Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mexico Peligroso

I have been watching with much dismay as Mexico, a country for which I have much affection, has suffered the afflictions of all the drug and gang related violence throughout the country, but mostly in the border region. Today, there was a bit of encouraging news as the leader of the Aztecas gang in Ciudad Juarez has been arrested and has confessed to ordering over 80 percent of the killings in this region in recent years. Is this really a good thing, though? I don't know. I hope so. But I just don't know what to make of all this chaos and tragedy in Mexico these days.

Falcons Win

In another close and exciting game, the Atlanta Falcons defeated the Green Bay Packers, which means the Saints are still one game behind in the Division. I think this is a good thing for the Saints, as it means the team has to keep winning and keep putting the pressure on the Falcons. It's actually not that bad doing so well, but also trying to play catch up to another team. Keeps the team hungry and humble, all at the same time.

The LSU Tigers, however, finally got their come-uppance. They lucked out the entire season, and now their luck has run out. I really don't think they are as good a team as their record and ranking indicates. Too bad, though, that they are now likely out of BCS bowl game contention. But I can't say that I'm all that surprised.

As for the Green Wave ... it's not even worth discussing. I don't think the Green Wave has fielded a defense all season long.

Good Weekend at the Palmer Park Arts Market

Just a quick note to congratulate my B-2/3 on a very fine job at the Palmer Park Arts Market this weekend. The weather was perfect and her inventory was nearly depleted by shoppers. It's a double-edged sword having such a good weekend of sales. It means that she earned a nice income, but it also means she has a lot of work cut out for her to replenish stock for the next market, which so happens to be in three short weeks. Nevertheless, I'm proud of her accomplishments. It's great to see her work be so much in demand and valued by her patrons.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Blue Jays Lose in State Quarterfinals

For a team picked to finish dead last in their district this year, I'd say that the Blue Jays making it all the way to the state football quarterfinals is a pretty impressive accomplishment. Today, the Blue Jays lost their quarterfinal match to perennial state powerhouse, West Monroe, by a score of 28-11. Heads high, Blue Jays. You gave us a season none of us expected. Well-done.

Sellout Cao

Apparently, Anh "Joseph" Cao's claim to be a moderate Republican was all a scam. And here I am thinking Cao had some integrity. What kind of person, the moment he loses office, reveals that he essentially lied to all of us about himself in order to get elected the first time around? I'm disappointed and feeling deceived. For me, Cao has forfeited any claim to Ignatian spirituality and Jesuit ideals. No person I know who lays claim to a Jesuit formation would be so deceptive. Good riddance.

MBH Pottery at the Palmer Park Arts Market

Well, it's once again that time of the month when my lovely bride will again be out at the Palmer Park Arts Market setting up her booth to sell her pottery. The market will be running both Saturday and Sunday, from 10am-4pm, and the weather forecast looks perfect, albeit a bit on the cool side. It promises to be a beautiful day and ideal for a visit to the Arts Market. My B-2/3 has been hard at work all month and has added significantly to her inventory of pieces. So, if you want to support a great cause and pick up some wonderful pieces of handmade, high quality pottery as wedding gifts, birthday presents, Christmas or Hannukah gifts, or any other kind of gift, please get your umbrella and do come out to the Arts Market tomorrow and/or Sunday at Palmer Park on the corner of Claiborne and Carrollton Avenues and look her up. I think she's assigned to Booth 117, but you can find out for certain where she is at the information booth at the Market. MBH Pottery or Michele Benson Huck Pottery is what you should look for. Of course, as usual, Michele will also be doing live demonstrations at her pottery wheel, so please come out, enjoy the market, and stop by to visit Michele to see how pots are thrown (and hopefully not at you!)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Off in a few minutes to my brother's family's house for the "Gran Celebracion"! This is when I really like being from a big family. Have a great day and give thanks for all that is wonderful in your life and world. And Geaux Saints!

Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove": Part I Review

Some time ago, I started to read Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove. I'm now about 300 pages in (the book is some 800-900 pages long), and am ready to offer my thoughts on the book so far. First, I should say that I think Larry McMurtry is a very fine writer. His prose is both fluid and naturally engaging. His writing never comes across as forced. And he can capture a character's voice in subtle, but still distinctive ways. For instance, when Gus speaks, the reader wouldn't even have to be told it was Gus speaking in order to be able to discern who it was. Each character's style is unique and discernible, though not blatantly so in a caricaturized way. In fact, this is what I think constitutes McMurtry's strongest aspect as a writer: character development. However, McMurtry's strength is also, I think, the source of his weakness, too, which is narrative plot development. McMurtry seems to get so wrapped up in giving us multiple glimpses into the minds and hearts of his characters from multiple different angles (and they're nuanced and beautifully-constructed detailed glimpses), that he sacrifices an actual story in doing so. Now, remember I am only 300 pages in. The book is considered an epic, and epics revolve around well-developed characters. However, it is also true that really great epic novels don't have to sacrifice story for character development, even at the beginning. For instance, perhaps the greatest epic of all time (at least in my estimation) is Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. And its genius is that we not only get profound insight into Tolstoy's main characters, but we get a great narrative story about the Napoleonic wars and, in particular, Napoleon's invasion of Russia -- even from the very beginning of the novel. In Lonesome Dove, that is not so much the case. The only storyline we actually seem to have at page 300 is moving a cattle herd from the borderlands of Texas to Montana. And the only real action in the novel so far has been wrapped up in two events: the nighttime horse raid in Mexico and the thunderstorm episode in the early part of the cattle drive. I can see a sub-plot developing involving July Johnson's search for Jake Spoon (what great names, no?!?), but it's barely in its infancy after only 300 pages. However, one gets the feeling that whatever plot might develop in the remaining two-thirds of the book will be merely as vehicles for illuminating characterization even more. The way that I would describe the book so far is that it is a series of vignettes introducing us to various different types of people that one might encounter in the "wild west" in the late 19th Century. Again, it's worth nothing that these are not caricatures, which sets McMurtry apart and puts him in the realm of great character writers. They're real people with interesting and nuanced stories; but their stories are told rather independently, with the minimal plot narrative as the necessary (and weak) thread that binds these individual stories together in some loose way. All that said, I still have a lot of book left to read, and so perhaps my initial evaluation will modify as I go along. But one thing is for sure, it is a very fine novel. I'm not usually one for westerns, but this one is definitely worth the read.

Thought of the Day

When you have Bristol Palin competing for the championship on Dancing with the Stars, I think it's safe to say that the political correctness of mediocrity is not just a leftist phenomenon.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Evidence That We're On The Wrong Side Of The Laffer Curve

Ever heard of the Laffer Curve? It's a theory embraced by many on the conservative, anti-tax rightwing to prove that cutting taxes actually could increase overall tax revenues if we are on the "over-taxed" side of the curve. The idea is that the tax revenues generated by the economic growth spurred by tax cuts will both offset and exceed the tax losses incurred by the tax cuts themselves. I admit that there's an intuitive logic to the notion in theory that makes sense at one level. But I'm also realistic enough to know that tax policy, in and of itself, is just one of a whole host of things that affect productivity and economic growth. Things like consumer confidence, unemployment levels, government spending, technology efficiencies, exchange rates, trade policy, monetary policy (i.e. interest rates), sectoral performance, philanthropic giving, natural disasters, wars, terrorist threats, etc., all have an impact on productivity and economic growth. So, I argue that it is nearly impossible to determine what this equilibrium point is on the Laffer curve. Moreover, I would argue that this equilibrium point is a moving target depending on the peculiarities of the moment. A tax cut to a particular rate or level that could be a net revenue generator today (presuming we could even isolate it as such), could actually be a rate or level that would reduce net revenues tomorrow.

But given that we're discussing tax policy today, which is caught up in the debate over whether to extend the Bush era tax cuts, let's take a look at how economic growth fared over the Bush era. What we see is that during the era of the Bush tax cuts, average GDP growth has been at its lowest since 1961. What does this mean? Well, I'd say it doesn't really tell us anything conclusive. But I think it certainly doesn't support the notion that tax cuts produce economic growth and thus increased tax revenues.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Annual TUCLA Conference

My department's 8th annual undergraduate research conference, otherwise known as TUCLA (Tulane Undergraduate Conference on Latin America), is being held this Saturday, November 20, from 9:00am to 3:00pm. The conference features panel presentations of the capstone Core Seminar research papers undertaken by all senior (and a few junior) Latin American Studies majors. The Conference Program and schedule is the following:

Session I 9:00-10:30

Panel 1: Theme: Welfare (Jones 102)
Panel Title: Compromise and Conflict: Recent Policy Debates in Latin America
Carlos Grover, “Property Struggles In Brazilian Cities: ‘Treating The Equal Equally and the Unequal Unequally’”
Abigail Nixon, "Cuba’s Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina: Doctors of Both Science and Conscience"
Jessie Yoste, “Hexed? Vodou Observance of Trauma through the Lens of the 2010 Haitian Earthquake”
Discussant: Dr. Maureen Long, Murphy Institute of Political Economy

Panel 2:Theme: Identity (Jones 108)
Panel Title: The Paradoxes of Perspective: Agency, Identity and Nation in Latin America Film and Literature
Davita Petty, “’Zora, don’t you come here and tell de biggest lie first thing’: Creole Identity in the Writing of Zora Neale Hurston"
Cristina Alvarado-Suarez, “Desenmascarando la identidad nacional: The Problem of National Integration and Nicaraguan Literature”
Phylicia Martel, “Romance and Revolution at a Crossroads: Mapping Zapatista Discourse in Corazón del tiempo”
Discussant: Dr. Roxanne Davila, Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Session II: 10:45-12:15

Panel 3: Theme: Encounter (Jones 102)
Panel Title: Intermestic Identities: Twenty-First-Century Geo-Politics and Cultural Transformation
Stephanie Moore, “Blown Away: Indigenous Rights in Coca-Crazed Bolivia”
Eric Schwartz, “Communism’s Silent Killer: Cuba's Jinetero and the Hustle to Freedom”
Jessica Frankel, “A New Hegemony for Bolivia? Embracing Indigeneity in Response to the War on Drugs”
Discussant: Dr. Raúl A. Sánchez Urribarrí, Department of Political Science

Panel 4: Theme: Nation (Jones 108)
Panel Title: Solidarity Beyond the State: New Concepts of Citizenship in Post-Neo-Liberal Latin America
Eva Canan “Lixo Humano? The Social Transformation of Brazilian Waste Pickers”
Pike, Rebecca “Children of the Revolution: Afro-Brazilian Youth Movements in the 21st Century”
Jane Esslinger, “Slaughter Houses, Factories and Conventillos: New Spaces for Culture-Based Urban Development and Citizen Participation in Neo-Liberal Buenos Aires”
Discussant: Dr. David G. Ortiz, Department of Sociology

Session III: 1:15–2:45

Panel 5: Theme: Exchange (Jones 102)
Panel Title: Our North is the South: How Recent Migration Patterns and Policy Trouble Conventional Wisdom
Kathleen Dunn, “Welcome Home? Consequences of Return Migration in Western Mexico”
Rachel Young, “Salir Adelante: The Curious Case of Peruvian Migration to Chile and the Singularity of the Peruvian Migrant”
Monica Peters, “Immigration is the Sincerest Form of Flattery: The Formation of Mexico’s Immigration Policy and its Role as a Receiving and Transit State.”
Discussant: Dr. Casey Kane Love, Department of Political Science

Panel 6: Theme: Creativity (Jones 108)
Panel Title: A History of Violence: Human Dignity and the Politics of Representation
Emily Gatehouse, “‘Me gustaría saber más. Me gustaría saber todo.’ The Duality of Memorializing Argentine State Terrorism”
Rebecca Chilbert, “Made in Mexico: How the Mexican Media presents Slavery as Something Made in China”
Susie DeLapp, “Failing the Poto Mitan? International Aid Organizations and Structural Violence in Haiti”
Discussant: Dr. Justin Wolfe, Department of History
All are invited to attend, ask questions, give comments, and otherwise support such a fine cadre of undergraduate scholars. And congratulations ahead of time to all our panelists on their fine papers and their hard work. Full program, including panelist biographies and paper abstracts, can be found here.

Favorite Dimbulb Comment of the Day

From a commenter who calls himself "Proud Infidel" at the conservative Right Wing News website, in a thread for a posting on Sarah Palin's claim that she could beat Obama in a 2012 Presidential matchup:

One thing for sure, she's got what President B. Hussein Obama doesn't: Executive Experience!!!
The dimbulb refers to Obama as President and then claims in the same breath that Obama has no executive experience! Call me elitist if it makes you feel better, but that still won't erase the fact that this person is a "Grade A" ignoramus.

Message To Conservatives Who Would Call Me A Sarah Palin Hater

Let me put it to you like this: I just think and feel about her the way you think and feel about Obama. So, however you see fit to describe me when it comes to Sarah Palin, I will just assume that's also how you would characterize yourself when it comes to Obama.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wasilla Shore, cont.

Want to see another episode of Palin's Alaska? I mean the real Palin's Alaska? Just read through this facebook comment war that apparently involves both Willow and Bristol Palin acting like the "proper" young ladies they are:

During the premiere of "Sarah Palin's Alaska" Sunday night -- a boy named Tre who went to school with the Palin kids wrote a status update that read, "Sarah Palin's Alaska, is failing so hard right now."

The comment sparked an intense response from Willow -- who replied on the boy's wall, "Haha your so gay. I have no idea who you are, But what I've seen pictures of, your disgusting ... My sister had a kid and is still hot."

Willow followed up that comment with another that read, "Tre stfu. Your such a f**got."

Bristol Palin also got in on the smacktalk -- writing a message to Tre saying, "You're running your mouth just to talk sh*t."

Eventually, a message board war erupted -- and Bristol took aim at another person named Jon -- saying, "You'll be as successful as my baby daddy, And actually I do work my ass off. I've been a single mom for the last two years."
Of course, anything that comes from gossip sites like TMZ should be taken with a grain of salt, even though it would be hard to fake this episode. Even still, the sympathetic conservative blogosphere is taken aback by the exchange as well and offering some cautionary admonitions to the Wasilla Shore debutantes:
First of all, let me just note that even if Willow and Bristol talk like that in private, they shouldn't be using that kind of language in public, particularly on Facebook, where it's out there in print for the world to see. That's advice I'd give to anyone, by the way. I'd also add that it's wise not to use that sort of language in private either -- and I can tell you that from personal experience.
As someone with two young daughters myself, one of whom is on the cusp of teenager-hood, I'd add that it's not just the profane language that's a problem, but the downright Jerry Springer-esque trashiness of the whole attitude behind the exchange. And though these immature young girls are responsible for themselves, I do have to say that kids don't just pick this up and internalize this kind of behavior without an implicit tolerance from the parentals. As the saying goes, "the apples fall not far from the tree." It is a reflection not only on who they are themselves, but on the whole community and family structure that has supported them and nurtured them.

What kind of role model would this chronic trashy soap opera that appears to be the habitual Palin family modus vivendi be for my daughters and for America's families should it infest the White House? Wasn't the damage done to the image of the American Presidency through the seediness of Bill Clinton's White House sexcapades enough?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Affirmative Action: Conservative Style

You want to see an example of how conservatives play the affirmative action game, look no further than Bristol Palin's continued presence on Dancing with the Stars.

It is abundantly clear that, on the actual merits of dancing, Bristol is clearly inferior to many of the other contestants. Even Bristol acknowledges that her continued success on the show is not because she is more talented than the others who get bumped, but because she essentially tries hard and has shown improvement in performance:

Bristol Palin, 20, says voters support her despite lackluster performances "because I started with no experience in dancing or performing at all, and I've come a long way."

"People do connect with me because they think I'm real and I'm not typical Hollywood," she said.
And even that's a bit of a stretch, as anyone who looks at it honestly knows precisely what's going on: Bristol is still on the show for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with dancing skill at any level.

And that's fine. If Dancing with the Stars is really a popularity contest irrespective of actual merits as a dancer, then let's just be up front about it. But pretending that Bristol is earning her place because of her dancing skills is just dishonest. For some conservatives, it's got to be embarrassing for this charade to continue, because it puts the lie to the conservative expectation that objective merit and skill should determine rewards as opposed to a particular kind of celebrity. Bristol is getting special treatment by viewers not because of her abilities, but purely because of who she is.

I'm pretty certain that if admissions committees at law schools were admitting certain people because their LSATs had improved incrementally over multiple testing periods, but whose best score was still 20 points below the average of all other admitted students, one would have to assume that a kind of special privilege that has little to do with performance or merit indicators is being afforded to such people. And I'm also pretty sure that conservatives would be up in arms about this.

New GOP Congressman: Government Healthcare - Good For Me, But Not For Thee.

Check this out:

Republican Andy Harris, an anesthesiologist who defeated freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, reacted incredulously when informed that federal law mandated that his government-subsidized health care policy would take effect on Feb. 1 – 28 days after his Jan. 3rd swearing-in.

“He stood up and asked the two ladies who were answering questions why it had to take so long, what he would do without 28 days of health care,” said a congressional staffer who saw the exchange. The benefits session, held behind closed doors, drew about 250 freshman members, staffers and family members to the Capitol Visitors Center auditorium late Monday morning,”.

“Harris then asked if he could purchase insurance from the government to cover the gap,” added the aide, who was struck by the similarity to Harris’s request and the public option he denounced as a gateway to socialized medicine.

Harris, a Maryland state senator who works at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and several hospitals on the Eastern Shore, also told the audience, “This is the only employer I’ve ever worked for where you don’t get coverage the first day you are employed,” his spokeswoman Anna Nix told POLITICO.
I can point to plenty of employers who don't even offer coverage at all, much less the first day of employment. I've worked for a number of them in my life. If he's never worked for an employer that didn't offer health insurance, he hasn't had the typical American worker's experience with small business employment, with low wage jobs, or with independent contract work. Talk about your typical out-of-touch privileged rich guy. And here he is, coming to Washington, and feeling entitled to his taxpayer funded "public" health care option. What a tool.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Walker Hines: Unserious Chameleon

It's hard to believe Walker Hines when he calls himself a "principled" politician. To me, he's just a boy riding on the coattails of his daddy's reputation as a prominent local lawyer (in fact, I think he still lives at home with the parentals) who is just toying with the game of politics as if it were a high school student council experience. Why do I think this? Well ...

In the span of a few short years, Walker has "evolved" from being an earnest "progressive Democrat who believes in the Catholic values of social justice" to membership in that cabal of "conservative state lawmakers who share a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty."

Walker likes to point out that he's still the youngest legislator in the Louisiana state legislature. And by God it shows. His complete 180 degree evolution of ideological direction and partisan affiliation just comes across as juvenile and lacking any kind of substantive conviction. He may not fully understand this, but his behavior comes across as youthful naivete and a kind of unmeasured, thoughtless, and rash opportunism. I don't believe anyone will take this young fellow seriously in the next election. I've a mind to run against him myself on an unapologetically liberal platform.

I had high hopes for him, but I noticed in the last legislative session that, when push came to shove on a piece of controversial immigration legislation, Walker simply abdicated his responsibility. The two times that I went to Baton Rouge to testify before his Committee against what I saw as horrible legislation, Walker didn't even bother to show up to the hearing. I wrote to him about his absence, and he wrote back with some song and dance about needing to be elsewhere to shepherd some other piece of legislation through some other committee; but now I just don't think he was being honest with me. Given all this hubbub about switching parties now, I think it is fair for me to conclude that he knew he was pondering a party switch even then and was thus being cowardly at the time in confronting a hot-button GOP issue (immigration) and finding a convenient excuse for not living up to his claim to be a "progressive Democrat who believes in the Catholic values of social justice," since anyone who claims this mantle would have clearly been an outspoken opponent of this pernicious piece of legislation. Heck, even the institutional Catholic Church opposed this legislation that Hines couldn't even take the time to consider as part of his Committee duties. I swear, if I could afford to do so, I'd mount a serious campaign for his seat in the Louisiana State legislature.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

How Many Conservatives Hate the Rich

I've been thinking recently about the whole subject of wealth in its many different forms. Of course, when we speak of wealth and riches, we most often mean pecuniary wealth. But it is not all that uncommon for us to speak of wealth and riches in other, non-pecuniary ways, too. We talk about the riches of family life, or the riches of creativity or ideas. I'd like to ponder the idea of a kind of wealth related to intellectual capital, or what we might know more commonly as the "wealth" of knowledge -- a phrase that I would say is familiar to many. But it's in that one area of capital accumulation -- the area of knowledge -- where many conservatives hate, despise, and/or envy the rich.

Let me start with a recent example of something that I happen to experience a fair amount in my dealings with conservatives, especially in intellectual debates. I hold a Ph.D. That's no secret. But I can honestly say with full confidence that I never flaunt this in my dealings with others, and I never use this as a cudgel to try to beat down another in an exchange of ideas. To the extent that it ever does enter into a debate, it is usually as an example of an accomplishment that I am proud of, especially given that the conditions of my upbringing and class background are such that my earning a Ph.D. would have been such an unlikely outcome. I am the oldest child in a family of six siblings born to working-class parents who married extremely young (Dad - 18, Mom - 17) and who never even earned a high school diploma (though both eventually earned their GEDs). I take pride in my Ph.D. because I did it all myself. My parents created an environment that was supportive and encouraging, and for that I am lucky and grateful; but my parents did not have the benefit of experience to guide me through the undergraduate college experience, much less to even comprehend the world of graduate school, comprehensive exams, field research, and dissertation writing. In effect, my education is the most significant "pulling-myself-up-by-the-bootstrap" accomplishment in my life. I fortunately had the God-given talent to do a doctorate in my chosen field; and, by God, I earned it. There was nothing about my academic accomplishment that was handed to me on a silver platter from a position of privilege. And the material fruits of my hard work have come not in pecuniary wealth, but in a wealth of knowledge. When it comes to knowledge, I'm a pretty rich dude, so to speak.

And yet ... it is precisely in this area of wealth where I find the most spiteful disdain levied at me by a fair number of conservatives.

For instance, in a recent debate I was having in a comment thread over at a conservative blog, I had the fact that I have a Ph.D. (i.e. my wealth) thrown out at me out of the blue in a discussion where my Ph.D. had absolutely no relevance at all to the debate. You can read the comment thread for yourself, but let me note that the debate centers around the validity of a generalization that liberals blog and think in a particular way that is, shall we say, disreputable and flawed, compared to how conservatives blog and think, which is, shall we say, admirable and correct. In the midst of this debate, in which I disputed the notion put forward by my debate opponent that a generalization could be made about the way conservatives and liberals blog so as to be able to render a value judgment on their thinking, my debate opponent threw in this comment:

I don’t wish to take on a condescending tone here. But you need to take note of the meaningful difference between a hard-and-fast rule that is so be imposed on people, with no exceptions, and an observation of a general trend. A trend of events which, if somehow objectively measured, would yield statistics validating the suggested trend.

Does earning a Ph.D. have something to do with losing track of this difference, or maybe assuming a fair-weather-friendship with it, looking past it when it doesn’t service whatever point you’re trying to prove? A lot of people would say that about Ph.D.’s before they even catch wind of these exchanges we have over this issue, and here you are proving it.
I have no idea what the relevance of my Ph.D. is to the actual argument itself, so I am left to assume that throwing this comment in the debate was meant as some kind of anti-elitist dig at me. And given the hostility that conservatives generally tend to have towards folks with advanced academic degrees, I think the odds are clearly in favor of that interpretation, even though I think this conservative blogger and commenter is generally a respectful and good fellow. But, even if this was the intent of bringing my having a Ph.D. into the debate, that's fine. I'm used to this. It's not an experience that is all that uncommon for me in such contexts. And it certainly does nothing to diminish the pride and value I ascribe to my academic accomplishment and the wealth of knowledge it has afforded me. But what strikes me as ironic is that this kind of reaction is coming from conservatives who would consider such a reaction as pretty despicable if that wealth that I possessed wasn't a richness of knowledge and academic achievement, but was rather a pecuniary wealth derived from entrepreneurial behavior in the "business" world.

Accumulating intellectual capital, or generating a wealth of knowledge, is the one area where many conservatives tend to become the very anti-rich class-warrior demagogues that they claim to despise.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Walker Hines Has Just "Caoed" Himself

Walker Hines, my local Representative in the House side of the Louisiana state legislature, has switched parties. He is now a Republican, casting aside his Democratic Party affiliation. And this means he's effectively betrayed all of us Democrats who voted for him. Next election, he's toast. I'm more and more inclined to think that any elected official who switches parties while occupying an office should have to resign the office upon making such a switch and a special election to replace this official should be called immediately. He claims that his switch was based on "principle" as opposed to political expediency. But I have to say a principled person would have coupled his switch of party affiliation with a resignation from the office. Had he run for office as a Republican to begin with, he would have lost outright. He owes his election to his Democratic party affiliation, and a principled person would be behaving much, much differently now. What a shame.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Murkowski vs. Miller: Scrapping Over Vote Counting

It's rather amusing (and will make for some interesting future references) to see two Republicans duking it out over what votes will count in Murkowski's write-in campaign. What's even more delicious to observe in this process is that Tea Party favorite, and actual official GOP nominee, Joe Miller, is on the side of the conflict that has to assume a legal maneuvering to discount ballots on the most flimsiest and silliest of technicalities. Really, what person with any common-sense and decency will try to discount a ballot which clearly states "Murkowski, Lisa" because it didn't read "Lisa Murkowski" as the legal fine print may seem to require? I have no dog in this hunt as the outcome is gonna be a Republican one way or the other, but it is amusing to watch. And however it works itself out, the Democrats are going to be given the gift of being able to reference any conservative Tea Party or insider-GOP talking points that emerge from the Miller-Murkowski show-down as ammunition in any of its future vote-counting/re-counting experiences with Republicans.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Sarah Palin in the Cocoon: Where Lies Are Easy

Sarah Palin, cocooned as she is in the conservative media echo chamber which never, ever calls her out on her patent falsehoods, not only seems incapable of admitting fallibility, but also thinks that compounding lies with even more egregious and disingenuous ones is no problem as long as it placates her fawning admirers who can see no wrong in anything she does and who see her as combatting that evil, "lamestream" media for daring to point out her lies. There is just no way that a serial liar like she is should have any business even being close to the Presidency.

Beautiful Voice

Squirrelly-Girlie the Younger has some vocal talent that we're trying to encourage and help her develop. She even answers that eternal question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" with "An Opera Singer." Regardless, we're just glad she loves to sing. And so this strikes a particularly moving chord with me, even though SG the Younger is nowhere nearly as polished:

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Myth of the Unpopularity of "Liberal" Policies, cont.

I have to append to my previous posting some comments that went unstated but which I hope should be clear. In case these comments weren't clear, I'm going to lay them out right now ...

What gives this meme any kind of currency is that it is jealous, cranky, resentful, and uncompassionate conservatives who tend to be the ones who raise hay about this issue when they are the ones who all of a sudden have to face competition with those "lazy ingrates" for scarce resources in entitlement programs. Most liberals I know don't spite conservatives access to the entitlement programs that serve as critical safety nets when they need it. A conservative kid in Louisiana wants to cut down his tuition via the TOPS program, even to an expensive, private university like the one I teach at? Liberals would say "Yes" -- more power to him. Conservative grandma who wants her expensive prescription drugs and the most-expensive treatment to extend life for a short time more, liberals say "Absolutely" -- more power to her. It's the vagaries of conservatives who behave like liberals and who like the benefits of liberal policy when it benefits them, but who spite their fellow citizens who need other kinds of assistance that they don't currently need, who are the problem -- not liberal policy. Another appended point: we liberals believe that there are circumstances in one's life beyond his or her ability to control that can cripple this person's ability to succeed; we believe that structural impediments and environments are REAL constraints on the freedoms that conservatives say they believe in. Ask a conservative who can't find a job, who has a family of four to feed and provide for, who has a kid with a serious health issue but no insurance, and who is 6 months behind on his mortgage and facing foreclosure, all IN SPITE OF his high integrity, his willingness to work hard, and his persistent and constant search for a job whether he has a problem with unemployment insurance, food stamps, access to subsidized health care that won't bankrupt him, and mortgage foreclosure rules that help him keep his house until his situation improves, ask this person if those "demonized" liberal policies are bad and unpopular? I KNOW what he would say. We all do. And the ironic thing is that he'll be the first in line to tap into the charity and services of liberal do-gooder community organizers and service providers to get the benefits of these "unpopular" programs so that he and his family can weather the current environment with some measure of human dignity and hope. And the other ironic thing is that this liberal do-gooder community organizer will GLADLY help even the person who thinks this liberal's job is worthless, unproductive, government teat-sucking enabling, hippie communism. We liberals understand the concept of structural and environmental limits to freedom, real limits to freedom. We liberals don't devalue the ideas of self-sufficiency and hard work. We understand that this kind of behavior deserves whatever rewards it can find in a free market environment. It's BECAUSE of these ideals that we support "liberal" policies that are supposedly "unpopular." And I contend that it is precisely BECAUSE even the most die-hard conservative has an intuitive understanding of this, too, which is why he justifies the benefits of liberal policies for himself, even when he denies it for others. What this conservative can't understand (or won't understand) is that the structures and environments that beat him down and force him and his family to the brink of ruin through no fault of his own also probably apply to that poor, perhaps illiterate, maybe dishevelled-looking person standing in front of him and behind him in the line. Are there folks who abuse state benefits? Yes. Do liberals accept such abuse? No. Are there folks who develop a dependency on such benefits? Yes. Do liberals support such dependency? No. But what we liberals tend to know (and it's knowledge that leads to one of the most democratic and freedom-embracing policy agendas) that conservatives generally tend not to know is that these kinds of people who abuse or who develop a dependency on "unpopular" liberal programs are a very small percentage of the total number of hard-working, responsible folks whom such policies and programs help to survive the crushing structural and environmental circumstances that make them slaves to something they had no part in creating.

Are Liberal Policies Unpopular? Debunking A Conservative Meme

There is a meme circulating in the conservative punditocracy (and it has kinda always been there), that Americans are mostly conservative in their thinking, that America is mostly a "center-right" conservative country, and that liberal policy is thus relatively unpopular in the country. When you look at the "wave" that characterized GOP gains in Tuesday's elections, it's easy to be tempted to think that there is some merit to this argument. But, as I argued in my previous posting, I don't think this is really what it is all that cracked up to be. For one thing, the most loony of the Tea Party candidates lost their races, and much more decisively than predicted. Sharron Angle is a case in point. And while Rand Paul, a prominent Tea Party favorite, won his race, that's not all that surprising in a reliably conservative state like Kentucky. And I'm prtetty confident that even Rand Paul will give some headaches to even hardcore Tea Partiers. I'm actually looking forward to how Paul and his fellow GOPers in the Senate actually interact. Now I have to admit that Marco Rubio is a clear exception to this trend (I generally find myself positively oriented to Rubio as a person, even though I'm no fan of his politics); but I've watched Rubio a little and I will go out on a limb and predict that, because he seems to be serious about actually governing, he will soften in the spirit of pragmatism and adopt a posture of compromise that will make him seem less appealing to Tea Partiers. Even still, it's worth noting that the Tea Party delivered victory for only 32% of its candidates up for election this time around. That's not a ringing endorsement of a movement identifying the US and Americans as a primarily conservative-leaning country. In fact, it tracks pretty much as one would expect with what might be considered rock-ribbed conservatives in the United States. I imagine that rock-ribbed liberals would poll about the same and maybe even a tad higher. In any case, I'd like to suggest an alternative explanation about this meme's notion that the election outcomes demonstrate the unpopularity of liberal policy.

I would put forward the notion that liberal policies are actually quite popular, but popular in a "good-for-me-but-not-for-thee" way. A majority of Americans, when polled individually, support many of the big entitlement programs -- for themselves -- but when they step back and look at the bigger picture (i.e. the costs of the programs they like for themselves), then people get skittish and start to differentiate between themselves and others and the others' entitlements to the benefits of such programs that they like. It's the "unworthy," subjectively determined, who make a good thing bad and who abuse an otherwise worthwhile policy. I saw this at work so clearly in the wake of Hurricane Katrina when many conservatives, some of them family members and close friends, with uninsured or underinsured homes, demanded and expected federal compensation for their choices such that they could rebuild their homes and not have to suffer the consequences of their risky behavior; and yet I have heard these very same conservatives lambast food stamp recipients or other kinds of "bailouts." Sure, these people had their reasons beyond their own negligence to explain why they merited such benefits; but who doesn't?

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Health Care Reform, Mortgage Relief, Local Pork Projects, etc., are all very popular items among most people when they understand them for themselves and are asked individually to comment on them; but when individuals begin to think that they are too expensive overall, they tend to look at the unworthiness of these programs for others and get all indignant. Similarly, young people like their college educations subsidized; elderly people like their prescription drug benefits; farmers like their agricultural subsidies, people without insurance or with pre-existing conditions like liberal health care reform legislation; homeowners like mortgage foreclosure protection programs and mortgage assistance programs in economically tough times; the unemployed like their unemployment benefits and like them extended in tough economic times, etc. So, it's not really that liberal policies, in and of themselves, as policy, are unpopular at the individual level, it's just that because liberal policies tend to aggregate popular benefits in a broader way, people who are perceived as on the shorter end of being the beneficiaries of such programs, vent about them, making them seem to be unpopular. But they really aren't unpopular at the individual level; and it's precisely at the individual level where it matters most.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Glass Half Full Thinking for Liberals on Today's Elections

Much hay is being made about a GOP wave election today. Sure, it looks like the GOP, by all indicators, is poised to make some gains, perhaps some relatively significant gains. But what all of us have to remember is that the GOP is making gains on top of a pretty steep four year decline. When you've pretty much hit rock bottom, going up to the surface level may seem like an impressive victory, but it's just really getting back to a place where one can breath.

So if the GOP picks up 50+ seats tonight in the House in a good case scenario, that will give them control of the House, but only by a mere 25-30 seats or so. When you're talking 435 seats, that's like just barely tipping the fulcrum in their direction. And it looks even more unlikely that the GOP will win enough Senate races to control that chamber. How is that any kind of GOP referendum. In the end, when you look at what this GOP wave might look like, the results will still be a closely divided government with a GOP edge in the House, a Democratic edge in the Senate, and a Democrat in the White House -- and all this in a sustained economic environment that is the worst that I can remeber in my lifetime. If the GOP can't ride the "wave" to a more convincing victory than what best case scenarios pose for them this election cycle, I don't think they're likely to ever recover a decisive majority down the road.

So, progressive liberals should take heart. The "defeat" tonight is not gonna be as bad as it might look at first blush. And who knows? I have a suspicion that tonight's outcomes are not gonna be nearly as dire as the prognosticators are predicting.