the important and the not-so-important, horribly conflated.

Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Adventures in Republican Mathematics

In politics on November 10, 2010 at 10:17 pm

10 x 0 = 0, not $25 billion. Congressional Republicans, in a plan for cutting the national deficit published this week, proposed to eliminate a $5 billion emergency welfare fund (part of the stimulus) that ended its disbursement on Sept. 30. They projected the annual cost (2.5 bil) of this now-non-existent program over a 10 year period, and subtracted $25 bil from their budget proposal.

The next 2 years are going to be delightful.


Deadwood & the Mid-Terms

In politics on November 2, 2010 at 9:43 pm

The third and final season of HBO’s excellent Deadwood has a season-long election storyline: “the Camp,” once a paradise for gold-claiming, whore-mongering, iambic-pentamer-spewing hedonics, is becoming tame—and the Law demands executors, so elections are deemed necessary. I say “deemed” because, as anyone familiar with the show is aware, decisions about the Camp’s future come down from Olympus via one of two Titans: Hearst (above L) or Swearingen (above R).

It would be easy to cast these wild west power-brokers in the mold of their modern hyperpartisan descendents: W.R. Hearst is the proto-Randian Capitalist, using torture and murder to crack down on unions, scoffing at other’s distaste for monopoly—he even engages in the delusory game most Objectivists play now, believing that capital and entrepreneurship are self-evident solutions to social inequality. Al Swearingen is a brash, but not unfeeling, saloon owner that befriends the immigrant (Chinese) contingent in the camp, treats his prostitutes with (relatively) more respect than others, and is genuinely more in touch with human suffering (perhaps because he still inflicts it on others). Al is a liberal before Americans knew what a liberal was.

But the Deadwood writers are too smart to let us draw these simple parallels.

Hearst and Swearingen are not stand-ins for our modern political parties—they represent instead the two themes elections in our country vacillate between, respectively: Individualism (2004, 2010), and Personality (2008).

The difference is subtle. Individualism is self-autonomy, its blatant disregard for the inevitabilities of personal freedom (the inconvenient clashing with “the other’s” freedom, or the rights of the community as a whole) a badge rather than a burden. Hearst kills off an outspoken miner and landowner resistant to an offer on his (the landowner’s) claim because it betters the Hearst business. But his real soul-destroying kill is committed off-screen: Hearst has the son of his Black cook murdered after he reveals the site of a new gold find to the mogul. Nothing is sacred except personal freedom.

Republicans are not killing people. I hope. But we see Hearst’s legacy in this year’s midterms: the audacity of the Republicans/Tea Party to claim that tax cuts and deregulation will somehow “level the playing field,” even as corporate welfare has left middle class wages stagnant over the last 20 years and equality of opportunity (re: the american dream) will never be a reality in a country with an unjust education and health care system (which Republicans want to privatize further).

The Personality cult is the projection of personal hopes and struggles onto someone perceived to be stronger than he or she actually is. A line full of individuals, wanting nothing more than their feelings and intuitions confirmed, seems to constantly form at Swearingen’s office door. He usually makes them feel like they are part of something larger, but this usually just makes them more dependent on his opinion. One of Obama’s failings during his still-young presidency has been, simply, a lack of timely explanation of the chaos that is our economy and our legislative process. We craved, but never quite received, an affirmation that our voices were heard.

Throughout Deadwood, characters talk to inanimate objects—a box, a grave, the earth itself. They, like us, crave intrinsic, inalienable truths. Jill Lepore, explaining (brilliantly) the Tea Party’s view on American history, makes a similar point in The New Yorker:

A fundamentalist approach to history, which you see in and around the Tea Party, insists that the Constitution was divinely inspired and speaks to us, across the ages, and is therefore incontrovertible, and outside the sphere of political debate, or even of interrogation. Historical scholarship, of course, works otherwise: its methods rely on skepticism and inquiry, and, necessarily, on an appreciation of the distance, and the difference, between past and present.

Elections become a cyclical, intentional, communal forgetting: a mis-remembering of Individualist candidates whose personal values could not be satisfied without the disenfranchisement of the other; a forgotten past where Personality could not overcome a national feeling that our self-agency was seeping away.

We flock to the polls once every two years and cast our votes for Personality or Individualism because we fail to interrogate our own history. We fail to see that the names on the ballots are interchangeable, that we vote for these ideals—ideals that exist outside of history or argument—because it’s easier that way. It’s the most American form of self delusion: one that becomes enshrined as a sacred right.







Sunday Reading

In human behavior, politics on May 9, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Just one, from The Economist‘s DiA blog. Read it:

In the health-care debates [of 1994 and 2009], better-informed Democrats who believed themselves to be on the issue [were]  less likely to hold factually incorrect beliefs: that the Clinton plan would deny patients their choice of doctor, and that the health-care-reform bills in Congress at the time involved government “death panels” that could decide to withhold care from elderly patients on a cost-benefit basis. For Republicans, however, the better-informed they thought they were, the more likely they were to be wrong.

Speaking with Republican State Senators and Representatives in Harrisburg (PA) this past week, I observed a similar and equally discouraging trend: Their idea of “informed” or “factually incorrect” were so infused with an anti-expert, pro-folksy-intuition ideology that they seek to create legislation to address perceived gaps in a preformed and rigid nationalist metanarrative, not real-world situations.

It’s sort of brilliant–don’t like the truth? invent your own! And if someone calls bulls***, just question their background/American-ness/birthplace/sexuality. The evidence accumulated by health economists in support of a single-payer health system that I cited in one talk with a legislator was dismissed, almost laughably, with a “But I just know that’s not true. You can make statistics say anything.” I wanted to yell out: there are people out there who spend their entire careers preparing studies like this, and you’re going to dismiss this work because your unfailing intuition told you so?

The study referenced by the DiA bloggers tried to explain the causality/origins of Republican un-truths, and cited the insular (or, let’s be real, incestual) nature of the conservative press as an important contributor to and perpetuator of their beliefs.

But I think the FoxNews/WSJ/Limbaugh contagion is just another symptom of a gene-deep malady: Individuals, and their unique ideas, are discarded by Republicans when they don’t serve a larger Ideal—the party of personal responsibility and individual property rights only wants one type of individual, which is to say an individual without individuality, which is to say no individual at all.

Where do you Poop?

In human behavior, politics on April 25, 2010 at 7:36 pm

That’s one of the first Q’s that any NGO head or Paul-Farmer-like Uber-Doc or Student Service Organization should ask of the people in the community they’re trying to help. As this really quite beautiful (for its subject) article over at the NY Review of Books illustrates, human detritus represents (forgive the untactful analogy) a digested, compact version of a community’s larger public health. And, perhaps more importantly, where people poop gives us an idea of where one stands in the sociopolitical hierarchy of a village:

Conspicuous defecation, however, is restricted to males. Female modesty—enjoined by Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism alongside age-old patriarchal codes—dictates that women may relieve themselves only after dark, or in the most secluded reaches of the forest, a practice that exposes them to violence or even snake bites. The consequences for women’s health can be devastating. Women of the poorest classes notoriously suffer from a range of urinary and bowel disorders born of taboos about pollution and other social constraints applied to the most basic and banal of bodily functions.

If there’s one universal measure of dignity—and I doubt it, even as I state it—it’s the ability to defecate on your own accord. The female body has always been a site of cultural and political contention, but I cannot think of a more discouraging illustration of the extremes to which a male/religious/class hegemony attempts to control a woman’s most basic act of free will.


In politics on March 28, 2010 at 10:19 am

Sarah Palin’s now-famous Take A Shot…er, I mean, Take A Stand poster (below) puts the “vile” in “juvenile.” This is a person simultaneously enamored with their fame and completely detached from the consequences of their words and actions:

I do enjoy SarahPAC’s emblem, though—it says it all: Alaska as the great (White) heart of Conservative America, and silly multicultural fake-birthplace-of-the-muslim-guy-in-the-white-house Hawaii removed like an infected appendix.


A small, important step

In politics on March 25, 2010 at 3:43 pm

That’s how I see the Pentagon’s common-sense decision to keep what is basically hearsay out of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell cases:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the military would restrict the kind of evidence that can be used against service members suspected of “homosexual conduct.” For example, investigators will generally ignore anonymous complaints and require accusations made by third parties to be given under oath.

That a serviceman or woman can hide behind anonymity while accusing their gay or lesbian counterpart—who must daily lie, in small or crushingly big ways, about their identity—seems like the definition of injustice.

A much needed change, but there’s more to do.

Before Deliverance, Ugliness

In politics on March 21, 2010 at 5:00 am

The Tea Partyers are not, on the whole, racist—but they are uniformly and despicably silent when their fellow protesters invoke 60’s-era attacks on Civil Rights.

This, coming before Sunday’s health care vote, is a new low:

Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., told a reporter that as he left the Cannon House Office Building with Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a leader of the civil rights era, some among the crowd chanted “the N-word, the N-word, 15 times.” Both Carson and Lewis are black, and Lewis spokeswoman Brenda Jones also said that it occurred.

“It was like going into the time machine with John Lewis,” said Carson, a large former police officer who said he wasn’t frightened but worried about the 70-year-old Lewis, who is twice his age. “He said it reminded him of another time.”

[James] Clyburn, who led fellow black students in integrating South Carolina’s public facilities a half century ago, called the behavior “absolutely shocking.”

“I heard people saying things today that I have not heard since March 15, 1960, when I was marching to try to get off the back of the bus,” Clyburn told reporters.


In politics on March 16, 2010 at 5:58 am

“Look at the tyranny of party — at what is called party allegiance, party loyalty — a snare invented by designing men for selfish purposes — and which turns voters into chattels, slaves, rabbits, and all the while their masters, and they themselves are shouting rubbish about liberty, independence, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, honestly unconscious of the fantastic contradiction; and forgetting or ignoring that their fathers and the churches shouted the same blasphemies a generation earlier when they were closing their doors against the hunted slave, beating his handful of humane defenders with Bible texts and billies, and pocketing the insults and licking the shoes of his Southern master.”

– Mark Twain, who recognized that politics, for all their dirtiness—or perhaps because of their dirtiness—will always be America’s clearest mirror. [via Politics Daily]


In politics on March 11, 2010 at 5:34 pm

= the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as “Isolationists,” according to a Pew Research Poll. [via FP]

Further proof that the neocon ideology that informed (to put it lightly) US foreign policy in the last decade had as its goal not global democracy, but domestic homogeneity.

If our “wars of liberation” did not pan out, the neocon reasoning goes, then we are justified in thinking that America is truly the last bastion of freedom—and the outside world’s affairs distract us from inside attacks by liberals, progressives, etc. on our very narrow notion of what America is or should be.

Live Blogging Sarah Palin’s Tea Party Convention Speech

In politics on February 6, 2010 at 7:01 pm

8:59 – Fox News: ON. Teabaggers: Raucous. Bring on the Sarahcudda

9:03 – OMG Joe the Plummer on FNC… “This is an American Movement.” As opposed to the Obama’s Unamerican Movement

9:04 – SARAHHHHHHHH! “I am so proud to be an American! Do you love your freedom?! Happy Birthday Ronald Reagan”

9:07 – “It is so inspiring to see real people” Did you have the same problem as the scary kid from the sixth sense, Sarah? You’re such a trooper.

9:11 – “put your faith in ideas, and in that spirit” tangible things = baddd… you tell ’em, girl

9:15 – National Security… Let’s be straightforward, Sarah says, adding “a homicide bomber can inflict a man-made disaster”

9:17 – Only Americans have the right to remain silent. We need Sarah in that underwear bomber’s interrogation room.

9:20 – “People who are seeking freedom are still wondering if Alaska is that great beacon of hope” That’s right, she didn’t slip…Alaska—the last true hunk of red-blooded America

9:25 – I love the way she says legislators: “Lej-e-slay-TORS.” Makes it sound like “Decepticons”

9:27 – “Do you feel very stimulated?” Do you even need to ask, Sarah?

9:30 – She mentioned TODDDDD! Dreamboattttt!

9:33 – “If you can’t ride two horses at once you shouldn’t be in the circus” right next to “if the politicians want to shine in the biggest show on earth.” ‘Freedomlovers’ should be free to mix metaphors as much as they want!

9:37 – On our “Insane” debt and the Obama Budget…”It’s like putting a bandaid on a self-inflicted gunshot wound.” ZING!

9:39 – “We don’t need a leader to progress this movement”—just like we don’t need verbs when we can just use another noun as a verb. Obama is such a grammar nazi.

9:40 – I totally agree with Sarah that the Constitution is the best roadmap for our future, just not when we interrogate terrorists.

9:42 – “Fresh, Young, and Fragile” —that’s our Tea Party. Nothing says ‘fragile’ like a concealed handgun.

9:43 – It’s totally inappropriate for “elitists” to bring up a politician’s child to their advantage… I agree, Sarah—and I love that you just referenced your mentally disabled child to argue against abortion!

God Bless YOU, Sarah Palin

9:45 – QUESTION TIME!!! Yes! It’s like a free steak after you just ate a steak.

9:52 – Q: How do we get back on track?

“We cannot be afraid to say we don’t have all the answers, as fallible human beings, that we can get some divine intervention.” Reclaim the USA for the One-and-Only, Sarah! Bring back Manifest Destiny! WOOOO!

10:01 – “This movement is the future of politics in America” I am going to sleep so soundly tonight with Sarah’s final words dancing in my head.