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Conservative Budget “Cuts” March 3, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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Conservatives make a big deal about budget cuts when they try to portray themselves as fiscally responsible.

This chart tracks the spending cuts that self-identified conservatives want to see.

conflictedconservatives_revised_thumb

Foreign aid makes up only about 1% of the annual federal budget. Cutting it to zero would do nothing for our budget deficit.

I have no idea how conservatives define welfare programs, which 35% want to cut. However, only 10% want to cut aid to the poor and only about 5% want to cut social security. In 2008, safety net programs (excluding health care and social security) accounted for only 11% of the budget. And conservatives have been opposed to cuts in Medicare recently, which would generate substantial savings.

The point to take away from this is that there is no consensus on cutting anything and the cuts many support would amount to very little.

We know conservatives say they stand for smaller government, lower spending, and lower taxes. But the only idea they agree on is lower taxes, which in the absence of cuts in spending only lead to higher deficits.

This is why budget deficits increased enormously under Reagan and Bush I and II.

There is no coherent conservative philosophy here on the size of government or budget management. In the end, conservatism comes down to one idea—just cut my taxes. All the bleating about the size of government or “mortgaging our children’s future” is just so much blather.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

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Where Is the Outrage? March 1, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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The suicide bombing by Andrew Stack, the anti-tax terrorist who flew a plane into the IRS office building in Austin, Texas, was widely covered in the press. What has not received coverage is the response by some conservatives who seemed to condone the action.  Frank Rich’s NY Times column,” calls our attention to it:

What made that kamikaze mission eventful was less the deranged act itself than the curious reaction of politicians on the right who gave it a pass — or, worse, flirted with condoning it. Stack was a lone madman, and it would be both glib and inaccurate to call him a card-carrying Tea Partier or a “Tea Party terrorist.” But he did leave behind a manifesto whose frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage overlaps with some of those marching under the Tea Party banner. That rant inspired like-minded Americans to create instant Facebook shrines to his martyrdom. Soon enough, some cowed politicians, including the newly minted Tea Party hero Scott Brown, were publicly empathizing with Stack’s credo — rather than risk crossing the most unforgiving brigade in their base.

Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, even rationalized Stack’s crime. “It’s sad the incident in Texas happened,” he said, “but by the same token, it’s an agency that is unnecessary. And when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the I.R.S., it’s going to be a happy day for America.” No one in King’s caucus condemned these remarks. Then again, what King euphemized as “the incident” took out just 1 of the 200 workers in the Austin building: Vernon Hunter, a 68-year-old Vietnam veteran nearing his I.R.S. retirement. Had Stack the devastating weaponry and timing to match the death toll of 168 inflicted by Timothy McVeigh on a federal building in Oklahoma in 1995, maybe a few of the congressman’s peers would have cried foul.

It is not glib or inaccurate to invoke Oklahoma City in this context, because the acrid stench of 1995 is back in the air. Two days before Stack’s suicide mission, The Times published David Barstow’s chilling, months-long investigation of the Tea Party movement. Anyone who was cognizant during the McVeigh firestorm would recognize the old warning signs re-emerging from the mists of history. The Patriot movement. “The New World Order,” with its shadowy conspiracies hatched by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. Sandpoint, Idaho. White supremacists. Militias.

Barstow confirmed what the Southern Poverty Law Center had found in its report last year: the unhinged and sometimes armed anti-government right that was thought to have vaporized after its Oklahoma apotheosis is making a comeback. And now it is finding common cause with some elements of the diverse, far-flung and still inchoate Tea Party movement. All it takes is a few self-styled “patriots” to sow havoc.

Rich is not identifying domestic terrorists with the Republican Party:

“They are not to be confused with the Party of No holding forth in Washington — a party that, after all, is now positioning itself as a defender of Medicare spending. What we are talking about here is the Party of No Government at All.” But Rich does quote a GOP presidential aspirant, former MN Governor Tim Pawlenty, who recently urged an audience to emulate Tiger Woods’s wife and “take a 9-iron and smash the window out of big government in this country.” Rich adds:

Such violent imagery and invective, once largely confined to blogs and talk radio, is now spreading among Republicans in public office or aspiring to it. Last year Michele Bachmann, the redoubtable Tea Party hero and Minnesota congresswoman, set the pace by announcing that she wanted “people in Minnesota armed and dangerous” to oppose Obama administration climate change initiatives. In Texas, the Tea Party favorite for governor, Debra Medina, is positioning herself to the right of the incumbent, Rick Perry — no mean feat given that Perry has suggested that Texas could secede from the union. A state sovereignty zealot, Medina reminded those at a rally that “the tree of freedom is occasionally watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots.”

This goes beyond mere hypocrisy. If Stark had been brown or a Muslim would conservatives be so supportive? Aside from the thankfully minimal but nevertheless tragic loss of life, is there a difference between Stark and the other terrorists who have taken American lives?

Liberals who explained, without justifying, Muslim terrorism after 9/11 as a response to American foreign policy were castigated and called unpatriotic (and worse) by the mainstream media.

Yet conservatives are given a free pass when they seem to condone violence against Americans.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

It’s Always About Authoritarianism January 5, 2010

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Conservatives are apoplectic about the Obama Administration’s decision to try the “underpants” bomber in Federal Courts. Their argument is that he should be treated as a prisoner of war so he can be interrogated without the benefit of civil rights protections or a civilian lawyer.

The argument doesn’t make much sense. Civilian prosecutors are quite capable of eliciting information from suspects, and previous terrorists were tried and convicted in Federal Courts during the Bush Administrations and no one questioned the decision.

This controversy dovetails with the conservative talking point, now being endlessly repeated on cable news, that Obama never uses the phrase “war on terror”—a claim that is palpably false and easily refuted.

The idea that this lone loony with a hot crotch was a soldier is beyond ridiculous. But of course this debate is not about effective intelligence or just prosecution.

The right-wing wants terrorists to be classified as war criminals in order to reinforce the principle that anti-terrorist activity is part of a “war on terror”. That would justify the continued build-up of the authoritarian national security state in which all resources are directed toward national defense, thus lining the pockets of the military/industrial complex, and concentrating political power in the military and intelligence community.

This desire to turn the U.S. into a garrison at home and an imperialist aggressor abroad was the source of most of the shenanigans of the Bush Administration; and they are still at it, still dominating the airwaves and the news media, and still driving the political discourse.

Its nice to know that “freedom” is once more on the march, enabled by the bed-wetters in the Republican Party who over-react to every delusional brown person with an ax to grind.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

2009: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly December 30, 2009

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2009 began with great promise: the exit of the criminal gang that had been running Washington for 8 years, and the emergence of a new administration full of hope and committed to tackling the substantial problems we face as a nation.

That promise has been in part fulfilled.

The Obama Administration prevented a depression, put an end to the arrogant posturing and jingoism that threatened our our global standing and moral authority in the world, and is on the brink of passing health care reform, which despite its flaws, is the most important addition to our safety net in nearly 50 years. Furthermore, the Administration has made countless regulatory decisions on the environment, banking, and judicial reform that, while falling far short of what is needed, have brought the idea of competent governance back to Washington.

By any measure, this was a good year for progressive politics.

Of course, the new administration took over in the midst of a deep economic recession and the threatened collapse of the global financial system. Although, the collapse was averted due, in part, to the Obama administration’s timely and forceful actions, unemployment skyrocketed, trillions of dollars of wealth vanished eviscerating the life savings of many ordinary Americans, and we held our nose while Wall St. bankers were rewarded for their incompetence and greed.

The economic prospects of Americans have taken a severe body blow, especially in California, where the Yacht Party continues to plunder our human resources, presiding over the collapse of the educational system that is the lifeblood of any modern society.

By any measure this was a bad year for the American Dream, which one year of progressive politics cannot restore.

As for the ugly, well, nothing is uglier than the rampant cynicism that grips large swaths of the American public, exacerbated by the ignorant know-nothings who call themselves “conservatives” and the impatient utopians on the left.

On the right, the inmates now run the asylum. The Republican Party is the party of “birthers” raging hysterically about “death panels” and “enemies lists” and spouting wild-eyed nonsense about ACORN and Obama’s re-education camps. It is a party in which the leadership honestly thinks a spending freeze is the solution to our economic crisis, compares Obama to the leaders of Nazi Germany, and openly threatens to encourage states to nullify Federal laws or secede from the union.

On the left, fuming perfectionists threaten never to vote again because of some compromise of principle perpetrated by the allegedly weak-willed Obama. Their belief in the magical powers of the President would be touching in a six year old, but is mere hypocrisy for someone claiming to be part of the reality-based community.

The world is a saner and safer place today than it was a year ago. We should be thankful for that while mindful of the real misery wrought by decades of conservative ideology.

 book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

A Debate for the Ages December 23, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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At Crooked Timber they are debating the relative virtues of Captain Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard (for the uninitiated, they were Star Fleet commanders on, respectively, Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, TV shows from a bygone era.)

This is not the most pressing of issues but the context is interesting.

At the National Review blog, conservative Mike Potemra wrote:

I have over the past couple of months been watching DVDs of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show I missed completely in its run of 1987 to 1994; and I confess myself amazed that so many conservatives are fond of it. Its messages are unabashedly liberal ones of the early post-Cold War era – peace, tolerance, due process, progress (as opposed to skepticism about human perfectibility).

The puzzle is that conservatives are not well-known for embracing peace, tolerance, due process,  and progress, so why would they embrace Picard? Potemra continues:

I asked an NR colleague about it, and he speculated that the show’s appeal for conservatives lay largely in the toughness of the main character: Jean-Luc Picard was a moral hardass where the Captain Kirk of the earlier show was more of an easygoing, cheerful swashbuckler. I think there’s something to that: Patrick Stewart did indeed create, in that character, a believable and compelling portrait of ethical uprightness.”

But as CT’s John Holbo points out, this won’t fly:

But surely the proper conclusion to be drawn, then, is that being an ethically upright and generally virtuous person is, however surprising this result may be, consistent with being tolerant, peace-loving, even with upholding due process. And there is no particular difficulty to the trick of being in favor of progress while being skeptical about human perfectibility. I say this is a semi-serious point because I think, for some conservatives, the main objection to a somewhat vaguely conceived set of liberal values really is a strong sense that they are inconsistent with a certain sort of hardassery in the virtue ethics department. End of story. But then Star Trek TNG ought, by rights, to be the ultimate anti-conservative series. At least for the likes of Potemra.

I think Picard’s attractions stem from his characteristic bit of dialogue. Whenever his subordinates came up with a good suggestion about how to handle an emergency, Picard would sternly and austerely command “make it so”. That commanding, stern austerity is enough to send shivers up any authoritarian spine.

Remember that George Bush famously referred to himself as the decider. And as journalist Ron Suskind famously reported, Bush flunkies were under the impression that ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

“Make it so” indeed.

It is that one phrase that has so enraptured conservatives.

One might think this an excessively simplistic explanation. But in this context that is a feature not a bug.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

The Alternative December 17, 2009

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Obama is taking a few hits in the polls as health care reform languishes in the Senate, unemployment stubbornly persists, and the war in Afghanistan escalates.

It is to be hoped that these are temporary setbacks. But in light of this downturn in progressive aspirations it is worth pondering the alternative.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) took aim at Democratic proposals for a new jobs bill. He apparently has objections to the “extension of unemployment benefits through June of 2010;” “extension of COBRA subsidies through June of 2010;” and “extension of the refundable child tax credit to those with income less than $3,000.

Vast numbers of Americans are unemployed, not because of any fault on their part, but because of a massive collapse of the global financial system, and the GOP wants to make sure those unemployed cannot get health care or pay for food, shelter, and other necessities.

This is their “solution”?

The fact that unemployed persons can help stimulate the economy when they can buy food, clothing, health services, and housing is apparently lost on conservatives.

As Steve Benen writes:

It’s a surprisingly helpful preview of what the public could expect if Republicans reclaim the House majority in next year’s midterms. When GOP leaders talk about “cutting spending,” they usually pretty vague. Cantor is offering a reminder of what he and his colleagues will target: the safety net Americans rely on when they’re most vulnerable.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Conservatism European Style October 1, 2009

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Stories like this one in the Baltimore Sun about the recent German elections are fundamentally misleading:

In a year when capitalists and bankers are widely reviled, German voters did something strange; they dumped the pro-worker, pro-low-unemployment Social Democrats and chose the centrist, pro-business Free Democrats as Ms. Merkel’s coalition partner. The Social Democrats were trounced from the center and the left because of the economy, and the Free Democrats filled the gap. Even though Ms. Merkel remains at the helm, many policy differences will likely result from this coalition – changes that matter to the U.S.

Social Democrats are losing elections in Europe but social democracy is alive and well because, in Europe, there are responsible conservatives who accept the responsibility of government to improve the lives of citizens.

As Steve Erlanger writes:

Europe’s center-right parties have embraced many ideas of the left: generous welfare benefits, nationalized health care, sharp restrictions on carbon emissions, the ceding of some sovereignty to the European Union. But they have won votes by promising to deliver more efficiently than the left, while working to lower taxes, improve financial regulation, and grapple with aging populations.

Europe’s conservatives, says Michel Winock, a historian at the Paris Institut d’Études Politiques, “have adapted themselves to modernity.” When Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Germany’s Angela Merkel condemn the excesses of the “Anglo-Saxon model” of capitalism while praising the protective power of the state, they are using Socialist ideas that have become mainstream, he said.

In the U.S., by contrast, conservatives are preoccupied with ripping apart social safety nets, promoting violent coups, and making sure every barfly has a gun.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Is the Culture War Over? May 5, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, politics.
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I know it sounds a bit optimistic, but there is evidence that the culture wars are moderating.

In addition to the fact that there are 4 states that now permit gay marriage, a recent NYT/CBS poll showed support for marriage equality jumped 9 points in one month– from 33% support last month to 42% this month. Support for gay marriage has a plurality of supporters, with the opponents divided between 28% who oppose any legal recognition and 25% supporting civil unions.

Another poll from from Washington Post/ABC News reveals that in 2004 just 32% favored gay marriage. Now 49 percent support it versus 46 percent opposed, and more than half say gay marriages in another state should be recognized as legal in their own state.

What is really surprising about the Washington Post/ABC poll is that, although self-identified conservatives are least likely to favor gay marriage, they have gone from 10% support in 2004 to 30% today. The trend in public opinion has been moving in this direction for many years, but when support for gay marriage triples among conservatives in five years it is clear that conservatives are losing this battle.

Why the sudden uptick in support? The increasing visibility of gays has set aside myths about gay people. Prejudice is difficult to sustain when you discover that the people you hate are just ordinary people with aspirations similar to your own. But the fact that no one has ever been able to clearly state how allowing gay marriage would destroy the institution of marriage has been a factor as well. Thankfully, sometimes, bankrupt ideas  are exposed despite obfuscation and fear-mongering.

The lessening of culture war passions has another data point as well. The same Washington Post/ABC poll shows:

Respondents were near split on another issue that until recently was deemed untouchable in many parts of the country — marijuana legalization. Forty-six percent of all respondents said they supported legalizing “possession of small amounts for personal use,” with rates of support higher among men, among younger voters and among independents, a majority of whom supported legalization.

And the poll found increased support for immigration reform as well. 

In another new high, 61 percent now support giving illegal immigrants “the right to live here legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements.” That’s up from 49 percent in 2007 to a substantial majority for the first time. In this case support is up more sharply among Republicans, a 17-point gain to 59 percent, than among Democrats, up 9 points to 68 percent. It’s up 14 points among independents.

But lest we get too complacent, the same poll shows opposition to gun control and support for tighter border enforcement is increasing.

Is their some general thesis about the culture wars to which this data points? I doubt that the culture wars are over, but they are shifting ground.  Today, to be a good conservative, one has to deny the existence of climate change, praise the “I’ll take mine and the hell with anyone else” attitude of Wall St. investors, and offer tax cuts as the solution to any problem.

In short, this indicates that, within conservative circles, social (including religious) conservatism is on the wane, and libertarian conservatism is on the rise. For the past 30 years, the visible face of conservatism was the religious right and its moral crusade, with the big business boosters and Randians in the background paying the bills. That dynamic seems to have changed.

The moral veneer of conservatism has been stripped away, revealing its dark underbelly—it has always been about greed and its ideology.

This shift is a good thing because it suggests that some of the pernicious assumptions about the moral integrity of conservatism have been exposed.

 

Culture of Violence April 6, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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Cross-posted at Reviving the Left

If it seems like every day there is some nut job mowing down as many people as possible for no good reason, that is because it has been happening every day—last week, over a period of 6 days, 30 people were gunned down in mass shootings. The shootings in Pittsburgh, where 3 police officers were gunned down make 33 in 7 days.

But these shootings are only the anecdotal surface of a statistical sea of mayhem—approximately 30,000 dead, 60,000 injured from gunshots in 2005 in the U.S. according to the CDC, of which almost half were homicides.

Compared to other countries, the U.S. is still the wild west:

Gun deaths per 100,000 population (for the year indicated):

  Homicide Suicide Other (inc Accident)
       
USA (2001)      3.98 5.92 0.36
Italy (1997)  0.81 1.1 0.07
Switzerland (1998) 0.50 5.8    0.10
Canada (2002) 0.4 2.0 0.04
Finland (2003) 0.35 4.45 0.10
Australia (2001) 0.24 1.34 0.10
France (2001) 0.21 3.4 0.49
England/Wales (2002) 0.15 0.2 0.03
Scotland (2002) 0.06 0.2 0.02
Japan (2002) 0.02 0.04 0

Data taken from Cukier and Sidel (2006) The Global Gun Epidemic. Praeger Security International.  Westport

Why are we prone to such violence? This is one of the deepest questions we must answer if the American Dream is survive.

The recent shooting in Pittsburgh, where Richard Poplawski gunned down 3 police officers, is especially disturbing because the shooter was apparently motivated by a political perspective that I would like to say is bizarre:

Poplawski feared “the Obama gun ban that’s on the way” and “didn’t like our rights being infringed upon,” said Edward Perkovic, his best friend.

I would like to say this is bizarre—Obama has explicitly rejected any policy to ban guns or to take away anyone’s rights—except that this is the same rhetoric that we’ve been hearing from “respectable” spokespersons for the conservative movement since Obama was elected. Via David Neiwert, Fox News ran a feature in which Glenn Beck and the NRA’s Wayne Lapierre made the same charge.

This apocalyptic rhetoric resonates with other conservative “spokespersons”—Chuck Norris, Michele Bachmann, and the ubiquitous Beck—calling for outright revolution. The conservative hate machine is working overtime to convince their supporters that Obama is a socialist who wants to take their freedom, their money, and their guns. And the GOP members of Congress are repeating their nonsense.

This rhetoric has been accompanied by a surge in gun sales immediately after the election.

According to FBI figures for the week of November 3 to 9, the bureau received more than 374,000 requests for background checks on gun purchasers — a nearly 49 percent increase over the same period in 2007.

And FBI statistics report “1.2 million more requests for background checks of potential gun buyers from November to February than there were in the same four months last year.”  

I am not blaming right wing rhetoric for our homicide rate or for the Pittsburgh shooter. He was clearly crazy and likely didn’t need encouragement from loudmouths on the teevee.

But these conservatives (surely not all conservatives) clearly contribute to the culture of violence that permeates our society. They are one contingent of a vast network of mutually reinforcing cultural actors who think violence is the answer to any problem. That idea dominated our foreign policy during the Bush years and now infects our political discourse.

If its intended effect is not to encourage nutjobs like Poplawski, then what exactly is intended?

 

Better People, Not Just Better Rules March 26, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, Political Philosophy.
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On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Geithner outlined his plans for re-regulating the financial system in order to avoid future economic calamities like the one we are experiencing.

His proposal includes more government oversight of risk-taking in financial markets and tighter control of financial institutions, especially regarding how much capital they must hold as a buffer against losses.

This, of course, entails a significant expansion of the power of government regulators.

No doubt these regulations are necessary. But they are not sufficient.

After all, the Federal Reserve under Alan Greenspan could have imposed tighter lending standards on institutions or higher interest rates to slow down the growth of the housing bubble without any change in regulations. And the SEC already had the authority to raise capital requirements for banks.

Any of these moves would likely have prevented the credit crisis. But none of these steps were taken.

The problem was not that the rules were not good enough; rather the people charged with implementing the rules didn’t think regulating the private sector was important. They believed the government should not exercise oversight despite the fact that it was their job to do so. The theory that government was an unfortunate obstacle to economic activity drove the zeal to deregulate, but more importantly, it influenced the behavior of officials charged with the task of regulation. It was ideology and its influence on the motives of individuals, not the presence or absence of rules and procedures that caused the collapse in our financial markets.

This is why I argue that we should stop thinking of political ideologies as competing ways of organizing society, and instead think of them as prescribing competing constellations of motives for acting.

We need better motivated people; not just better formulated rules. And that requires moral change, not just political change.