Friday, June 29, 2007

Always Look On The Bright Side of Appalling Human Misery

Matt Yglesias on the benefits of Communism:
That Cuba has managed to construct a middling health care system in the midst of a totally crapped-out economy serves as a reminder that while Communism is a very bad political and economic system, it does have certain benefits. Specifically, adopting Communism either eliminates outright or else eliminates the attractiveness of a huge swathe of the professions that smart, highly-educated people tend to undertake. This has the effect of making it much easier to recruit smart, highly educated people to be tenth grade English teachers or basic doctors and nurses. This is part of the reason why the USSR, for all its very many problems, managed to be really good at teaching little kids reading and basic math -- getting a job doing that is much more relatively attractive in a Communist system than in a liberal one, so you can get better personnel on the job. Of course, that relative attractiveness is achieved largely by making everything awful (note incredibly old car in the photo above), so it's not a strategy I'm inclined to endorse, but still, there it is.

Then later, he approvingly quotes this:
National cinemas often become great just as dictatorships loosen up or fall, when there’s the right combination of freedom of expression and miserable conditions. Think of Czech cinema during Alexander Dubček’s Prague Spring, Polish cinema during the early years of Solidarity, Yugoslav cinema during the country’s disintegration after Tito, or Iranian cinema during the now dead reform era. Totalitarian rule makes artistic creation impossible, but, apparently, social peace threatens it with triviality.

Maybe tyranny's not so bad then!

Yglesias in no way proposes that these outweigh the "drawbacks" of those particular flavors of totalitarianism (death, destruction, misery, etc.) but it still leaves a poor taste in my mouth. It reminds me of Henry Hazlitt's One Lesson: that people pay attention to the visible benefits of a policy, and ignore the invisible benefits that would have occurred had the policy not been implemented. Sure, the billions and billions of dollars we spent sending men to the moon for no purpose except national pride could have stayed in the pockets of Americans and bought washing machines, invested in businesses or paid for health care today, but hey, at least we got a giant leap for mankind and Teflon! Not that I mind Teflon.

The post also reminds me of a Glenn Reynolds trick. I don't actually like Communism, but I'm going to post something defending it on my heavy-traffic blog anyway! I don't suspect any dishonesty in Yglesias; he's just trying to be an optimist (unlike Reynolds, who surely would have figured out by now if he were honest that approvingly linking Hugh Hewitt makes you Not A Libertarian). But the effect is the same, if on an oppositely-aligned audience: a thousand hipsters in Che Guevara t-shirts nod their heads approvingly, saying "Heh" or "Indeed". Their argument is in fact strengthened by Yglesias' overall dislike of Communism; now they have a source outside their echo chamber who says communism = better health care!

Oh look, I just did the same thing! Except I don't have traffic. If I did, those who already thought Yglesias was a filthy red would be thus reinforced. The marketplace of ideas! Aren't you excited? I am.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

This Week in Jingo

For the record? I don't buy it.

Also, I can't believe it's 2007, and Glenn Reynolds is still posting things like this:

UPDATE: Fresh back from Iraq, J.D. Johannes posts a wrapup. And he emails that he's got a rant about Senators on the way: "you know, we could have this thing all but won and still declare defeat. That is sickening." Our political class isn't known for bravery or discipline.

Ah yes, all but won. I suppose if the purpose of the whole thing was to inflame the Arab world in civil war - a sort of Machiavellian "Let's you and him fight" kind of thing - then it's a smashing success!


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Three Cheers For Gridlock

So Yglesias mentions that Obama and Edwards made speeches today, and posts video links. "Bah," I say; I don't want to watch videos, my 1 minute attention span demands transcripts that I can scan for the interesting bits! So off I go to DailyKOS, whereupon I immediately get sidetracked. It seems that Congress is working on passing something called the Employee Free Choice Act, covering rules for union elections or some such. The post refuses to give a helpful summary of the bill, but rather (in a style that would make Arthur Silber proud) demands that I go read a bunch of previous DailyKos posts on the subject. It does, however, impart on me the Critical Importance of the bill. Why, it's so important, that I hadn't heard of it at all before opening up DailyKos!
The mechanics of EFCA, and its critical importance to justice in the workplace, have been explored at length on these pages by luminaries such as MissLaura and the AFL-CIO's Tula Connell. I'm not looking to once again explain just how EFCA works, and why its passage is essential for protection of the beleaguered right of American workers to bargain collectively. Tula and Laura have done a fine job of that -- and those of us who really care about the dignity of labor and the fight for respect on the job already have at least a cursory knowledge of how EFCA's majority card-check and first-contract arbitration provisions will allow American workers to once again organize without fear of brutal employer retaliation. We already recognize that EFCA is one of the most important bills that will come before this or any other recent Congress -- and we support it wholeheartedly.

Well okay then! But tell me, what if I hate poor people and don't care about the future of America? Why should I care about this bill in that case?
But this piece isn't really for those Democrats who instinctively prioritize workplace issues, who understand that a strong labor movement is at the core of any just and democratic society. I'm writing today for those breeds of Democrats who -- for whatever reason -- just don't care that much, or at least that passionately, about labor. I'm writing for folks like Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln -- two good Democratic senators who have yet to commit to voting for EFCA. I don't want to appeal to your better angels and try to convince you that EFCA is a civil rights bill, or that its passage is a moral imperative. No -- my message is simple, and is an appeal to your baser instincts: Passing EFCA will get more Democrats elected.
That's right. Put aside, for the moment, the many, many reasons that passing EFCA makes sense from a policy perspective. EFCA is a political winner for Democrats. Why? Because EFCA will increase the number of union members in the US -- and union members (and, for that matter, non-members living in union households) are more likely to vote Democratic than non-members.

(Emphasis theirs.)

And here I was, dismissing out of hand the argument made by conservatives that Democrats support immigration because Mexicans vote Democrat! Anyway, DailyKos being silly is old news, but let's go ahead and click some links, and try and determine why this bill is so awesome. Oh look, this rhetorical tactic looks familiar...
But right now, we're up against lawmakers like Sen. Norm Coleman in Minnesota, who oppose the Employee Free Choice Act. In opposing the Employee Free Choice Act, Coleman and his cohorts might as well be saying they don't care about saving America's middle class.

My witty retort writes itself!

The bill itself, I don't actually care much about; I suppose the typical libertarian response would be to say that the government has no damn business telling businesses whether they can tell their workers not to join a union, or whatever, but the entire structure of union-employer relationship is so heavily determined by legislation that it's not like we're talking about the pollution of a virgin free market here. My default position is opposition, based on the locus of my confirmation bias; that whatever Congress is doing, it will screw up, because it's Congress.

At any rate, as much as watching the democratic process in action pains me, I derive proportional pleasure from the fact that the whole act is entirely pointless, because the president declared months ago that he'll veto the bill; the current work on it is posturing. (pdf link) It's one party forcing the other to vote against something they think is popular; an action which may have some tangential effect on the 2008 election, but will not actually establish new policy.

This is why I love gridlock. A united government fucks people; a divided one masturbates.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Means And Ends

Rudy Giuliani has released a list of what he pretends to want to do as President. Naturally it is a massively ambitious Christmas list with no policy specifics whatsoever. (Update: Durf beat me to posting the list, so I'm snipping it. Read Rudy's lips here.)

James Joyner asks the obvious questions, and IOZ digs into the semantics, also coining the nickname "Benito" for the Mayor of 9/11 which I'm totally stealing.

The list is worth posting solely to be able to laugh at it in 2010, if not sooner. But it points out the absurdity of trying to make political judgments based on "The Ends" - that is, the motives behind policies - rather than the "Means" that they supposedly justify - that is, the actual policy in question.

We must remember Rule #1, and further remember that old quip about laws and sausages. The ends never justify the means, because the actual ends are re-election and campaign financing. When looking at the above list, the begged question for most of his "commitments" is "Exactly how will you do that, Rudy?" And the answer to that question is the same as the answer to this question: "How will further your re-election campaign by pretending to do that, Rudy?"

The reason I say "most", is that Commitment #2 is impossible, and #5 doesn't even pass the laugh test. Accountability for thee, not for me, is and ever shall be as necessary to politics as blocking and tackling are to football.

Sadly, the easiest and most often used technique for criticizing opponents of one's policy, is accusing them of a lack of desire to solve whatever problem one's policy purports to solve. Not only will Giuliani employ this technique, but it will be the centerpiece of his campaign. That is, if he ever gets around to proposing anything substantive.


Committing Guiliani

9/11 Presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani via Bluey Blog via Outside the Beltway shares with us his 12 Committments to the American People.
1. I will keep America on offense in the Terrorists’ War on Us.
2. I will end illegal immigration, secure our borders, and identify every non-citizen in our nation.
3. I will restore fiscal discipline and cut wasteful Washington spending.
4. I will cut taxes and reform the tax code.
5. I will impose accountability on Washington.
6. I will lead America towards energy independence.
7. I will give Americans more control over, and access to, healthcare with affordable and portable free-market solutions.
8. I will increase adoptions, decrease abortions, and protect the quality of life for our children.
9. I will reform the legal system and appoint strict constructionist judges.
10. I will ensure that every community in America is prepared for terrorist attacks and natural disasters.
11. I will provide access to a quality education to every child in America by giving real school choice to parents.
12. I will expand America’s involvement in the global economy and strengthen our reputation around the world.
Truly self-parodying.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


"God, I wish she were straight."

Andrew Sullivan, on Rosie O'Donnell.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Wherein Your Curmudgeon Fails The Laugh Test

Check this shit out:
The Bush Administration, for all that your Curmudgeon deems it to have gone seriously wrong on several issues, is composed almost entirely of good and decent people doing the best they can for their country according to their lights. There hasn't been an administration this free from ethical taint since Grover Cleveland came to Washington.

Words fail. You can imagine why Francis banned me from his comments 3 or 4 years ago.