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March 23, 2012

makers and takers

It's a couple days old, but you might have noticed that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI/Certified Genius) released the Republican proposal for the federal budget.  Please note that Rep. Ryan is neither the Speaker of the House or the Majority Leader.  But he is a certified genius.  So he gets to put his name on it.

The budget itself is more of the same, very similar to the budget he proposed last year that the rank and file spent the rest of the year running from.  For an excellent point-by-point, I recommend Charles Pierce's awesome nasty little takedown.  But in Rep. Ryan's remarks, he again resorted to using a phrase that I loathe:

We’ve become a nation of net takers versus makers.

Now that's standard objectivist dogma and nomenclature, the maker-and-taker thing.  I don't think that the phrase appeared in any Ayn Rand novel — I believe her terminology was "producers" and "looters" — but it might as well, because it's as reverse-engineered unadulterated class warfare as anything else she wrote.  So obviously, the sentiment behind it?  Absolutely against it, as it's a distortion of reality — what do industrialists make other than money?  And where does that money come from?  Maybe those that could be called "takers"?  Nuts to that.

But mostly I hate it because it's insipid, like a grown man trying to emulate the argot of his tween children.  It rhymes!  We get it!  Shut up.

And does it go without saying that whatever we've "become" is actually something we've been all along?  And there's been any number of hands on the tiller for the past fifty years, leadership from both parties, but to pretend that the engine driving policy during that period isn't a creeping Friedmanite neoliberalism is blithe and ridiculous.  So whatever it is this country has become, lay it at the feet of the people whose portraits line Paul Ryan's office.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:57 AM

strange bedfellow: allen west

In the Credit Where Credit Is Due department: my distaste for Allen West is no secret.  He's that special mix of depraved and righteous that mixes together to create a world in which those with whom he disagrees should leave the country, and oh did he remind you yet that he is a veteran of the Iraq War yet?  Because that's 75% of his charm, you see.

But he has come down on the issue of Treyvon Martin (, and he has come down on the right side:

The shooter, Mr Zimmerman, should have been held in custody and certainly should not be walking free, still having a concealed weapons carry permit. From my reading, it seems this young man was pursued and there was no probable cause to engage him, certainly not pursue and shoot him….against the direction of the 911 responder. Let’s all be appalled at this instance not because of race, but because a young American man has lost his life, seemingly, for no reason.

It's kind of weird that Rep. West is standing alone as the conservative firebrand supporting the prosecution of George Zimmerman, because this is not that controversial of an event.  In police abuses of power, I understand how conservatives would feel compelled to defend the authority figures.  But in this situation, a armed psycho racist stalked, assaulted and murdered a kid coming back from the store.  Maybe there's something in the genetic material of the National Rifle Association that makes one always side with the armed over the unarmed, but other than that?  So good on Rep. West for not letting ideology blind him to the specifics of this matter.

Now I'll disagree with him that this isn't about race, but let's leave that for another day, a day after George Zimmerman (and the relevant elements of the Sanford Police Department) have stood trial.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:23 AM

March 21, 2012

toulouse equivalency

I try never to wade into the greater question of the Middle East and the behavior of the actors in that theater, mostly because it's one of the (many) things that I haven't spent more than a little time trying to learn about/understand.  And it's one of those seemingly binary situations in which it is very difficult to point something out without a full half of those committed to the situation (in one way or the other) to begin boycotting you.

But there was a brief item in the New York Times this morning concerning how the European Union foreign policy chief, at a conference on the Gaza Strip, included both the murders in Toulouse and the death of children in Gaza in Israeli military action in the same list of regrettable things.  This of course upset supporters of the current Israeli policies towards the region, because how dare you! etc. etc.

I kind of want to refrain having an opinion on the appropriateness of the reference conflation, but then there's this paragraph in the piece:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier that he was “infuriated” by what he called “the comparison between a deliberate massacre of children and the defensive, surgical actions” of the Israeli military that he said were “intended to hit terrorists who use children as a human shield.”

Which (and it's an incomplete quote) implies that Netanyahu is admitting the targeting of children being used as human shields.

That's a behavior that does not rise to those we consider associated with the moral high ground.  Appropriating the tools of the oppressors is one thing, but appropriating the tools of the oppressed is another one entirely.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:40 AM

March 19, 2012

question anxiety

There's been an undertone of attacking the messenger during this iteration of the Republican primary, and between you and me, it's a load of hooey.  Reporter (or talking head, as it may be) asks candidate an uncomfortable question, and candidate dodges question by questioning integrity of reporter/talking head.  Hell, Newt Gingrich can thank that particular rhetorical device for the couple weeks as meta-front-runner pretty much exclusively.

A more recent example is Rick Santorum on "Morning Joe" yesterday, taking exception to being asked about his views on contraception:

“This is you guys playing sort of gotcha politics,” Santorum said. “Go to any of my almost now 1,000 town hall meetings, and I don’t think the word ‘contraception’ has ever come up. Let’s deal with reality instead of what media tries to do, which is pigeonhole you and tell a narrative.”

Points to Santorum for not phrasing it like, "The American people don't wanna talk about contraception.  Let's talk about what the American people want to talk about..." but you get the gist.

The reason why this ploy is venal crap is that the purpose of the press is not to have congenial discussions with the candidate, or to stick with the list of safe topics that the candidate would like.  The purpose of the press is to report on the news it sees fit, whether you agree or disagree (at which point I say, "Hello!" to Fox News).  Obviously there is some intrinsic influence from viewer/reader preference (i.e., the newspapers won't sell themselves), but from the subjects of the coverage?  Come on, man.

This is not "gotcha". This is actually how the sausage is made.  And until a Wolf Blitzer or a Morning Joe actually rebuts this head-on instead of backing off into, "I thought we were friends!" territory, it's just going to reinforce this notion into the heads of the idiots out there who think that there's some Constitutional right not to be asked questions that Rick Santorum doesn't want to be asked.

Like, Joe Scarborough could've said something like, "Well, Senator, the reality is that you've written extensively about contraception, so that there are people talking about it — namely, people that oppose your candidacy.  So if you'd like to alleviate the concern of potential voters that you are some Opus Dei nutjob, be my guest, and if you don't want to answer my question, then get your ass of my television show and we'll give free airtime to someone else."

Something close to that, you know.  But we need an, "At long last sir, have you no shame?" moment, soonish.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:45 PM

March 18, 2012

subscription-based services

I just heard on NPR that South Fulton, TN, the small town that has been letting homes burn to the ground if the owners weren't paid up on municipal fees, has just voted to end that practice, meaning that firefighters in South Fulton are now allowed to fight fires without checking with accounts payable.  With the caveat, of course, that if the homeowner hasn't paid the fee, they will be charged $3,500.

This is one of those issues that's pretty provocative, the by-product of the neoliberal push to reimagine how communities work (with a dash of NIMBY thrown in).  (And remember that 'neoliberal' is not liberal at all, but the Milton Friedman school of unfettered markets and the privatization of everything up to and including your mom.)  Proponents of the fee-based firefighting run along the lines of, "Someone's gotta pay for the service, why not the person receiving the benefit?" while opponents (like me) counter that certain municipal expenses should not be a la carte simply because the benefit of having things not on fire is actually a common good, or the "general welfare."

(And of course the actual events in South Fulton are more complex than all this — the fees are being levied on homeowners that are outside of the town limits in unincorporated mining camps and settlements, so the two sides have a lot more nuance than can be quickly conveyed.)

But take for example this paragraph from this WSJ piece on the trend of firefighting by subscription, as an example of the rightward drift of the consensus:

Firefighting fees aren't a novel idea. In Colonial times, homeowners displayed metallic fire marks above their front doors to show they had paid their insurers and that volunteers would be reimbursed for dousing blazes. Such fees remained common until the early 1900s,when firefighting evolved into a profession of full-timers paid to stay on call, following blazes that struck in Chicago, Baltimore and Boston.

That is intended as a paragraph to demonstrate that this subscription system is not barbaric and dystopian, but rather a time-honored tradition and why not welcome it back?  But actually, everything you need to know about why not welcoming it back is right there in plain type: it is a practice that died over a century ago, and the reason that it died over a century ago is that we nearly lost a couple cities because of it.

The purpose of firefighters is not only to pour water on my stuff when my stuff is on fire, it is to prevent an otherwise mundane fire into turning into something that threatens everyone.  As such (in the same way that we are interested in having potable, disease-free drinking water), it makes no sense to be subscription-based.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:03 AM

reaganizing

Here I am, prosecuting my weekend, as it were, and I realized that I plumb forgot about the presidential primaries for nearly a week.  That doesn't sound that weird, but I'm someone that ordinarily follows that stuff with the fervor that most of America is bracketologizing right now.  So that's a pretty poor statement on the state of the race: too uninspiring to even pay attention to (at least until someone says something scandalous again, which is why Newt Gingrich must remain in the race!)

So in solidarity with my Republican friends, until such time as this race gets back to the place where it's worth paying attention to, I will attribute every decision I make to the wisdom of Ronald Reagan.

Like, "It's no secret that President Ronald Reagan's favorite show was 'Doomsday Preppers.' And if it's good enough for the Gipper, it's good enough for me."

Or, "I think it was Ronald Reagan who, in the 1981 State of the Union Address, said that, 'Yes, I would like some fries with that.'"

Presidential, right?

Posted by mrbrent at 8:06 AM