Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Happy May Day!

Freedom is merely privilege extended, unless enjoyed by one and all.

Here's the best video I could find for Billy Bragg's version of the Internationale, a stirring tune. Pete Seeger pressed Bragg to write new lyrics to it because he felt there wasn't a good version in English. (In case you were wondering, this is offered in the spirit of democracy and human rights; I'm not an anarchist nor a commie, although I sometimes joke about being a commie with my conservative friends and family to make them laugh. Come to think of it, at least one conservative family member likes Seeger, too.)

I'm not going to get into an extended economic discussion here, but despite what the Wall Street Journal editorial board, National Review and Weekly Standard crowd insist, unions are largely a good thing. Regulations can in some instances be silly and excessive, but they're often wise, necessary, and even crucial (think especially of the FDA, EPA, USDA, meat and toy inspections). Fighting wealth inequity isn't just a moral imperative, it helps the country as a whole, as the growth of an American middle class in the 40s, 50s, and 60s shows us. Sure, there's a national security benefit to a stronger middle class and stronger economy, but it also speaks to quality of life — and it simply makes sense to work to benefit the majority more than a very small minority who really don't need any more help anyway. The rich can certainly remain rich yet without our most impoverished citizens living in such horrendous conditions (and that's not to mention the rest of the world). Contrary to what the right-wingers, country club Republicans and conservative think tank shills contend, all positions to the left of the New Republic — or their own — are not socialist. We currently have the worst wealth inequity in America since the robber baron days. It's funny how rich talking heads paid lavishly by even richer folks and companies always offer arguments insisting that giving even more money to the most privileged and powerful will somehow benefit both average citizens and the country as a whole. It's also funny how that never turns out to be the case.

I had a good high school history teacher who was hardly a Marxist, but knew Marx's work quite well. He bemoaned that it was hard even to mention Marx in a class because many students had a knee-jerk reaction — they had heard Marx and Communism constantly demonized (this was the Reagan-Bush-Rambo era and the last few years of the Cold War, after all). Bullying and fear-mongering are defining characteristics of movement conservatism, and authoritarianism in general, of course. A discussion of any policy on its merits, or any event on its facts, tends not to favor them. But while Marx's proposed solutions to the problems of capitalism as practiced under various Communist regimes in the 20th Century certainly didn't work out that well — and governments everywhere have often adopted populist, workers' rights rhetoric while practicing something far different — Marx's basic analysis of the flaws of capitalism remain pretty incisive. Basically, it benefits a capitalist's profit margin to screw over his workers. That's why, in our economy/marketplace, as in our Constitution, there's a need for some checks, balances, rules and oversight. Sadly, we've been lacking those checks in both areas during this past decade — and in some areas, far longer, going back to Reagan or even Nixon. The government's been on the wrong side of wealth distribution, transferring it from the poor and middle class to the already wealthy. Call it an oligarchy, a plutocracy, perhaps even a feudal or Mafioso system, whatever, but it's quite the scam, and extremely harmful to the country as a whole. There's room for honest disagreement on economic measures, social programs and the like, of course, but let's not pretend that the National Review crew are arguing in good faith or that they give a damn about anyone other than themselves. Let's remember how these people talk when they think no one else is around, as on the National Review cruise:

There is something strange about this discussion, and it takes me a few moments to realize exactly what it is. All the tropes conservatives usually deny in public--that Iraq is another Vietnam, that Bush is fighting a class war on behalf of the rich--are embraced on this shining ship in the middle of the ocean. Yes, they concede, we are fighting another Vietnam; and this time we won't let the weak-kneed liberals lose it. "It's customary to say we lost the Vietnam war, but who's 'we'?" Dinesh D'Souza asks angrily. "The left won by demanding America's humiliation." On this ship, there are no Viet Cong, no three million dead. There is only liberal treachery. Yes, D'Souza says, in a swift shift to domestic politics, "of course" Republican politics is "about class. Republicans are the party of winners, Democrats are the party of losers."

There's the conservative credo: Screw you, I got mine — and everything wrong is your fault. Hmm, with a bunch of people with contempt for their fellow human beings like this, ignorant, unreflective, mean-spirited, dishonest, bullying, scapegoating — I gotta say, I'm really looking forward to seeing their taxes raised next year.

I'll close by recommending once again the work of David Cay Johnston, and Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal. Finally, there's the great paradigm contrast offered by economist Jared Bernstein: YOYO, or You're On Your Own, versus WITT, for We're In This Together. As Krugman and others have shown, many of the economic policies that help the country as a whole the most also happen to help individuals and families the most when it comes to the whole life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness thing.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

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