Home » Page 11

Conservatives are doomed because they’re … ditching theocratic nuttiness?

I have my fair share of doubts about the tea party movement. Ideally, I’d like it to be a consistently pro-liberty movement, suffused by tolerance, devoid of craziness and respectful of intellectual arguments. Unfortunately, it’s not. As with all grassroots movements, the energy for the movement bubbles up from the base, and brings with it not just a gratifyingly crowd-pleasing push for personal freedom, but also conspiracy theories, the occasional hater and a grab-bag of populist bugaboos — specifically immigration, among Arizona tea partiers. Frankly, that’s the way real political movements that aren’t custom-designed for my convenience work.

But I have to admit, among the concerns that have led to my hesitation to fully embrace the tea party movement, it never occurred to me that partially replacing the religion-fueled nuttiness of conservatism with an impure strain of individualistic, small-government libertarianism would be its greatest liability.

At least, that’s the argument of E.J. Dionne, a once perceptive political journalist who seems to have been replaced by a computer program designed to simulate all the worst stereotypes about the out-of-touch Eastern media elite.

In a recent syndicated column, Dionne claims that the tea party movement’s rise constitutes “a revolution on the American right in which older, more secular forms of politics displace religious activism.” This is good for Obama and company because:

The rise of the tea-party movement is a throwback to an old form of libertarianism that sees most of the domestic policies that government has undertaken since the New Deal as unconstitutional. It typically perceives the most dangerous threats to freedom as the design of well-educated elitists out of touch with “American values.”

In its extreme antipathy to the power of the federal government, this movement may prove to be threatening to the Republicans in what should otherwise be a good year for the party.

As evidence that the return of concerns about secular politics to the conservative movement is damaging to the political right, Dionne points out that “The language of the new anti-statists, like the language of the 1950s’ right, regularly harks back to the U.S. Constitution and the Founders in calling attention to perceived threats to liberty” and “As the scrutiny of the movement has increased, its critics (most recently Chris Matthews in an MSNBC documentary and Jason Zengerle in the New Republic) have noticed how much of this is very old American stuff.”

Nowhere to be found in the piece is any recognition of what may have sparked such a revival in interest — however inconsistent — in individual liberty and limited government. Dionne makes no reference to the massive increases in government spending in the past decade, or the enormously extended role the federal government has acquired in the economy, due to TARP and the resulting leverage over the finance industry, the nationalization of two automobile companies and the massive health care bill. And there’s no discussion of the growth in executive power, the far-reaching surveillance state, or the authority gained by government officials from the seemingly permanent state of emergency (although, granted, these are lesser concerns for many tea partiers). Nor any mention that all of this has coincided with a massive economic downturn, which many people — including well-educated people — consider to be closely linked to those policies.

Somehow, says Dionne, conservatives just dropped the Jesus talk and started sounding like the Founders again. “What’s remarkable is the extent to which the tea-party movement has displaced the religious right as the dominant voice of conservative militancy.”

And this is bad for conservatives.

The key to the Washington Post scribe‘s assertions (and, amazingly in a nationally syndicated column, that’s all they are) are found in his last two sentences:

Thus has Obama brought back to life a venerable if disturbing style of conservative thinking. In the short run, the new movement’s energy threatens him. In the long run, its extremism may be his salvation.

That’s right. Dionne finds the tea party’s views disturbing and extreme, so of course they spell doom for conservatism.

Holy shit. How suffocatingly insular must the world a writer lives in be for him to simply conclude that an ideology that makes him and his friends uncomfortable as they chat over dinner and cocktails must necessarily be a dead-end?

It’s one thing to pen a column saying that you disagree with the general thrust of a grassroots political movement. For my part, I like the pro-liberty activism and anti-government rhetoric and dislike the nativism, and anti-intellectualism of the tea party movement. But whether Dionne and I love or hate the tea party movement’s ideas,  they’re clearly very popular and likely to play a major role in politics for some time to come.

Maybe it’s time to feed the ability to remove his head from his ass into Dionne’s software.

Congressman assaults questioner

Don’t get above yourself and think you can pose questions to your rulers — not unless you want a smackdown. See Congressman Bob Etheridge in action on the streets of Washington, D.C., grabbing a young interviewer by the arm and then by the neck.

In which I quit The Examiner

I expect that the farewell piece I posted over at The Examiner will be yanked pronto, so here it is in all its wonderful wordiness:

When I first started writing for The Examiner, almost two years ago, I had high hopes. With traditional newspapers across the country failing because of long (for the information age) lead times, high overhead and dwindling readership, The Examiner seemed to offer an interesting model for allowing grassroots journalists to cover and comment on their areas of interest — and get paid for their efforts.

My early experience was encouraging. Not only were my writing samples vetted before I was brought on board, but I was also subjected to a criminal background check. The company seemed to want competent writers and a credible image. Right out of the gate I started building decent traffic, which translated into fairly impressive compensation. I wasn’t pulling anything equivalent to the salary of a full-time job, but I was earning enough to make my work for The Examiner a viable part-time gig — just the sort of thing that writers have long cobbled together with other projects in order to make a living.

But there were early warning signs. The Examiner encouraged its writers, strongly, to use social networks like Digg and Reddit to their advantage by promoting their own and their colleagues’ material. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for those clique-ridden services, but the strategy mimicked About.com’s doomed ’90s-era efforts to have its writers game the old Web search engines (I’m a jaded old man, in Internet years). About.com’s scheme pretty much ended the days of Internet users voting on the placement of sites in Web searches, and The Examiner‘s modern plan ultimately got the site’s content booted from many social networks.

Then Google News began to turn up its nose at Examiner content — understandably, considering how much low-quality junk was now turning up in the results as The Examiner went into a quantity-over-quality hiring frenzy. It’s not that there are no good writers at The Examiner — there are, in fact, a lot of good writers working for the company. But their efforts have increasingly been lost in a sea of dreck.

For the first time in any of my writing jobs, my readership (and pay) began to decline instead of increase. For the past few months I’ve been making about 7% (yes, seven percent) of what I consistently earned during the good times.

Some other Examiner writers are still doing well, and I give them full credit for their success. And many writers don’t seem to mind the content-mill aspect of the site, since they have a platform for doing something that they love. To a certain extent, I think that’s a manifestation of the partial transformation of writing from a profession into a social activity — a phenomenon I’ve covered elsewhere.

It’s not like I haven’t written for peanuts — or free. I’m not paid for my work at the excellent group blog When Falls the Coliseum and I make almost nothing through my personal blog, Disloyal Opposition. But The Examiner is a for-profit institution, and if I’m going to help somebody else turn a buck, I’d like to see some reward for my efforts.

Besides, given the low esteem in which The Examiner is now all too often held, I’m gaining no professional benefit from my continued efforts. And as for readership … Disloyal Opposition pulls about ten times as much traffic as my Examiner columns.

So it’s time for me to move on.

I wish my fellow writers who continue with The Examiner the best of luck. Many of them are very good, and I hope their efforts lead to success, however they may define that elusive goal. I also wish profitability to The Examiner; while the company’s evolved model doesn’t work for me, it violates nobody’s rights, and I sincerely root for everybody who makes the attempt to earn honest profits.

And to my readers: Thank you. I hope to see you elsewhere.

Climate science under fire in new paper

Who wrote this?:

A review of the peer-edited literature reveals a systematic tendency of the climate establishment to engage in a variety of stylized rhetorical techniques that seem to oversell what is actually known about climate change while concealing fundamental uncertainties and open questions regarding many of the key processes involved in climate change.

Was it a cranky skeptic grinding away on his personal blog? Or was it a prominent professor at a major university?

OK. I telegraphed that one. In fact, the author of those words is Jason Scott Johnston, Director of the Program on Law, Environment and Economy at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, in a paper published by The University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Law and Economics: Global Warming Advocacy Science: a Cross Examination (PDF).

Johnston also writes:

Fundamental open questions include not only the size but the direction of feedback effects that are responsible for the bulk of the temperature increase predicted to result from atmospheric greenhouse gas increases: while climate models all presume that such feedback effects are on balance strongly positive, more and more peer-edited scientific papers seem to suggest that feedback effects may be small or even negative. The cross-examination conducted in this paper reveals many additional areas where the peer-edited literature seems to conflict with the picture painted by establishment climate science, ranging from the magnitude of 20th century surface temperature increases and their relation to past temperatures; the possibility that inherent variability in the earth’s non-linear climate system, and not increases in CO2, may explain observed late 20th century warming; the ability of climate models to actually explain past temperatures; and, finally, substantial doubt about the methodological validity of models used to make highly publicized predictions of global warming impacts such as species loss.

Johnston says that establishment climate scientists have taken to cherry-picking data, dismissing information that would bring their models into question and then hunting up evidence that supports their premises. He criticizes this tendency as resulting in a “faith-based climate policy.”

I’ll note here that Johnston isn’t questioning assertions that the climate is changing; he’s challenging the certainty that many climate scientists express in dismissing possible natural factors, such as solar variation, and their enthusiasm for the supposed accuracy of computer models intended to describe what the climate is doing now and will do in the future. He also points to overtly bad science and the substitution of opinion for inquiry in the claims made by many climate scientists.

All of this matters because the bad science and dismissal of contrary evidence and dissenting opinions is useful only for “conveying a very scary and also very simple picture of the state of the science. Such coarse understanding leads to a very coarse policy prescription: ‘Do something, anything, now!’ Such a policy prescription justifies virtually any policy, however costly or inefficient…”

Interestingly, even though the latest version of the paper was published in May, the only mainstream media mention I can find is in Canada’s Financial Post.

A few thoughts on Glenn Beck

I know it’s fashionable among some of my co-ideologists to deride Glenn Beck as a clown who damages the libertarian brand, but just when I think I’m completely fed up with the guy, he does a great service to the cause of freedom. Right now he’s on Fox News promoting F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, along with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. He’s also interviewing Thomas Woods from the Ludwig von Mises Institute on the tendency of governments to point to their own failings as reason for more state intervention in the economy, and chatting with Yuri Maltsev (another Austrian economist) about the realities of socialism he experienced in the old Soviet Union.

Does anybody else bring so much advocacy of freedom to such a wide audience? The only other person I can think of is John Stossel — and yes, Stossel is more consistent, serious and intellectual, but he doesn’t have the same following.

Beck may be a clown, but sometimes, it takes a clown.

Note: One day later, The Road to Serfdom has jumped to #1 on Amazon.

Why wouldn’t an anarchist cafe eject a cop?

There are good people wearing police uniforms and there are bad people wearing police uniforms. More to the point, however, people in police uniforms have willingly chosen to take a job in which they act, at best, as enforcers of laws passed by government officials — and often as agents of the whims of those officials. So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody that the proprietors of the Red and Black Cafe, an avowedly anarchist establishment in Portland, Oregon, asked Officer James Crooker to take his business elsewhere. If you don’t like governments, why would you want to serve people who willingly work for them?

That gut-level, ideological opposition to the role of police officers likely explains the seeming inability of cafe co-owner John Langley to articulate a clear reason he gave the officer the boot at the time of the incident. Crooker is a cop; in Langley’s mind, that was probably reason enough. Langley’s early lack of clarity has been seized upon and mocked by police supporters — generally in poorly spelled and badly reasoned comments that default to mantras about cops being the thin, blue line that stands between decent folk and howling barbarians, even as they threaten arson against the cafe, urge officers to take their time responding to incidents there, and call for the city to have a politicized look at the cafe’s compliance with all rules and regulations.

If you’re an ideological supporter of government power, it’s easy to fall back on unreasoning support for the state’s servants (and, ironically, validate objections to government power in the process).

Given time to ponder, Langley came up with clearer articulation of his concerns:

I don’t have anything against this particular officer and I don’t know anything about him…A police officer in uniform makes people feel unsafe because of previous experiences…

We’re gonna value the people that have been victims of police violence. Some of them have talked about having their belongings being taken away or sprayed with water. It is exacerbated by the situation in Portland right now. The response to the mental health crisis is shooting people and beating people to death.

The anarcho-entrepreneur didn’t pull his reasons out of thin air. Less than a month ago, after a series of police shotings and complaints about the official response, Portland Mayor Sam Adams booted the city’s police chief and took direct control of the police department. In a press conference, he said (PDF), “Despite the extraordinary efforts of the courageous few who wear the badge, the relationship between the citizens of Portland and their police officers is not what it needs to be. Too many Portlanders express concern about their own safety–not because of crime, but rather fear of their own police force.”

Less dramatically, police are clearly working these days less as a thin blue line against crime than as tax collectors who selectively enforce laws with an eye to maximizing revenue for the government. In 2008, the Detroit News found that Michigan police departments were stepping up traffic enforcement solely to increase the money they collected.

“When I first started in this job 30 years ago, police work was never about revenue enhancement,” Utica Police Chief Michael Reaves said. “But if you’re a chief now, you have to look at whether your department produces revenues. That’s just the reality nowadays.”

Officials elsewhere are equally open about their roadside revenue-enhancement efforts. It’s difficult to see a public safety aspect to the use of laws as means for mugging the public. If there’s a thin blue line, it leads directly to people’s wallets — and tags police as, too often, nothing more than agents of state power, for any purpose, good or bad.

Yes, police can do good deeds and often play a legitimate role in responding to crimes against people and property — maybe the critics will be right and John Langley will someday wish a cop were present to deal with a stick-up artist. But he and his colleagues have good reasons, ideological and practical, to object to the presence of a police officer in their place of business.

At least a few people agree with the Red and Black Cafe’s stance — business is reportedly way up since the incident.

On vacation

I know I haven’t been chatty recently, and now I’ll be even less talkative, since I’m off on a much-anticipated family vacation. I’ll be back to rant and rave on June 7. And, I promise, I’ll  become bloggier (if it ain’t a word, it should be) once a big project ends for me in mid-August.

Since the spambots are so super-eager to have their say here, I’ve been moderating all comments. Unfortunately, that means no comments will publish until my return.

Love America? Not unconditionally — and with an option for divorce

Public discussion in this country sometimes seems to degenerate into a competition to see who can declare the greatest unconditional love for America. Immigrants love America, kids love America, and politicians really love America — sometimes several times, at a discounted rate. But in a land that often says, “America, love it or leave it,” I’ll admit that I’m at least willing to consider heading for the exit.

“Love” America? That’s a tall order, isn’t it? It’s a big and diverse place, so if I “love” the whole thing, does that really have to include rush-hour traffic and midwestern food? Or, more seriously, does it have to include the DEA, the NSA, the IRS and the various factions of control freaks that all-so-often dominate the country’s politics?

I love lots of distinct things about America; among them, backpacking in the Grand Canyon, bourbon, jazz and a long tradition of distrust of government and a preference (imperfectly implemented though it may be) for leaving people alone to guide their own lives and make their own choices. That last point is especially important. My family has a history of shopping for places to live where they won’t be hassled.

My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was “Marano” which supports oral history suggesting that her ancestors converted under duress from Judaism to Christianity and then fled to Italy to escape the Inquisition. I guess they didn’t love Spain enough.

My maternal grandmother told me that her father came to the United States, in part, to escape the military draft in Austria-Hungary. No love there, either.

In America, my family found more breathing room compared to the countries in which they were born. They had reason to be thankful, since they were more free than they had been in the old country. So, after all these centuries, has the migration at last come to an end?

That’s hard to believe. After all, this column focuses on violations of personal freedom by government agents, and I rarely have to wander across the border in order to find issues to cover. The inclination toward personal freedom that so attracted immigrants to American shores is continuously under attack from politicians from both major political parties. Those officials often proclaim their love for the country, but they seem to want to love it out of all recognition, into a place where travelers are stopped and scrutinized and homes are invaded by armed men over a choice of intoxicants or a taste for games of chance. They love telling us what we can eat, where we can smoke and when we can drink. They whisper their affections while they pick our pockets, constrain our business ventures in red tape (to the tune of $8,164 per household (PDF) in 2000, just to comply with federal regulations) and generally threaten us with laws and regulations we may not even know about.

This is not to say that the United States is especially bad when compared to other countries, which generally suffer under abusive governments of their own. And some things have definitely improved over the decades, such as equality before the law for women and racial minorities, and respect for sexual diversity. But the United States is, perhaps, no longer such a standout performer when it comes to respecting and defending individual liberty. That is, it’s no longer so uniquely enticing if you’re shopping for a place to live based on the local willingness to let you live your own life. To tell the truth, maybe America still looks as … well … OK-ish as it does not by an absolute standard, but only by comparison with the equally flawed competition.

No wonder there’s such an emphasis on unconditional love for America! Frankly, though, unconditional love is appropriate only for babies and puppies. If we stop and think rationally, we may someday decide that the place we now call home is no longer as loveable as it once was, and go shopping for a new address that puts more effort into earning our affection.

Pit bull breakout

I’m a big-time dog lover, just a tad anti-authoritarian and sufficiently well-informed on the subject to reject the demonization of pit bulls as some sort of super-vicious devil dogs, so I find the following very amusing:

Max, a 70-pound pit bull that bit two people earlier this year, cheated death Wednesday and is on the run – with some human help.

The 3-year-old red nose pit bull was stolen from the Alameda Animal Shelter, just hours before he was to be euthanized for being a dangerous animal.

Note that Max does have a history of biting people, which may be a temperament issue, or else a matter of training and circumstance. I sincerely hope there are no further biting incidents, no matter who freed the dog and currently has him in their care. But I applaud the rescue of the dog from an imminent death, and his chance for a new life.

Run, Max, run!

By the way, while there’s not really a standard definition of “pit bull,” a couple of breeds and associated mixes are usually included in that category. Of those breeds, the American Temperament Test Society, a national not-for-profit organization that uses uniform standards for evaluating the temperament of dogs and then breaks the results out by breed, reports that 85.3% of American Pit Bull Terriers and 83.9% of American Staffordshire Terriers have passed its tests.

And no, their jaws don’t “lock.” (PDF)

http://www.atts.org/stats5.html

Now the know-nothings are chasing citizens out of Arizona

My wife — a pediatrician in rural Arizona — is about to lose a valued employee because of the state’s new and brutal immigration law. The employee isn’t Hispanic, but a close member of her family is. With nativist sentiment festering in the state and people with brown skin increasingly being harassed by law enforcement (even legal residents), it’s becoming increasingly attractive for people who fear they’ll be targeted by the police to head for the exits with their loved ones. That means fewer workers and customers for those who stay behind.

The bulk of the enforcement activity is in the Phoenix area where Maricopa County’s own Sheriff Joe Arpaio combats his legal problems by playing to the know-nothing yahoos eager to pledge him their votes so long as the police state he’s building targets dusky furriners. Even before the new law — often referred to as “SB 1070″ in shorthand — was signed by Governor Jan Brewer, my wife had Hispanic patients afraid to go to Phoenix to see medical specialists. That’s a problem because our area is too sparsely settled to support highly specialized physicians, and the situation is only a little better in Flagstaff and Prescott. That means a trip to or through anti-immigrant Maricopa County to see specialists in Phoenix and Tucson. Some families swallow their fear; others get lesser care for their children.

But immigrants are also being hassled beneath the radar elsewhere, in smaller communities like Sedona and Prescott, where much of the hard labor is done by Mexican illegals who are welcome in good times but vulnerable to police action when public sentiment turns nasty — like now. Largely unreported by the news, the small-scale efforts of the past in these towns have turned into larger sweeps with more, and more-serious, agents.

For good reason, many of my wife’s Hispanic patients, and at least one employee, now plan to leave the state. At least 100,000 have fled already. And because many people are more willing than the average Arizona voter to cross ethnic and linguistic lines, they’re taking with them perfectly legal, English-speaking relations who don’t want to be separated from loved ones.And all of those people are taking with them their skills, their demand for goods and services and their money.

My wife can probably replace one worker, but with her patients leaving too, that may not be necessary. That doesn’t bode well for the future.