Friday, June 21, 2013

The rich really do believe that "nice guys finish last."

Today's PBS News Hour had a segment on research published last year about the Greed Is Good crowd:

"The rich really are different from the rest of us, scientists have found — they are more apt to commit unethical acts because they are more motivated by greed.

"People driving expensive cars were more likely than other motorists to cut off drivers and pedestrians at a four-way-stop intersection in the San Francisco Bay Area, UC Berkeley researchers observed. Those findings led to a series of experiments that revealed that people of higher socioeconomic status were also more likely to cheat to win a prize, take candy from children and say they would pocket extra change handed to them in error rather than give it back.

"Because rich people have more financial resources, they're less dependent on social bonds for survival, the Berkeley researchers reported Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As a result, their self-interest reigns and they have fewer qualms about breaking the rules.

"'If you occupy a more insular world, you're less likely to be sensitive to the needs of others,' said study lead author Paul Piff, who is studying for a doctorate in psychology."

The researchers found in experiments that people who are led to feel richer start acting this way, as do winners of lotteries. So it's not entirely innate.

But this does mean that the Republicans' worship of the rich is misplaced; Republicans who are not themselves wealthy tend to be very nice people. I know a lot of such folk, and my experience of them confirms this. But they fail to understand that the affluent captains of industry and politics may talk like them but they don't think like them.

Conversely, poorer people--often disdained by Republicans--tend to have each others' backs (unless they win the lottery...).

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Snowden: Traitor? Heroic whistleblower? Or?

My local public radio station did a segment on the NSA self-styled whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Nearly all of the dozens of commenters treated this issue as a no-brainer. Big Snoopy Government BAD, heroic Little Guy Whistleblower GOOD. With the corollary of Another Whistleblower Was Right And They Done Him Wrong--Therefore anyone who claims he's also a whistleblower is Right.

Not so fast. One reason why there's an Ex Presidents' Club --including all the former Prez's of both parties--is that nobody else really knows what the gig entails. Every President made fine-sounding statements before getting the job that he had to revisit later.

The Constitution predates the global Islamofascist movement, the Internet, the computer, the radio, the telephone, the telegraph. It even predates the steam locomotive, for that matter. Most Americans would be hard-pressed to imagine what the world was like for the people who wrote and ratified the Constitution. What was prescient about the Founders was that most of them knew they didn't know what the future would hold. So they wrote the Constitution in generalities for the most part, because they wanted to establish principles and protections without trying to micromanage...well, us.

They say wisdom is knowing what you don't know. Score one for the Founders, zero for the outraged multitudes who confidently assume they actually know what the scoop is here. And as the Prez pointed out, perfect privacy is only attainable at the expense of total exposure to terrorist attacks, while perfect protection from terrorist attacks is only attainable at the expense of zero privacy. If there were another 9/11 on President Obama's watch, would any of these self-righteous denouncers say "Well, that was acceptable collateral damage as long as the government doesn't know who I'm phoning."

The right answer, however uncomfortable, is a compromise between safety and personal privacy--stirring Patrick Henry quotes notwithstanding. No government always gets this right, but we have to guard against calling for more privacy whenever someone takes it upon himself to spill secret beans--and then against calling for more safety when we get bombed.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Let us prey--the prayer of the Libertarians

The secular religion of Libertarianism (it's a religion because it's based on beliefs that can't be empirically proven) provides a handy cover for corporatists and racists to operate under.

Corporatists because crippling government's ability to regulate polluters and corporate con artists (look up Enron) is a prime goal for these people, but standing up for the big guy doesn't play well in court of public opinion, so blathering about "freedom" in the "strip you naked of any defenses against powerful people running roughshod over you" sense is the way to go.

Racists because to unreconstructed Southern whites the federal government is still considered to be an enemy occupying power without which the South could restore the paradise of the Antebellum South. So here again crippling the federal government is the real desire as being instrumental to putting blacks and other non-Anglos back "in their place."

The rest is wordsmithing.

And Libertarian propaganda itself provides a fine example of how unprotected people who aren't highly intelligent and educated need protection from demagoguery.

One thing Libertarianism features is nothing on behalf of the half of the country with an IQ of 100 or less. Corporatists want these people undefended so they'll buy junk food and nostrums and predatory loans and fall for the appeals of demagogues. Libertarians provide an ostensibly noble-sounding excuse for leaving people not born with college-level smarts unprotected for the smart people who are also ruthless to prey on them.  

Who wears the cloak of Libertarianism, and why?

Yesterday the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote a column critiquing Libertarianism. Here's my two cents' worth:

Einstein said explanations should be as simple as possible--but no simpler.

That's the essence of the problem with Libertarianism: it's simpler than messy reality, like all shining ideological visions, and thus breaks down in the real world. Like small business accounting software that has no provision for bounced checks.

Government needs to be big enough to let a nation function effectively on the world stage, and to protect the little guy from the relentless drive of the rich and powerful to become ever richer and ever more powerful by making the rest of us ever poorer and weaker.

In 1790, with a nation of 4 million--90% farmers--with no foreign trade to speak of, and the medicine of the day unable to cure diseases, and old age care comprising your children, and communications traveled at the speed of a walking horse, the kind of government we needed was infinitely closer to the Libertarian ideal. Now it's impossible.

And even then it was impossible. Libertarians conveniently forget America's decade or so under the Articles of Confederation. That WAS a Libertarian government, and even with the limited needs for government that we had then it failed utterly. Jefferson was dead wrong. Madison and Hamilton were right. That's why we got our Constitution--the document that the Teahadis claim to worship when in fact they want to kill it and resurrect the Articles of Confederation.

The only reason the Libertarian dream still staggers around like a zombie on steroids is that it's being propped up by corporatists and Confederacy revanchists. Corporatists want a government too weak to regulate them and easy to capture (courtesy of the Citizens United decision). Aging undereducated Southern whites who still call the Civil War the "War of Northern Aggression" want their antebellum South back, where blacks knew "their place" and the federal gummint was unable to protect them.
These special interests talk Libertarianism to cloak what they really are...and want.

The GOP needs radical surgery to restore its honor--and its Presidential aspirations

America needs a major conservative party along the lines of what the GOP was like before it sold its soul to get all those racist Southern Dixiecrats--the kind of people who now call themselves Tea Partiers and claim that their concerns are strictly fiscal.

We need a conservative party because at least a third of Americans are conservative by nature, just as around a third are liberal by nature, and another third are moderate pragmatics by nature. For a many years the two major parties were either liberal-leaning or conservative-leaning, with their beliefs moderated by the compromises needed to attract enough moderates to win elections.

But today the Republican Party has abandoned that tack. It has become an extremist organization that wins through extremist demagoguery and a string of ever-dirtier vote-rigging tricks--radical gerrymandering, voter suppression (especially black voters), abuse of the Senate rules, lavishly funded propaganda campaigns aimed at not just defeating Democrats but at fostering fundamental hatred and distrust of the federal government.

The consequence is that today's Republican Party is no longer conservative--it's reactionary, dominated by aging Southern white revanchists still fighting the Civil War, still hating the federal government for the same reasons they hated it in 1861.

The only way we'll get a real conservative party again is through the reduction of this GOP to a regional party. Its Southern white base is so radicalized they can't be reasoned into the 21st century, and their gerrymandered grip on their House seats is so strong they can't be defeated in their rural redoubts--at least not until America's demographic shifts shrink these redoubts to the point that they can't command a House majority. Such a party won't be able to elect presidents--or shape the Supreme Court as a consequence. Or get a Senate majority.

Only when it becomes clear that a Tea Party-dominated GOP can't elect a president will moderate conservatives have a shot at getting their party back.