Monday, April 30, 2012

Gateway Sexual Activity

New name for a rock band? No, just the latest from Tennessee's legislature.

Once again the party of 'limited government' and 'personal responsibility' looks for new ways to legislate individual sexual conduct. The bill itself defines such activity as:
(7) “Gateway sexual activity” means sexual contact encouraging an individual to engage in a non-abstinent behavior. A person promotes a gateway sexual activity by encouraging, advocating, urging or condoning gateway sexual activities;
According to The Tennessean, the bill passed the state's House "68-23, with all but one Republican for it."

I understand that the GOP's fundamental organizing base is evangelical christian networks, and that these type of bills make perfect sense from a strategic perspective. But this is becoming grimly comical. The bill passed the Senate 28-1 on April 5. This will be an actual law that actual Tennesseans will have to live with.

Chutzpah. Also Amnesia.

The Washington Post quotes Mitt Romney's "senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom" asserting that the Auto Industry Bailout was really his bosses idea.
“[Romney's] position on the bailout was exactly what President Obama followed,” Fehrnstrom said. “He said, ‘If you want to save the auto industry, just don’t write them a check. That will seal their doom. What they need to do is go through a managed bankruptcy process.’

“Consider that the crown jewel. The only economic success that President Obama has had,” Fehrnstrom said, “is because he followed Mitt Romney’s advice.”
Unsurprisingly, if not predictably, a quick Google search yields an op-ed penned by Mr. Romney and published in The New York Times, on November 18th, 2008 titled:
Let Detroit Go Bankrupt
The op-ed itself is an exercise in free-market lionization and general supply-side tropes, without any specific plan, aside from "[...] automakers should come up with a win-win proposition," by undergoing a managed bankruptcy in a historically tight credit market.

Not only that, Mr. Romney also wrote another op-ed[1], published on Feburary 14th, this year, lamenting that:
“The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse. I believe that without his intervention things there would be better.”
“The indisputable good news is that Chrysler and General Motors are still in business. The equally indisputable bad news is that all the defects in President Obama’s management of the American economy are evident in what he did.”
What makes Mr. Fehrstrom's assertion so outrageous is not only the chutzpah required to say that Mr. Romney's advocacy to force GM, Ford and Crysler into a managed bankruptcy "was exactly what Obama followed," but the amnesia required to ignore Mr. Romney's own written statements decrying the President's decisions that are, according to Mr. Fehrnstrom, supposed to be his own.

[1] A note on the citations: The Detroit News does not have a digital copy of Mr. Romney's op-ed on their website. The quotes were taken from The Hill's Ballot Box, which is linked above.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


The Politico is reporting today that "Mitt Romney aims to rock the youth vote". How? Well, I am not sure, and it seems like the Romney campaign is not so interested in the details either[1]:
Though the Romney campaign did not share specifics of their strategy, an aide told POLITICO that they view the youth vote as key to their strategy in November and that they plan to put significant resources into turning out young voters for Romney.
I am interested to see what, if anything comes of it; but I do not think the former Massachusetts Governor is going match this kind of swag:

[1] It's also possible they just don't want to tip their hand.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Quote of the Day

Why can't Mitt Romney be a little more honest about his wealth?
Look. I don’t begrudge Romney’s having had his college tuition and living expenses paid for with family money. Mine were too. My background, though not as fancy as Mitt or Ann Romney’s, was privileged enough. But the guy should just come out and admit it: “I was a child of privilege and have my parents’ wealth to thank for my education. That said, I worked very very hard in business, and the vast majority of my fortune I earned myself.”

But there is of course a reason he can’t say that: such a statement is customarily followed by an expression of gratitude and a willingness to give something back to society. And gratitude and a willingness to give something back are precisely what Romney lacks—in common with the party he’s aspiring to represent.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Social Networks and Political Speech I

Facebook devils me. It is a social networking website that allows anyone with an internet connection - for free - use their server space to host a profile page. The catch, I gather, is that you become the product Facebook intends to sell. When I think about it, it is clear that the 'social media' business model revolves around personal information, to help make more targeted marketing. The more personal information a social media firm can gather and offer to advertisers, the more revenue potential a firm (like Facebook) has.

But there is something more fundamental to Facebook specifically, and social media in general, that piques my interest; the notion of the 'public sphere' entering one's ostensibly private 'social networks'.

First, I'd like to outline my terms a bit. I consider myself an 'Arendtian', so my understanding of the public sphere is largely based on Arendt's definition. In her opus The Human Condition Arendt asserts
[...] that everything that appears in public can be seen and heard by everybody and has the widest possible publicity. For us, appearance—something that is being seen and heard by others as well as by ourselves—constitutes reality. (50 emphasis mine — JMG)
Nowadays, if I have a witty joke joke or a short piece of personal news I want to share, I put it on Facebook; if I have a larger or more unweidly point that I want to examine, I post an essy on this blog. I'm doubtful that my one-liners about the weather, or latest observation on Rick Santorum is "seen and heard by everybody". But it is available for public consumption. I think that the quality of "availability" is important when trying to distinguish between a "public" comment and a "private" thought. The problem now is that private thoughts are publicly available, depending on your security settings. But availability is not the only concern. A speaker's intent certainly has to play a role in distinguishing private and public speech.

Ardent continues:
Compared with the reality which comes from being seen and heard, even the greatest forces of intimate life—the passions of the heard, the thoughts of the mind, the delights of the senses—lead an uncertain, shadowy kind of existance unless and until they are transformed, deprivateized and de-individualized, as it were, into a shape to fit them for public appearance" (50 emphasis mine — JMG)
Look at you newsfeed an ask yourself; are your or your friend's postings being "shape[d] to fit" for public consumption? Does the average facebook poster engage in the mental process of shaping their thoughts for public consuption? Does Facebook "count" as a part of the public sphere under Arendt's framework in the first place?

I ask these questions, becasue ultimately; to be social is to be political. I don't mean this in a heavy-handed "friends don't let friends be convervative/liberal" kind of way. I mean that our individual ethics and political convictions are untimatly products of "being social". Of inter homines esse, as Arendt put it. I think that new social media technology is certainly changing some of those dynamics, and perhaps warping some of our (or Arendt's) longstanding assumptions about how the "private" and "public" spheres are distinguished.

Everything is a Culture War

Dave Weigel continues his invaluable constituent interviews during the waning days of the this cycle's Republican nomination contest. The latest I have read is from the Nevada caucuses, which took place back in early February. The news itself is a bit old, but the constituent's quote is pertinent my contention on the 'culturalization' of political debates.

Kent, an escavator from Virginia City, Nev. explains his views on partisanship:
"This is going to sound rough," he said. "But if you're a Democrat, you are my enemy. Democrats piss me off. They've gotten extremely socialistic." What did that mean? "Every time they get in, they raise taxes. They screw things up. I've got a jeep I've had for ten years; I pay $100 a year on the license plate. We just got a new Dodge; $600 to license it. You pay your money, they pass it on to the Mexicans, the colored people. Free education, handouts, all of that." (emphasis mine - JMG)
I want to link this back to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's earlier comments about how we are turning into a nation of "people sitting on a couch waiting for their next government check," and how a lot of economic policy questions are being transmogrified into morality plays of how the 'government' poses a threat to concepts of 'independence' or 'virtue'. Once you start examining these kind of statements through the perspective of economic theory or social policy, you start to see how devoid of substance these kind of sentiments are. But a lot or people do not care to consider viewpoints of economic theory or social policy for all kinds of reasons. (If I had to guess the probable causes, I would suggest lack of technical understanding or a need for worldview that eliminates ambiguity.)

Now, a lot of people (myself included) complain about the lack of good faith in debates between our ideologically opposed representatives. A lot of people, myself excluded, diagnose the problem as an issue of party-driven polarization. Well, that is not quote right. I do agree that there is an issue of party-driven polarization, but I find that the drivers of party polarization are party participants and constituents like Kent and Gov. Christie. Representatives are less and less amiable to 'bi-partisanship' because the people they represent are less 'bi-partisan'.

Now, if you are frustrated with the way things are right now via-a-vis partisanship and gridlock (and I think you should be), then the first thing I think you should focus on attacking, is this idea that all policy disagreements can fundamentally be explained as 'us' against the 'enemy'. I think this goes for both camps, but I certainly do not think there exists an equivalence in degree or severity. Especially since Barack Obama has been president, conservative constituents and party actors have seemed more than comfortable to resorting to more and more brazen appeals to paranoia and 'otherness' as a tool to gain political advantage.

So I think I understand why people like Kent from Nevada feel that Democrats "raise taxes" and "pass it on to the Mexicans, the colored people", but I do not think that 'partisanship' any real excuse for statements like that. If anything, I find it all the more to be an indictment against the conservative opposition to progressive tax policy or a robust social safety net.

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is decrying the the current state of the country, lamenting that the 'Nation turning into 'people sitting on a couch waiting for their next government check'. Gov. Christie's exact complaint is that:
When the American people no longer believe that this is a place where only their willingness to work hard and to act with honor and integrity and ingenuity determines their success in life, then we’ll have a bunch of people sitting on a couch waiting for their next government check,
I bring this up because I am honestly not sure how the $102.4 million Panasionic received from the Christie administration in tax credits (to help incite a headquarter move on the electronic giant's part) services Gov. Christie's dream of an America where "honor and integrity and ingenuity determines their success in life".

I don't quite get why this snakeoil keeps getting sold, let alone bought. The logic Gov. Christie is presenting here, from what I gather, is that tax breaks for individual citizens, particularly low-income citizens, is somehow a signal for the end of an America where "honor and integrity and ingenuity determines their success in life"; while tax preferences for large multinational conglomerates is just a part of 'staying competitive'. Not only is this internally inconsistent, it is just naked, anti-competitive corporate welfare disguised as pro-market policy. Markets need its participants, as well as firms, to be competitive.

I think the most flagrant thing about this, is what a horrible deal it is for the taxpayers of New Jersey. According to the self-reported jobs creation projections,
the companies have promised to add 2,364 jobs, or $387,537 in tax credits per job, over the next decade.
Gov. Christe is giving Panasonic, Goya Foods and Prudential Insurance almost $400,000 for each job they create? Only 2,364 jobs over the next decade? And he has the gall to complain about citizens whose poverty is so abject they perhaps need public assistance? Absurd.