Last time we spoke, I had some predictions for ye olde election, and they all came true. Just call me Cassandra. Allow me to refresh your memory.

(1) Obama will win.*

He did.

(2) It won’t matter that Obama has won…Republicans don’t have to vote for Romney to piss in Obama’s cornflakes, they only have to vote for Republican congressional candidates, which they will do.

They did. The Republicans have kept the House. I HOPE Obama is looking FORWARD to the total absence of CHANGE in the House’s attitude toward his policies. It’s going to be a hard four years for the guy, and I hope all of those people who said he would use this second term to really fix his slice on the golf course are right, otherwise we might see the first presidential suicide in history.

If Obama thinks he’s had a hard time up to now, it’s nothing compared to what he’ll suffer when his apologists melt away because they don’t have to care about getting him re-elected any more. They’ll be looking for their 2016 candidate at 8am on 7th November.

Turns out I was late to the party on this one. This New York Times article from 6 September states:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Whether President Obama wins or loses in November, one thing is certain for Democrats on the morning after Election Day: the 2016 auditions begin.

A buncha people I’ve never heard of are in the running, plus Joe Biden (not fucking likely), Hillary Clinton (okay, maybe) and Andrew Cuomo (he’ll be lucky if he’s even still governor of New York by that point).

Then, the prediction I was most certain would happen:

(3) Paul Ryan’s career in the big-time is over.

He didn’t even carry his home state.

Ryan is toast.

*Looking on the bright side: at least I don’t have to retire my “oops! Obama” tag.

(1) Obama will win.

Not even Romney’s own party likes Romney all that much, so any vote for Romney is essentially a vote against Obama. And while there are a lot of people out there who would enjoy sticking it to Obama, all of the presidential elections I’ve been alive for suggest that “voting against” is vastly inferior to “voting for” as a source of motivation.

Just ask Mondale, George HW Bush, Dole, and Kerry. Especially Kerry.

(2) It won’t matter that Obama has won.

If Obama thinks he’s had a hard time up to now, it’s nothing compared to what he’ll suffer when his apologists melt away because they don’t have to care about getting him re-elected any more. They’ll be looking for their 2016 candidate at 8am on 7th November. Republicans don’t have to vote for Romney to piss in Obama’s cornflakes, they only have to vote for Republican congressional candidates, which they will do.

I think the Republican party knows this, and therefore haven’t really exerted themselves to put up a compelling candidate. As Andy Parsons put it on “Mock the Week” the other night, they’ve decided to run a guy who lost the nomination to the guy who lost the nomination to George W Bush. Many critics from within the Republican camp attribute this to an “it’s his turn” mentality, but I think it’s probably just that the party bigwigs don’t give a crap this time around.

Any Republican who won this year would probably be a one-term president, because the economy is in the shitter and you can bet that the media—who are ignoring this point at the moment to help out Obama—wouldn’t be ignoring it in 2016 if the incumbent were a Republican.

Much better to give Romney his way, shrug sadly when he loses, and proceed to torment the ever-loving shit out of a now-friendless Obama for four years, thus paving the way for a charismatic Republican to win in 2016 and 2020.

(3) Paul Ryan’s career in the big-time is over.

There is nothing more damaging in American politics than being the VP candidate to a guy who loses. I mean, apart from their VP run, do these names mean anything to you?

  • Geraldine Ferraro
  • Lloyd Bentsen
  • Jack Kemp
  • John Edwards

Okay, that last one might mean something to you because he’s now known as the guy who was indicted for using campaign funds to cover up the affair and love child he had while his wife was dying of cancer. But if that hadn’t happened, John Edwards would be a total nobody.

I won’t be voting in this election because I don’t believe in this faux-democratic bullshit and I don’t support either party. But I’m going to give the Republicans the benefit of the doubt and assume they’ve used this presidential election, which it wouldn’t benefit them to win, to purge the lunatics, also-rans, and has-beens from the nomination slate, and are gearing up to stick it to their weakened, herdless prey.

I mean, it’s what they did to Clinton, and that turned out pretty well, no?

It appears that the House of Representatives has voted to repeal last year’s bloated healthcare act and has put committees together to draft new legislation to replace it—without a timetable.

As you will know, the ‘without a timetable’ aspect is something I lean toward favouring, as I criticised the act heavily, in large part for this reason:

Obama and his Congress sure did fuck it up, didn’t they? Instead of doing thorough research, either before the election or after it, and determining the best possible way to ensure universal, affordable healthcare, they cobbled together a travesty of a bill, full of unrelated pork to get various hold-out politicians onside, that when all is said and done, could serve as an exemplar of what every rent-seeker (in this case, the insurance industry) hardly dares even to dream.

But this vote is not a repeal in itself, of course. That whole ‘checks and balances’ thing means that the repeal bill will have to go before the Senate and win passage there, and then go before… the president. And, typically:

Democratic leaders in the Senate have vowed to shelve the repeal bill, and President Obama has said he would veto repeal if it ever reached his desk.

‘Shelving’ essentially means that the Senate Majority Leader, one egregious Harry Reid, can simply refuse to put the House bill onto the Senate’s legislative timetable—more or less indefinitely, if he so chooses. And even if, by some miracle of organised crime, intimidation, and sweet sweet reason, Republicans get the bill put on the Senate timetable and manage to pass it there, Obama can employ a number of veto tactics depending on when over the course of the legislative session the bill is presented to him. (Although he is required to submit his reasons for vetoing in writing; I wonder what boilerplate he’d spew on that occasion?)

The Congress can override the veto, but only with a two-thirds majority vote in both houses. So that’s pretty unlikely unless the Tea Party start getting uppity again.

I’m pleased the Republicans in the House have taken this first step, and they have a backstop in the fact that the healthcare act is being challenged in a number of cases and has already been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. (That ruling is under appeal, naturally.)

But they won’t get anywhere in the absence of some serious pressure from the American people, and given how the sheeple are, and how blind the Democrats are to protest and demonstration when it’s against their policies, I think the actual repeal of this hideous act will not occur. It’s more likely to be struck down by the high court, and even that’s pretty pie-in-the-sky.

Still, I wonder if the Democrats will now begin to hyperaccuse themselves of being obstructive, partisan, and resistant to the expressed will of the demos. It’s hard to imagine anything that demonstrates those qualities more than:

Democratic leaders in the Senate have vowed to shelve the repeal bill, and President Obama has said he would veto repeal if it ever reached his desk.

UPDATE: Hmm, seems I forgot about those little things called states…

I didn’t start blogging until well after the 2008 US presidential election, so I haven’t got the documentary evidence to prove this, but I was one of the many who said at the time:

‘Well, y’know, Obama… I wish him well, I really do. It would be great if he got the nation back on its feet. Hell, it would be great if he could really do even half the shit he says he’s gonna do. But I’m sorry, this is total fantasy. The president has nothing like that kind of power, and it’s just not going to work.’

The number of people who popped up, then and later, to tell me I misunderstood the structure of my native body politic was staggering.

In fairness, Gary Younge wasn’t one of those. But it seems that Apollo has been startlingly generous toward me and those who shared my views, because Gary Younge is now saying the exact same thing.

Their mistake was to believe that transformational change was something you could impart to a higher power – the president – and then witness on CNN. The problem was not that many set their hopes too high but that rather than claim those hopes as their own they invested them in a single person – Obama – and in an utterly corrupted political culture.

The difference, of course, is that Younge attributes this ‘corrupt political culture’ to something rather different than what I was thinking. His analysis isn’t wrong, by any means, but…

A winner-takes-all voting system where both main parties are sustained by corporate financing, the congressional districts are openly gerrymandered and 40% of the upper chamber can block anything, is never going to be a benign vehicle for radical reform. Virtually every enduring progressive development in US politics since the war has been sparked either by massive mobilisations outside of electoral politics that have forced politicians to respond, or through the courts.

…are all of those really such bad things? I mean, bribing candidates electoral financing is a criminal clusterfuck, and gerry-mandering is so endemic its practically become an American trope. No argument from me that those are serious problems—not because they hinder radical change, but because they systematically and deliberately seek to reduce the human right of individual self governance.

But the fact that 40% of the American Senate can filibuster* a bill? There’s kind of a reason for that. It’s so that radical reformers can’t trample over the rights of the minority. I’m not going to say something here along the lines of ‘Surely Younge can’t think that’s a bad thing?’ because that would be a cheap rhetorical device. Of course he thinks that’s a bad thing, provided that minority disagrees with him.

And so we arrive, inevitably, at the ‘oh, poor Obama’ bit. Yes, Younge says the whole sordid business is partly Obama’s fault. Yes, his criticisms of Obama are all actually veiled compliments. Because y’see, President Obama is embedded in a sclerotic system that refuses to let him shine his light.

Strangely, when I make that same argument to my boss, he’s not impressed.

Oh, and P.S. Younge doesn’t forget the obligatory dig at the Tea Party, who while Obama ‘imitated radicalism,’ have managed to snow the American public by ‘affect[ing] anti-corporate populism.’

Blah fucking blah.

Truly, y’all, while it is certainly true that the pressures of work leave little energy for blogging, there is another reason my posting has fallen off: I’m sick to death of this ridiculous charade we all perpetrate on ourselves, that government and politics matter.

My god, the significance and gravitas with which politicians and their apologists invest their every fart, their every random, ‘radical’ idea for making us all better people! And with what lame naivete people lap that shit up.

Recently I was engaged in a debate via email with a good friend of mine, a committed left-winger with a bizarre hard-on for Margaret Thatcher. It was the kind of debate you have over and over with friends of the opposite political persuasion: it’s all been said before, you know you don’t agree, but nevertheless one party or the other believes that somehow, this time, someone’s mind is going to change. Here is what he said (quoted entirely without permission and with punctuation and spelling corrected):

Any political, social or religious value system that doesn’t have at its heart a concept of what a “good person” is and how to help people achieve it is pointless. People can disagree about what being a good person is, or that it’s wrong to coerce people to follow a particular lifestyle, but not to engage in the debate, or to say that you are somehow morally neutral while supporting policies that would totally impoverish millions of people and deny them real freedom of choice in their lives (except to either follow the ethical codes set down for them by the rich or starve) is simply hypocrisy. Also, you are interested in being a “good person,” you just don’t agree with [Monbiot's] definition of what that is. Only sociopaths have no interest in being a “good person”.

Have you ever heard such tiresome bollocks? Notice, first of all, the conflation of political with religious value systems. From an avowed atheist, that’s an interesting tactic. Second, observe the clear admission that there is no universal concept of what a good person is. Finally, witness the neat tactic of suggesting that, since only sociopaths share my view, and I am clearly not a sociopath, I cannot possibly mean it when I say I have no interest in being a ‘good person.’ (I do wish people had less of a tendency to engage in armchair psychology.)

And finally, see how he assumes that the point of it all is to make people good! All politics, all governance, all ideology, should have this aim! And it is a weighty aim, so all enterprise engaged in pursuing this aim is weighty enterprise, and not the pathetic game-playing of a bunch of meddling control-freaks who honestly, genuinely believe there is a desperate need for the ‘service’ they provide.

Bitch, please.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a libertarian and a historian, because nothing I know of in human history suggests we will ever not have government. At first we lacked it, but then we built it, because there was always some overpowering reason why a couple of dudes had to be in charge of shit. Whether it was coordinating the defence of the village or making sure people didn’t go to hell, there was always some realm of human activity that simply couldn’t be looked after by the voluntary, individual acts of the people concerned.

At least back in the day, those couple of dudes were honest about it: ‘I’m the best fighter, peasant, and if you don’t do what I say, I’ll do you.’

Now, the justifications are a lot more spurious. On the one hand, you have the politician, who starts with ‘I’ve consulted and studied and learned and listened, so vote for me,’ then moves to ‘Lots of people voted for me, so STFU,’ and ends with ‘I’ve got the bombs, motherfucker.’ Are any of these legitimate?

On the other hand, you’ve got the Chris Dillows of the world, who know an awful lot of stuff about human behaviour and this bias and that bias and that other bias also, but whose basic argument seems to boil down to ‘Rational action is imperfect, so the role of government is to insulate people from their own and others’ crappy choices.’

Well, you know what? That sucks. If we’re all irrational actors, what hope is there, even if we were governed by philosopher-kings? What’s going to protect me from their irrational actions?

And so, I say to you, my predictions about Obama have come true. This fact brings me little pleasure. Instead it deepens my cynicism. I don’t claim expertise in everything—in almost nothing, truth be told—but at least against all fucking odds I’ve acquired enough wisdom to know the virtue of humility, especially when it comes to telling other people how to live their lives and feeling massively important in doing so.

To all people like Gary Younge, Obama, every politician on earth, and everyone who helps embiggen their heads, I say with Jacopo Belbo, ma gavte la nata. Pull out your corks, you buffoons.

*No, they do not actually have to filibuster. It’s more of a ‘let’s not and say we did’ tactical deployment. A degraded holdover from the Roman Senate, which recognised the right of a speaker to speak until he was finished, and could not sit later than sunset. Cue Cato Uticensis, famous for being able to harangue the house in filibuster from early afternoon until the Senate was obliged to dissolve for the day. If Senators actually still had to do this, I predict we’d see a lot fewer filibusters.

Back on Independence Day, I wrote a post that featured a quotation from the preamble to the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

In the comments, my dad totally called me out, because my quotation omitted the phrase ‘by their Creator’ that appears between ‘they are endowed [...] with certain unalienable rights.’

Ctrl+C, as I said, was not my friend, and neither was Wikipedia, which is where I Ctrl+C’d from.

Turns out, as many of you may have seen floating around the series of tubes, that Obama did the same thing in a recent speech, and omitted ‘by their Creator’ from his quotation.

Now, if I omitted ‘by their Creator,’ and Obama omitted ‘by their Creator,’ and I got my quotation from Wikipedia, then perhaps Obama

No. Surely not. Surely the President of the United States, the renowned scholar of American and constitutional history, the guy whose brain (his supporters would have you believe) is even greater than the cranial contents of the awesomely intelligent William J Clinton, is not sourcing his speech quotations from… Wikipedia?

Just sayin’.

[I wanted to leave this as a comment over at John Demetriou's original post, but his implementation of Blogger rejects comments of more than 4,096 characters.]

JD, unlike your usual rants, this post is dire. I don’t mean that to be harsh, but you’re coming at this from an angle of misunderstanding that makes your ‘I don’t understand’ claims all too believable.

For one thing, you refer to ‘Americans’ and ‘the American people’ as if there is one collective American mind, and you find its schizophrenia puzzling. Perhaps for the sake of simplicity, it might be better to think of Americans as two collective minds: those who voted for Obama, and those who didn’t. For all sorts of reasons, he is and has been a polarising figure. And so you have two poles, rather than the single mad hive-mind you say is so bizarre. It is one pole that exhibits ‘curious rage’ against Obama, not ‘the American people.’

For another thing, you massively overstate Obama’s popularity during the election and at the beginning of his term. You assert that he ‘won by a landslide’ and was the subject of ‘hero worship,’ ‘hagiography,’ and high approval ratings. In fact, he did not win by anything like a landslide. He won with 53% and 28 states.

By comparison, in 2004, George W Bush won with 51% and 31 states. In 1988, George H W Bush won with 53% and 40 states. And in 1984, Ronald Reagan won with 59% and 49 states. And that wasn’t even as impressive as the 1972 election, when Richard Nixon (Nixon, of all people!) won 49 states and 61% of the vote.

Obama has had nothing like the electoral success other presidents have managed. Your perception of hero-worship and hagiography, just like your perception of rage and hatred, comes from one pole of the American populace.

Furthermore, your understanding of the role of US president is woefully incomplete. You say that ‘Bush inherited an excellent, albeit imperfect, set of books from Clinton and very quickly wrecked it.’ As if either Clinton or Bush had anything whatsoever to do with the books or quality thereof. Congress controls the cash, and the Congress that delivered Clinton a budget surplus was, in composition, almost exactly the same Congress that fucked it all up for Bush. And the Congress Obama has been working with is, in composition, almost exactly the same Congress Bush was working with during his last two years in office. The state of the books in the US is entirely unrelated to the views and actual quality of the president.

You also say that Obama is hated ‘for having the temerity to actually carry out what he proposed to do.’ Again, the president does not ‘do’ things. He does not draft legislation, propose it, debate it, or vote on it. He merely signs it once it’s made its way through Congress. (Or not, as the case may be, but I don’t think Obama’s actually used his veto yet.)

So any carrying out during Obama’s term has been done by Congress. And what they have carried out bears little actual resemblance to the platform on which he campaigned. Sure, the health care bill, but what about everything else? What about the war, the ‘middle-class tax cuts,’ the great repeal of the Bush administration’s incursions on civil liberties? Neither he nor Congress have done any of those things, which were major selling points among Obama’s supportive node. Surely you don’t think the whole election revolved around the question of a healthcare bill?

A healthcare bill which you describe thus: ‘The timing…was perhaps ill-judged, even from a social democrat perspective, but this was one of those once-in-a-thousand-years opportunities, politically, to achieve this ambition.’ For a once-in-a-thousand-years opportunity, Obama and his Congress sure did fuck it up, didn’t they? Instead of doing thorough research, either before the election or after it, and determining the best possible way to ensure universal, affordable healthcare, they cobbled together a travesty of a bill, full of unrelated pork to get various hold-out politicians onside, that when all is said and done, could serve as an exemplar of what every rent-seeker (in this case, the insurance industry) hardly dares even to dream. That’s not even to mention the costs this bill imposes, both to individuals and to the body politic, which have been revised upward continually since the passage of the bill. And the bill fails to achieve even its basic objective, which is to ensure that the poor and low-paid have access to affordable, customised insurance and care.

Is it any wonder that a significant number of Americans are horrified and disgusted by it?

All of this is a far cry from, ‘Hey, you all voted for him, he did what he said he’d do, so what’s the big problem?’

Finally, you assert that les Americains sont fous because ‘their media and overall educational standards are so lacking in substance.’ This is, basically, not true. Unless by ‘their media’ you mean Fox News, and by ‘their overall educational standards’ you mean ‘those five schools in Kansas where they teach intelligent design.’

Or perhaps you just mean the rednecks, Tea Partiers, and Christians are poorly educated. Maybe you can confirm or deny.

What I don’t understand is why you are displaying so much contempt for a bunch of people who, for the most part, share your opinions. These are people who didn’t vote for Obama (as presumably you wouldn’t have, did you have the opportunity) and who loathe what he stands for and what he’s supported as president. Sure, some of them have authoritarian tendencies, but they’re with you on at least 50% of stuff. If you were in their position, wouldn’t you be angry? They didn’t want him, they didn’t vote for him, and his presidency is riding roughshod over their cherished conception of what the United States is.

I never expected you to take this position, I must say. That you would present Americans who disagree with their president and his Congress, and who display that disagreement with words, ideas, and peaceful legitimate protests, as ‘wild, irrational…mad and retarded’ comes as a great surprise to me.

And a serious disappointment.

UPDATE: JD rebuts here.

BP is not British Petroleum, the oil spill is not the fault of the British people (many of whose pensions are in BP shares), and Britain has done nothing, nothing to warrant the kind of snide crap being peddled by the current American president, whose approval ratings are in the shitter, and his running-dog lackeys in Congress, who are so stupid they think Guam can capsize and tip over.

Fuck Obama – Support the British! Buy your petrol from BP.

Via Tim, I see that the United States has leapt into the rabbit hole.

The very same administration-to-be that campaigned on a platform of restoring the civil liberties eroded by Bushitler etc. to Americans and everybody they arrested is now, er, taking more of them away than even Bushitler did.

Several weeks ago I saw a story on a blog somewhere about Obama’s authorising the assassination of an American citizen abroad (sans due process, naturally) because he was suspected of terrorist activity. I didn’t write about it then because I was sure it was a right-wing conspiracy lie.

Apparently it’s not.

Other restorations of our civil liberties include proposals to deny terrorist suspects arrested on US soil their Miranda rights, strip American citizens accused of terrorism of their citizenship, and treating American citizens arrested for terrorism as enemy combatants and barring them from trial in normal American courts.

I’m a bit confused about this, because while I obviously think restoring civil rights is a wonderful thing, these plans all sound to me like stripping Americans of every possible legal and Constitutional protection based solely on an accusation of a particular crime.

Perhaps the definition of ‘civil liberties’ has Changed™ since 2008. Perhaps, as appears to be the case, this legislation has been proposed by eeeevil Republicans. But if the latter is so, why are the good and kind Democrats in charge not screaming bloody murder about it? Why are they not swearing with their every last breath to use their Congressional majority to kill these bills stone dead?

And why, in the name of all that is holy, has the era of Hope and Change not only not reversed any of the rights-abuses perpetrated by the previous administration, as was promised, but perpetrated new ones itself?

Not that I ever expected him to be, but Obama is surely not the saviour he tried to make us all believe he was. And I absolutely do not understand why it is an outrage for Bush to read our emails but it’s fine for Obama to authorise the assassination of an American citizen. I do not understand why it is an outrage for Bush to deny foreign terrorism suspects their rights but it’s fine for Obama to do the same to American citizens on American soil. I do not understand why it was good that Obama was going to try Kalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civil court in Manhattan (where he would never get a fair trial), and now it’s also good that Obama’s not going to try American terrorism suspects in civil courts (where they might just have had a chance at a fair trial). I do not understand how American Congressmen can even propose this sort of thing during the administration of a constitutional lawyer, when the merest idiot can see that it’s plainly unconstitutional. There are no exceptions for terrorism in the Bill of Rights.

Are Americans really that frightened of terrorism, that they’re willing to put up with this stuff? I mean, the last time our government started abusing its own citizens, we had a giant fucking war with it.

And to be fair to him, it’s not just Obama at fault. Given that Republicans (including would-be president John McCain) have proposed a lot of this legislation, I’m afeard for what will happen if they win a majority in the elections later this year.

In fact, I’m afeard, full stop. Maybe it’s time to look into getting British citizenship after all…

Stephen Hill at CiF posits some kind of equivalency between Greece’s budget catastrophe, and the ensuing debate about whether the solvent EU countries should bail it out, and California’s budget catastrophe, and the debate about whether the solvent US states should bail it out.

Apparently Greece isn’t that large a proportion of the EU economy, so no big deal – but California represented a whopping 14% of the US economy before it went bust.

California’s situation in some ways is more worrisome than Greece’s. Having a state that is one-seventh of the national economy in dire straits is a threat to the nation’s economic recovery. It is analogous to having Germany struggling instead of Greece, striking at the heart of Europe. California has been shaken by widespread layoffs and furloughs – the city of Los Angeles just laid off 1,000 more workers – and core social programmes have been slashed. Millions of low income children have lost access to meal programmes, and community clinics have been closed. Almost 3 million low income adults have lost important benefits such as dental care, psychological services and mammograms.

In addition, while both California and Greece are in major belt tightening mode, at least in Greece all families and individuals still have access to healthcare and a long menu of other social supports that Europe is known for. In California, even before the crisis millions had no healthcare, and now more have lost their jobs and their health insurance. Unemployment compensation is miserly, as is the overall safety net, which impacts consumer spending and further weakens the economy.

In this case, then, it was terribly mean of the Obama administration to deny California a federal bail-out paid for by the taxes of the other 49 states. That’s, like, super unfair, because:

But ironically California’s current plight may serve as a warning to Germany and France. Over the last several decades, California’s once thriving economy served as a kind of backstop for other American states. California has subsidised low population (and often conservative) states by only receiving back about $.80 for every federal tax dollar it sends to Washington DC. Californians have sent tens of billions of dollars to conservative states such as Mississippi, Alaska and North Dakota, which receive about $1.75 for every dollar sent to Washington.

Yet when Governor Schwarzenegger asked the federal government for a return on that long-term support, the White House shut the door and the Republican states long subsidised by California were unsympathetic. Memories are short, as is gratitude.

Leaving aside the question of optimal single-currency zones – which Hill never addresses – let’s look at this central point about the unfairness of leaving California to its fate.

For years, Hill says, California was the wealthiest state in the country, and the federal taxes its wealthy citizens paid subsidised the poorer, less populous states of the union. Now California has farked itself, allowing and encouraging its legislature to spend the state into massive debt – and wealthy California wants the poorer states to subsidise it!

Surely this is exactly what Guardian writers (and readers) loathe, the idea of the poor subsidising the wealthy? They certainly profess to hate incidences of it in the UK and cry that the transfer of money from poor to rich is a massive injustice (that will, no doubt, be further perpetrated by the Tories if they win the next election). California’s budget crash has not made the poor states it used to subsidise any wealthier; in fact, it’s probably made them poorer. So why in the world should the poor states make themselves even poorer because the people of California were happy to elect legislatures that spend like drunken sailors?

Somebody please explain to me why, suddenly, the Guardian is in favour of the poor subsidising the rich.

Find it here.

Joe Wilson yells something –> Do two shots
Obama yells back –> Finish the bottle

Etc.

Let’s talk about Cass Sunstein.

For those of you out of the know, Sunstein is head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a part of the Executive Office of the president of the US. He is informally known as the Information Czar, roughly equivalent to one of the many, many posts held in the UK by Peter Mandelson. It is a creepy competency, and it is perhaps only fitting that it should be filled by a professor of law at Harvard, which Sunstein also is.

The North West LPUK blog flagged him up today as a dodgy customer, and indeed, it looks as if he is one.

For someone expert in constitutional law, Cass Sunstein is all about some bansturbation that would interfere directly with the rights explicitly protected in that constitution, namely the right of free speech.

According to this post at Infowars, in 2008 he prepared a white paper that outlined the responses government might make to the over-prevalence of conspiracy theories (though, alas, their link to the paper does not work):

On page 14 of Sunstein’s January 2008 white paper entitled “Conspiracy Theories,” the man who is now Obama’s head of information technology in the White House proposed that each of the following measures “will have a place under imaginable conditions” according to the strategy detailed in the essay.

1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing.

2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories.

That’s right, Obama’s information czar wants to tax or ban outright, as in make illegal, political opinions that the government doesn’t approve of. To where would this be extended? A tax or a shut down order on newspapers that print stories critical of our illustrious leaders?

And what does Sunstein define as “conspiracy theories” that should potentially be taxed or outlawed by the government? Opinions held by the majority of Americans, no less.

Among the theories identified in the paper as possible targets for censorship are the beliefs that Oswald did not act alone, that global warming is a deliberate fraud, and that sunlight is good for the body. These are all pretty inoffensive ‘conspiracy’ theories. Most of those suspected of involvement in the Kennedy assassination are now dead (or, in the case of Castro, as near as dammit), and it does not seem reasonable to censor conspiracies regarding an event about which we will likely never know the gospel truth. On the other side of the spectrum, whether or not climate change (global warming) is an immediate threat is something scientists predict we will know within 50 years. Why suggest censoring a conspiracy theory that has a built-in sell-by date? And the benefits of sunlight are backed up by numerous studies which show that sunlight is an excellent source of essential vitamin D. As long as people are equally aware of the dangers of skin cancer due to exposure, why attack this claim? [CORRECTION: Sunstein does say that believing sunlight is healthy is false and dangerous, but he does not class it as a conspiracy theory.]

What possible reason could Sunstein have for advising that such innocuous views be suppressed?

One can only presume that Sunstein is deliberately framing the debate by going to such absurd extremes so as to make any belief whatsoever into a conspiracy theory unless it’s specifically approved by the kind of government thought police system he is pushing for.

That seems plausible to me. If harmless conspiracy theories warrant taxation or bans, what do harmful ones deserve? (Remember, many places still have the death penalty in the US.)

Sunstein is also known to have called for the First Amendment to be re-written, to have advocated internet censorship (beyond what already exists, presumably), and to hold the belief that Americans should celebrate Tax Day. This last was so bizarre to me that I had to search it up for verification. In an article for the Chicago Tribune which Sunstein also published on his website at the University of Chicago, Sunstein wrote:

In what sense is the money in our pockets and bank accounts fully “ours”? Did we earn it by our own autonomous efforts? Could we have inherited it without the assistance of probate courts? Do we save it without support from bank regulators? Could we spend it (say, on the installment plan) if there were no public officials to coordinate the efforts and pool the resources of the community in which we live?

Do not get up tomorrow and drape your house in black! For tax day is not a day of national mourning. Without taxes there would be no liberty.

Without taxes there would be no property. Without taxes, few of us would have any assets worth defending.

It may be reasonable, in some cases, to cut tax rates. What is unreasonable and, in fact, preposterous is the all-too-familiar conservative rhetoric that flatly opposes individual liberty to the government power to tax and spend. You cannot be for rights and against government because rights are meaningless unless enforced by government.

If government could not intervene effectively, none of the individual rights to which Americans have become accustomed could be reliably protected.

Most rights are funded by taxes, not by fees. This is why the overused distinction between “negative” and “positive” rights makes little sense. Rights to private property, freedom of speech, immunity from police abuse, contractual liberty, free exercise of religion–just as much as rights to Social Security, Medicare and food stamps–are taxpayer-funded and government-managed social services designed to improve collective and individual well-being.

This raises some important questions, to be sure. Who decides, in the United States, how to allocate our scarce public resources for the protection of which rights for whom? What principles are commonly invoked to guide these allocations? And can those principles be defended? These questions deserve more discussion than they usually receive, unclouded by the dim fiction that some people enjoy and exercise their rights without placing any burden whatsoever on the public fisc.

In any case, to recognize the dependency of property rights on the contributions of the whole community, managed by the government, is to repel the rhetorical attack on welfare rights as somehow deeply un-American, and totally alien or different in kind from classical or “real” rights. No right can be exercised independently, for every rights-holder has a claim on public resources–on money that has been extracted from citizens at large.

For all rights–call them negative, call them positive–have that effect. There is no liberty without dependency.

‘Without taxes, there would be no liberty.’

‘Rights are meaningless unless enforced by government.’

‘There is no liberty without dependency.’

And there is no tyranny without sophistry. This man is now Obama’s sophist extraordinaire.

Sunstein’s Wikipedia page informs me, as well, that he is ‘known for’ soft paternalism and choice architecture: our old friend libertarian paternalism, advocated in Britain by Sunstein’s counterpart Julian le Grand:

The idea, dubbed “libertarian paternalism”, reverses the traditional government approach that requires individuals to opt in to healthy schemes. Instead, they would have to opt out to make the unhealthy choice, by buying a smoking permit, choosing not to participate in the exercise hour or adding salt at the table.

By preserving individual choice, the approach could be defended against charges of a “nanny state,” he said. “Some people say this is paternalism squared. But at a fundamental level, you are not being made to do anything. It is not like banning something, it is not prohibition. It is a softer form of paternalism.”

Many of Sunstein’s publications appear to have equally sinister connotations:

  • Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech (1995)
  • Free Markets and Social Justice (1997)
  • The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More than Ever (2004)
  • Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle (2005)
  • Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008)

The ‘Second Bill of Rights’ of FDR, by the way, contains the right to education, a home, healthcare, etc: the so-called ‘positive’ rights between which and liberty Sunstein sees no distinction. And according to Wikipedia, another strike against the Tories:

Sunstein co-authored Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Yale University Press, 2008) with economist Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago. Nudge discusses how public and private organizations can help people make better choices in their daily lives. Thaler and Sunstein argue that

People often make poor choices – and look back at them with bafflement! We do this because as human beings, we all are susceptible to a wide array of routine biases that can lead to an equally wide array of embarrassing blunders in education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, happiness, and even the planet itself.

The ideas in the book proved popular with politicians such as Barack Obama, David Cameron, and the British Conservative Party in general (Cameron is party leader).

I can only assume that Sunstein’s proposed tax on objectionable views is an example of a ‘nudge’ node in his ‘choice architecture.’

Sunstein’s objection to the First Amendment comes as a result of his theory of ‘cyber balkanisation,’ in which growing use of the internet has isolated people from the opinions of those who do not share their views. In his book Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech, he argues:

…in light of astonishing economic and technological changes, we must doubt whether, as interpreted, the constitutional guarantee of free speech is adequately serving democratic goals.

From this it seems clear that Sunstein views freedom of speech not as an end in itself, but as a means to the pursuit of ‘political deliberation and citizenship’.

I would like to note that Sunstein’s calls to ban ‘conspiracy theories’ if necessary are wholly inconsistent with libertarian paternalism, involving as they do not a nudge but an outright prohibition. A tax seems more in agreement with his philosophy of choice architecture, requiring people to ‘opt out’ of not holding objectionable opinions. But one has to wonder: if there is no liberty without taxation, what are we to do about a tax that directly suppresses one of our fundamental freedoms? Is that liberty, too? Is not-liberty liberty?

All of which makes the NW LPUK blog’s opening that much more relevant:

As the LPUK has pointed out to British MPs, George Orwell’s novel 1984 is “…a warning, NOT a blueprint.”

War is Peace. Ignorance is Strength. Freedom is Slavery.

And a tax on freedom is liberty.

UPDATE: A different view of Cass Sunstein and conspiracy theories is presented at the Bleeding Heart Show. I particularly like this analysis:

There are many different explanations for why conspiracy theories form and how they spread, but I think the most important cultural/political aspect is how they’re often reactions from peoples or communities who feel distanced from & distrustful of the establishment. If you reduced that amount of alienation, you’d probably reduce the number and the power of these strange alternate histories. In the end, if you feel so powerless, the government must seem a hell of a lot more powerful than it actually is.

I think this is almost certainly accurate. Reducing alienation, however, involves identifying its source and correcting it. A lot of the distance and distrust Americans have for the establishment, and probably Britons too, is a result of feeling that the establishment is unresponsive to their needs and wishes. Protests and petitions have, most of the time, little effect on what the government does (witness the Iraq war protests here in the UK in 2003 and 2004; millions marched but the armed forces were deployed after shockingly little debate in Parliament).

When elections are won by extremely narrow margins, or fought almost exclusively in swing states or marginal constituencies, that leaves many citizens feeling ignored or effectively disenfranchised. And, of course, everyone who voted for the losing candidate or party is going to feel alienated from the incoming winner. The British also have the EU to contend with, in which many positions of extraordinary power are unelected and, to a large extent, unaccountable. There is also the phenomenon wherein the winning candidate/party fails to fulfill its manifesto, and so even those citizens who supported them become disillusioned and distrustful.

In short, the solution for reducing alienation is more transparency in government and more democratic accountability. But to implement this solution requires that those with power in the establishment acquire a little humility and cease to act as if they believe they are smarter, wiser, and know what’s best for people. Unfortunately, ‘humble and willing to accept his own fallibility’ seems pretty much the complete opposite of Cass Sunstein, so I doubt this is a solution he, in his unelected, unaccountable power, will be pushing for anytime soon.

Via CNN I see that President Obama has considerately taken into account the date of the season premiere of LOST in deciding when to hold the annual State of the Union address:

Fear gripped the hearts of fans when it was announced that the president wanted to push back the annual State of the Union address – typically held in late January – to February 2, which everyone should know by now is the premiere of the ABC drama’s final season.

Crazy talk! Doesn’t he know people have been dying to find out what happened to the castaways?

But White House press secretary Robert Gibbs assured viewers Friday he “doesn’t foresee a scenario in which millions of people that hope to finally get some conclusion in ‘Lost’ are preempted by the president.”

This non-news was not, I confess, particularly interesting to me, until I started reading the comments beneath it.

And boy, is America unhappy.

Remarks seem to be conforming to the following general categories:

(1) “Americans are pathetic. I can’t believe LOST is more important to some people than what the president has to say.”

(2) “Obama is pathetic. I can’t believe he’d change the date of his speech to suit a bunch of sheeple LOST fans.”

(3) “Politics and politicians of any stripe are pathetic. LOST will be more interesting and more factual than the heard-it-all-before SOTU.”

(4) “You’re all pathetic. Ever since the SOTU has been televised, presidents have taken into account conflicts with the normal viewing timetable.”

(5) “Everything is pathetic. LOST? State of the Union? Who gives a shit.”

The general malaise and negativity displayed in these 470 (yes, 470 comments) is breathtaking. In full awareness of the fact that this is anecdata, I’m still going to postulate that the Change which Obama hath wrought has been, on the whole, not so good. By far the most illuminating of the comments are the ones that express a deep and weary scepticism about why the date of this regular address is in question in the first place. The State of the Union is traditionally delivered in late January; the suggestion of postponing it until February (and thus creating a conflict with the LOST premiere) has led many people to believe that Obama wishes to be able to extol a successful healthcare reform bill therein. As far as I know, this sort of manoeuvring is rare; the whole point of the SOTU is to describe, duh, the state of the union at regular intervals. It loses much of its impact if the president gets to decide to describe the state of the union whenever he judges that state to be most positive.

Not to mention that Obama has been, not to put too fine a point on it, one of the most speechifying presidents I can remember, having addressed the nation in this way at least three times that I can think of already in his first year of office. I realise these speeches have been topical, rather than holistic, but when you put them all together, we’ve had his words on education, healthcare, and the on-going wars in the Middle East. Possibly the economy as well, though I don’t remember that specifically. I think Americans are pretty up-to-date on the state of their union.

I suspect that much of the negativity and cynicism stems from the fact that Obama has gone about his presidency in entirely back-asswards fashion. Having campaigned on a platform that consisted largely of reversing the mahoosive mistakes of the Bush administration, once in office, he immediately set out to… not reverse any of them. Patriot Act? Still there. Guantanamo? Still there. Wars? Still there. Bailouts and stimuli? Still there. Discontinuing these things, while difficult, would have been popular on both sides of the political divide, as well as with the mythical ‘independent’ voters. Obama would have been seen to be cleaning up the mess and providing himself with a fresh slate, correcting the massive loss of civil liberties and doing his best to get the country back on its economic feet.

Instead of pursuing these popular campaign policies, however, he has spent the vast majority of the last year shilling for his Congressional party members and their ridiculous healthcare reform. A task as huge as the overhaul of the nation’s health infrastructure should have been begun cautiously, slowly, and thoroughly, with cost/benefit analyses, input from providers and consumers, multiple scenarios of best practice, and above all, genuine bi-partisan contribution. What Obama has allowed to happen, however, is the creation of a massive, cobbled-together bill based on the barest minimum of research into the health market, the barest minimum of input from the industry as a whole, and containing almost innumerable lines inserted solely to get this or that special interest group onside, or this or that senator. The legislation is a gigantic fucked-up mess that appears designed, not to represent a unified vision of healthcare or emulate best practice elsewhere in the world, but to prove that the Democrats in Congress have done something, dammit, and it looks plausible if you stand back from it and squint a bit.

And Americans are not impressed. Yes, healthcare needed reform. Yes, Obama promised to do it. But did it have to be done so quickly, and in so slipshod a fashion, and at the expense of so much good he also promised?

Few presidents have had as unsuccessful a first year as Obama; even fewer have been almost the sole authors of their own failure. I do not envy the man, but I do not pity him, either. If Americans are unhappy, it is because Obama misjudged them; it is because he believed his initial popularity meant he didn’t have to conform. Ultimately, I think, Americans do not want a cult of personality. They want what they have always liked best: a competent, steady leader, with a sure hand on the helm and an appropriate sense of solemnity for the huge responsibility he bears. Obama has lurched from crisis to panic to embarrassment, and while he’s handled it with fairly good grace, he may at last be discovering that, to Americans, only Mr President deserves respect and confidence. Barack Obama will receive the same when he remembers that they come, not in response to his personal charms, but by grace of the office he holds.

Gangland Julius Caesar offers some advice to President Obama:

And believe me, nothing boosts an imperator’s public approval rating like turning the opposition into lion snausages. Your loyal plebes will love it, and after the games you can hand out free bread. And healthcare.

Shit, I dunno, maybe I’m being to hard on Obamacus. The big problem is that the punk don’t know how to pick a posse. Look at his Senators. Jupiter H. Cripes, I thought that crazyass Caligula was straightup psycho for appointing his horse to the Senate, but that thing had more brains than half these muthafuckers. Combined.

I know you be thinkin’ you’re some kind of stone cold Claudius, layin’ down some phat oratory at the Forum and plowing your enemies’ fields under with salt. But you still a teleprompter punk, and you gotta know what you don’t know…Lesson one: rule first, deification later.

Iowahawk has breathed new life into my Friday afternoon. Go read the whole thing; everybody knows regular blogging on a Friday snuffs out around 2 pm.

The BBC has posted a link to part of an interview George Stephanopoulos had with Barack Obama in the wake of the Jimmy Carter ‘People oppose Obama because they’re racists’ declaration.

In the bit of the video that you can watch, Obama actually says something that surprises me, not because it’s not correct, but because it is – Obama has demonstrated in under two minutes that not only does he understand why so many people oppose his policies, he’s also willing to say so when it would be easier not to:

Obama:Now, there are some who, setting aside the issue of race, actually I think are more passionate about the idea of whether government can do anything right. And I think that – that’s probably the biggest driver of some of the vitriol –

Stephanopoulos: That, are you going to raise their taxes.

Obama: It – well, it goes beyond taxes. Anytime there is a president who is proposing big changes that seem to implicate the size of government, that gets everybody’s juices flowing.

Leaving aside the indelicacy of mentioning flowing juices – whatever he means by that – it’s quite obvious that Obama understands the conservative position vastly better than his supporters, including Stephanopoulos by the way, who are busy ejaculating accusations of racism and greed all over the place rather than taking issue with the fact that many Americans simply do not agree that the federal government has any legitimate role in the provision of health care, however unfair or unworkable the current system might be. When Stephanopoulos opines that such people are only interested in the number on their tax returns, Obama rightly corrects him. It’s not all about taxes.

Every now and again, Obama says little things that like this which indicate to me that he may actually be willing to engage with the meaningful criticisms of his policies – that he may actually acknowledge that the size of the state, and the extent to which it interferes with people’s activities and behaviour, is a topic worthy of reasonable debate. And I feel a little bit of this much-vaunted ‘hope’ well within my breast, because I very rarely encounter anyone from the other side of the political divide who is willing to debate that without resorting to calling me an anarchist (‘We need government to rein in people’s baser natures! Hobbes said so!’), a hater of democracy (okay, so this one’s kind of true), or a tinfoil-hat-wearing paranoiac (‘Bitch, please – this idea that governments want to turn us all into serfs is just a crazy conspiracy theory. Run off to your log cabin in the mountains with your shotgun, why don’t you’).

Then I remember that Obama said this, too, and the tiny, fragile, puppy-dog-eyed bit of hope curls up and dies.

Obama: But I don’t want the folks who created the mess – I don’t want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking. I want them just to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess. I don’t mind cleaning up after them, but don’t do a lot of talking. [crowd cheers madly] Am I wrong, Virginia?

[crowd shouts 'No!']

Continuing with the recent philosophy that learning has to be justified by national utility, President Obama gave a televised speech this morning aimed at schoolchildren. Most classrooms in American schools have television sets (books? why are you asking about books? this is multi-media learning), and so I reckon, though I cannot be sure, that all state schools were required to show this broadcast, on what is for many children their first day of the school year.

As a teacher, I cannot over-emphasise what a massive pain in the backside I would have found it to spend even fifteen minutes of precious class time on frivolous speeches. The curriculum is too vast, and the school year too short in comparison, to give up even a moment of it. For purposes of comparison, consider that, four years ago when Pope John Paul II died, I was a Catholic teaching in a Catholic school and I still resented the single day the school closed for mourning.

But Obama’s speech was not simply frivolous; it was a collection of egotistical bromides couched in terms no child could fail to understand: if you don’t do well in school, you’ll never have a comfortable life, and the nation will be doomed. How do you mean, egotistical, I hear you ask?

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.

Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, “This is no picnic for me either, buster.”

I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.

So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

‘I, I, I. I’m you, American schoolchildren. I’m Everyman.’

Except that, of course, if you’re a kid, you’re thinking hmm. The president is telling me he goofed off and got in trouble and wasted time, and yet he still became the president. So clearly there’s no penalty.

And Obama puts the weight of a huge responsibility on these children’s shoulders. They’re not to have an education so they can be open-minded, well-rounded, happy people, oh no. They’re to have it so they can be of economic and civic benefit to the country:

And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?

‘Your mind exists to serve others. Your talents exist to serve others. Your achievements will go toward serving others. Because the absolute height of existence, the pinnacle of morality, the one necessary and sufficient incentive any human has or should have, is to serve others.’

There is a lot of talk about not ‘quitting on yourself’ in this speech, but no definition, unless it’s that quitting on yourself means you won’t be able to make money (lawyer, architect) or devote yourself to other people’s welfare (doctor, nurse, police officer, scientist, teacher, soldier, job-creator). I’m not saying he’s wrong – it’d be difficult to do any of those things without an education – but there is no talk of the personal satisfaction of setting goals and achieving them; the rewarding of curiosity; the simple joy of learning a skill and putting it to use, whatever the skill, whatever the use; the opening of the mind to ways of finding pleasure in any activity or experience. There is no focus in this speech on how you can use what you learn to give your life meaning – there is only offered the prospect of future usefulness.

And Obama is a bit out of touch with the heroes of today’s youth:

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, “I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

As much as I might find Michael Jordan impressive, he is not even a hero of my youth, seeing as he had retired from basketball before I left high school. He also – let’s face it – is not really the poster child for education; he dropped out of university to play professional basketball and finished his BA in tiny chunks in the years thereafter, finally ending up with a degree in geography. Funnily enough, this little nugget about Jordan’s perseverance comes right after the part in the speech where Obama says:

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

Kids are not stupid. They will perceive the contradiction. On the one hand, Obama tells them they’re unlikely to succeed in those professions where an education is not necessary. On the other hand, he uses as an example of success and a role model one of the very people who did just that. Hmm.

That said, Obama does offer one piece of good sense:

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new.

Unfortunately, he follows it with this:

And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

Argh.

ZOMG, it’s like Israel is Darth Vader and the US is Emperor Palpatine! Only not at the beginning, when he was our loyal slave, but at the end, when the disloyal fucker is about to stab us in the back.

Actually, that’s not a metaphor that works well at all. But goodness – I really, really, truly thought Hillary and Barack would be uniters, not dividers, and that once they put their totally reasonable arguments to the Israelis and the Palestineans, everybody would see that carrying on fighting was really silly and settle down for a shared meal of milk and honey.

I feel so… disillusioned…

When the recent Bush administration rammed the Patriot Act through Congress, ostensibly to deal with cases of suspected terrorism without exposing the public to unnecessary risk, there were those who said, ‘This is horrible. The Patriot Act makes a mockery of due process. Soon, we’ll see Bush’s political enemies languishing without trial in detention centres all over the country!’

Those same people, who tended to count themselves amongst Bush’s political enemies, breathed sighs of relief audible 4,000 miles away when Obama was elected, and then again when Obama took office. ‘Thank God,’ they said to one another gratefully. ‘No need to worry about terrorism gulags any more.’

So Obama and his enlightened government of Solomons wouldn’t superimpose boot on face, is that right?

From my brother, who has not yet defected, comes intelligence of one such imposition. A 16-year-old boy from East Buddhafuckshire in my home state was dragged out of his house by federal officers on 5 March (for allegedly making prank bomb threats over internet telephone) and removed to a juvenile detention centre half a continent away. No explanation has been given; no formal charges have been laid; no evidence has been put before any judicial figure; there is a gag order on the case – and even now, two months later, this child is still in prison under the provisions of the Patriot Act.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFVQ0HZz2mc&hl=en&fs=1]

His mother says she feels like she’s living in a Third World country. She never expected to have to protect her children from her own government.

Well, I have some messages to deliver.

To the child’s mother: If you really believed you were safe from your own government, you’re an idiot. Who the fuck but the US government could get at you in the redneck-infested wasteland that is Granville County?

To those who supported the Patriot Act: You dangerous, self-righteous, hypocritical lunatics. Let’s see how you like it when Obama turns it against you, as he inevitably will. Why do you think his government has been re-labelling libertarians as domestic terrorists? And you’ll have only your stupid selves to blame.

To those who loathed the Patriot Act until their christus gloriosus seized the helm of the ship of state: You spineless, hypocritical maggots. Civil liberties are evidently not so important once the jackboot is on your foot! Where is your fucking freedom crusade now?

More on the Patriot Martyr here.

Funny that this should come up twice in five minutes as I, in true holiday time-wasting fashion, scroll lazily through my feeds.

First up: Nicky Campbell calls Guido Fawkes a fascist on the radio (then, naturally, apologises). Guido doesn’t seem to mind too much – banter gets out of hand sometimes, no real offence meant, etc.

Next: I see via Megan McArdle that somebody called David Henderson has called President Obama’s administration fascist, and backed it up with a nice long quotation from The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics:

Where socialism sought totalitarian control of a society’s economic processes through direct state operation of the means of production, fascism sought that control indirectly, through domination of nominally private owners. Where socialism nationalized property explicitly, fascism did so implicitly, by requiring owners to use their property in the “national interest”–that is, as the autocratic authority conceived it. (Nevertheless, a few industries were operated by the state.) Where socialism abolished all market relations outright, fascism left the appearance of market relations while planning all economic activities. Where socialism abolished money and prices, fascism controlled the monetary system and set all prices and wages politically. In doing all this, fascism denatured the marketplace. Entrepreneurship was abolished. State ministries, rather than consumers, determined what was produced and under what conditions.

So I’m reading this, and it’s making a fair bit of sense, and then I discover McArdle’s commentary. Usually, I think she’s pretty sensible, but she reacts to the ‘f-bomb’ as if somebody has suggested Obama is a genocide:

How is this helpful? Has clarifying the distinction between fascism and socialism really added to most peoples’ understanding of what the Obama administration is doing? All this does is drag the specter of Hitler into the conversation. And the problem with Hitler was not his industrial policy–I mean, okay, fine, Hitler’s industrial policy bad, right, but I could forgive him for that, you know? The thing that really bothers me about Hitler was the genocide. And I’m about as sure as I can be that Obama has no plans to round up millions of people, put them in camps, and find various creative ways to torture them to death.

Now, I hold no brief for Hitler, obviously (and boy does it irritate me that I have to clarify that), but wouldn’t it be nice if reasonable people could hold a discussion about him or – less inflammatory by far – the concept of fascism without sensitive, politically-correct, knee-jerkers trying to shut down the debate with their hysterical reactions?

This word ‘fascist’ has been so overused as a generalised insult for those with whom the user disagrees politically that it holds virtually no meaning in standard conversation these days except ‘a very bad, mean person.’ Oh, how facile. And when some poor brave soul attempts to deploy it under the banner of its real characteristics – as David Henderson has done – he is accused of comparing Obama to Hitler and therefore stultifying the debate.

I have a different opinion of what stultifies debate and that is: telling people that making a distinction between socialism, fascism, and current economic trends is unhelpful. Refusing to contemplate what fascism actually is because limited minds can’t think past its colloquial usage. And shutting down a perfectly legitimate fucking discussion because obviously the only thing ‘fascist’ means is ‘a mean, bad person like Hitler.’

Well, you know what? We’ve all got something in common with Hitler. Many people like dogs and enjoy contemplating nice watercolors. Many people speak German. Many people dislike smoking and praise the efficiency of the Volkswagen. And just like Hitler wasn’t the only person ever in the history of the world to do those things, he’s likewise not the only fascist.

So can we shut the fuck up about ‘fascist’ meaning ‘bad like Hitler’ and engage the concept on its own terms, please?

…if you will, a piece of legislation that contains the following provisions:

(a) Prohibited Activities- A participant in an approved national service position under this subtitle may not engage in the following activities:

‘(1) Attempting to influence legislation.

‘(2) Organizing or engaging in protests, petitions, boycotts, or strikes.

‘(3) Assisting, promoting, or deterring union organizing.

‘(4) Impairing existing contracts for services or collective bargaining agreements.

‘(5) Engaging in partisan political activities, or other activities designed to influence the outcome of an election to any public office.

‘(6) Participating in, or endorsing, events or activities that are likely to include advocacy for or against political parties, political platforms, political candidates, proposed legislation, or elected officials.

‘(7) Engaging in religious instruction, conducting worship services, providing instruction as part of a program that includes mandatory religious instruction or worship, constructing or operating facilities devoted to religious instruction or worship, maintaining facilities primarily or inherently devoted to religious instruction or worship, or engaging in any form of religious proselytization.

Pretty fucking horrifying, no? What on earth, I can hear you wondering, is an ‘approved national service position,’ and what about it makes it necessary for law-makers to remove from its holders freedom of association, the right to petition the government, the franchise, and the right to practise a religion?

Well, my dears, I shall tell you: it’s our old friend Compulsory Volunteering, passed in the US House yesterday in a bill called Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act, or, cutely, simply GIVE.

The text of this bill is, like all the pieces of loo roll that pass for legislation in Washington DC, so abstruse that in my current germ-weakened state, I can make neither head nor tail of most of it. The bit quoted above, however, seems pretty straightforward. How, in the name of all that is holy, can Congress justify denying FOUR fundamental, Constitutional rights from people who are taking part in national ‘service’?

And please, no bombarding me with reasonableness. I’m sure that ‘activities designed to influence the outcome of an election to any public office’ isn’t intended to mean voting, but fuck me if I can think of a more archetypal example of an activity designed to influence the outcome of an election.

As it happens, the GIVE Act (what a stupid fucking name) is something of an amendment to other national ‘service’ acts passed in other decades by other asshat Congresses, and there is already an organisation, the Corporation for National and Community Service (its website has a .gov domain and everything!) that administers this crap. They’ve been really quick on the ball to express an opinion of GIVE (something the MSM, I note, have largely overlooked):

The U.S. House of Representatives today passed the most significant overhaul and expansion of national service programs in 16 years, acting on President Obama’s call to increase service opportunities for Americans of all ages to help address the economic crisis and usher in a new era of service and responsibility for our nation.

“Service is a fundamental American value, in every neighborhood and every community,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and a co-sponsor of the bill. “With President Obama’s leadership and support, today the House took a key step toward launching a new era of service that will rebuild and strengthen our country for years to come.”

“The American spirit is one of giving back – to our neighbors, our communities, and our nation. All across this country, citizens are devoting their time, skills, and resources to make our country a better place. And through the GIVE Act, we can nurture that spirit of selflessness, leveraging both individuals and organizations to achieve national goals,” said Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, the House Education Committee’s Ranking Republican member.

“At this time of economic crisis, there is a convergence of a great need to help our neighbors and a great appetite by Americans to serve,” said the Corporation’s Board Chair Alan Solomont. “Service can be a solution to many of our nation’s toughest challenges. We are grateful to the House for passing this bipartisan legislation to expand high-quality service opportunities for Americans of all ages.”

Is this some kind of bad prank? On the one hand, we’ve got Reps. George Miller and ‘Buck’ McKeon (may their loins rot) claiming service as a fundamental American value (since when?); on the other, we’ve got Alan Solomont praising the House for offering Americans more ‘high-quality service opportunities.’ What the fuck? Replace the words ‘service opportunities’ with the word ‘toaster’ and you get a sentence that makes a hell of a lot more sense.

I suppose my main points are these: (1) this Act has a stupid name, (2) this Act cancels out fundamental freedoms in the name of service to the common good, (3) this never would have passed if it weren’t for the fucking joke of a community organiser running the nation these days, and most importantly (4) what the US does, Britain quickly imitates. We go to war in Iraq – you go to war in Iraq. We pass illiberal laws to ‘deal with’ the ‘terrorist threat’ – you pass illiberal laws to deal with the terrorist threat. We stimulate our economy with fuckloads of debt – you stimulate your economy with fuckloads of debt. Our mad leader thinks he’s the Second Coming – your mad leader thinks he’s the Second Coming. We press our citizens into rightless compulsory voluntary servitude… you get the idea.

I shouldn’t wonder if there’s not something similar knocking around in Parliament right now, waiting for its five minutes’ worth of debate before being rammed into law by a maniacal, overpowerful, unelected, self-important, self-destructive executive.

Clever post.

Too bad the rest of his stuff is typical student-journalist fluff.

Highlighted by Samizdata.net, this op-ed by Paul Krugman of the New York Times makes me wonder whether he is actually an idiot, or just a disingenuous fucktard.

The lovely peeps over at Samizdata flag up his logical and mathematical nonsense much better than I could, but I do want to take issue briefly with the question of how much the jobs created by the stimulus will cost.

Krugman says:

First, there’s the bogus talking point that the Obama plan will cost $275,000 per job created…The true cost per job of the Obama plan will probably be closer to $100,000 than $275,000 — and the net cost will be as little as $60,000 once you take into account the fact that a stronger economy means higher tax receipts.

The post over at Samizdata points out:

What about Krugman’s own estimate of $100,000 per job if you look at the program in a multi-year basis? He claims this cost from the extra millions of new jobs that would be created after the first year. As the cost of the program is $820 billion, this implies that he believes that the Obama plan will actually create over 8 million new jobs. If this is true, why is the White House claiming only 3 million new jobs from the plan? Making arguments based on the official claims of its government proponents, as the critics have done, are not deceitful as implied by Krugman. Well, not quite as deceitful as calculating costs based on an extra 5 million jobs that do not appear in the program.

So yes. There’s something dodgy with Krugman’s maths.

He needn’t have bothered, though; not being an economist, I’m not entirely certain of what he means by ‘cost per job created,’ but he makes a stupid mistake by engaging with this criticism in the first place. After all, is not the point of a fiscal stimulus to spend lots and lots of money? Does it really matter what it gets spent on or how much that thing costs?

To be absurdly simplistic: if the US government really wanted to, they could divide up this proposed $1 trillion and give an equal share to everybody. According to my handy calculator, and assuming I’ve done all the zeroes correctly, that comes to about $3300 for every man, woman, and child in the US. Exclude the children, and that equal share goes up. Stimulus accomplished. (I should point out that I’m not actually advocating this plan.)

And, contrary to what Krugman apparently believes, people do apportion their own money more efficiently and usefully than the government does. So every one of those $3300 apiece would be well spent.

But my knowledge of economics is minimal, and my mathematical skillz permanently arrested at the level of a 14-year-old, so I’ll leave the rest of Krugman’s article aside for now.

Except for this, which is the part that bugs me:

As the debate over President Obama’s economic stimulus plan gets under way, one thing is certain: many of the plan’s opponents aren’t arguing in good faith. Conservatives really, really don’t want to see a second New Deal, and they certainly don’t want to see government activism vindicated. So they are reaching for any stick they can find with which to beat proposals for increased government spending.

(1) ‘Conservatives really, really don’t want to see a second New Deal.’ The way this statement is phrased makes it sound as if the New Deal saved the nation; conservatives don’t want it; ergo they don’t want the nation to be saved. Presumably, in Krugman’s mind, this is not because they have anything against the idea per se, but because they don’t want the credit for doing it to go to Obama. Is this ‘arguing in good faith’?

(2) ‘They certainly don’t want to see government activism vindicated.’ Naturally they don’t. Once the power and reach of the government grows, it’s very difficult to scale it back again; doing so takes someone like Margaret Thatcher, and observe how beloved she is by the British! Observe how long her achievements lasted! Any American conservative who truly believes in limited government (and there are few of them these days) must oppose the stimulus, whatever its plausible merits, on principle, because it extends the competency of the federal government far beyond what it ought to be.

There is a third problem with his remarks, and that is the latent advocacy of bipartisan consensus. In times of crisis, supposedly, partisan squabbling weakens a nation and saps its confidence. Whatever their opinion of the stimulus, Krugman seems to imply, its critics should suck it up and present a unified front with Obama, because to do so will improve the mental outlook of the country and bolster confidence in its public servants.

As my brother would say, fuck that shit.

I want partisanship. I distrust consensus. I want the party without power to throw every question, argument, and criticism it can come up with, no matter how sly, at the party in power. I want debate – robust, contentious debate. Why? Because without it, the electorate are deprived of choice. And times of crisis are precisely when conflict and argument are most necessary, as crises are exactly when governments are most liable to implement the most illiberal policies.

Today comes the news that yet another Obama appointee, Nancy Killefer, finds herself in a spot of embarrassment over her taxes.

First, we had Timothy Geithner, Treasury secretary nominee, who:

didn’t pay Social Security and Medicare taxes for several years while he worked for the International Monetary Fund, and he employed an immigrant housekeeper who briefly lacked proper work papers.

The article also cites ‘a series of other tax matters,’ but declines to describe them in detail.

Then, we had Tom Daschle, who ‘made mistakes on his taxes‘ to the tune of £120,000 and has now withdrawn his bid to become Heath and Human Services secretary. He said:

“My failure to recognize that the use of a car was income and not a gift from a good friend was a mistake,” said the former Senate majority leader. “When I realized the mistake, I notified officials and I paid the tax in full.”

I am floored by this statement, mainly because I have never heard of anybody having to notify the IRS of money owed. Three years ago, the bastards tracked me down in a foreign country to collect from me (and I know this because I’m consulting their threatening notices now) back-taxes of $13.16.

Nancy Killefer, picked to become Obama’s chief performance officer, has withdrawn her name from consideration for the post, ‘citing unspecified problems with District of Columbia unemployment tax.’ God only knows what that’s all about, but I’m sure it wasn’t that she overpaid.

What the fuck are these people playing at? Are the American people really supposed to believe that a string of tax irregularities in highly-placed Democratic officials is the result of coincidental mistakes and oversights?

Iowahawk has this to say:

Here at the IRS, we realize that many well-meaning taxpayers like you can be distracted by various family illnesses, baseball pennant races, political campaigns, and so on. The rules for late filing can be surprisingly flexible if you have the right qualifying circumstances. According to IRS guidelines, you are eligible for the 306(b)(19) “I Forgot” amnesty if the following applies:

(1) Your total adjusted gross income in the “I Forgot” years was equal to or greater than $8,528,000; and
(2) You are a nominee to head a cabinet-level federal agency.

If you answered “yes” to (2), or both (1) and (2), then you are in the clear. If you answered “yes” to (1) but “no” to (2), mail 10% of the total to the Democratic National Committee and request a cabinet appointment. If you answered “no” to both, then I’m afraid you are shit out of luck. Turn yourself into your local IRS authorities, who will assist you in computing appropriate penalties, interest, and parole terms.

UPDATE: I’m not the only one who thinks this is fishy. There seems to be a suggestion that Daschle in particular has withdrawn in order to keep Obama from looking bad. I must say, I’m impressed: self-flagellating politicians falling on their swords to preserve the reputation of one of their own? Repent, for the End is nigh…

© 2013 bella gerens Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha