Posts tagged ‘Tea Party’

Michael Munger: The "State" As A Unicorn

Michael Munger has one of the most useful articles I have read in a very long time.  As illustrated by the Venn diagram I posted a while back showing the heavy overlap between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, we have much more concurrence in the diagnosis of problems than in the prescriptions for solutions.   Munger gets at the heart of why many people go wrong in these prescriptions

When I am discussing the state with my colleagues at Duke, it's not long before I realize that, for them, almost without exception, the State is a unicorn. I come from the Public Choice tradition, which tends to emphasize consequentialist arguments more than natural rights, and so the distinction is particularly important for me. My friends generally dislike politicians, find democracy messy and distasteful, and object to the brutality and coercive excesses of foreign wars, the war on drugs, and the spying of the NSA. 

But their solution is, without exception, to expand the power of "the State." That seems literally insane to me—a non sequitur of such monstrous proportions that I had trouble taking it seriously.

Then I realized that they want a kind of unicorn, a State that has the properties, motivations, knowledge, and abilities that they can imagine for it. When I finally realized that we were talking past each other, I felt kind of dumb. Because essentially this very realization—that people who favor expansion of government imagine a State different from the one possible in the physical world—has been a core part of the argument made by classical liberals for at least three hundred years....

He follows with this useful test

But they may not immediately see why "the State" that they can imagine is a unicorn. So, to help them, I propose what I (immodestly) call "the Munger test."  

  1. Go ahead, make your argument for what you want the State to do, and what you want the State to be in charge of.
  2. Then, go back and look at your statement. Everywhere you said "the State" delete that phrase and replace it with "politicians I actually know, running in electoral systems with voters and interest groups that actually exist."
  3. If you still believe your statement, then we have something to talk about.

This leads to loads of fun, believe me. When someone says, "The State should be in charge of hundreds of thousands of heavily armed troops, with the authority to use that coercive power," ask them to take out the unicorn ("The State") and replace it with George W. Bush. How do you like it now?

If someone says, "The State should be able to choose subsidies and taxes to change the incentives people face in deciding what energy sources to use," ask them to remove "The State" and replace it with "senators from states that rely on coal, oil, or corn ethanol for income." Still sound like a good idea?

How about, "The State should make rules for regulating sales of high performance electric cars." Now, the switch: "Representatives from Michigan and other states that produce parts for internal combustion engines should be in charge of regulating Tesla Motors."  Gosh, maybe not …

Hat tip:  Don Boudreaux

I spent most of the Bush years asking Conservatives a similar question -- you may be fine when "your guy" has this power, but would you be happy if Al Gore or Nancy Pelosi had it.  And of course I have spent most of the Obama years asking Liberals whether they would be comfortable if George Bush or Rick Perry had similar powers to what Obama has claimed for himself.  Because they will.

I said something similar here, though less elegantly.  I concluded in part:

Technocratic idealists ALWAYS lose control of the game.  It may feel good at first when the trains start running on time, but the technocrats are soon swept away by the thugs, and the patina of idealism is swept away, and only fascism is left.  Interestingly, the technocrats always cry "our only mistake was letting those other guys take control".  No, the mistake was accepting the right to use force on another man.  Everything after that was inevitable.

The Corporate State Is Winning

Successful businesses often seek to cement their position and block new competition by running to government for legislation that blocks new entrants and/or makes it harder to compete for smaller upstarts.  One only need to look at the taxi cartel trying to kill Uber and Lyft to see exactly how this operates.  It is working:

small-biz5-14

 

This is a strategy that works with both Republican and Democrat politicians, which may explain why both Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party shared opposition to cronyism among their complaints.

Of course there are other factors than just powerful incumbents blocking new competitors.  In California, regulations that make it just debilitating to try to run a business are also driven by the tort bar, which has created a thriving business in extracting settlements from companies over miniscule rules violations.  And the California government obliges by shifting the rules constantly, so companies are both constantly vulnerable and have to pay other attorneys to strengthen their immune systems against these assaults.

Our Political Opponents Believe Whatever We Say They Believe

I can think of two groups with whom I have some sympathy -- the Tea Party and climate skeptics -- who share one problem in common:  the media does not come to them to ask them what their positions are.  The media instead goes to their opposition to ask what their positions are.  In other words, the media asks global warming strong believers what the skeptic position is, without ever even talking to skeptics.  It should be no surprise then that these groups get painted with straw men positions that frequently bear no resemblance to their actual beliefs.

Paul Krugman provides an excellent example.  He writes:  (shame on the blog author for not linking Krugman's article, here is the link)

Or we’re told that conservatives, the Tea Party in particular, oppose handouts because they believe in personal responsibility, in a society in which people must bear the consequences of their actions. Yet it’s hard to find angry Tea Party denunciations of huge Wall Street bailouts, of huge bonuses paid to executives who were saved from disaster by government backing and guarantees.

This is really outrageous.  I am not a Tea Partier because they hold a number of positions (e.g. on immigration and gay marriage) opposite of mine.  But to say they somehow have ignored cronyism and bailouts is just absurd.  TARP was one of the instigations, if not the key instigation, for the Tea Party.  As I have written any number of times, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street actually shared a number of common complaints about bank bailouts and cronyism.

David Harsanyi has more here.

By the way, it is Hilarious to see Krugman trying to claim the moral high ground on Cronyism, as he has been such a vociferous proponent of the Fed balance sheet expansion, which will likely go down in history as one of the greatest crony giveaways to the rich in history.

Can One Be A Principled Moderate? And What the Hell Is A Moderate, Anyway?

Sorry, this is one of those posts where I am still struggling to figure an issue out, so bear with me if we wander around a bit and the ideas are a bit unfinished.

Kevin Drum and other progressives have been bending over backwards to argue that the now three year delay in implementing PPACA standards for private insurance policies is no big deal.

Really?  The PPACA is likely, for Progressives, to be the most important piece of legislation passed during this Administration.  Hell, based on the discussion when it was passed, for many it is likely the most important piece of legislation passed in the last three or four decades.  And when Republicans suggested delaying these same rules and mandates, e.g. during the government shutdown, they freaked, arguing that people should not have to go another day with their old crappy health care policies.

But now they just roll over and say, yeah, ho hum, this thing that everyone supposedly wanted is a political liability so its fine to delay it, no big deal.

If this were a signature piece of libertarian legislation (yeah, I know its hard to imagine such a thing) that was not being implemented by somebody I voted for and supported, I would be pissed.  I would be raking the President over the coals.

This difference in outlook may be why the Republican leadership hates the Tea Party.  The Tea Party gets pissed when folks they elect punt on the ideological goals they got elected to pursue.  They have no tribal loyalty, only loyalty to a set of policy goals.  The key marker in fact of many groups now disparagingly called "extremists" is that they do not blindly support "their guy" in office when "their guy" sells out on the things they want.

I have friends I like and respect -- smart and worldly people -- who are involved in a series of activities to promote political moderation.  What I have written in this post is the core of my fear about moderation -- that in real life calls for moderation are actually calls for loyalty to maintaining our current two major parties (and keeping current incumbents in office) over ideas and principles.

Which leads me to an honest question that many of you may take as insulting -- can one be a principled moderate?  I am honestly undecided on this.  But note that by moderate I do not mean "someone who is neither Republican or Democrat," because I fit that description and most would call me pretty extreme.  So "fiscally conservative and socially liberal" is not in my mind inherently "moderate".  That is a non-moderate ideological position that is sometimes called "moderate" because it is a mix of Republican and Democrat positions.  But I would argue that anyone striving to intellectual consistency cannot be a Republican or Democrat because neither have an internally consistent ideology, and in fact their ideology tends to flip back and forth on certain issues (look at how Republican and Democrat ideology on Presidential power, for example, or drone strikes changes depending on whose guy is in the Oval Office).

Moderates in my mind are folks willing to, or even believe it is superior to, take average positions, eg. "the PPACA just went too far and we should have had a less-far-reaching compromise" or "free trade agreements go too far we need a mix of free trade and protectionism".  They value compromise and legislative action (ie passing lots of laws in a fluid and timely manner) over holding firm on particular ideological goals.  I guess the most fair way to put it by this definition is they value consensus and projecting a sense of agreement and teamwork over any individual policy goal.

Postscript:  One other potential definition of "moderate":  One could argue that in actual use by politicians and pundits, "moderate" effectively means "one who agrees with me" and "extremist" means "people who disagree with me."  The real solution here may be to accept that "moderate" is an inherently broken word and stop using it.

Update:  There are areas where I suppose I am a moderate.  For example, I think that making definitive statements about what "science" has been "settled" in the realm of complex systems is insane.  This is particularly true in economics.  Many findings in economics, if one were honest, are equivocal or boil down to "it depends."  The Left is insanely disingenuous to claim that the science is settled that minimum wage increases don't affect employment.  But it is equally wrong to say that minimum wage increases always have a large effect on unemployment.  For one thing, almost no one (percentage wise) actually makes the minimum wage so we are talking about changes in the first place that affect only a couple of percent of the workforce, and may be mitigated (or exacerbated) by other simultaneous trends in the economy.  So of course their impact may not be large (in the same way that regulations on left-handed Eskimo Fortran programmers might not have much of an impact on the larger economy).

We have gotten into this bizarre situation that the science is suddenly always settled about everything, where it would be safer to argue that given the complexity of the systems involved the science can't be settled.  I liked this bit I read the other day in the Federalist

One of the more amusing threads that runs through the conversation among the online left is the viewpoint that the science is settled in every arena, and settled in their favor. The data backs the leftward view, and if it doesn’t, there must be a flaw in the data, or in the scientist, or secret Koch-backed dollars behind the research. This bit of hubris leads to saying obviously untrue things – like “every economist from the left and right” says the stimulus has created or saved at least two million jobs. Or that there’s “no solid evidence” that boosting the minimum wage harms jobs. Of course the media knows that these aren’t true, but they largely give these politicians a pass, because dealing in data and with academic research is their turf.

Folks on the Left who want to blame the Tea Party for the destruction of civil discourse need to look at themselves as well, declaring the science settled on everything and then painting their opponents as anti-science for disagreeing.  As I have pointed out before, this sort of epistemology is not science but religion, the appeal to authority backed by charges of heresy for those who disagree.

If I were going to make a political plea, it would not be for moderation but for better more respectful practices in the public discourse.

Government Regulation and Incumbent Business Protection

Scratch "consumer" protection laws and you will almost always find the laws are really aimed a protecting incumbent businesses and traditional business models.  This time from France:

To the surprise of virtually everyone in France, the government has just passed a law requiring car services like Uber to wait 15 minutes before picking up passengers. The bill is designed to help regular taxi drivers, who feel threatened by recently-introduced companies like Uber, SnapCar and LeCab. Cabbies in the Gallic nation require formidable time and expense to get their permits and see the new services -- which lack such onerous requirements -- as direct competitors.

This is the interesting political ground where the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party have a lot of overlap.  That is why the Chamber of Commerce, which represents all these incumbent businesses, is working with both parties to keep the cozy corporatists in power against challenges from the Left and Right.  If you are a business owner, eschew the Chamber and join the NFIB and support the IJ.

"Slander" Is Anything Bad Said About Me

Richard Cohen wrote in the Washington Post

"[p]eople with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children,"

Apparently people responded to the article by saying that Cohen was as a minimum deeply out of touch and perhaps a tad bigoted himself.  Of course, since this is the Internet age, some folks said these things in juvenile and deeply unproductive ways.

I am not going to comment much on his original statement.  I think the article is far more revealing of Mr. Cohen's mental outlook than that of anyone in Iowa, particularly since he brought no facts to the table, but a lot of people have already pointed that out.  I wanted to comment on his follow-up statement

I don’t understand it …. What I was doing was expressing not my own views but those of extreme right-wing Republican tea party people. I don’t have a problem with interracial marriage or same-sex marriage. In fact, I exult in them. It’s a slander…

Seriously?  So people's opinions about actual statements made by Richard Cohen in writing are slander, but ugly accusations made about Republicans or Tea Partiers he has not even met are not?  At least his critics are working with his actual statements, rather than offering an opinion of a large, inhomogeneous group's state of mind as fact.

He added, “I think it’s reprehensible to say that because you disagree with something that you should fire me. That’s what totalitarians do.”

Yeah, because totalitarians never broad brush vilify whole groups who constitute their political opponents.

This is a great example of how ad hominem argumentation works.  The Left has spent a lot of time attempting to vilify the Tea Party as flat-out BAD PEOPLE, in a similar way to how we climate skeptics have been vilified.  Once one is successful at this, then all the rules of discourse don't apply.   You don't have to engage them or treat them seriously because they are BAD PEOPLE.   We good liberal-minded folks would never stereotype large groups, except of course the Tea Party but that is OK because they are BAD PEOPLE.  And everyone knows that the rule of law, much less the rules of normal discourse, do not apply to BAD PEOPLE.

The Urge to Control

This is the personality of the people we are electing to higher office.  They have such an urge for control that they will not allow cell phone pictures taken of them in public.  By personality, these people have to control everything.  Is it really any surprise when they turn around and read our email?

From the article at the fabulous Photography is Not a Crime:

Hillary Clinton’s henchmen snatched a smartphone from a man who had photographed her giving a speech in Miami Thursday, deleting the image before returning the phone.

“That’s American politics,” one of the individuals in charge of preventing the presidential hopeful from being photographed told a Miami Herald reporter covering the meeting.

No, that’s Russian politics. Or Chinese politics. Or Cuban politics.

By the way (and I could be wrong here) Carlos Miller strikes me as much more Occupy than Tea Party in his political preferences.  But he obviously doesn't pull any punches on his issue (legality of public photography) when his team is involved.

Obama Didn't Need to Order IRS Crackdown on the Tea Party

There won't be any direct order found telling the IRS to go hassle Conservative groups.  That's not the way it works.  Obama's style is to "other" groups he does not like, to impugn their motives, and to cast them as pariahs beyond the bounds of civil society.  Such and such group, he will say, opposes me not because they have reasonable differences of opinion but because they have nefarious motives.  Once a group is labelled and accepted (at least by your political followers) as such, you don't have to order people to harass them. They just do it, because they see it as the right thing to do to harass evil people.  When Joe Nocera writes this in support of Obama in no less a platform as the NY Times, orders are superfluous

You know what they say: Never negotiate with terrorists. It only encourages them.

These last few months, much of the country has watched in horror as the Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people. Their intransigent demands for deep spending cuts, coupled with their almost gleeful willingness to destroy one of America’s most invaluable assets, its full faith and credit, were incredibly irresponsible. But they didn’t care. Their goal, they believed, was worth blowing up the country for, if that’s what it took...

He concludes by saying

For now, the Tea Party Republicans can put aside their suicide vests. But rest assured: They’ll have them on again soon enough. After all, they’ve gotten so much encouragement.

There are probably some deeply confused people in the IRS right now -- after all they were denying tax exempt status to terrorists, to enemies of America.  They should be treated like heroes, and now they are getting all this criticism.  So unfair.

Postscript:  And they are racists.  Racist terrorists.

But Obama, in his most candid moments, acknowledged that race was still a problem. In May 2010, he told guests at a private White House dinner that race was probably a key component in the rising opposition to his presidency from conservatives, especially right-wing activists in the anti-incumbent "Tea Party" movement that was then surging across the country.

This is totally the Obama way of fighting a political battle.  He is saying, "forget their stated reasons for opposing me, such as opposition to the health care law, to Wall Street bailouts, and to rising government debt.  They really oppose me because they are racists and I am black."  Obama's opposition are absolutely never, ever people of good will who simply disagree.

PS#2:  It's pretty hilarious the NY Times published Nocera's "Tea Partiers are Terrorists" editorial just 6 months after they editorialized against incivility in the context of the Giffords shooting, which by the way had as much to do with civility in public discourse as the Benghazi attacks had to do with a YouTube video.  In fact, it sure seems like this administration has a history of falsely blaming tragedies on their political opposition's speech.

A Note on 501(c)4 Corporations

This whole notion that  501(c)4 groups are receiving some kind of huge implicit tax subsidy whose use needs to be policed is simply absurd.  I am a board member of several 501(c)6 trade associations, which have roughly the same taxation rules as 501(c)4.

The largest tax subsidy, by far, available to some non-profits is the deductibility of donations to the group.  This is available to 501(c)3 groups (traditional charitable organizations) but NOT to  501(c)4 or  501(c)6 groups.  Whether the Tea Party of Cincinnati is a  501(c)4 or not, you cannot deduct your donations to them.

The one tax break that  501(c)4 corporations get is that they do not pay taxes on any surplus they accumulate in a year.  In general, non profit groups like this collect donations and spend them.  So in general, their outlays match their revenues, such that they tend to show very little income anyway, even if it were taxable.  The only thing the non-profit status brings to  501(c)4 organizations is that they don't have to spend a lot of time and effort trying to make sure, at the end of the fiscal year, that expenditures and revenues exactly match.  Basically, the one benefit granted is that these groups can collect money in November for expenditure in January without paying taxes on this money.  This is hardly much of a subsidy, just a common sense provision.  (By the way, at least in a  501(c)6, there is no break from the paperwork.  We will have to pay an accountant to file a tax return for the Feds and the state of California.

This actually comes up from time to time in my industry.  A couple of my competitors are actually non-profits.  My for profit competitors always complain that these non-profits have an advantage, arguing that they are really for-profit, but just paying their "owners" large salaries rather than dividends.  My general answer is, so what?  My company is a subchapter S corporation, and it does not pay taxes either -- I pay taxes on the profits as regular income in my personal tax return, exactly as if I had paid out all the profits as salary.  Sure, it would be nice to accumulate profits in the company tax free, but seeing the shoe-string way my non-profits competitors run, I don't think that is what they are doing.  It used to be that as non-profits, they considered themselves immune to certain laws, like the Fair Labor Standards Act and minimum wage, but the courts have disabused them of that notion.  So it is hard to see what advantage they enjoy, but folks love to complain none-the-less.

The only real business advantage I have ever found these non-profits have is in perception among leftish politicians -- they are considered "clean" while as a for-profit company I am considered "dirty".  Which is why in California, early laws allowing outside companies to operate public parks allowed non-profits but not for-profits, and almost every state who goes this route tries non-profits first for the same reason.  This no longer bothers me -- anyone who had ever been part of a non-profit can probably guess the reason.  They really are not set up to operate a 24/7/265 service business, and within a year typically fall short, and I, with a bit of patience, then get my chance.

My Tax Proposal

1.  Eliminate all deductions in the individual income tax code

2.  Eliminate the corporate income tax.

3.  Tax capital gains and dividends as regular income.

4.  Eliminate the death tax as well as the write-up of asset values at death

 

I don't have any idea if this revenue positive or negative (I suspect it would be short-term positive, and long-term very positive), but I don't care.  This would:

  1. Substantially reduce the government's ability to play preference games and give crony special help in the tax code.
  2. Completely eliminate the huge unproductive drag of corporate tax law expenses and substantially reduce the cost of individual tax preparation.
  3. Eliminate the enormous unproductive drag of estate tax planning
  4. Eliminate forced sales of family farms and businesses at death in order to pay the taxes (taxes are paid instead on capital gains when sold).
  5. Substantially reduce government-induced distortions on flows of capital  (e.g. current promotion of home ownership over renting, of corporate debt over equity financing, of capital gains over income, etc).
  6. Eliminate most double taxations in the code, since there is now only the individual income tax.

I would be happy to make this revenue neutral (even if it required an individual income tax rate hike) and sell this to the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street alike as a plan to reduce waste, corporatism, and crony meddling.  The OWS might be upset about 2 & 4, but corporate profits eventually show up as either capital gains or dividends, so they will eventually get taxed on the individual income tax return.  Ditto death taxes - currently they are largely offset by the ability to write-up asset basis at death and aggressive tax planning.  And anyway, the death tax is a trivial sources of government revenues.

 

Postscript:  I know there is all sorts of literature that supposedly promotes a lower capital gains tax as an economic positive.  Frankly, I don't trust it any more than any other literature genned up to promote special tax breaks to any group because that group is supposedly economically more important.  In my mind, a lower capital gains tax rate (which means a higher regular income tax rate) is just another way of government expressing an artificial preference for one economic activity over another.  Specifically, a lower capital gains rate creates a preference for real estate and stock investors over business owners.   Currently, I invest in a second home and flip it for a profit and I get a tax break on the capital gains.  But if I invest in a business instead that pays off with regular income, I get no tax break.  Why?  Why is one type of investing better than another?  The answer is that it is not, but the people who buy and sell equities and real estate in large quantities have more political clout than small business owners.

Postscript #2:  And Medicare taxes have to go up, at least until the program is restructured. 

Postscript #3:  This is a great example of what I want to make go away.  I consider it far more destructive in the long run than a percentage point rate change.  In case it is behind a paywall, here is a bit of it (these giveaways to the rich were in the very same bill that was supposed to be to soak the rich):

Thus Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow was able to retain an accelerated tax write-off for owners of Nascar tracks (cost: $78 million) to benefit the paupers who control the Michigan International Speedway. New Mexico's Jeff Bingaman saved a tax credit for companies operating in American Samoa ($62 million), including a StarKist factory.

Distillers are able to drink to a $222 million rum tax rebate. Perhaps this will help to finance more of those fabulous Bacardi TV ads with all those beautiful rich people. Businesses located on Indian reservations will receive $222 million in accelerated depreciation. And there are breaks for railroads, "New York Liberty Zone" bonds and so much more.

But a special award goes to Chris Dodd, the former Senator who now roams Gucci Gulch lobbying for Hollywood's movie studios. The Senate summary of his tax victory is worth quoting in full: "The bill extends for two years, through 2013, the provision that allows film and television producers to expense the first $15 million of production costs incurred in the United States ($20 million if the costs are incurred in economically depressed areas in the United States)."

You gotta love that "depressed areas" bit. The impoverished impresarios of Brentwood get an extra writeoff if they take their film crews into, say, deepest Flatbush. Is that because they have to pay extra to the caterers from Dean & DeLuca to make the trip? It sure can't be because they hire the jobless locals for the production crew. Those are union jobs, mate, and don't you forget it.

The Joint Tax Committee says this Hollywood special will cost the Treasury a mere $248 million over 10 years, but over fiscal years 2013 and 2014 the cost is really $430 million because it is supposed to expire at the end of this year. In reality Mr. Dodd will wrangle another extension next year, and the year after that, and . . . . Investing a couple million in Mr. Dodd in return for $430 million in tax breaks sure beats trying to make better movies.

Then there are the green-energy giveaways that are also quickly becoming entitlements. The wind production tax credit got another one-year reprieve, thanks to Mr. Obama and GOP Senators John Thune (South Dakota) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa). This freebie for the likes of the neediest at General Electric GE -0.82% andSiemens SIE.XE +0.20% —which benefit indirectly by making wind turbine gear—is now 20 years old. Cost to taxpayers: $12 billion.

Cellulosic biofuels—the great white whale of renewable energy—also had their tax credit continued, and the definition of what qualifies was expanded to include producers of "algae-based fuel" ($59 million.) Speaking of sludge, biodiesel and "renewable diesel" will continue receiving their $1 per gallon tax credit ($2.2 billion). The U.S. is experiencing a natural gas and oil drilling boom, but Congress still thinks algae and wind will power the future.

Meanwhile, consumers will get tax credits for buying plug-in motorcycles ($7 million), while the manufacturers of energy-efficient appliances ($650 million) and builders of energy-efficient homes ($154 million) also retain tax credits. Manufacturers like Whirlpool love these subsidies, and they are one reason that company paid no net taxes in recent years.

IRS Harassing the Tea Party?

Sure seems like it.   Here is the list of questions the Ohio Tea Party has asked as part of their application, which should be routine, for 501(c)4 status.  The Virginia Tea Party had similar requests, including apparently a demand for donor lists and confidential materials which the IRS says will be made public.  The latter seems part and parcel of recent initiative on the Left (seen also in the whole Heartland fiasco) to out confidential donors of Conservative and libertarian organizations while demanding no similar transparency of organizations on the Left.

By the way, I am President of a 501(c)4 organization  (basically a trade group) and I can say with some authority that we never have received any sort of parallel set of questions from the IRS vis a vis our status, so this is either a very new requirement or one especially crafted to apply only to the Tea Party.  I can say from all too much experience that having a Federal agency sit on a request for 9 months and then suddenly demand incredible amounts of work in just a few days from the private party is absolutely typical.

Update on the State of Race Relations in America

So here is an interesting local story giving us a window into race relations.    First, a black comedian named Katt Williams (I never heard of him either) called a Mexican man a "nigga" and told him to go back to Mexico.   Then a Hispanic woman created a profanity-laced 6-minute video calling Katt Williams "a white supremacist."

Outstanding.  Actually, I think that this has little to do with race relations and more to do with a post-modernist view of language.  I am still working on writing about this phenomenon, wherein certain political phrases have become all-encompassing insults or descriptors of the opposition, wholly stripped of their original meaning.  Thus "Soros-funded" or "Koch-funded" become synonyms for being extreme left or libertarian, rather than actually being supported by any evidence of such funding.  My interest in this topic began with a comment on Kevin Drum's site, where one sympathetic reader smacked Tea Partiers as merely mouthing Republican talking points, and the proceeded to repeat in now-standard terminology every Democratic talking point about the Tea Party.  The juxtaposition was so obvious I thought it might be performance art rather than a real comment.

Things I Did Not Expect to Read Today

I agree with this assessment but did not expect to see it coming from Kevin Drum's keyboard

Contrary to his reputation, Bush mostly succeeded by pressing a moderate, and sometimes even liberal, agenda. Tax cuts aside, which he passed solely primarily with Republican support

He goes on to point out that a lot of Bush's domestic legislation was really liberal (NCLB, Medicare part D).  I agree.

But I think this is related to where Democrats go off track in understanding Tea Party and libertarian spending anger.  Their rejoinder tends to be "much of current spending is Bush's fault."  Leave aside the absurd implicit assumption in this that once a spending level is achieved, no president later has any ability to ratchet it back down.  No, what they really miss is that I think the Tea party would agree.    They are just as angry about Bush's spending and expansion of government, so the "Republicans started it" playground argument does not really get much traction.  The best analog would probably be expansion of Executive power.  Drum is not OK (I am pretty sure) with the notion that the President can have any American he chooses summarily executed in the war on terrorism, and isn't likely to change his mind if reminded that "his guy" Obama invented the power.

From the "I Don't Think That Word Means What You Thinik It Means" Files

Via Ed Driscoll, from Richard Cohen in the Washington Post:

The odd thing about the Tea Party is that it uses Washington to attack Washington. This is a version of Hannah Arendt’s observation that totalitarian movements use democratic institutions to destroy democracy. (This is what Islamic radicals will do in Egypt.) Note that the Tea Party is nowhere near a majority — not in the House and not in the Senate. Its followers have only 60 seats in the 435-member House, but in a textbook application of political power they were able to use parliamentary rules to drive the congressional agenda. As we have known since Lenin’s day, a determined minority is hands down better than an irresolute majority.

The Tea Party has recklessly diminished the power and reach of the United States. It has shrunk the government and will, if it can, further deprive it of revenue. The domestic economy will suffer and the gap between rich and poor, the educated and the indolently schooled, will continue to widen. International relations will lack a dominant power able to enforce the rule of law, and the bad guys will be freer to be as bad as they want. Maybe the deficit will be brought under control, but nothing else will. I worry — and I envy (but will not forgive) those who don’t

Yep, those dang totalitarians -- always trying to shrink government and diminish its power and reach.

Asymetric Definition of "Partisan Bickering"

Have you ever notices how "partisan bickering" seems to be defined asymmetrically?   In most of the media, when such a term is used, it generally means "folks trying to reduce the size of the state have gotten uppity of late."   We have just such an example here in Phoenix:

A non-profit organization created by a former spokesman for the Phoenix Mayor's Office is bankrolling the political committee aiming to recall Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio.

The group, Protect Voters' Rights, has contributed $50,000 to the anti-DiCiccio group called Save Phoenix Taxpayers, according to campaign-finance reports filed with the Phoenix city clerk. The contributions from Protect Voters' Rights make up all but $100 of the funding Save Phoenix Taxpayers reported earning since the group formed to launch its recall campaign against DiCiccio in April.

Scott Phelps, a retired Phoenix employee who served as the spokesman for four different mayors during his 19-year tenure, said he formed Protect Voters' Rights to protect the city from being destroyed by partisan politics.

"One of the things I find discouraging and destructive is the rush by folks to make city government more like Congress and the state Legislature," Phelps said. "I can't think of a single soul who looks at the partisan bickering there and says we can use a little more of that at City Hall."

The latter statement is telling, as it seems to be in response to Republican and Tea Party influence in Congress since the last election.  Phelps longs for a return to one-party (Democratic) rule, and for him "bickering" means any sort of political opposition to his agenda, which seems to be the continued growth of government size and power.

DiCiccio is certainly a hell-raiser.  Most recently, he has complained about the mayor's back-door efforts to slip large pay raises for city workers into the budget, despite the ongoing recession that has hit city finances hard.   Further, he has suggested that private enterprises might be able to do things, like maintenance, janitorial, or clerical work, cheaper than government employees.  It is this latter idea, which sounds good to me, which apparently puts him beyond the pale for agents of the state:

Save Phoenix Taxpayers received the first check because some of what DiCiccio has been doing is an example of what Protect Voters' Rights aims to fight.

Phelps specifically cited DiCiccio's lobbying of a bill during the last Legislative session that would have required Phoenix to competitively bid out city services that cost more than $250,000. Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill.

"It's not the right thing to do to run down to the Legislature and try to get that group's leadership, which isn't being filled by the deepest thinkers that have ever held those positions, to impose the will of one or two council members on the entire city," Phelps said.

I will admit that seeking a state law to force Phoenix's hand is an odd approach, but the core objection here is not the odd legislative approach but the threat to government worker jobs.  DiCiccio suspects the group is a front for government workers unions, and I think he is probably right.   After all, it is extremely odd to see a group that nominally calls itself a good-government group shocked by the very idea of seeking competitive bids for city services.

Anti-Intellectual

In this article discussed in the last post, the author criticizes the Tea Party as having a worldview that is "anti-intellectual, anti-establishment, anti-elite."  It is interesting that liberals and progressives now suddenly consider being anti-establishment and anti-elite as bad things.  It just goes to show that the progressive movement is a long, long way from its roots, and is more about exercising power than the mythology it developed for itself in the 1960s.  I would gladly accept either of these labels for myself, even when I don't always agree with the Tea Party.

Moreover, when I was thirty years old and holding two Ivy League degrees, I would have jumped in with the author in attacking folks that were anti-intellectual.  But over the years, I have seen too many people exercising naked power in the name of being smarter and better able to make decisions for the rest of us.  I am exhausted with the technocratic governing urge, and while I still would not describe myself as anti-intellectual, I can sympathize with those who might.

Worst Sentences of the Day

From Clive Hamilton

Last month, Americans were shocked at the attempted murder of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the killing of six bystanders. The local County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik captured the immediate assessment of many when he linked the attempted murder to the rise of violent anti-government rhetoric and imagery, observing, “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous.”

When asked if the Congresswoman had any enemies her father replied: “Yeah. The whole Tea Party”. Many, including Giffords herself, had had a premonition that the inflammatory language of radical right-wing activists would sooner or later find real expression.

The same hate-filled rhetoric that created the circumstances in which Gabrielle Giffords was gunned down also stokes ferocious attacks on climate scientists and environmentalists in the United States.

Wow, you know you are in for a load of really stupid crap when someone, at this late date, still is out there blaming the Giffords shooting on political rhetoric.   When someone writes this, you can be sure they are about to attempt to shut someone up, most likely someone the author disagrees with.

The author goes on to relate how nearly every climate scientist (up to and including the serially-wrong Paul Ehrlich) is quaking in their house behind locked doors waiting for some crazed skeptic to gun him or her down in their sleep.  Look, just about every interest group develops a mythology, and this notion of bravely seeking truth in the face of crazed irrational wackos is part of the internal mythology of many interest groups.

I have no doubt that these guys get nasty comments and abusive emails.  But Hamilton is absolutely wrong to imply that climate alarmists are somehow unique in this.  He is not describing an unfortunate aspect of the climate debate perpetrated asymmetrically by one side in that debate, but an unfortunate aspect of all politically charged online debates by nearly every side of every issue.  Seriously, Hamilton has discovered the Internet troll in 2011?  What is next-- agriculture, fire, the wheel?

Welcome to the political arena.  Alarmist climate scientists expressly went political a number of years ago.  I could put up pages of quotes from climate alarmists like James Hansen urging their brethren that doing scientific research was not enough, that they had to get out there and openly advocate, be a part of the political process.   And politics is messy, especially when you are advocating what is in effect the most expensive single government program every proposed.  You can't be political when you are on the attack, and then claim you are a scientist immune from political debate when there is a response.

I am but a second-rate player in the climate debate at my site climate-skeptic.com.  I am not going to be one of the names of skeptics most alarmists would rattle off.  And none-the-less I get threatening emails about my climate positions.  In fact one of the reasons I am pretty sure bad behavior on the Internet crosses all political lines is that my top two threatening and irrational email sources are from anti-immigration conservatives and climate alarmists on the left.   But I grew up in a household where my parents worked for a major oil company.  Every time oil prices would rise, some crazed leftist would send us death threats, and several of our friends actually got letter bombs.  So its hard for me to wet my pants over a few anonymous threatening emails with poor grammar.  And unlike Mr. Hamilton, I don't attempt to tar the many people who disagree with me with the actions of a loony few.

I am sorry for folks on both sides who get such crazed threats.  But what Mr. Hamilton wants is to not have to deal with the specific arguments made by skeptics.  This is the whole history of the climate debate, with alarmists trying one technique after another to avoid engagement.  Skeptics are funded by Exxon -- Don't listen to them, they are just shills!  The science is settled -- No need for debate!  Skeptics are violent and helped kill Gabriella Giffords -- everything they say is hate speech and must be ignored!

Oh, and here is one more parting shot in his last paragraph

Like those whose opinions they value — shock jocks and television demagogues — climate deniers are disproportionately older, white, male and conservative — those who feel their cultural identity most threatened by the implications of climate change. While the debate is superficially about the science, in truth it is about deep-rooted feelings of cultural identity. This makes deniers immune to argument, and their influence will wane only as they grow old and die.

LOL, its all white male suppression!   I don't even have the energy to deal with this, except to repeat the obvious:  Capping white male American fossil fuel use at 1990 levels would be costly and reduce economic growth, but could be done.  Capping Indian or Chinese or African fossil fuel use at 1990 levels basically sends them back to the stone age.   So don't tell me who is shilling for the arrogant white male perspective.

Anyway, his last paragraph is a fantasy, a part of the internal alarmist mythology that gives them a smug feeling of superiority, that skeptics are all crude evolution-denying anti-science old cranks.  And, frankly, some are.  Just as some alarmists are human-hating totalitarian neo-communists.  To some extent, Hamilton's article is an exercise in self-esteem building among alarmists, making them feel better about themselves by supposed superiority to the incivility he enumerates.  Fine as far as it goes, all groups engage in the same kind of behavior.  But there is a lot of thoughtful work that goes on in the skeptic community that in a non-broken scientific process would be considered productive challenges and/or replications of various studies.   To the extent he is trying to hide this work from view and shut up skeptics in general, tarring those of use who are science-based with actions of the fringe, he is doing a severe disservice to the science he is supposedly defending.

Libertarians, In Case You Didn't Know This About Yourselves

From JM Berstein in the NY Times, via Kevin Drum, this is about Tea Partiers, but since it addresses the Tea Party distrust and disdain for government, I suppose it applies equally well to we libertarians:

My hypothesis is that what all the events precipitating the Tea Party movement share is that they demonstrated, emphatically and unconditionally, the depths of the absolute dependence of us all on government action, and in so doing they undermined the deeply held fiction of individual autonomy and self-sufficiency that are intrinsic parts of Americans' collective self-understanding.

....This is the rage and anger I hear in the Tea Party movement; it is the sound of jilted lovers furious that the other "” the anonymous blob called simply "government" "” has suddenly let them down, suddenly made clear that they are dependent and limited beings, suddenly revealed them as vulnerable.

Do you get that - we oppose the overwhelming size of government not for any rational reason, but out of a psychological need to deny that the government is inevitably going to grow larger and increase its control over our lives.   This is so absurd it is freaking hilarious.  This is what Louis the XVI's sycophants were telling him to make him feel better in 1789.  I mean, after 200 years of only limited government interference in health care, how is it that a law passed over majority opposition for government takeover of healthcare somehow "demonstrates the absolute dependence of us all on government action?"  Why doesn't it reasonably demonstrate the depth of risk we all face from a minority who have constantly through history been bent on wielding power over us.

Kevin Drum, sort of to his credit, rejects this thesis in favor of his own

So then: why have tea partiers gone off the rails about the federal deficit? It's not because of something unique in their psyches. And it's not because they're suddenly worried that America is going to go the way of Greece. (The polls I linked to above show that tea partiers care more about cutting taxes than reducing the size of government.) It's because they're the usual reactionary crowd that goes nuts whenever there's a Democrat in the White House and they're looking for something to be outraged about

So while he rejects the goofy psychobabble, he accepts the underlying premise, that any opposition to expansion of government and its power of coercion over individuals is irrational.

So take your pick -- libertarians are either a) advocating limited government only as a psychological crutch to hide from ourselves that Obama is really our daddy or b) scheming reactionary nuts.  Whichever the case, remember that there can be no principled opposition to Big Brother.

Here is the Key Bait and Switch

Bill Clinton joined a number other leftish writers of late trying to marginalize those who criticize the government (and in particular, I think, the Tea Party folks).   I am really not going to comment much on this attempt, except to say that we endured something identical during the Iraq war, with the BS about not criticizing the President during wartime.

Here is the key bait and switch in Clinton's argument:

But we should remember that there is a big difference between criticizing a policy or a politician and demonizing the government that guarantees our freedoms and the public servants who enforce our laws.

The government that guarantees our freedoms?  I suppose this sounds sort of good if one just lets it roll by, but in the context of our country's formation, this is absurd.  The only threat to freedom that the founders of this nation were concerned about was the government itself.

The government is the only entity with the power to use force and the power to grab money without permission.  As such, the founders recognized it as the single most potent threat to freedom that could possibly exist.  All their efforts were aimed at constructing limitations and protections from the power of government itself.

It would be far more correct to say "the Constitution that guarantees our freedoms" by limiting the power of government, but in fact that is exactly what the left is trying to overturn, with a hundred years of efforts to slowly whittle the Constitutional limitations on the power of government down to zero.

Update: Wow, this is an amazing excerpt from a 1995 memo from Dick Morris to Clinton just after the Oklahoma City bombing.  Seems like he is still following the same playbook:

Later, under the heading "How to use extremism as issue against Republicans," Morris told Clinton that "direct accusations" of extremism wouldn't work because the Republicans were not, in fact, extremists. Rather, Morris recommended what he called the "ricochet theory." Clinton would "stimulate national concern over extremism and terror," and then, "when issue is at top of national agenda, suspicion naturally gravitates to Republicans." As that happened, Morris recommended, Clinton would use his executive authority to impose "intrusive" measures against so-called extremist groups. Clinton would explain that such intrusive measures were necessary to prevent future violence, knowing that his actions would, Morris wrote, "provoke outrage by extremist groups who will write their local Republican congressmen." Then, if members of Congress complained, that would "link right-wing of the party to extremist groups." The net effect, Morris concluded, would be "self-inflicted linkage between [GOP] and extremists."