How Authoritarian Are You?

ObeyWith all my recent thinking about authoritarianism, I decided to take a test to see just how much of an authoritarian I am. The truth is, I didn’t know. I suffer from a weird kind of psychological hypochondria. When I was reading about psychopathy, for example, I began to think that despite everything, I was really a psychopath. Sure, I have a painful level of empathy, but that’s just a trick that my psychopathic personality does to make me feel like a good person. In the end, I realized that it was in fact that empathy that allowed me to understand psychopaths and that I wasn’t actually one.

Another Day, Another Test

So when I took the authoritarianism test, I tried to be careful and to not just give the answer that I could reasonably assume indicated anti-authoritarianism. It consists of 30 statements that request a response of 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). The test mixes things up so that it isn’t obvious. And really, after taking the test, I was surprised that some statements I had thought would indicate anti-authoritarianism indicated the opposite. So a final score can range from 1 (completely non-authoritarian) to 6 (completely authoritarian). I got a score of 2.03, which made me a “liberal airhead” and just on the cusp of a “whining rotter.”

The test was created after World War II. It was designed by sociologist Theodor W. Adorno to test fascist tendencies. In fact, the test is called the F-Scale, the “F” being fascist. There are two parts of it that I think ought to be updated. One is sexuality, which is focused on homosexuality. Although it still is an issue, I wonder whether will be all that meaningful in a generation or two. The other issue is superstition. That was very much part of Nazi thinking, but I don’t see it as being an authoritarian characteristic more generally. For example, agreeing with the following statement is an indication of authoritarianism, “Science has its place, but there are many important things that can never be understood by the human mind.” This statement gets to the heart of my theological thinking and has nothing to do with authoritarianism for me.

My Authoritarian Results

According to the test, there are 9 parts of the authoritarian personality. Here they are with my score on each in the parentheses:

Conventionalism (2.25)
Authoritarian Submission (2.14)
Authoritarian Aggression (1.75)
Anti-Intraception (2.75)
Superstition and Stereotypy (2.00)
Power and “Toughness” (1.75)
Destructiveness and Cynicism (3.50)
Projectivity (1.40)
Sex (1.00)

Most of these should be pretty clear, but a few are strange. Anti-Intraception is, “Opposition to the subjective, the imaginative, the tender-minded.” Projectivity is, “The disposition to believe that wild and dangerous things go on in the world; the projection outwards of unconscious emotional impulses.” Sex is, “Exaggerated concern with sexual ‘goings-on.'” I find my relatively high score on Anti-Intraception interesting because I am all about the subjective. But this probably has to do with my blanket disregard for “objective” reality; I’m not all that keen on ideas that would indicate that there is a base reality and on top of that fairies and elves are running around.

Where I Scored High

My only absolutely high score is on Destructiveness and Cynicism. But this one is determined by only two questions. I got a low score on the Destructive and a very high score on the Cynicism. That’s not surprising at all. And I think when people drill down into my cynicism, they find that I am not nearly as cynical as I sometimes appear. In fact, I generally find other people far more cynical than I am. There is a difference between cynicism and disappointment.

Authoritarian America

According to John Dean in Conservatives Without Conscience, conservatives who learn about their authoritarian tendencies try to make changes. And so I would love all the conservatives who I know to take this test. Unfortunately, I can’t encourage them to take the test. It would be offensive and certainly make them defensive. But I do think that many of them hold authoritarian beliefs that they don’t see as authoritarian.

That’s especially true of cynicism. Most cynical people think they are just clever and more observant than others. But mostly, cynicism manifests as a way of accepting the status quo. The most annoying example of this is reacting to bad behavior on the part of a politician and saying, “Well, they’re all that way.” Or to look at the oil company disinformation campaign and claim that the other side is just like that because Al Gore got a million bucks for his Nobel Prize.

Another aspect I see with authoritarian thinking is the compulsive love of the American military. Most conservatives I talk to think the military should be given any and all money that it asks for. It is simply the truth that the military cannot get too big and the military always does right and anyone who questions this is just an evil person who hates America. In a sense, the military is America for these people. Yet these same people—almost to a man—hate the government.

Using the Test

The one bad thing about the test is that all of these subscores must be hand calculated. And that is really where the test is most useful. It doesn’t help that much to tell someone that they think like an authoritarian. Much more helpful is to tell them maybe they should consider not worrying so much about other people’s sex lives. Or that they have a tendency to put everything in the context of power politics. In my own case, I know that I have tendencies toward cynicism and it’s a good thing to be reminded of that.

The main thing is that the test is a useful tool to better understand oneselves. It should never be used to rank people, “I’m less authoritarian than you are!” A couple of years back, a poll of Tea Party members found that they scored well above normal for both libertarianism and authoritarianism. I doubt that many of those people were even aware of their authoritarian tendencies. And I doubt they would be pleased about it. The knowledge that such tests provide could be really helpful to them—and to the rest of us.

But Apparently I’m Not an Authoritarian

But on a personal level, the test confirmed what I knew deep down: I’m no authoritarian. In fact, it is kind of the opposite. I’ve always had a great fondness for Winona Ryder’s character Call in Alien Resurrection. Once it is revealed that she is an android, one of the other characters says that he had heard about them. He said that they didn’t turn out well because, “They didn’t like being told what to do!” But as we see in the film, they also don’t like other people told what to do. Clearly, I think we all ought to be that way.

What Would Karl Popper Think Today?

Karl PopperThe German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach was born on this day in 1804. He is most famous for theological work, the main piece of which George Eliot (Yes, that George Eliot!) translated into English as The Essence of Christianity. He took an anthropological approach to religion. It seems to me a weak critique, however it completely explains religion as it is practiced by the vast majority of Americans.

Writer and illustrator, best know for The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter was born in 1866. Idealism philosopher Ernst Cassirer was born in 1874. Feminist Lucy Burns was born in 1879. Painter Marcel Duchamp was born in 1887. He painted one of my favorite modernist works, Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2. Singer Rudy Vallee was born in 1901.

Nude Descending a StaircaseTupperware inventor Earl Tupper was born in 1907. Although that is pretty cool, Tupper was your typical businessman. Most of his success was due to Brownie Wise, who invented the unique sales strategy. Tupper dumped all over her. Later in life, he got rid of his US citizenship to avoid taxes. Typical “patriotism” of the conservative class! He bought an island off the coast of Mexico before dying.

Novelist Malcolm Lowry was born in 1909. Conductor Carmen Dragon was born in 1914. Producer David Brown was born in 1916. I don’t know why, but I have a great fondness for the man. He did produce (along with Darryl Zanuck) some fun films like Jaws and The Sting. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was born in 1929. Guitarist Mike Bloomfield was born in 1943. Keyboardist Richard Wright was born in 1945. And Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was born in 1954.

Poet John Ashbery is 86 today. Garfield creator Jim Davis is 68. For the record: I’m not a fan. But he’s good at what he does. Actor Sally Struthers is 66. And Michael Hitchcock is 55.

The day, however, belongs to Karl Popper who was born on this day in 1902. Popper was a philosopher of science—and one of the greatest. But he did this primarily be being very practical. I don’t find his work all that interesting because his insights are largely obvious and not terribly deep. But they were a refreshing push back against, for example, Roland Barthes, even if I have found Barthes to be far more insightful regarding the real world. There is much to be said for verifiable science, but it is a mistake to think that it is the only valid way to pursue the truth.

What is most interesting about Popper is how he is a hero of the conservative intellectual movement for reasons that are anathema to the modern conservative movement. Popper was disillusioned with the communist movement specifically because of it disregard to facts. As a result, he became a big proponent of liberalism along with Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman. It would be nice to think that Popper, looking at the facts as we know them today, would modify his position. But that clearly didn’t happen to Friedman, who was also a great thinker. In his case, he simply came up for more and more rationalizations for his own extreme take on liberalism. So who can say with Popper, although he was never the kind of true believer that those three were.

Happy birthday Karl Popper!

Not So Long Road to GOP Authoritarianism

Lincoln 2012Last week, Robert Reich wrote an article trying to explain, Why Republicans are Disciplined and Democrats Aren’t. Basically he argued that this is because of the kind of people who are attracted to the two parties. Republicans tend to lean toward authoritarianism, and thus it isn’t surprising that their politicians would be good at delivering the same brainless talking points over and over and over again. I don’t think there is much question of this. When I was a libertarian, I hated the Republican Party and still had a certain fondness for the Democrats for exactly this reason. (Sadly for the movement, most people are exactly the opposite, which ought to tell you all you need to know about libertarianism as a practical matter.)

What confuses me is that according to Reich, it ever was so. He quotes Will Rogers saying, “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” He likely said that before the first World War. But I’m not sure it means what Reich claims. After all, people normally make that kind of joke about whatever organization they are associated with. But I do think the joke works because Democrats have long recognized themselves in it and Republicans have felt superior for that reason. But is that image correct?

In many ways, the Republican Party has always been conservative. When the party started in the 1850s, it had a very compelling slogan, “free labor, free land, free men.” The “free land” part of that referred to the fact that plantation owners tended to own all the good farm land in an area. As a result of this, free (white) farmers were kept down because the system was proto-feudal. But it’s clear that the slogan is laser focused on slavery. The first and third phrases are about slavery and the second is about slave holders. The truth is that from the beginning, the Republican Party was very much pro-business, although it is certainly true that business then was quite different from now.

Moving forward into the progressive era, Theodore Roosevelt would seem to push against the idea that the Republican Party was always conservative. But his liberal policy of trust busting was very unpopular within his party and he eventually went on to run as a Progressive. That can certainly be seen as a practical matter—he just wouldn’t admit defeat. But that was also true of Joe Lieberman, who has also stood outside his party on important issues.

Since I was a kid, I’ve wondered how it is that a liberal party becomes a conservative party. I think what I’ve talked about here is part of the issue—but not all of it. To some extent, the GOP has reached its current position by starting out as rather conservative—at least on economic issues. Equally important, in many ways the party simply hasn’t evolved. In the 1950s, there were lots of Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower who had made their peace with progressivism and the New Deal. But there was always a strong minority in the party that accepted nothing—people who wanted to return to 1880. During the beginning of Obama’s presidency, there was a wave of conservative concern about the 17th Amendment to the Constitution: direct election of senators. That was a movement that started in the 1890s that became law in 1913. This part of the party has been ascendant in recent years.

In many ways, the party has regressed. There is a tendency among all of us to learn narrow lessons rather than broad ones. For example, most Americans now think the Nazis were bad simply because they killed so many Jews and other “undesirables.” But even without the Final Solution and the racism, the Nazis were a terrible authoritarian political movement. I think the same thing is going on with Republicans regarding slavery. There is little doubt in my mind that if slavery were an issue today, most Republicans would be apologists for it. The Christians would rightly note that slavery is in the Bible; it wouldn’t be their fault; it is God’s law. The economic conservatives would make arguments like, “Slavery is not optimal, but eliminating it would be terrible for the economy.” Conservative economists would come up with complex models to show how slavery actually makes poor whites better off than they would otherwise be. Am I going too far here? Maybe, but I seriously doubt it based upon some of the outrageous claims that otherwise good economists have made over the last 5 years especially.

I’ve come to the conclusion that what ties conservatives together is authoritarianism. Their rhetoric is all about freedom, but you hardly need to scratch the surface to see what they really think. Tax cuts are not for the poor, they are for the power elite. And when taxes are cut to a point where the poor pay no federal income taxes, Republicans grouse about how outrageous that is. And that’s the best case they have for not being an authoritarian party. Certainly their positions on guns, war, welfare, abortion, and just about anything else you can think of are explicitly authoritarian. Does anyone really doubt that if abortion was a medical procedure done to men that it wouldn’t be controversial?

The Republican Party is doubtless more authoritarian than it has ever been. But for a long time it has been authoritarian and the roots of this have always been present. What’s more, there has been a steady trend toward authoritarianism in the Republican Party. And the opposite has been the case with the Democratic Party. And this is why, despite my great disappointment with it, I self-identify as a Democrat. It is also why any thoughtful person should distance themselves from the party of Abraham Lincoln. Because other than the issue of slavery, they weren’t so great. And today, it hardly stands out as a party that would end slavery.

In Which Matt Taibbi Is a Prude

Matt TaibbiI have tried my best to avoid coverage of the Anthony Weiner scandal, but I made the mistake of clicking on a link to a Matt Taibbi article that I thought might give an interesting perspective as he often does, Electing Anthony Weiner Isn’t as Funny as it Sounds. It was really disappointing—surprisingly hand wringing, middle America, Villager outrage.

According to Taibbi, the Weiner scandal isn’t just about sexting. He says of Weiner, “This married politician sent unsolicited pictures of his penis to female strangers on the Internet!” Now I couldn’t care any less than I already do about the fact that he was married and despite what Taibbi claims about not wanting to sound like a prude, the fact that he italicized the word “married” does in fact make him a prude. But if Weiner sent unsolicited pictures to these women, that’s a whole other story. It does, as Taibbi points out, make Weiner a “a 21st-century flasher who used the U.S. Congress as a raincoat.” If that’s true of Weiner, he really needs to get some help and the decade that Taibbi suggests sounds about right.

The problem is that I had never heard anything about this. Admittedly, I’ve done my best to avoid learning about this case. But I would have thought that Weiner forcing himself on disinterested women would have stood out. So I read the whole Wikipedia page on the scandal and a number of referenced articles. And I found nothing. All I can think is that what Taibbi means by “unsolicited” is that the women didn’t send him explicit messages, “Please send me a picture of your crotch ASAP!”

Let me be clear, I find what I know Weiner has done creepy in the way I find most human sexuality creepy. But I don’t find it offensive. And I would find it very offensive if Weiner was texting to women about Republican obstruction in the House and suddenly sent a picture of his dick. That would show a shocking lack of socialization—although many if not most men do lack such socialization.

The rest of Taibbi’s article is just repeated attempts to make a joke out of the Weiner scandal. He does this, despite the fact that the whole idea of his article is that it is no joke. He says, for example, “I’m not saying the guy can’t have a career after what happened, but his options should be pretty limited—a rodeo clown, maybe, or one of those guys who hands out fliers for strip clubs in Times Square.” That’s a funny way to put it—but really?! Rapists have far more career opportunities than that. Taibbi’s statement is indicative that he has not succeeded in keeping this scandal in perspective.

He makes one good point. “But Mayor of New York City? I know the bar was set pretty low when Mike Bloomberg bought the office outright in 2001…” Exactly! That’s what’s really wrong with our political system. It isn’t that narcissists get elected. But then he blows it by adding, “But we can’t have sunk this far.” So the logic here is that government by, for, and of the rich is a-okay. What’s more, I’m sure those rich people are just as narcissistic—just in different ways. But a known narcissist is not okay.

Matt Taibbi is usually much better than this. I guess he thinks that he’s pushing back at all of the media snickering going on. The problem here is that I haven’t noticed much snickering. There’s been a lot schadenfreude, of course. Mostly, however, the coverage has been the same kind of prudish outrage that Taibbi is peddling. But I feel certain that soon the old Taibbi will be back and Weiner, at least for a while, will be gone.

Afterword

I haven’t researched it, but my assumption is simply that Matt Taibbi doesn’t like Anthony Weiner. And that’s perfectly acceptable. Whenever I see his face, I feel the urge to slap it. But that shouldn’t get in the way of covering the scandal.

Comedy, Politics and Norman Lear

Norman LearOn this day in 1667, one of the great Bernoullis and teacher of Euler, Johann Bernoulli was born. Neoclassic and Romantic painter Joseph Anton Koch was born in 1768. He’s an important painter, but I don’t care much for his work. Italian composer Mauro Giuliani was born in 1781. During his lifetime, he was known as a guitar virtuoso, so many of his compositions were for guitar. Here is the Rondo is from his Opus 71:

Spanish composer Enrique Granados was born in 1867. He was a great composer—well worth checking out if you have an appreciation—as do I—for modern composition that has a strong melodic content. I usually associate this with the French with composers like Claude Debussy and Francis Poulenc. So it is nice to listen to this kind of thing with a Spanish flair. What’s more, Granados tried explicitly to create a Spanish style. This is very much the case in the following piece from his Danzas Españolas:

French writer Julien Gracq was born in 1910. Also that year, actor Fern Persons was born. She only died last year at this time and was working well into her 90s. One of my favorite character actors, Keenan Wynn was born in 1916. Here he is in one of my favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone, “A World of His Own”:

Critic Vincent Canby and composer Otar Taktakishvili were both born in 1924. Postmodern philosopher Jean Baudrillard was born in 1929. And game designer Gary Gygax was born in 1938.

Comedian Jerry Van Dyke is 82 today. And quite a fine comedic director Betty Thomas is 65. She is apparently not retiring.

The day, however, belongs to the great writer and producer Norman Lear is 91 today. He almost defined the 1970s in terms of situation comedies, having created or developed All in the Family, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, Good Times, and Maude. In a sense, he invented the modern situation comedy. Certainly a show like Modern Family owes its existence to Lear. Recently, I went back and watched the first season of All in the Family. It holds up remarkably well. Not only is the content still relevant, the humor isn’t dated. Here is a very good compilation of scenes from the show:

Happy birthday Norman Lear!

Democrats Continue to Screw Their Base

Obama NopeI’m proud of my “Fuck America Vote Republican!” bumper sticker. But I also agree with the statement “Fuck America Vote Democrat!” I wouldn’t display it, because it would give the wrong impression. The Democrats are not fucking America anywhere near as much as the Republicans are. What’s more, there is no major issue on which the Republican Party is not even worse than the Democratic Party. But it is still important to call the Democrats on their bullshit. And that was clearly on display this week with the Amash-Conyers amendment to defund the NSA’s bulk collection of American telephone records.

Remember when Obama wanted to “facilitate a public dialogue” on the government’s various surveillance programs? Glenn Greenwald helpfully translated Obama’s statement, “We welcome the debate that has been exclusively enabled by that vile traitor [Edward Snowden], the same debate we’ve spent years trying to prevent with rampant abuse of our secrecy powers that has kept even the most basic facts about our spying activities concealed from the American people.” But that was then. Now that we have an opportunity to deal with policy, we see what kind of debate the administration wants: a secret one.

Greenwald explained:

The White House then condemned Amash/Conyers this way: “This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.” What a multi-level masterpiece of Orwellian political deceit that sentence is. The highly surgical Amash/Conyers amendment – which would eliminate a single, specific NSA program of indiscriminate domestic spying – is a “blunt approach”, but the Obama NSA’s bulk, indiscriminate collection of all Americans’ telephone records is not a “blunt approach”. Even worse: Amash/Conyers – a House bill debated in public and then voted on in public – is not an “open or deliberative process”, as opposed to the Obama administration’s secret spying activities and the secret court that blesses its secret interpretations of law, which is “open and deliberative”. That anyone can write a statement like the one that came from the Obama White House without dying of shame, or giggles, is impressive.

It would be one thing if it were just the administration. It seems that someone cannot become president without turning into a privacy destroying war monger. But the whole of the Democratic leadership followed along. Justin Raimondo at AntiWar.com wrote, The Battle for the Amash Amendment: Victory in Defeat. He noted that Nancy Pelosi’s opposition to the Amash-Conyers amendment likely caused it to fail. This is especially interesting given that she “represents a district that will no doubt one day name a street after Snowden.”

As much as I may hate the Republican Party for standing against what the nation (and very often their own constituencies) want, at least they do what their base supporters want. That isn’t true of the Democratic Party. There is no question that Pelosi would have at least publicly supported this amendment had a Republican been in the White House. (In private, she’s been pretty consistent in her authoritarianism.) And that speaks volumes about the Democratic Party: it can’t be depended upon to stand up for what its base believes in.

Pathetic GOP Jobs Plan

Fuck America: Vote Republican!

Reed Richardson had a great catch last week. He wrote, “To be fair, the House GOP’s website also has a whole button solely devoted to its jobs plan, which entices you to click it with a promise of ‘Get all the details here.’ That’s true, if by ‘details’ you mean one sentence each of talking points on 10 empty policy platitudes…” So I decided to take a look.

Energy Independence: An “all of the above” approach that expands American energy production will help create jobs, boost manufacturing, and make energy more affordable.

This isn’t a platitude so much as a disingenuous statement. An “all of the above” approach is not a bad idea. The government should be investing heavily in renewable energy. But that’s not what the GOP is calling for. What they want is reduced regulation and tax incentives that will allow the exploitation of known carbon based energy sources. In addition to the problem with global warming, this approach will not do much to create jobs. As Richardson noted, the State Department has determined that the Keystone XL pipeline will create a total of 35 permanent jobs. That begs us to ask the question, “Why is this pipeline being pushed so hard by conservatives?” The answer is the same as always: there are huge profits to be made by companies that are already sitting on huge piles of cash.

Lowering Health Care Costs & Bolstering Research: Repealing ObamaCare, enacting patient-centered reforms, and eliminating wasteful government spending so we can focus on disease and disorder research will improve care, and bring down the costs that strain families and make it harder for small businesses to hire.

There is absolutely no evidence that Obamacare is causing companies to limit hiring and the greater number of people getting healthcare will increase the number of jobs in that field. Remember, Republicans don’t dislike Obamacare because of the individual mandate; they dislike it because it raised taxes on the rich. The rest of this is just a series of meaningless platitudes, but there is a fair amount of disingenuousness as well. For example, somehow reducing government spending is going to cause a greater research focus on disease. If history is any indication, they mean ever more innovative drugs for erectile dysfunction.

Expanding Education Opportunity: Reforming federal education policies to empower parents with choice and equal opportunity to seek great teachers and schools, and improve access to college and training, will better prepare students for tomorrow’s job market.

By “equal opportunity” they mean give all parents a set amount of money for their child’s education. That way the rich won’t have to pay as much for their private educations and the poor will only be able to afford the worst educations. Equality of opportunity!

Simplifying the Tax Code: A simpler, flatter tax code without all the loopholes will be fairer for everyone, bring jobs home, and help make American innovators and manufacturers more competitive.

This is something I talk about with conservatives a lot. They like the idea of a flat tax and getting rid of loopholes. But they change their tunes when they get a little information. One of those loopholes is a huge one for the middle class: the mortgage interest deduction. A flatter tax code means one where the rich play less. Whenever conservatives talk about “simplifying” the tax code, what they mean is raising your taxes and lowering the taxes of the rich. That’s a given. If they really want a flatter tax code, why don’t they start with the payroll tax? It is highly regressive. But no; they want to flatten the only tax in all of the United States that is reasonably progressive. Also note that when all taxes are taken into account, our system is barely progressive, and as incomes get very high, the system becomes regressive.

Controlling Spending: Stopping wasteful spending, strengthening priorities like Medicare, and replacing the president’s sequester with smarter cuts and reforms that help us balance the budget—just like families do—will help pay down our debt and preserve the American Dream.

This is not a platitude. This is simply a prescription for recession. This is exactly the opposite of a job creation plan. And the statement that we should balance the budget “just like families do” is totally wrong. This is conservative propaganda that the GOP knows is wrong. It’s shameful. (And note “the president’s sequester.” Yeah. That’s what the president wanted. It had nothing to do with the Republican Debt Ceiling threat.)

Fostering Innovation: Keeping the Internet free from government regulation, stopping cyber-attacks while protecting our privacy, and modernizing our laws will help promote technological innovation and entrepreneurship.

Platitudes, platitudes, platitudes! Anytime someone tells you they want to protect you and your privacy (as does Obama all the time regarding the NSA), you know they are lying to you. As for modernizing our laws, that could mean patent reform, which would be a good thing. But I have zero confidence in the GOP actually doing that even if they are suggesting it.

Reforming Immigration & Border Security: Securing our borders, enforcing our laws, and making the process of becoming a legal immigrant fairer and more efficient will help America remain a magnet for the brightest minds and hardest workers.

Here is another supply side approach to the economy. The idea is that by allowing businesses to get lower paid workers from abroad, they will make more money. But what will this lead to? More hiring of lower paid workers from abroad? There is, of course, no mention of a path to citizenship, even though that would improve the economy and reduce the federal debt. Of course, as seen above, the GOP doesn’t care about federal debt, just federal spending.

Reining in Red Tape: Removing artificial government barriers and red tape will preserve and strengthen Americans’ ability to build, grow, and compete with anyone.

This is Republican boilerplate. But it is also exactly the opposite of what we should be doing right now. Businesses are sitting on piles of cash. Now is the perfect time to force them to clean up. It wouldn’t hurt normal business investment and it would create jobs.

Expanding Markets for Manufacturers & Small Businesses: Opening new markets for American-made goods will help lower prices for consumers, create better, higher-paying jobs for workers, and attract new investments in the United States.

I assume this is a plea for more and more supposed free trade agreements. These really don’t do much in terms of creating jobs. What they do do is increase profits so that America’s corporations can have even bigger piles of money to sit on.

Stopping Waste & Fixing Broken Government: Responsible oversight of government operations will help remove obstacles to growth and ensure accountability for taxpayers.

More platitudes. But even more important, this point is exactly the same as “Reining in Red Tape.” And that’s true of most of this list. The GOP can’t manage to come up with any good ideas to promote the economy and job growth. But given that, they can’t even come up with ten independent ideas. It is pathetic when you consider that there are actual free market ideas that they could have included. But they aren’t interested in the free market. They entire raison d’etre is to help those who are already successful keep and expand their wealth.

From all of this, you can see why the Republican Party needs its own media sources. Anyone outside the true believer bubble can easily see that all the Republican rhetoric about freedom and “level playing fields” means nothing when it comes to actual policies.

Econocentric

I coined a term today that I think I will find lots of uses for in the future. So I figured I would formally define it here:

e·con·o·cen·tric     adjective     \ˌe-con-ō-ˈsen-trik\

  1. a tendency to view other economic classes from the perspective of one’s own.
  2. characterized by or based on the attitude that one’s own economic class is superior.

The econocentric biases of mainstream reporters allows them to think that their reporting is objective.

e·con·o·cen·tric·i·ty     noun
e·con·o·cen·trism     noun

6 Angry Women

12 Angry MenMichael Stickings over at The Reaction alerted me to the fact that we have finally heard from the last Zimmerman juror—the one who wasn’t white. Later, I got to see some of the actual interview that she did via a video from The Young Turks, that I’ve embedded at the bottom of this article.

I’m in complete agreement with Michael on this case. (We tend to agree about everything other than Latin American politics.) Given the prosecution, defense, and Florida law, an acquittal was at least a defensible outcome. But in listening to what Juror B-29 had to say, I’m inclined to tip a little more strongly towards the ruling being wrong.

There are two related parts to this. First, the argument that the juror gave for acquitting was an argument against murder, not manslaughter. Second, it is clear that this decision was all about intimidation. As lawyers know, a single confident juror can sway everyone else on the jury. In this case, I think that Juror B-37 (the one married to a lawyer who was going to write a book about it) was that person. And think about it from Juror B-29’s position: you’re on the jury with only white women who, after a short period of time are telling you that you’ve got it all wrong. That’s major peer pressure in a racially charged case with a racial divide on the jury. That would be hard to stand up to for the most confident and certain person.

Maybe my thinking is too colored by having recently watched 12 Angry Men. But I imagine it like the beginning of that film where all of the people who are certain of the kid’s guilt talk down to Henry Fonda. “Everything—every single thing that took place in that courtroom, but I mean everything—says he’s guilty.” And similar comments with the subtext, “You just don’t understand!” And in the end, they used an argument that could only be used against murder to get Juror B-29 to vote “not guilty” for manslaughter.

The truth is that I think it would be far worse if Zimmerman had been be falsely convicted. So in his particular case, acquittal is not the worst thing. The broader issue is what’s important. As Jay-Z noted, “Didn’t Trayvon have a right to stand his ground?” So that’s where this decision is troubling. And now it looks like Juror #10 (Ed Begley in the film; B-37 in the case) was the one who dominated the decision. I’m not saying that Juror B-37 is racist in the way that Ed Begley was in 12 Angry Men, but there was a clear thoughtless racism in her interview with Anderson Cooper. At very least, she seemed more interested in her book deal than in justice.

I’m glad that Juror B-29 came forward. I think we have a far better idea of what went on in that jury room. It really seems that Juror B-29 played the part of Henry Fonda (Juror #8). But if you remember the film, you’ll remember that Fonda would have folded too if it hadn’t been for Joseph Sweeney (Juror #9). So Juror B-29 should not feel bad at all. But Juror B-37 really ought to be giving some thought to her own actions.

And if you’ve had trouble with all my 12 Angry Men references, you really need to watch it again. It is a great film.

The Mythical Political Center

Ezra KleinYesterday on the cover of the New York Times, Jonathan Martin wrote one of those stupid Villager articles we all know and despise, Some Democrats Look to Push Party Away from Center. This is an issue I’ve been ranting about for years. There is no “center.” All the mainstream press does is define the “center” somewhere to the right of the Democrats and to the left of the Republicans. What that means is that the Republicans can and have moved the “center” far to the right, just by being extreme. The effect is that the left is defined by a practical approach to politics and the right is defined by the most extreme elements of our political system. As a result, we end up with a “center” that is skewed to the extreme right.

Ezra Klein pushed back on Martin’s article, There’s No Such Thing As ‘The Center’. He puts a different take on what the “center” actually means. “It’s more a reference to an amorphous Washington consensus.” That’s another way to look at that is undoubtedly more accurate. Because the truth is that on social issues, the far right turn of the Republican Party has not caused the mainstream press to move the center of debate on gay or abortion rights. It is just on economic issues—the issues that the nation as a whole cares the most about—on which the center gets constantly pushed to the right, despite the fact that nation is far to the left.

The whole thing makes me wonder—and I’ve written about this in the past—does the press move the economic playing field further to the right because the Republicans move right or does it work the other way around. I’m afraid it is the latter. When it comes to social issues, the country is relatively divided. But liberal economic ideas are hugely popular. So I doubt that the Republicans would have moved so far right if it hadn’t been that they got no push back from the press. A great example of this is the “professional moderate” industry. I wrote this last year about Serious Centrist Saletan’s Selfishness:

What most people find annoying about centrist pundits is the arrogance of their supposed objectivity. A quick look at their almost comically stereotyped views within the social and economic areas shows this clearly. Saletan’s social views are typically liberal: pro gay rights; pro abortion rights. I’ll bet he even believes in evolution! But his economic views are typically conservative: pro free trade; vaguely anti-union. Would you believe he’s very concerned about the deficit?!

The reason that Saletan and his peers share this kind of political outlook is clear enough: it speaks to their personal interests. They are socially liberal because the corresponding views improve their lives. They have friends who are gay. They’ve had girlfriends who have had abortions. Their careers depend upon a strong first amendment. So their lives would be poorer and their bank accounts too, if the social conservatives got power in the United States. As a result, they are socially liberal—even extremely so.

On the other side of things, they are rich. Whether on the TV, in newspaper, or increasingly even on the internet, pundits are rich. They are all well inside the top 20% of earners. As a result, Saletan finds it easy to be a booster for so called free trade. No Chinese worker is going to take his job. (Not that there aren’t about a million who could do it as well.) But unionized IT professionals might reduce his income. And increased taxes on the upper class could certainly reduce his income. So it just makes sense to argue that Social Security must be cut while ignoring the obvious fix of increasing the payroll tax cap, which it just so happens would increase his tax burden.

It is no accident that professional moderates like Saletan so often skew socially liberal and economically conservative. It is in their own best interests. And I don’t blame them. But I do blame the system itself, which selects for exactly this kind of thinking. It does it in the name of objectivity or “even handedness.” When accused of liberal bias, they can trot out conservative economic bona fides. When accused of conservative bias (Rarely!) they can trot out their liberal social bona fides. But these pundits are not objective or even handed. They are on the extremes in a very predictable way.

And this is what is happening with people like Jonathan Martin. (And even Ezra Klein at times!) They are surrounded by like minded people who have the exact same interests that they have. Thus they think they really are being objective; they are blind to their own assumptions. A good example of this is how “free” trade agreements are really unpopular but in the mainstream press, it is considered radical and stupid to suggest that these agreements are anything but the best possible policy.

To a large extent, this is why I applaud biased news sources. If you are reading this blog, you know that I am biased. I don’t claim to be “objective.” Just the same, I would never intentionally misinform you. And I try very hard to provide the strong counterarguments, when they exist (in the current political environment, that is sadly rare). But knowing my biases allows you to decide if you are going to listen to me. Much worse are people like Martin who play the part of objective reporter when they have as many skewed opinions as I.

Afterword

Here are a few other recent articles I’ve written on this subject:

Shaw and Mozart’s Son

George Bernard ShawOn this day in 1782, the Irish composer John Field was born. He’s fairly good. But the much better composer Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart was born in 1791. He was, of course, Mozart’s son. I assume that he was named after Franz Xaver Sussmayr, Mozart’s student and assistant. I have a great fondness for Sussmayr because he completed Mozart’s Requiem after he died. For a couple of hundred years, music scholars tried to disentangle what Sussmayr had done from what Mozart did. In the end, they had to abandon the project. As regular readers know, Mozart is probably my favorite composer. And he was a genius of unsurpassed talent. But he wasn’t a singularity and Sussmayr had no difficulty composing in the style of his teacher. Similarly, Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart was a Romantic composer, but very much following in the tradition of his father’s work. So enjoy this very nice Rondo for Flute and Pianoforte:

The great economist Alfred Marshall was born in 1842. The equally great psychologist Carl Jung was born in 1875. And the equally equally great Aldous Huxley was born in 1894. As much as I love 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World is far more prophetic.

Comedian Gracie Allen was born in 1895. Why couldn’t she have lived to be 100? Ethel Mertz from I Love Lucy, Vivian Vance was born in 1909. Director Blake Edwards was born in 1922. And so was actor Jason Robards. Another great director, Stanley Kubrick was born in 1928. And singer-songwriter Dobie Gray was born in 1940—not that anyone cares.

Brilliant and often funny photographer Elliott Erwitt is 85 today. Mick Jagger is 70, which is its own kind of creepy given how he looked at 60. Actor Helen Mirren is 68. Figure skater Dorothy Hamill is 57. Actors Kevin Spacey, Sandra Bullock, and Jeremy Piven are 54, 49, and 48. And Kate Beckinsale is 40.

The day, however, belongs to George Bernard Shaw who was born on this day in 1856. Although known primarily as a playwright with works such as Major Barbara and Heartbreak House, he was so much more than that. I am particularly fond of his literary criticism and essays. And, of course, he was a proponent of spelling reform and provided the excellent example of how to spell the word fish: ghoti. He was also a founding member of the London School of Economics.

Although Shaw was far from perfect, flirting with eugenics when he was younger and becoming deeply cynical in his old age, there is an enormous amount of highly misleading and downright wrong information on the internet about him. Because he was an outspoken proponent of socialism, people want to claim that he supported the Nazis and on and on. It’s outrageous, but what do you expect from modern conservatives who simultaneously hate socialism and don’t have a clue as to what it is. Regardless…

Happy birthday George Bernard Shaw!