When it comes right down to it, most political movements, most social movements in general, involve one of the deepest of human desires: to be on the side of, and to achieve, justice.
The arc of the moral universe bends partially because of the human need for justice. Social goals from minimum wage to the end of of Apartheid, including the triumph of anti-Communism in Soviet Russia and the Arab Spring share that commonality.
Sometimes the urge to be on the side of justice results in horrible injustice. One of the most popular posts on this site was written over five years ago. It speculated on the beginnings of racism. The central idea was that white ownership of black slaves was not the result of racism, but was rather the cause of racism.
The human need for justice meant that slavery had to be defended through racism.
I think of the human need for justice when I see demands that those who have achieved, or inherited, great wealth pay their fair share in taxes. The need to reward those who "work hard and play by the rules" has become a resurgent cliche. Democrats are elected on periodic calls for economic justice:
I've always believed that if you work hard and play by the rules, you ought to have a decent chance for yourself and for a better life for your children. That's the promise I made when I first ran for President, and that's the basic bargain behind so much of what we've done in the years since.
- President Bill Clinton, July 29, 2000
The idea of moral hazard is mostly negative. We don't like to see miscreants get away with it. Banks that are too big to fail, that are propped up for the public good, that then offer bonuses and corporate parties for executives provoke a figurative run on torches and pitchforks.
The desire for justice sometimes results in simple wishful thinking. The notion that what goes around comes around is a hopeful desire for a sort of informal, natural justice. Life is fair, so time wounds all heels.
When Rick Santini gave vent to the rant against economic losers, an angry cry that echoes through pretty much every Tea Party gathering, he was appealing to a desire for justice. The antagonism against "moral hazard" is largely anger at unfairness. Why should hard working folk bail out others who made self-defeating economic decisions?
Sometimes that wishful thinking is offered, not so much as a hope, but as a sort of justification. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus rebuked that sort of thinking. He gave as examples several whom Pilate, the Roman ruler of Israel, had murdered. He recalled the collapse of a tower just south of Jerusalem, killing several more. He rebuked anyone who would think such misfortunes were visited on the victims because they had sinned.
Occasionally this type of thinking is transmuted into a sort of paternalism. As a loving parent may discipline a wayward child, so we must administer tough love to those Rick Santini would throw aside.
Unemployment benefits provide up to 50% of a worker's previous salary while that worker looks for employment. Senator Rand Paul suggests that this provides an unhealthyincentive for the unemployed to relax and stay unemployed, which hurts them in the long run.
He recently had this to say about the unemployed:
When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy. And it really - while it seems good, it actually does a disservice to the people you're trying to help.
- Rand Paul, Fox News Sunday, December 8, 2013
Public expressions by Republican lawmakers of impatience and hostility toward unemployed people outweigh by a large margin this paternalistic tough love. It seems apparent that the Rick Santini rant against economic losers speaks for more Republicans than does the tough love of Rand Paul.
The simple idea that unites many social movements is that those who experience injustice and suffering need healing and that simple morality demands that we stand up for them.
There is also a simple idea that unites the good intentions of Rand Paul, the hostility of Rick Santini, and the harsh judgments toward those who suffered from misfortune when Jesus walked the shores of Galilee.
It is that those who suffer misfortune have it coming.
In Response to Burr Deming's One to One to One on the Approaching Republican Demise
The two elections do not prove anything about the future of the Republican party. That future is assured by technology. The line of reasoning advanced here since 2010 is a simple six step process.
- Burr Deming, November 5, 2013
The only long-term problem is that a rational conservative cannot win a primary without pretending to be a lunatic.
What if, as conservatives have a harder and harder time because they are perceived as idiots, more Democrats win elections? What if this outrages even more moderate conservatives? What if they perceive that Democrats are ruining the nation with their long-term majorities? What if this perception makes them more single-minded, angrier, more conservative? What if they are then willing to vote for more conservative and less reasonable alternatives, in order to get the demonic Democrats out of office? What if they then "get" the lunacy of the hard right, which will have been partially validated by the fact that, as predicted, the “dems are wrecking the nation?”
Perhaps more moderate conservatives will start winning primaries. After the Romney fiasco, conservatives may be more willing to look through a more scientific lens.
Consider the Heathen Republican as an example. He bragged that Romney was going to surprise everyone when the nation discovered that the electoral map based on data was bogus. He said that if he was mistaken, he would rethink the new sources he uses.
I doubt that the Heathen Republican will make the same mistake again. He will believe data next time. I don't think he is alone in this.
John Myste's contributions to debate at Fair And UNbalanced are managed despite his intense schedule. We are grateful for his generosity.
Conservative Heathen Republican, to whom John refers, participates in internet debate on his own site whenever his own extreme schedule permits. Please visit The Heathen Republican.
Conor Friedersdorf is a man of the left who, none-the-less, adopts the common journalistic practice of partisan balance at all costs. Perhaps we shouldn't blame all ideologies equally, but we can still reflexively blame both parties and all politicians.
For example, in a piece written for The Atlantic last month, entitled Americans Are Stuck With Inept Versions of Both Parties:
Wouldn't it be nice if Republicans were hellbent on reforming the financial sector and Democrats were determined to get bureaucrats operating with competence and efficiency? Saying so makes one sound like a starry-eyed dreamer. In our political system, people like Elizabeth Warren focus on fighting Wall Street pathologies, while the GOP highlights government incompetence.
- Conor Friedersdorf, the Atlantic, November 26, 2013
Those of us who pay attention to Elizabeth Warren may have noticed that her advocacy of a Consumer Product Safety Commission to protect ordinary people from fraud and fine print has not not protected some bureaucrats from her skepticism and others from her outright contempt.
But fairness is equivalency, in contemporary journalistic ethos, and Friedersdorf is required by balance to overlook exceptions. He does this in a different sort of way from lazier writers, however. Truth is not to be found between two extremes, but rather apart from the entire spectrum. Last year he announced that he would not be voting for the re-election of President Obama. He avoided the phrase war criminal, but his drift drifted enough in that direction.
...I'd have thought more people on the left would regard a sustained assault on civil liberties and the ongoing, needless killing of innocent kids as deal-breakers.
- Conor Friedersdorf, the Atlantic, September 26, 2013
"I am not a purist," he says. Lest he be mistaken for one unable to make ideological distinctions, he does preface his harsh judgment of Obama with a grudging acknowledgement that some less discerning than he "might concluded that he is the lesser of two evils, and back him reluctantly..." The proud recipient of Conor Friedersdorf's public endorsement and presumed election ballot was Libertarian Gary Johnson.
So Conor Friedersdorf does not seek balance by means of the tried and true journalistic reflex. He does not measure to the halfway point between goalposts and proclaim the discovery of the fifty yard line to be the epiphany of truth. He jets to some distant land and measures out a more remote judgment, fulfilling a non-purist but committed position. Both goalposts are far, far away. And he conforms to the modern journalistic Prime Directive. He places a pox on both houses.
His more recent effort in the Atlantic takes on the ongoing fix of the GawdAwful Healthcare Site, as it has come to be known. He is pessimistic about it. The problem as he sees it is that the recent administration report proclaims success in the front end, what the public will see when they log in. No more crashes, or at least very few. No more delays, or at least very few. But the back end, the handling of the data is not mentioned as part of that success. The relaying of data to insurance providers is essential. And the lack of progress in repairing that functionality is chillingly slow.
A progress report with more clarity on that point is needed. Does a broken back end render the front-end fix useless to some consumers? The progress report's narrow focus on the front end leaves me pessimistic.
- Conor Friedersdorf, the Atlantic, December 1, 2013
To document his concern, Mr. Friedersdorf relies pretty much exclusively on a New York Times article. A portion of what he quotes contains this:
At the outset, the team had made what officials call a very intentional decision to focus their repair effort on making HealthCare.gov work better for consumers. That has meant putting off some “back-end” fixes for insurers, who use the site to receive applications and bill the government for subsidy payments.
- New York Times, November 30, 2013
So, the administration intended that revision and repair efforts would first focus on allowing consumers to enter and store information. That was to be accomplished by December 1. Then the emphasis would shift to the back end, transmitting the information to insurance companies.
Sure enough, the progress report says that the initial objective has been accomplished, and that work has begun on the next step. Our intrepid journalist is dismayed that those conducting repairs only did what they said they would do, and have not completed what they said they would begin to do next.
I wonder how Conor Friedersdorf would handle other news stories.
A progress report with more clarity is needed, as rescue crews struggle to save the life of the victim. Does the fact that the ambulance is still idling as the patient is secured inside mean that transport will not happen? The narrow focus on placing the victim into the vehicle leaves me pessimistic.
The title of the piece on Obamacare in the Atlantic is:
The subtitle is:
The final sentence is: Let's hope I'm wrong.
Regardless of the eventual success of the Obamacare site, that seems a safe bet.
Max's Dad is on another rant, this time, the object of his ire is the group of millennials surveyed by a Harvard poll. Seems their support for President Obama is way down. Max's Dad is a sort of Don Rickles with an edge, but this time he may have it wrong. The poll may reflect the same levels of insight and shallowness as other age groups. Sorry about that, kids. Still, the rant is funny, as long as it isn't aimed, you know, at my own group.
Jonathan Bernstein, writing for A Plain Blog about Politics, is skeptical of a different part of the same poll, whether millennials will participate in Obamacare, on a more general principle that such polling is not a good predictor of behavior.
PZ Myers, writing for Pharyngula, suggests that there is one important reason Republicans may not want to learn how to communicate effectively with women or those men who kind of like the idea of fairness.
Julian Sanchez argues that contraception should not be regarded as part of healthcare because it is more akin to food preference. Or something. This fellow is always worth a read, even though it sometimes kills a few brain cells.
Rumproast brings video of little kids singing in favor of immigration reform outside of Eric Cantor's office. Kind of cute. OH, and also Cantor's office calling for Capitol police to deal with the threat the little one's posed to the Congressman. The kids do look a little scared as they are pushed away.
When we need a study guide understanding of the world, Infidel 753 is becoming a valuable sort of CliffsNotes. This week, Infidel brings us a cogent analysis of unrest in the Ukraine, why it's happening, why it's important.
Tim McGaha at Tim's Thoughtful Spot explores Big Data. He finds a web site where you can get all sorts of weird statistical information. He starts with the world population of 1863 and goes from there. Tim is an amazing intellect.
Nancy Hanks at The Hankster sees harm coming from the use by social media of algorithms designed to examine our reading patterns and filter out opinions a user might disagree with. Have a happy, very agreeable, day!
- Conservative James Wigderson has complained about the mishandling of a parade and how some Girl Scouts were mistreated. A public official says he's wrong and so, the entertaining debate is on. An implied side note: it appears to the casual observer (which is to say me) that James is actually complaining about the privatization of the parade, which had previously been run by local government, and is now in the hands of the Chamber of Commerce. If true, James is staking out a lonely conservative position.
Writing about Nelson Mandela has never been difficult. The lessons of life he has made available to us are so stark that parallels can be seen wherever there is a conflict with morality at the core.
As with Martin Luther King or Mohandas Gandhi, all roads within the arc of the moral universe tend to lead in a common direction. Many in the United States were openly contemptuous of early efforts toward democracy in South Africa. They insisted that black people in that country, coming from a tribal tradition, were simply unready. Sub-Saharan Africans were said to lack the institutional tradition, the cultural preparation, for democracy. No republic in that part of that continent could sustain democracy beyond one election. The clever rejoinder to "One person, one vote" was "One man, one vote, one time."
Some of those who had insisted that Africans lacked any tradition respecting democracy now support restrictions on voting rights in the United States. It hasn't been hard to find unintended consistency within that contradiction: The suspicion that what they really fear has not been that a black population is unready for democracy, but rather that democracy that involved too many black voters might reject them, describing such conservatives in 2010 as what they themselves had insisted they had previously feared:
"captives of an ethic that values country less than ideology, that their political party is institutionally unprepared, that they are too culturally backward to sustain a democratically elected government."
Some attempted to block even symbolic efforts to support freedom for Nelson Mandela on the strength of the idea that he, himself, was a terrorist. Behind bars, without a physical presence, he became the focal point of protest. A visiting British song writer wrote a piece that became a sort of national anthem. It was officially banned by the white racist government trying to keep control of South Africa. The song remained as a symbol of defiance, and was adopted internationally. Free Nelson Mandela became the vocal inspiration of a movement that gained international scope.
The history surrounding Nelson Mandela provided another parallel. As tribal loyalties were transcended by an overwhelming majority of South Africa, a strange sort of alliance was formed. The Inkatha Freedom Party was Zulu based, working for the tribal divisions that most South Africans rejected. They were joined by the National Party, the all white segregationist party of Afrikaners.
The alliance of black tribalists with rabid white racists still seems wildly improbable. But it carried with it a certain internal logic. Both were joined by a common view, that racial ties superseded national loyalty. Even together, they were soundly defeated by the unifying message of Mandela's African National Congress.
It was not hard to find a lesson in the excesses of America's post-9/11 reaction, as anti-terrorism morphed, in some cases, into anti-Muslim bigotry:
President Bush, in one of those grown up acts that earned the gratitude of Americans like me, made it clear early on who the enemy was. It was not Islam. It was not even a major division of Islam. We regarded ourselves as at peace with Shiites and Sunnis. Our enemies were the attackers, the terrorists. After his election, President Obama promoted the same vision.
al Qaeda, of course, has a different vision. They are frustrated at the international popularity of the American President. They wish to purify Islam, destroying all Shiites and all but the few Sunnis who share their goal of harsh religious dominion. They envision a global clash of civilizations.
Oddly enough, they are joined by those Americans who want to see just such a clash.
[They will be overcome by] ... a demonstration that all real Americans, regardless of faith, unite against an ideology of hate.
But the greatest parallel may come in the fullness of time, as current injustice becomes a history of obstacles overcome. That lesson is courage in the face of crushing hardship. 27 years in captivity would have been unbearable for most of us. 27 years in retrospect amazes. But 27 years without a clear outcome, decades with no certain end, is unimaginable.
Those who are persecuted might find a source of courage in the example of others. It could be that those living in quiet desperation, struggling on the ragged edge of survival, can find strength as well. What might be more meaningful to those who have escaped the struggle is the message to make our own commitments, to join in healing.
Over those years, Mandela is said to have won over the friendship of those hardened jailers assigned to guard him. He was sustained by faith, and a nineteenth century poem by William Ernest Henley. He began a tradition of sorts, reciting words of strength and courage to fellow prisoners and to those guarding him.
The words, describing an ethic of internal freedom through self mastery, are spoken by Morgan Freeman who portrayed Mandela in film. It is called Invictus.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of fate
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Opponents of the Affordable Care Act never stop producing new tricks to undermine the reform's effectiveness. But leave it to California Republicans to reach for the bottom. Their goal appears to be to discredit the act by highlighting its costs and penalties rather than its potential benefits.
The device chosen by the Assembly's GOP caucus is a website at the address coveringhealthcareca.com. If that sounds suspiciously like coveredca.com, which is the real website for the California insurance exchange, it may not be a coincidence. Bogus insurance websites have sprung up all over, aiming to steer consumers away from legitimate enrollment services. Just a couple of weeks ago California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris shut down 10 bogus insurance sites, some of them with names very similar to the real thing. She must have overlooked the GOP's entry.
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CSPAN interview reveals strategy.
Is it easier to fight if adversaries are glowing in the dark?
I think a ground war in Iran with American boots on the ground would be a horrible thing and I think people like to toss around the fact that we have to stop them in some way from gaining this nuclear capability. I don’t think it’s inevitable but I think if you have to hit Iran, you don’t put boots on the ground, you do it with tactical nuclear devices and you set them back a decade or two or three. I think that’s the way to do it with a massive aerial bombardment campaign.
- Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), on CSPAN, December 4, 2013
File this under - Authorities out of their minds
From Rochester Homepage, Rochester, NY
Three Edison students who were charged with disorderly conduct pleaded not guilty in court.
The boys were with about a dozen basketball teammates Wednesday morning on Main Street waiting for a school bus to take them to a scrimmage at Aquinas. There was no school that day and their coach had arranged for a pick-up at a central meeting spot.
An officer asked the boys to disperse and they refused. The young men say they tried to explain to him they were waiting for a school bus. The officer arrested three of the players.
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The great Obamacare debate began with philosophical objections combined with horror-genre fiction. Death panels and a broken economy cross pollinated Constitutional concerns left over from Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security debates. What exactly does promoting the General Welfare entail?
Most social advances have had to face down the ridiculous to get to actual issues. The New York State version of the Equal Rights Amendment was defeated by the Phyllis Schlafly generated image of unisex public bathrooms. The debate a hundred years ago about the right of women to vote included discussions about whether they were intelligent enough and whether marriage would be endangered by political discussions in the home.
Work your way around the dishonest parts of the attacks on Obamacare, get past the inevitable but very brief follow up discussion about Kenya as the Mother of Presidents, and you end up back at the 1960s and Constitutional definitions about eldercare. Is medical treatment an earned right, reserved for the well off? Should the rest of us be concerned when one of us is financially wiped out by an illness that fine print says is not to be covered?
The great undoing anticipated by opponents kept not happening. The death of Edward M. Kennedy and the election in Massachusetts of Scott Brown should have killed it. Filibusters and off year public pressure should have put it in the ground. The Supreme Court, the election of 2012. It was one disappointment after another.
The government shutdown and the default was the last stand. Ted Cruz stood like George Custer surrounded by enough loyal troops to provoke another loss.
You still hear individual shouts, followed by group cheers, as a few rally round the flag of defunding. But here's the thing:
The shouts are less frequent, as leaders focus on the futility of repeal.
The cheers are weaker, as crowds grow smaller.
- The shouts and the cheers include fewer actual office holders.
Those in office are now looking to side issues. The rightward public is less likely to be scared to action by vague images of huge costs and rationing boards. Scare tactics are always aimed at low-information voters, and even bad web news tends to inform.
Stories about the Website of Horror join tales of the independently insured now forced to give up valued coverage in favor of something more comprehensive. But they are no longer about repeal. The accompanying charge is a sort of modified I-told-you-so. The modification is in direction. I-told-you-it-would-be-the-end-of-freedom is mutating to I-told-you-these-folks-are-incompetent.
Actual repeal is becoming a rhetorical improbability. Those who were not able to get insurance before because of lack of means or because of pre-existing conditions will not agree easily to give up what they now have, or shortly will have. And they outnumber those forced to give up junk-coverage by several quantums.
Even if the Marvelously Malfunctioning Enrollment site continues to be an embarrassment, the program itself has acquired a primary constituency of newly insured, and a secondary constituency of those who care about those who are newly insured.
And there is hope in that site. After a reportedly angry White House session with a furious President peppering experts with increasingly specific questions, the revised promise had to do with lower error rates and vanishing percentages of user interface crashes. "Back end" corrections involving the relaying of stored information to insurance providers would be a "next step." Success on the second bounce is easier to claim, and further success is promised as a followup: those back-end repairs are to come next.
Sunday morning gasbags bemoan their discovery that the back-end doesn't work, even though the user interface does. Those critics who understand their own words are a small minority. Those who can communicate anything more to a non-expert audience than techno-babble are extinct before they start.
The main point of attack has been reduced to a fight against particulars. Demands for repeal, for defunding, for a reversal of what Americans are now expecting for themselves or their neighbors, are softly spoken, when mentioned at all. They are now replaced with an accusation.
The President you people made the mistake of re-electing turns out not to have been a good computer programmer.
From the St. Louis Post Dispatch:
Shannon Renee McNeal was torn from her screaming children by police who were seeking a woman with a similar name — a woman who they should have known had been murdered seven months before. A clerical mistake set up the arrest, sloppy attention to fingerprints put her behind bars and months of indifference to the error cost McNeal her home, $15,000 and, for a while, her job driving a Metro bus.
Yet she may be luckier than scores of others who have been wrongfully arrested and spent weeks, even months, trapped behind bars in a broken St. Louis city justice system.
The Post-Dispatch has identified about 100 people arrested in error over the past seven years.
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Political scientist and author Seth Masket has a history of skepticism about political extremism, mainstreaming, and the effects on voting outcome. A few months ago, he took Republicans Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner to task for suggesting that their party has an urgent need to explore more moderate solutions if they are to find a pathway to electoral victory.
Most academics hesitate about sweeping judgments. The idea that political extremism will affect voters is an ingrained part of conventional wisdom, and Professor Masket has been cautious about countering it.
What we don't see, however, is evidence that this extremism is hurting Republicans electorally, at least not yet. If the economy had been experiencing a recession last year instead of modest growth, Mitt Romney would be president today.
- Seth Masket, in Pacific Standard Magazine, February 19, 2013
Legitimate scholars respect evidence, and Seth Masket more recently presents research showing that extremism may have a substantial effect on elections.
Masket quotes a study by (pdf) Harvard graduate student Andrew Hall.
When an extremist (as measured by primary-election campaign receipt patterns) wins a “coin-flip” election over a moderate, the party’s general-election vote share decreases by approximately 12 percentage points, and the probability that the party wins the seat decreases by 38-46 percentage points.
- Andrew Hall, Department of Government, Harvard University (pdf) November 19, 2013
This is a debate that is of some concern in our little universe at FairAndUNbalanced.com. If a journey toward the political edge does tend to reduce the effectiveness of a political party, it supports an essential part of our debate concerning the demise of the Republican Party.
If GOP candidates get few enough votes in enough elections, the party will disappear.
If the GOP grows extreme enough, it will attract fewer voters, thus fulfilling Number 1.
This point is a lynchpin of the entire prediction. If voters are not repelled by extreme political positions, the chain will break at a new and decisive weak link.
If less conservative members continue to leave the party, the party will become increasingly extreme. Thus fulfilling number 2, which makes number 1 a certainty.
If more conservative members of the party continue to believe ideological purity is the key to victory, they will continue to make the GOP a less and less hospitable home for mainstream conservatives. Thus fulfilling number 3, thus making numbers 2 and 1 a certainty.
If extreme conservatives listen to what they are being told by conservative media, they will become increasingly certain that any setbacks are caused by a lack of ideological purity. Thus fulfilling number 4, making number 3, 2, and 1 a certainty.
- If conservative media stop telling extremists they are right, extreme conservatives now have the easy ability to find other more conservative media alternatives. Thus making it all come together in a very happy, yellow-brick-road ending.
So conservative media have a good, profit-oriented, reason for telling extremists they are right, and that election setbacks are caused by a lack of ideological purity. Conservatives believe what they are told, what they want very much to believe, so they make the Republican party hostile for mainstream conservatives. Less extreme conservative members leave the party, which means the party becomes more extreme. Extremism repels more and more voters and the Republican party disappears as a national political force.
If academic research is right, if extremism reduces effectiveness at election time, it does not mean the entire chain of events is locked in. There are other links in the chain. Mainstream conservatives may decide to fight back, stream back to the Republican Party, and reverse the tide. Conservatives may be stung by too many election defeats and decide to change direction. They decide that the comfortable media cocoon is not so comfortable and become open to outside evidence. Money or outside events may change the flow of political history.
Tim McGaha of Tim's Thoughtful Spot poses an excellent question. We can safely predict that conservatism will not wither and die, simply because one entity extinguishes itself. History will not end when the Republican Party disappears.
"Yes," says Tim, "the GOP is going to hit the rocks. But THEN what?"
That is a good question.