People Who Know What They’re Talking About

After my post last week on the need for columnists who know something about the history of political ideology, it is refreshing to see these two pieces in the Boston Globe.

The conservative cries of fascism…:

Make no mistake, however: Cries of fascism are fast emerging as the favored conservative criticism of the Obama administration. You can see why: Given its inextricable link to Mussolini and Hitler, fascism carries no end of unsavory connotations. And, of course, charges of socialism haven’t stuck to Obama.

But wait. Where is the extreme militaristic nationalism that the Encyclopedia Britannica tells us is fundamental to fascism? The contempt for electoral democracy and cultural liberalism? The effort to subordinate the individual to an authoritarian state?

Those are matters an intelligent commentator would want to consider before invoking the term.

…and socialism:

Still, branding someone as a socialist has become the slur du jour by members of the American right, from Newt Gingrich to Rush Limbaugh. Some, like Mike Huckabee, intentionally blur the differences between socialism and communism, between democracy and totalitarianism.

If we could get beyond such nonsense, I think this country could use a good debate about what goes on here compared with places with a long social-democratic tradition like Sweden, Norway, and Finland, where, by and large, the middle class has a far higher standard of living.

Kudos to the Globe for a healthy dose of realty in an unreal debate (and, of course, to Bernie Sanders for speaking unpopular truths).

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Great Moments in Conservative Thought: Glenn Beck Edition

I know that it has become both fashionable and easy to mock Glenn Beck – he is the low-hanging fruit of conservative television punditry. However, last Sunday I actually bothered to watch part of his show for the first time.

While he is certainly correct that short-term crises can lead to long-term erosion of rights, I still feel the need to propose a new rule:

No reporter, commentator, or pundit (liberal or conservative) should be allowed access to a printing press, camera, or microphone until they can define, compare/contrast, and use in context the major political movements of the 19th and  20th centuries: socialism, liberalism and nationalism; fascism, communism, and totalitarianism. This is high school European history, not rocket science. “Fascist” is not synonmous with “bully.”

Published in: on April 19, 2009 at 12:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Local Teabag Blogging

I happened across a small desultory band of 15 or so teabaggers this evening, at main beach in Laguna Beach. Not much evidence of the signature theme, except for one sign that read “tea’d off” and a man in a vaguely colonial costume and tricorne with a sign that read “No more bailouts – throw the bums out.” Credit where credit is due: I enjoy a good tricorne.

No pictures, alas, I didn’t have time to try to find parking in downtown Laguna.

Published in: on April 15, 2009 at 9:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Climate Change and California

The LA Times has an article on recommendations made by the state’s Climate Action Team to prepare the state for the consequences of global warming. Among the suggestions are limiting coastal development, phased abandonment of certain coastal areas, and relocating state infrastructure inland. Orange County and the San Francisco Bay area are particularly hard it. Notably, both the Oakland and San Francisco Airports will be under water.

Sea levels along California have risen nearly 8 inches in the past century, although this varies with coastal dynamics. According to the Pacific Institute report, 260,000 Californians already live in flood zones, but are assumed to be protected by existing structures, such as levees and sea walls.

A 1.4-meter sea level rise would increase the population at risk to 480,000. Currently, 1,900 miles of roads and highways are at risk of flooding, which would grow to 3,500 miles under the sea level rise projections.

orange-county-sea-levels1

Impact of Rising Sea Levels on Orange County

Rising sea levels are, of course, only one of the consequences of global warming. Some others include increased frequency of wild fires, drought, and inconsistent or nonexistent water supply from glacial/snow melt. Mitigating all of these will cost considerable money which is why I’ve suggested using mileage taxes for infrastructure and retasking gas taxes to climate change mitigation.

Impact of Rising Sea Levels on the Bay Area

Impact of Rising Sea Levels on the Bay Area

The full report can be found here, while a map of the impacted coastal areas is here. The images in this post are screen shots of the impact on Orange County and the Bay Area taken from the map.

Further Insanity by way of Ayn Rand

I’ve remarked before on the teaching of Ayn Rand in, among other places, business schools, and how that can lead to dysfunctional political discourse. When I wrote that, I had no idea how extreme it would get.

“People are starting to feel like we’re living through the scenario that happened in ‘Atlas Shrugged,’” said [Rep. John] Campbell. “The achievers, the people who create all the things that benefit rest of us, are going on strike. I’m seeing, at a small level, a kind of protest from the people who create jobs, the people who create wealth, who are pulling back from their ambitions because they see how they’ll be punished for them.”

There are, of course, a wealth of misconceptions there, the leading one of which is that people are somehow ‘punished’ by taxes. This is especially ludicrous since this complaint arises from allowing the highest federal tax bracket to return to what they were under Bill Clinton, a 4% increase. This means that for every dollar in income over $250,000, an additional 4 cents in tax. Unfortunately, based on this ABC News report, those ‘going Galt’, don’t seem to understand how marginal tax systems work.

A 63-year-old attorney based in Lafayette, La., who asked not to be named, told ABCNews.com that she plans to cut back on her business to get her annual income under the quarter million mark should the Obama tax plan be passed by Congress and become law.

“We are going to try to figure out how to make our income $249,999.00,” she said.

“We have to find a way out where we can make just what we need to just under the line so we can benefit from Obama’s tax plan,” she added. “Why kill yourself working if you’re going to give it all away to people who aren’t working as hard?”

That last statement is horribly patronizing. I have the benefit of knowing incredibly hard working and devoted people who make far less than a quarter of a million dollars per year. Benefit to society or the economy cannot be measured in terms of income, otherwise teachers would make a great deal more money than they currently do. Hard work and innovation deserve reward, but they are not the exclusive province of the wealthy.

Meanwhile: Brad DeLong reminds us that John Galt is not a Christian. And OC Progressive points to an updated Atlas Shrugged for the financial crisis.

Economics and the California Republican Party: Never the Twain Shall Meet

This is a monumentally bad idea.

While many of the funds pegged for California would immediately help children, the poor and commuters, some Republican state lawmakers argue that the state should sock away some of the money for hard times in the future.

[Snip]

Villines agreed that avoiding costly borrowing would be prudent. But he had other ideas about using federal funds. Any federal money that “we might get should basically be put away into a … rainy-day fund for any potential future deficits if the economy continues to get worse,” he said, “as opposed to any budget factoring now.”

The purpose of the money is to stimulate economic recovery now, not to hoard it for the future. Apparently, statehouse Republicans don’t know the meaning of the word ‘stimulus’. The state Republican party should be disbanded, unless and until they can find people who know what they are talking about.

Finally, let’s look at this reporting:

One silver lining in the state’s deep fiscal crisis is that it has forced Republicans and Democrats to consider policies they had ardently opposed in the past, such as taxes and spending caps, experts say.

Which experts say that? Did you make that up, or are there really people who think that this kind of manic crisis budgeting is a good thing? Spending caps are a dangerously bad idea, as usually proposed. This is especially true if they are unable to account for population growth. New taxes are necessary, but Republicans have only willing to offer them in exchange for a spending cap.

The true silver lining of this crisis is that it may provoke the kind of massive structural reform the budget process needs: the abolition of the 2/3rd requirement for both the budget and taxes and the reconsideration of proposition 13; without both of which, we would not be in a crisis this severe. Unfortunately, it would be better to deal with this issues in the sober light of day, rather in the midst of a meltdown.

Great Moments in Conservative Thought

Devin Nunes, Congressman from the CA 21st, has an interesting proposal today in the Fresno Bee. Among other proposals (automatic tax refunds for budget surpluses and a cap on spending increases), he has two that are particularly striking:

Thus, the first act of the people must be the establishment of a part-time, nonpartisan citizen legislature — a model which has proven effective in states like Texas (part-time) and Nebraska (part-time and nonpartisan).

What could possibly be more beneficial to good governance than increasing the influence of lobbyists by making the legislature even less professional? Term limits already have the effect of forcing lawmakers out of office just as they finally get enough experience to legislate. I’m sure they’ll adapt even faster when they’re trying to hold down another job. We have a professional civil service and a professional military, but clearly drafting laws is something people can do in their spare time.

The next proposal is better.

End budget stalemates. If free of tax increases, the governor’s budget should become law when the Legislature has failed to pass its own budget by the constitutional deadline. This reform would end the continual government shutdowns resulting from partisan gridlock.

How deliciously anti-democratic. Of course, it won’t work. This rule, given the two-third rule, would give almost all budgetary authority to the Governor, providing taxes aren’t increased. If the majority and the Governor are from the same party, then the majority can choose not to pass a budget and avoid negotiating with the minority. If the minority and the Governor are from the same party, then the minority can act as it does now. And, of course, what if the Governor vetos every budget passed by the legislature, until the deadline passes?

It fills me with confidence that one of our nation’s congressmen has such a firm grasp of the balance of powers.

(more…)

Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 11:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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