Tag Archives: republican party

Scary lessons for America from pre-revolutionary France.

Summary: Today we look at 18thC France, and speculate about our future. They too had their 1%, hungry for wealth and power. In a time of troubles, they refused to compromise and so plunged France into a long bloody transition to a new regime. Our situation is very different, but there are a few ominous similarities.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“It’s all about power and the unassailable might of money.”
— E. P. Arnold Royalton, the great 21st century industrialist in “Speed Racer” (2008).

"Liberty Leading the People", Eugène Delacroix (1830).

“Liberty Leading the People”, Eugène Delacroix (1830).

Contents

  1. Pre-revolutionary France
  2. America today
  3. Differences and similarities
  4. Books by GOP candidates
  5. For More Information

(1)  Pre-revolutionary France

There was desperate need for financial reform of the French government in the late 18thC, but deep institutional failure prevented reform. King Louis XVI wanted reform, especially the nobility and clergy to pay taxes, but the nobility and clergy blocked change through the parlements (high courts) and Assembly of Notables (1787) — an opposite outcome to that of the previous great crisis in 1626.

Out of easy options, the King called the Estates General in 1789. The 3 Estates each had one vote: the nobility, the clergy, the commons. This might have been the last opportunity to save France from revolution. Each Estate prepared a list of grievances (Cahiers de doléances).

The nobility desired a weaker King: limitations on royal absolutism, guarantee of individual liberties, and taxes only with approval of the Esates General. For this they were prepared to give almost nothing, and had little interest in lightening the burden on the commons. They wanted compensation for abolishing the corvée (forced unpaid labor) and capitaineries (game preserves of the King and nobility). Their opening offer to the commons: nothing.

With no room for negotiation, the Estates General immediately deadlocked. On June 17 the Third Estate, plus defectors from the other two, declared themselves the National Assembly. On June 20 the King locked them from the Salle des États. They relocated to the Royal Tennis Courts, and swore the Tennis Court Oath. The revolution had begun.

Continue reading

Is America a Christian nation?

Summary: The dream of Western civilization is the ascent from the darkness into the light, of improvement by each generation. For two centuries America has overcome (slowly) the ugly parts of our inheritance from the Founders. Civil rights for Blacks, women, gays. Shifting from imperialism to building a new world order after WWII based on our ideals. Creating a large middle class and a society with high social mobility. The Boomers have reversed this process in America. The new Conservative coalition of evangelicals, libertarians, and the Tea Party promises to accelerate this change. Here we benchmark the New America with the values of the Christian part of its ruling coalition.

Looking at the news, perhaps the question should be “how many Christians live in America?” Perhaps not many.

American Flag and the Bible, together

.

Contents

  1. War
  2. Torture
  3. Boosting the fortunes of the 1%
  4. Making our prisons a Hell on Earth
  5. How the faithful voted
  6. For More Information

(1)  War

.
Our increasing military presence — now expanding into Africa — both results from and drives our involvement in local wars, usually insurgencies against governments of some combination of corrupt, brutal, and tyrannical (that doesn’t imply the insurgents are better, of course).  We justify these by pointing to 9-11, an attack by a transnational terrorist group (unlike the local insurgencies we fight), who staged the attack in order to involve us in these foreign wars.

So we have killed tens of thousands, and the resulting destruction (in which we played a part) has killed hundreds of thousands and plunged nations into ruin. We’ve brought down secular regimes with strong women’s rights in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya (Syria in progress), catapulting their women back centuries in time.

I doubt the Prince of Peace would approve.

(2)  Torture

.
It’s quite popular in America (so we’ll be doing more of it), making a mockery of our claim to be a “government of laws, not men“. It’s probably been of little use (no, we’ve not used it to defuse a “ticking time bomb”). Even if torture had “worked”, I doubt Jesus would approve.

Continue reading

Our leaders justify torture in ways that justify its future use on their foes (including Americans)

Summary:  On Friday I said that we would torture again., despite the evidence in the Senate’s report.  This weekend former and current high officials of the US government confirmed that guess. Defenders of torture dispute the evidence, deny that torture was torture, and offer bold affirmations that they would torture again.

For I doubt not but, if it had been a thing contrary to any man’s right of dominion, or to the interest of men that have dominion, ‘that the three angles of a triangle should be equal to two angles of a square,’ that doctrine should have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of geometry suppressed, as far as he whom it concerned was able.

— Thomas Hobbs in The Leviathan

Shining City Upon a Hill

By Hawk862

.

The Bush and Obama administrations have put torture into our national DNA.  In the past Americans supporting (or enjoying) torture spoke quietly, least they (rightly) get compared to torturers of the NAZI Gestapo, Soviet KGB, and the many lesser known secret police of 3rd world nations (many of whom learned their craft at the US Special Forces’ School of the Americas).

Now come the propos to convince the American people that this is business as usual, that we’re still an exceptional City on a Hill (Matthew 5:14).

So closes the next chapter in America’s fall. We’ll use torture again. Read Republican’s justification of torture. Hear the echos from the past. As so many have said before, Hitler was just early (hence Godwin’s Law). Listen closely — their words justify torture of Americans (when designated as bad guys by the government). That shouldn’t surprise us after so many tools of the war on terror appear on America’s streets. (plus, of course, Obama’s assassination of American citizens).

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

His word salad clearly communicates that our rights mean nothing to him. CNN about Scalia’s interview on December 12 on Swiss National Radio:

The justice who’s been a mainstay of the high court’s conservative wing for 28 years condemned the “self-righteousness of European liberals” who oppose torture “so easily” Friday in an interview with Swiss National Radio.  “I don’t think it’s so clear at all,” Scalia said. “I think it is very facile for people to say ‘Oh, torture is terrible,'” he said. “You posit the situation where a person that you know for sure knows the location of a nuclear bomb that has been planted in Los Angeles and will kill millions of people. “You think it’s an easy question? You think it’s clear that you cannot use extreme measures to get that information out of that person?”

… “What are human rights is not written up in the sky, and if it were written up in the sky, it would not be up to judges, lawyers, just because they’ve gone to law school, to know what human rights ought to be and therefore are,” Scalia said.

“And therefore each society’s perception of what it believes human rights should be ought to be up to that society, and I think it’s very foolish to yield that determinations not only to a foreign body but to a foreign body of judges,” he said. “I don’t know why anyone would want to do that.”

Continue reading

What does the health care debate reveal about us, and our future?

Summary:  Today we have a glance at the debate about one of the most important domestic public policy debates of our time, repeated in every generation since 1945, that illuminates the moral and intellectual nature of America at this point in time. The photo below captures it perfectly, the aggressive ignorance resulting from generations of skillful propaganda on a weak people. Renewal is an inherent capacity of individuals and societies; we desperately need it (more on how to do this in another post).  This is the second of two posts today.

“Of course we want to have universal health care! We aren’t barbarians!”

— attributed to Margaret Thatcher, said in 1993 at Washington, DC (hat tip to Delong)

Keep govt out of my Medicare

This is America today

.

I am applying for health insurance as a self-employed consultant, a painful experience which reminds me of three important facts about America today. Facts which reveal the basic outlines of our situation.

First, our health care system is a disgrace, a failure to adequately handle a public policy issue solved years (or generations) ago by other developed nations. It’s massive cost and low effectiveness (leaving so many poorly covered, or uncovered) reveals the degeneracy of our ethics and folly of our governance. Decent medical insurance (with caps that don’t cause bankruptcy) can easily cost 1/4 to 1/3 of a blue collar family’s after tax income (without Obamacare’s tax credits).

Also, it shows how large vital sectors (finance, defense, health care) have become parasites, consuming resources disproportionate to their role and size. It’s the grifter economy, however well-intentioned the people involved (i.e., in health care and military).

Second, Republicans are the political group most responsible for this, since 1945 having fiercely fought every step to provide health care to America’s poor and working poor from Medicare and Medicaid (1965) to Obamacare. Even today they fight to deprive Americans of affordable health care, with a policy of Repeal and Promise to do something someday.  Rand Paul’s budget proposals call for a slow strangulation of Medicare, while today some GOP governors reject expansion of Medicaid even at no cost to their State (as of September, only 27 States have expanded coverage) — and some fight even the basic terms (e.g., Kansas).  It’s difficult to imagine such callousness, especially as their arguments are largely bogus.

Third, it shows our weakness as citizens that alone among the developed nations Americans have not exerted ourselves to provide adequate health care to all — despite the obvious self-interest in doing so — or run this sector in a rational manner.

Here are links to the latest rounds in the “debate”. Like most public policy debates in America, they’re polarized between facts and delusions. With each groups taking different sides in different debates; sometimes we have bipartisan delusions (e.g, the WOT).

(a) The Anti-Obamacare FAQ“, Reihan Salam, Slate, 14 November 2014 — A fact-free “Everything you need to know about why conservatives want to repeal the president’s health care law.”

(b)  A gentle but thorough rebuttal: “Here’s Why Conservatives Will Never Give Up Their War on Obamacare“, Brian Beutler, The new Republic, 18 November 2014 — Excerpt:

But in any case, none of these basic differences between liberals and conservatives explain, as Salam puts it, why conservatives are “so pissed off about Obamacare.” He attributes their indignation to the belief “that Obamacare only became the law of the land because President Obama misled the public,” then goes on to explain that conservatives aren’t hypocrites for wanting to turn Medicare into an Obamacare-like program for seniors, or for having once supported the individual mandate; then acknowledges that conservatives are miles from consensus on how best to replace Obamacare; and finally concludes that the law should be repealed anyhow.

None of this makes the Obamacare opposition seem even a tiny bit reasonable, but it does present a few good opportunities to explain why liberals think most of this is all window-dressing for a simpler explanation: Conservatives don’t just oppose distributive programs that help the poor and working class — these programs drive them batty in and of themselves. That Obamacare patched up the single biggest hole in the federal safety net, and in so doing extended government-sponsored health benefits to people through every stage of life, intensifies this reaction.

(c)  A detailed and typically brilliant rebuttal by Brad DeLong (Prof Economics, Berkeley): “Continuing on the ‘What Are Conservative Policy Ideas for Replacing ObamaCare?’ Beat”, Washington Center for Equitable Growth, 18 November 2014 — Excerpt:

Continue reading

Krugman shows us why the Left loses, despite its advantages

Summary: This is the fourth in a series about why the Left loses. America’s drift to the Right since 1980 has not only become impossible to ignore, but has accelerated despite the many fundamentals favoring the Left. Such as demographics and the increasing acceptance of behaviors an anathema on the Right (e.g., gay marriage, abortion). Increased concentration of wealth and income by the 1% explains much of the Right’s success. As this series will show, weakness of the Left explains much of the rest.

Closed Mind

Contents

  1. A symptom of the problem
  2. Diagnosis
  3. Significance
  4. Other posts in this series
  5. More evidence

(1)  A symptom of the problem

Triumph of the Wrong“, Paul Krugman, op-ed in the New York Times, 6 November 2014 — Excerpt:

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet midterms to men of understanding. Or as I put it on the eve of another Republican Party sweep, politics determines who has the power, not who has the truth. Still, it’s not often that a party that is so wrong about so much does as well as Republicans did on Tuesday. … So now is a good time to remember just how wrong the new rulers of Congress have been about, well, everything.

First, there’s economic policy. … In short, the story of conservative economics these past six years and more has been one of intellectual debacle — made worse by the striking inability of many on the right to admit error under any circumstances.

Then there’s health reform, where Republicans were very clear about what was supposed to happen: minimal enrollments, more people losing insurance than gaining it, soaring costs. Reality, so far, has begged to differ, delivering above-predicted sign-ups, a sharp drop in the number of Americans without health insurance, premiums well below expectations, and a sharp slowdown in overall health spending.

And we shouldn’t forget the most important wrongness of all, on climate change. As late as 2008, some Republicans were willing to admit that the problem is real, and even advocate serious policies to limit emissions — Senator John McCain proposed a cap-and-trade system similar to Democratic proposals. But these days the party is dominated by climate denialists, and to some extent by conspiracy theorists who insist that the whole issue is a hoax concocted by a cabal of left-wing scientists. Now these people will be in a position to block action for years to come, quite possibly pushing us past the point of no return.

One of these three things is not like the others. For the first two Krugman clearly identifies the GOP view and provides rebuttals, all supported by links (I agree 100%). The third asserts that the GOP is dominated by climate extremists — and implies that the Democrats represent the consensus of climate scientists. He provides no evidence for either claim; there are reasons to doubt both. Certainly the public does, with climate change near the bottom of major threats (See Gallup polls, other polls, other evidence).

Is the Republican Party “dominated by denialists?” In Leftist usage, “denialist” has no fixed meaning beyond “people who disagree with me about climate change”. Much like “terrorist” to the Right, it’s a political tool rather than a category. It includes prominent climate scientists skeptical of some aspects of the IPCC’s views (e.g., Judith Curry and Roger Pielke Sr) — or critical of the Left’s exaggerations of the IPCC’s views, and have supported their view with studies in the peer-reviewed literature (e.g., Roger Pielke Jr).

Continue reading

Congress did a great thing 50 years ago, but rot from that day has spread and taken root

Summary: 19 June 1964. I believe on this day America took a wrong turn. It was the day we took a large step to closure on the wound opened by the Civil War, another step to atoning for and overcoming the legacy of slavery. The Senate voted to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. But one of the opponents saw this as an opportunity, and we live with the dark results today

Barry Goldwater button

.

Reflecting the parties geographical, not ideological, foundations, the vote passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act was mixed.

  • Democratic Party: 46–21   (69–31%)
  • Republican Party: 27–06   (82–18%)

But one of those “no” votes was by the GOP candidate for the Presidency, who saw an opportunity to redraw America’s political map and end the  dominant position the Democratic Party had held since the Great Depression. The price was betrayal of the Republican Party’s legacy.

Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) lost the 1964 presidential election, but his campaign reforged a Republican Party with racism as a core element — burned into an alliance with the right-wing social and economic ideologies. The poison took time to spread through the GOP, but by 1980 — amplified by Nixon and Reagan — it helped make conservatism become the dominant political force in America (affecting both parties).

That day 50 years ago could have begun a break with our past. Instead we’re still grappling with our racist legacy from slavery.

Here’s the speech Goldwater gave justifying his betrayal. Brad DeLong (Prof Economics, Berkeley) decodes the key phrases he uses to disguise his political logic.

  • “Demagogue” = “Martin Luther King, Jr., and the March on Washington”
  • “Calm environment” = “an end to sit-ins and Freedom Rides”
  • “Special appeals for special welfare” = “desire by African-Americans to eat at lunch counters and stay at hotels open to others”

The text, from DeLong’s post:

There have been few, if any, occasions when the searching of my conscience and the re-examination of my views of our constitutional system have played a greater part in the determination of my vote than they have on this occasion.

I am unalterably opposed to discrimination or segregation on the basis of race, color, or creed, or on any other basis; not only my words, but more importantly my actions through the years have repeatedly demonstrated the sincerity of my feeling in this regard.

This is fundamentally a matter of the heart. The problems of discrimination can never by cured by laws alone; but I would be the first to agree that laws can help — laws carefully considered and weighed in an atmosphere of dispassion, in the absence of political demagoguery, and in the light of fundamental constitutional principles.

For example, throughout my 12 years as a member of the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee, I have repeatedly offered amendments to bills pertaining to labor that would end discrimination in unions, and repeatedly those amendments have been turned down by the very members of both parties who now so vociferously support the present approach to the solution of our problem. Talk is one thing, action is another, and until the members of this body and the people of this country realize this, there will be no real solution to the problem we fact.

Continue reading

America swings to the Right. The Left loses. How has the Left dug itself into this hole?

Summary: Today we look at one of the defining political trends of our time — America’s movement to the Right. Like most political evolutions in our history, it’s bipartisan. Previous posts have examined how the Right has won. Today and tomorrow we look at how the Left has accomplished this (it didn’t just happen), and how they have responded to this long series of defeats. These are just sketches about vast and complex trends. At the end see links to other posts in this series.

.

America has been moving to the Right since roughly 1980. Not in all things. The 1% cares about power and money; as a class it does not care who marries who. The US health care system’s decay, and the Right’s indifference to reform, allowed the Left to pass ObamaCare.

But the overall trend has been to the Right. A few examples…

  1. Defunding public colleges.
  2. Cutting taxes on the rich and businesses, shifting the tax burden down (as the GOP is doing in the States today).
  3. Reducing the safety net (e.g., . Reducing the minimum wage (in real terms), Clinton “ending welfare as we know it” in 1996).
  4. Crushing private sector unions.
  5. Deregulation of corporations, especially banks.
  6. Eroding away the 1970s reforms on the military and intelligence agencies.

We can debate the wisdom of these changes (I’m mostly against them all), but let’s leave that debate for another day. How has the Left responded? Today we’ll see how the Left has worked to gain public support — and failed. Tomorrow we’ll examine how they addressed the equally important (in an operational sense) task of maintaining internal cohesion during their long defeat.

The Left fights back

The Left responded its efforts on use of two tactics.

(a)  Legal leverage

The Left used its strength in the Courts to effect public policy measures they could not do through democratic means. Most notably, expansion of environmental protections, plus expanded rights to abortion and same-sex marriage. Although this produced some wins, the long-term effect has been catastrophic for the Left.

The focus on legalistic tactics led to an atrophy of grass-roots organizing, and a loss of legitimacy for the agenda. Legitimacy in the political sense, people’s acceptance of governmental authority. From bussing to abortion to closing logging in the NW to save the spotted owl, court-driven policy measures produce powerful backlashes unless supported with deep measures to gain public support — which step the Left has often skipped. An increasing fraction of the public believes the Left uses anti-democratic (even authoritarian) means to change public policy.

Now the real weakness of this strategy appears, as the increased strength of the Right results in more conservative judges at all levels. Judicial activism works just as well for the Right as the Left. Indeed for most of American history the Courts have been a conservative, even reactionary force. We might return to this old normal.

(b)  Gaining strength by sounding alarms

 

Continue reading