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Post-election …

… I just feel … dirty.

Irrational exuberance over the mid-term election

I admit to a certain degree of pre-election, hysterical jackassery.

The things is, while I know that virtually nothing is likely to change for the better in the wake of tomorrow’s mid-term election, I’m compulsively checking the political news sites and the online prognosticators — Nate Silver’s 538 in particular. It’s all Politico to Daily Caller to 538, then a little CNN.com and a taste of MSNBC.com, and back to …

But it’s all bullshit. There may be some tweaks after tomorrow’s results, but I highly doubt that much of substance will change. We’ll still be saddled with an ever-expanding state, shrinking realms of life in which we can make our own decisions, and an economic debacle looming ever-closer as office-holders play hot potato with the job of explaining to the American people that both Social Security and Medicare have always been both incredibly stupid and unsustainable ideas, and Obamacare is just a double-down on idiocy.

It’s not that everybody running for office or participating in the process is a scam artist; in fact, I expect that the Tea Party activists of the moment’s headlines are overwhelmingly sincere (if occasionally unhinged). It’s just that the United States has some of the most astoundingly well-stage-managed elections in “democratic” history. Idealists come and go, but the same political parties, dynasties and even policies endure for decade after decade. Sea changes do come from time to time, but with almost geological slowness compared to the forces that have swept away Canada’s Progressive Conservative Party, every major Italian political party of the post-war period, New Zealand’s old first-past-the-post system and even several French constitutions.

Elections happen in the U.S., but change doesn’t necessarily follow. The same shit just gets done to us by a slightly re-shuffled arrangement of oh-so-concerned faces.

I don’t think it’s all futile, though. No would-be omnipotent puppet-master is half as invulnerable as he or she thinks. But we won’t actually know that the real change is coming until we wake up some morning to find that the White House is in flames and a revolutionary junta of iPad app programmers has seized the airwaves and is locked in a death struggle with Android-powered counter-revolutionaries.

Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing will depend purely on the entertainment value.

If I was completely sane, I’d remember the revelation I first had when I was about … oh crap … five. That’s when I realized that a decent life depends on living the way you wish no matter what the folks in charge say, not on waiting for the rules to change.

But I still find myself getting that irrational thrill, waiting for the early returns …

You prefer a pat-down to the electronic strip search? We’ll see about that

Enough people are objecting to the backscatter body scanners at airports that the TSA is finally reacting — by making pat-downs so much more intrusive that you’ll actually prefer to show TSA agents your private parts. From The Atlantic:

At BWI, I told the officer who directed me to the back-scatter that I preferred a pat-down. I did this in order to see how effective the manual search would be. When I made this request, a number of TSA officers, to my surprise, began laughing. I asked why. One of them — the one who would eventually conduct my pat-down — said that the rules were changing shortly, and that I would soon understand why the back-scatter was preferable to the manual search.

I’ve already broken my campaign promise

Now you know to never vote for me. I’ve already broken the one campaign promise I made this year — and the election hasn’t formally occurred, yet. That’s right, I voted in the congressional election on my early ballot. Specifically, I voted for the Republican douchebag over the Democrat harpy. I’m not enamored of Paul Gosar, who has positioned himself as a social conservative in addition to his au courant, Tea Partyish support for free markets and smaller government, but incumbent Ann Kirkpatrick voted for the porculus bill and Obamacare, and that’s really all I need to know about her. Basically, I voted for divided government that will occupy its time entertaining us with angry gridlock rather than hurrying us over the brink and into the abyss.

Getting it in the front from Democrats and from behind by Republicans -- it's like being trapped between a Kennedy and Larry Craig!And no, I’m not one of those deluded fools who believes that “every vote counts.” I’m well aware that for any individual, voting is an essentially pointless activity that papers over irrelevance with a warm-and-fuzzy illusion of participation. But it’s a low-cost means of expressing an opinion and relieving a bit of my political angst.

Gosar, by the way, was the only Republican I marked on the ballot.

Arizona has a long list of ballot measures to choose from, this time around, and several are especially attention-worthy. In particular, I voted for Prop. 106 which would bar any rules or regulations that might force people into a health-care system. Basically, it would outlaw mandatory socialized medicine. Whether the measure could actually stand as a barrier to some federal decree is an open question, but I think it’s worth a try. It’s a giant “fuck you” to the folks who would herd us into for-your-own-good government systems, anyway.

And Prop. 203 would, once again, legalize marijuana for medical use. Arizonans have voted for medical marijuana before, only to be overruled by the state legislature, so this is a sort of “yes, we really mean it,” reminder to the state’s office-holding control freaks. The measure isn’t perfect, since it would turn marijuana users into a protected class that can’t be fired by pot-hating employers (a violation of free-association rights). But it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

And yes, oh social authoritarians who stumble across this site (did your preacher let you out of the basement for the day?), I do support legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes, or any other use to which people may wish to put it. Heroin and cocaine, too. So there’s no “stealth” aspect to my support for the measure.

Boy, I feel so civically responsible, today! It’s giving me a tingly feeling.

Or maybe that’s the bronchitis.

So … Would Britain be willing to take us back?

From the Financial Times:

The UK’s Conservative-led coalition has announced the most drastic budget cuts in living memory, outstripping measures taken by other advanced economies which are also under pressure to sharply reduce public spending. …

The UK cuts of £81bn ($128bn) over four years are the equivalent of 4.5 per cent of projected 2014-15 gross domestic product. Similar cuts in the US would require a cut in public spending of about $650bn, equal to the projected cost of Medicare in 2015.

The UK deficit is about 10 per cent of 2010-11 GDP. The US deficit was $1,294bn, or 8.9 per cent of GDP, in the 2010 fiscal year.

Declaring that “today is the day where Britain steps back from the brink”, George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, revealed dramatic reductions to core departments over the next four years, a £7bn fall in welfare support and 490,000 public-sector job cuts by 2014-15.

Actually, I’m just kidding about rejoining the UK, what with some significant differences in free speech protections, self-defense laws and other civil liberties issues. But if the Brits want to handle our federal government’s spending policies for a few years…

How can you bridge deep divisions over the role of the state?

Recovering from both a wedding and the stomach flue while awaiting an overdue flight at San Francisco International Airport (and if you’re ever stuck in Terminal 1 at SFO, allow me to recommend Go Bistro’s Asian-fusion-whatever. It doesn’t suck.), I came across USA Today‘s front-page story on Gallup Poll results measuring Americans’ deep differences of opinions over the size and scope of government. Based on the polling data, the article divides our countrymen into five distinct groups that, while still broad, are rather more helpful than the usual red/blue bullshit that is spoken of all-too-often.

• Keep it small: This cohesive group wants government to stay away from regulating the free market or morality. They trust private enterprise over public institutions and overwhelmingly oppose Obama and the Democratic Party. Many support the Tea Party movement.

They are the wealthiest, the most conservative and the most predominantly white and male of any of the groups.

• Morality first: This group also is decidedly Republican, and they don’t endorse a large federal role in addressing income disparities. But they are solidly in favor of the federal government acting to uphold moral standards and promote traditional values.

A Republican governing coalition that includes both the first and second groups could risk fracture when the issues turned from a more limited government on the economic front to questions such as whether to oppose same-sex marriage or restrict abortion.

• The mushy middle: This pragmatic group avoids the extremes. Those in this category split more evenly on attitudes toward the GOP, the Democratic Party and Obama than others.

Ninety-five percent of them end up somewhere in the middle when asked to place themselves on a five-point scale on the proper role of government — “1” meaning the government should provide only the most basic functions and “5” meaning the government should take active steps in every area it could.

• Obama liberals: This group wants the government to take a big role in addressing economic disparities but a small one in upholding moral standards. It is the most suspicious of business: Six in 10 say business will harm society unless regulated by the government.

They are the youngest group and the group with the highest percentage of liberals, Democrats and Obama supporters.

• The bigger the better: The members of this group are the most likely of any to trust government and to endorse its involvement in areas from upholding morality to addressing income inequality.

What’s interesting to me is that the first group, which “wants government to stay away from regulating the free market or morality” — what we could generally call libertarians — makes up 22% of the population. That grouping is directly opposed by the 20% that is “most likely of any to trust government and to endorse its involvement in areas from upholding morality to addressing income inequality.”

So two segments broken out in the poll, making up 42% of the population, hold completely incompatible views about the relationship of the individual to the state. You can’t satisfy one without offending the other.

But the other groups include traditional conservatives who “don’t endorse a large federal role in addressing income disparities. But they are solidly in favor of the federal government acting to uphold moral standards and promote traditional values” and traditional liberals who “wan[t] the government to take a big role in addressing economic disparities but a small one in upholding moral standards.” Their different visions of a more expansive state than that favored by the libertarians are also incompatible.

This leaves us stuck, right? I mean, completely stuck. Americans really want entirely irreconcilable political structures.

I wonder, though …

It’s one thing to want, in abstract terms, the government to do something, and it’s entirely different to deal with a real program with an entrenched bureaucracy — especially if it engages in activity you find excessive or offensive. That is, I wonder if a relatively inactive government doesn’t, over the long term, engender a stronger positive, or at least neutral, response than a relatively active government which might breed the likes of the Tea Party movement. Given the nearly even division in preferences demonstrated in the Gallup Poll, that may suggest a tendency towards somewhat limited government in the United States. Limited government — not minimal government — but limited nevertheless.

Of course, that runs up against the obvious example of the steady growth in the state over past decades, but that may be because we hadn’t hit the (admittedly generous and probably shifting) limit set by the country’s political divisions. And some serious incursions into economic freedom (think trucking and airline prices) as well as civil liberties (think gay rights and the rights of racial minorities) have, in fact, been rolled back.

Or maybe that damned stomach bug just has my mind wandering in strange directions.

UK greenies apparently suffering from massive brain tumors

At least, that’s the only way I can explain this completely insane propaganda piece intended to pressure people to reduce their carbon emissions:

Let me know if the embed goes dead, since there’s reportedly a huge CYA effort underway in response to the collective puking that met this film.

Note: In case the video is disabled, this is a seriously intended video, partially funded by the British taxpayers. It features Gillian Anderson (the most recognizable face to Americans) and starts with schoolchildren being urged to slash their carbon footprint by 10%, with those who decline being blown up on the spot, splattering their guts on their classmates. Yes, really.

Sorry — I dozed through the Fourth Amendment lecture

Says the Associated Press:

A Justice Department investigation has found that FBI agents, including several supervisors, cheated on an important test covering the bureau’s policies for conducting surveillance on Americans.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine said Monday that his limited review of allegations that agents improperly took the open-book test together or had access to an answer sheet has turned up “significant abuses and cheating.”

Hmmm … Is anybody actually surprised that FBI officials considered even their own bureau’s rules regarding surveillance to be unworthy of a little study?

Just how hermetically sealed is New York’s insular political culture?

In the September 20 issue of New York magazine, there’s a brief piece by Dan Amira called “Tea House 2011.” Touted in the table of contents as a look at “lesser-known lunatics of the tea party,” the article is supposed to be a peek at the beyond-the-pale madmen who “are operating out of the national spotlight this campaign season.” These aspiring members of Congress get a tiny photo, a brief bio, and a few words on the unquestionable insanity they espouse, to which we’ll all supposedly be subject should the Tea Party get its way come November. Their craziness is taken as so obvious that no analysis is required once their opinions are stated.

And sure enough, of the exactly six would-be congresscritters profiled in this article, there’s an honest-to-God … well … apparent birther in the mix. He’s running for Colorado’s Fourth District. Cory Gardner is also the least outsidery of the bunch, considering that he’s already a state legislator.

But two of the “lesser-known lunatics” are on the list because they (drumroll please) question Social Security and Medicare. Todd Young, running for Indiana’s Ninth District, “[r]eferred to Social Security as a ‘Ponzi scheme.'” And Jesse Kelly, running in Arizona’s Eighth District, “said he ‘would love to eliminate’ Social Security and eventually end Medicare.” He’s also opposed to the minimum wage.

Uh huh. So of the six crazier-than-crazy Tea Party candidates profiled by New York for their “lunacy,” two of them are in there for positions that are widely held by professional economists. Wikipedia’s entry on the minimum wage summarizes surveys finding that as many as “90 percent of the economists surveyed agreed that the minimum wage increases unemployment among low-skilled workers” and “46.8% wanted it completely eliminated.” Similar surveys of economists find that they consider Social security a mess — 85.3 percent agree that “the gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged.” And Hell, even Michael Kinsley agrees it’s a Ponzi scheme (although he thinks that’s OK). And it’s hard to defend Medicare when the program is widely used as an example of a government scheme run amok.

But, in polite New York circles, criticizing Social Security, Medicare and minimum wage laws is just not done — to the point that anybody who ventures in that direction is considered laughable

From time to time, I miss the sophistication of my old digs. But whenever I get to hankering for exotic restaurants, creative theater and innovative arts in my home town, all I need for a cure is a reminder of the … well … lunatics who run the show there.

Christine O’Donnell may well represent America

Granted that newly minted Republican candidate for one of Delaware’s U.S. Senate seats, Christine O’Donnell, dwells at the intersection of crazy and stupid, but you have to wonder whether it was such a good tactic for GOP hierarchy to essentially forbid voters to support her in a decade in which they’ve pissed away their credibility, and whether it’s wise for her opponents to continue to emphasize her mortgage default and her creative accounting during an era when Americans have demonstrated themselves to possess the financial acumen of your average crack whore with a stolen credit card.

Crazy, stupid, financially irresponsible and despised by the establishment? Americans may decide to send somebody just like themselves to the Senate.

And no, I’m not suggesting that a smarmy control freak like Chris Coons is better. I’m just intrigued by how closely we’re approaching menckenesque perfection.