have judged them.

REP. BACHMANN: I, I, I don't judge them. I don't judge them. I am running for presidency of the United States.

MR. GREGORY: Is that the view of gays--gay Americans that President Bachmann would have?

REP. BACHMANN: Well, my, my view on marriage is that I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. And that's what I stand for. But I ascribe honor and dignity to every person no matter what their background. They have honor and they have dignity.

MR. GREGORY: Do you think that gay Americans hearing quotes like that from you would think that that's, that's honor and dignity coming from you about their circumstance?

REP. BACHMANN: I am not anyone's judge...


REP. BACHMANN: ...and I'm not standing in as anyone's judge.

MR. GREGORY: Congresswoman, you have--I mean, do you think anyone hears that and thinks you haven't made a judgment about gays and lesbians?

REP. BACHMANN: That's all I can tell you is that I'm not judging.

MR. GREGORY: So your words should stand for themselves?

REP. BACHMANN: I'm running for the presidency of the United States. That's what's important.

MR. GREGORY: Would you appoint a gay, an openly gay person, to your administration, to your Cabinet, or name them as a judge?

REP. BACHMANN: My criteria would be the same for that--for, for--which would be, where do you stand on the Constitution, are you competent, and do you share my views. That's my criteria.

MR. GREGORY: But those views are, are, are pretty clear. So you would, you would--as far as judge, you talked about that, an openly gay person is acceptable as a matter of your administration, as a member of your administration?

REP. BACHMANN: I, I, I have, I have my criteria for what I--my appointments would be based on, and it's whether you uphold the Constitution, if you're competent, and if you share my views.

MR. GREGORY: So it would not be a factor?

REP. BACHMANN: I am not out asking any other questions.

MR. GREGORY: One last one on this. Can a gay couple with--who adopt children in your mind be considered a family?

REP. BACHMANN: When it comes to marriage and family, my opinion is that marriage is between a man and a woman. And I think that's, that's been my view, and I think that's important.

MR. GREGORY: So a gay couple with kids would not be considered a family to you?

REP. BACHMANN: You know, all of these kind of questions really aren't about what people are concerned about right now. This isn't what--this isn't...

MR. GREGORY: Congresswoman, you said it...

REP. BACHMANN: ...and I'm not judging them.

MR. GREGORY: You said that any, any candidate for president should be asked about his or her views and their record. This is a record of your statement. These were defining political issues for you as your political career advanced. You're the one who said that same-sex marriage was a defining political issue of our time. Those were your words back in 2004. So I'm just asking you about your views on something that has animated your political life.

REP. BACHMANN: Right. I think my views are clear.

The only clear thing is Bachmann's refusal to answer the question, and reluctance to reveal her anti-gay views on national television. Apparently, she thinks viewers are too dumb to suss out her views if she dodges the question. Sure, apart from connecting being gay to Satan and slavery, she's not being judgmental at all.

To my mind, bad "gotcha" journalism involves taking two statements (or positions) from a politician and juxtaposing them without context, presenting a complex issue in a simplistic, black-and-white way that might make for a good headline, but an awfully dumb, shallow discussion. However, often a politician's statement, or shift on a policy, is extremely important and revealing. The point is to get to the truth of the matter and a deeper understanding, whether that be about a politician's hypocrisy and opportunism, or why s/he changed a position for good reasons, or just to make clear what the candidate's true position actually is. Bachmann's been proud of these views in the past. Gregory's right to push her here. Bachmann holds very strong anti-gay views, extreme even in the Republican Party. She should own up to them. If she wants to court her fellow theocrats and bigots as she has in the past, fine, but it's gutless to deny her actual positions. (It reminds me of the cognitive dissonance or ludicrous dishonesty in some racist anti-Obama videos I've seen; fodder for a future post, perhaps.)

This video clip comes via mistermix at Balloon Juice, who was tipped off by Dan Savage, who writes:

Don't ask Michele Bachmann whether gay couples with kids are families. That's not a question Bachmann is willing to answer because she's running for president and that's not an important presidential-type issue question, David Gregory. But a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and deprive kids with gay parents of the benefits and protections of having married parents? That's a presidential issue right there! Ask away! Bachmann will also answer questions about whether gay people should serve in the military—guess what? She's going to singlehandedly reinstate DADT if she's elected president.

Bachmann doesn't want to irritate the conservative base, which is (with few exceptions) strongly anti-gay. But she's bright enough to realize that hating the gays doesn't play with a larger audience. It's not a coherent position, it's not a tolerant position, and it's not a principled position - so let her squirm. I hope more reporters press the candidates for honest, full answers on social issues such as gay rights, abortion and reproductive health. (While we're at it, throw in economics.) Candidates with nutty or dangerous ideas have every right to make their pitches, but they should be forced to own up to their actual positions, and fact-checked on them.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thou Shalt Not Question Supply-Side Jesus

Over at Hullabaloo, David Atkins (thereisnospoon) has an excellent short post:

Has anyone in the media considered asking the Republican presidential hopefuls a few simple questions:

• In real dollar terms, how much more money do the rich need before they can create jobs?

• What would happen to the economy if we returned to Clinton era tax rates on the rich?

• Do you know what the marginal tax rates were under Eisenhower? Under Nixon? Why do you think the American economy was booming under those tax rates?

• What did an average college education cost at a public university in the 1960s? Why do we force our kids into a lifetime of student loan debt today?

• If the entire economy is hurting and everyone needs to tighten their belts in shared sacrifice, why are corporations showing record profits?

• Do tax cuts increase or decrease revenue? What tax rate percentage would change that equation?

Any one of these questions would throw the entire conservative messaging agenda on its ear. They're really simple questions, and they're pretty much the core questions that need answering.

And yet no one in the media is asking these questions. Which tells you everything you need to know.

I would love to see this actually happen. By all means, political figures should be able to make whatever claims they want, but it's unconscionable that even when they make outrageously false statements, they've rarely fact-checked or challenged. Conservatives have been making ridiculousy false claims about economics and taxes for decades now, yet they're rarely contested.

It's also crucial to recognize how much of conservative economic dogma is spouted in bad faith. Here's a Jonathan Chait piece from October 2010 I've featured before:

In 1993, conservatives unanimously predicted that Bill Clinton's tax increase on incomes over $200,000 would slow growth, reduce tax revenues, and likely cause a recession. Instead, of course, the economy boomed and revenue skyrocketed. Then George W. Bush cut upper-bracket tax rates, and conservatives predicted that this would cause the economy to grow even faster. Instead, the economy experienced the first business cycle where income was lower at the peak of the business cycle than it had been at the peak of the previous business cycle. It is rare that events so utterly repudiate an economic theory.

None of this evidence has penetrated the conservative mind to the slightest degree. Reading the right-wing press, it is exactly as true today as it was 18 years ago that reducing Clinton-era upper-bracket tax rates holds the key to economic growth. (The latest Weekly Standard editorial: The best place to combine fiscal rectitude and pro-growth economics is the tax code. "After repealing Obama-care, the second agenda item for the new GOP Congress is extending current tax rates.")

Paul Krugman, Digby and others have made this same basic point as well. Stop to really consider what it is, because it can't be overemphasized. Let's be charitable, and posit that the conservatives of just a decade or two ago truly, sincerely believed that Reaganomics, supply-side economics and big tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans really would help the economy and that raising taxes even extremely slightly on the rich would hurt it. Okay. But they were given proof positive that they were completely, utterly wrong on both counts.

Despite this – despite this being basic, public knowledge – despite it being the job of politicos to follow politics and study at least some rudimentary policy and recent history – despite the health of the economy being a central concern of every politician – we hear conservatives spouting the same falsehoods today.

Hmm. How could this be?

In stupid-evil-crazy terms, some may be genuinely dumb. Some others may be such zealots they have no interest in objective reality. Still others, a larger group, are bullshitters, in the sense that they simply don't care whether what they're saying is true or not; shilling for the rich pays well. And some know damn well what they're pitching is completely false.

Regardless, they should know better, and most do. I get very tired of people insisting that obvious scoundrels are arguing in good faith. If Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Mitt Romney and the rest really cared about stimulating the economy rather than funneling even more money to the plutocrats, they wouldn't completely ignore recent history. If they were honorable people and sincerely wrong, when reality showed that they were wrong, they would have changed their approach.

This is, once again, why "common ground" is so elusive. Virtually no Republicans care about responsible governance, and for decades now (starting with Reagan) they have abandoned fiscal responsibility. They serve only 25% of the populace at best, and truly only serve the richest 2%. The Republican approach, a reckless, mean and plutocratic one, interferes with a healthy economy, a functioning government and a functioning democracy.

There's much more on all this in "Attack of the Plutocrats," "Tax Cuts to the Rich Don't Raise Revenues," "The Persistence of Ideology," and most recently, "Extremism in Defense of Nihilism Is a Vice." (I'm overdue on a few follow-up posts.)

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Hope and Change (August 2011)

The debt ceiling hostage situation was pretty depressing, and predictably, Republicans are crowing about taking hostages again in the future. I'll write more on all that in the future (not as if there's a shortage of good posts out there on the subject). In the meantime, I thought actual hope and change would be kinda welcome.

TomDispatch has an essay by Rebecca Solnit called "Hope: The Care and Feeding Of ":

Recently, Nelson Mandela turned 93, and his nation celebrated noisily, even attempting to break the world record for the most people simultaneously singing “Happy Birthday.” This was the man who, on trial by the South African government in 1964, stood a good chance of being sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead. Given life in prison instead, he was supposed to be silenced. Story over...

Everything changes. Sometimes you have to change it yourself.

Unpredictability is grounds for hope, though please don’t mistake hope for optimism. Optimism and pessimism are siblings in their certainty. They believe they know what will happen next, with one slight difference: optimists expect everything to turn out nicely without any effort being expended toward that goal. Pessimists assume that we’re doomed and there’s nothing to do about it except try to infect everyone else with despair while there’s still time.

Hope, on the other hand, is based on uncertainty, on the much more realistic premise that we don’t know what will happen next. The next thing up might be as terrible as a giant tsunami smashing 100 miles of coastal communities or as marvelous as a new species of butterfly being discovered (as happened recently in Northern Ireland). When it comes to the worst we face, nature itself has resilience, surprises, and unpredictabilities. But the real territory for hope isn’t nature; it’s the possibilities we possess for acting, changing, mattering -- including when it comes to nature.

There's far more at the link.

Meanwhile, Balloon Juice has been active raising money for the Wisconsin recall elections, which are occuring next Tuesday. Give credit to Wisconsin citizens; too many of them made some dumb votes last November, but a sizable portion realized they'd be lied to, and they've mobilized to try to throw out some of the Republican state politicians who engineered the current right-wing, Koch-funded agenda.

Progress generally isn't achieved solely from a top-down approach. Even when good leaders are in charge, they need conscientious activists to keep them honest. When the leaders are corrupt, or feckless, the need for a strong progressive movement is all the more crucial. This latest massive turd from the fools and scoundrels in Washington is not cause for optimism, but the inspiring grassroots efforts in Wisconsin and elsewhere are cause for hope.