If you want to see a rational critique of any Obama policy, you have to look to the left.

It definitely seems this way. Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic has a good take.

Can anyone deny that the most trenchant and effective criticism of President Obama today comes not from the right but from the left? Rachel Maddow’s grilling of administration economic officials. Keith Olbermann’s hectoring of Democratic leaders on the public option. Glenn Greenwald’s criticisms of Elena Kagan. Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn’s keepin’-them-honest perspectives on health care. The civil libertarian left on detainees and Gitmo. The Huffington Post on derivatives.

I want to find Republicans to take seriously, but it is hard. Not because they don’t exist — serious Republicans — but because, as Sanchez and others seem to recognize, they are marginalized, even self-marginalizing, and the base itself seems to have developed a notion that bromides are equivalent to policy-thinking, and that therapy is a substitute for thinking.

It is absolutely a condition of the age of the triumph of conservative personality politics, where entertainers shouting slogans are taken seriously as political actors, and where the incentive structures exist to stomp on dissent and nuance, causing experimental voices to retrench and allowing a lot of people to pretend that the world around them is not changing. The obsession with ACORN, Climategate, death panels, the militarization of rhetoric, Saul Alinsky, Chicago-style politics,   that TAXPAYERS will fund the bailout of banks — these aren’t meaningful or interesting or even relevant things to focus on. (The banks will fund their own bailouts.)

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Ah, that golden 1880’s before income taxes.

Many libertarians look with hope that we will return to those golden days of yesteryear when the government kept its filthy paw out of our lives; a time when real men could see their dreams come true unfettered by government regulation and constraint. Take it Jacob Hornberger of Reason.

Let’s consider, say, the year 1880. Here was a society in which people were free to keep everything they earned, because there was no income tax. They were also free to decide what to do with their own money—spend it, save it, invest it, donate it, or whatever. People were generally free to engage in occupations and professions without a license or permit. There were few federal economic regulations and regulatory agencies. No Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, bailouts, or so-called stimulus plans. No IRS. No Departments of Education, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor. No EPA and OSHA. No Federal Reserve. No drug laws. Few systems of public schooling. No immigration controls. No federal minimum-wage laws or price controls. A monetary system based on gold and silver coins rather than paper money. No slavery. No CIA. No FBI. No torture or cruel or unusual punishments. No renditions. No overseas military empire. No military-industrial complex.

As a libertarian, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a society that is pretty darned golden.

Sounds good, huh? It was great if you were not a factory worker, or black, or poor, or a share cropper, or if you wanted good health care, sanitation or safety. But Devilstower at the DailyKos has a good take.

I know some Libertarians and they want to go back to a time of unfettered freedom but, admittedly, minus all those pesky negatives. But it is unfettered freedom that leads to these kinds of problems in the first place.

I think people forget exactly how radical democracy really is.  Democracy is not a great system because it is free. A truly free society will ironically become less free as individuals, exercising their freedom, consolidate power and hence, begin to oppress those less powerful. Some consolidation of power is necessary (almost anything a society needs to do requires consolidated power), but we have the whole “absolute power corrupts absolutely” problem to deal with. The great innovation of democracy was to socialize political power, effectively removing, to a great extent, the possibility that any one person or group would become authoritarian.  In the United States, many of the actual freedoms we take for granted, including the Bill of Rights, the elimination of slavery and the expansion of the vote, came later, sometime decades later, after political power was socialized.

But political power is not all there is. Economic power plays a huge roll in society, in fact, most of our lives revolve around economics. Ironically, although political freedom was socialized (even while true civil liberties would take decades to achieve), our constitution effectively eliminated any serious attempt to socialize economic power. While we can take liberty or life from someone as long as we provide due process, we cannot take property without compensation. And yet, more people are economically oppressed every year than they are politically. Even if we had a true free-market (which we do not) we would eventually see the rise of the super corperations and the rampant oppression of workers. In fact this is what is happening now, although, we miss much of it because so much goes on overseas. We had a near depression because of lack of regulation in the capital markets (with both Democrats and Republicans sharing blame).

But regulation is just a bandaid. Without effective socialization of economic power (capital) we cannot ever achieve a true democratic society.

NPR is a powerhouse.

Interesting.

Yes, it’s true: In one of the great under-told media success stories of the past decade, NPR has emerged not as the bespectacled schoolmarm of our imagination but as a massive news machine poised for what Dick Meyer, editorial director for digital media, half-jokingly calls “world domination.” NPR’s listenership has nearly doubled since 1999, even as newspaper circulation dropped off a cliff. Its programming now reaches 26.4 million listeners weekly — far more than USA Today‘s 2.3 million daily circ or Fox News’ 2.8 million prime-time audience. When newspapers were closing bureaus, NPR was opening them, and now runs 38 around the world, better than CNN. It has 860 member stations — “boots on the ground in every town” that no newspaper or TV network can claim.

I am sure that conservatives, employing that peculiar brand of cultural relativism they love so much, will claim that since NPR is popular with liberals that it is morally and culturally equivalent to the popular conservative media, such as Glenn Beck, Rush, FOXNews, Hannity, and O’Reilly. What a joke.

Garrison Keillor gets this one right, at least.

I was always a fan of Garrison Keillor. Lately, though, he has staked out some anti-gay and anti-Semitic positions that I find troubling (it is possible that Keillor is joking in the second link–a piss poor job at joking). But at least in this critique of the republican strategy during the HCR debate he gets something right.

The Republicans fought long and hard for people’s right to wait three hours in an emergency room for someone to take their blood pressure, and they went down to defeat, and now they should stop and rethink their Waterloo strategy. The picture of the grinning GOP congressmen holding “Kill the Bill” posters was not an attractive one. Those guys all get excellent [healthcare] from the government, at bargain prices. If you choke on your shoe during a speech in the House of Representatives, you’ll be whisked away to Walter Reed, and specialists will extract your hoof from your mouth and your head from your colon and clean you up and all for a tiny annual premium. It does not behoove men who are enjoying a huge pork sandwich to deny a few pork rinds to others and to grin in the process…

Now Sen. McCain says there will be no further cooperation with the administration. OK then. Thanks for clearing that up. Now that bipartisanship has been buried for good, Democrats can get about the business of running the government, which is their duty as the majority party, and let the Republicans sulk in their rooms and work on their Facebook updates. They’ve made it clear that if Mr. Obama suddenly decided to come out in favor of Mother’s Day, they would fight against it as a ruthless exercise of federal power and a violation of due process. Fine. Talk to the hand.

Hey, Democracy at Work!

Gee, after all the hoopla over the supposed tyranny of the Democrats over HCR, it all came down to  simple votes. The senate passes a bill and the house votes and passes the same exact bill. The president signs the bill. The bill becomes law. Civics 101. Next the Democrats in the House passes a legislation (the amendments to HCR) and sends it to the Senate. If the Senate votes on this and the President signs it, then it too becomes law. No one deems anything, the world keeps spinning, and we begin on the road to becoming a good nation, not just a great nation (ht Balloonjuice).

Socializing Political Power and Socializing Capital

This is a summary of an interesting post by Larry Hamlin over at the Barefoot Bum.

I think many of us forget, or at least take for granted, the profoundly radical nature of democracy. We know we have freedom of speech, religion, association, etc and of course, we can vote. We cannot be deprived of our life or liberty without due process. In a fundamental sense, democracy is the socialization of political power.  Political power is simply the ability to use human and natural resources to some specific end. One aspect of political power is that societies have to concentrate that power to accomplish anything. Simply directing a group of people to dig a well is an example of the concentration of power. Traditionally, at least until the last several hundred years, individuals owned political power. Those who owned the greatest concentration were called warlords, emperors, kings, or priests. People took this for granted, since after all, who else should own the political power than the person who could directly use it and had “earned” it. One characteristic of privately owned political power was that the owner could employ it, in a sense, arbitrarily. A king could kill you, order someone else to kill you, place you in jail, take your land or wife, make you his slave. He might treat you nicely and fairly, but this would be his whim. It is not to say that every act a king might do was always wrong, per se. It might be to the benefit of the society if  the king ordered you dead or if he ordered you to jail. The king might have fantastic ideas about agriculture or science and might do much for the poor and desperate–all of these actions require the concentration of political power.  Because the king owned the political capital, he could exercise his power purely on his whim to his benefit. It was only through blind luck that any leader might happen to use this power to the collective benefit of society.

But with the development of democracy this picture changed. The radical aspect of democracy is that it socialized political capital. This means that we divide all political capital among all citizens. No one person or group arbitrarily controls what others can and cannot do. The state, through legal and constitutional frameworks, controls all acts of coercion–and we control the state.  Although we take this form of government for granted today, it was not obvious in the seventeenth and eighteenth century that democracy was either “good”, efficient, wise, or workable. We praise our founding revolution, but we had many privileges, not the least of which was our relative isolation and connection with the English enlightenment. The French Revolution, so easy to critique (much of it justified) faced serious problems, including a recalcitrant  nobility and continuing wars in Europe and an entrenched feudal culture. The French nobility was typical of much of Europe. These private owners of political power were not going to give up their privileges without a fight.

I think we face the same situation today in regards to economic capital. A society needs to concentrate economic capital in the same way and for the same reasons that it needs to concentrate political capital (in many cases, they both are equivalent). Economic capital tends to concentrate in private hands in the same way that political capital tends to concentrate in private hands. Our economy functions only to the extent that those who own the capital and means of production can make a profit (a promise of a greater concentration of capital.) In other words, much of our economy is tied to the arbitrary whims of the capitalists. There is no reason that we could not socialize capital in the same way we socialize political power. It might not happen this decade or even this century. I suppose it might never happen, but I believe it will and some day people will look upon the private ownership of capital as a quaint relic of the past in the same way we look upon the private ownership of political power today. The arguments against socializing capital are similar to the ones employed 300 years ago against socializing political power. The arguments in favor of socializing capital are similar to those for socializing political power.

What Americans think they know about government spendings

Tom Schaller over at fivethirtyeight.com looks at some polls that question what Americans believe about government spending.

He says:

I don’t know about randomly-selected Americans, but I do know that undergraduates in my POLI 100 classes tend to think the government spends more on defense than it does and less on Medicare and Social Security than it does. In surveys, the median American thinks that we spend about 20 percent of the federal budget on foreign aid, and would like that amount reduced to about 10 percent–when, in fact, actual spending amounts to less than one percent. This may explain why some Americans foolishly believe that tort reform will solve our health care cost problem or that eliminating earmarks will eliminate our deficit problem, even though they will not. I know I’m going to sound like an elitist, but the fact of the matter is that most Americans have a very weak grasp of how the government raises revenues and what it spends those monies on.

This has frustrated me for a long time. McCain built his campaign on the theme of significantly cutting the deficit by cutting earmarks which are nearly, proportionally speaking, non existent.  What we spend on the poor is significantly outweighed by what we spend on our two wars and the middle class or for that matter on maintaining huge banking establishments. We need to increase overall consumer demand which will force an increase in government spending. It does not follow that we should spend our money on anything. We could start by ending our two wars, pass a comprehensive health care bill, provide extensive jobs stimulus, break up the banks, and end some of our more egregious subsidies to the middle class. We can certainly afford to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans. But we can’t do that if people honestly believe our problems are earmarks and foreign aid.