Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Obama's New Approach

President Obama has adopted a new approach to going after the Republicans. Rather than bending over backwards to compromise with uncompromising jerks, he is focussing the spot light on meaningful policy differences that most people can readily understand. This is a good idea. The deficit/debt problem is fundamentally a distributive one. Specifically there is no solution that makes all interested parties better off without making someone worse off. That means that any debate will ultimately boil down to WHO is going to be made to be worse off that the others may benefit. Republicans are insisting that it should be the middle class and poor who are made worse off so that the wealthy and corporations benefit. That's a hard position to defend when it is revealed for what it is.

The Democrats' position is that taxes should be raised on the top brackets and corporations. At this point the mood of the country is increasingly angry with exactly the targets of these increases.

So long as Obama continued to try to find common ground the stark differences would not be revealed and Republicans could more easily hide the real effects of their policies. But with Obama's new confrontational approach, the Republicans will be forced to state exactly why the super rich should continue to pay low tax rates while the rest of the country struggles. Obama dug quite a whole for himself through the (I think necessary) compromises to avoid defaulting on the debt, but the more the 2012 election becomes about these two competing visions, the harder it will be for Republicans to win. If the Republicans are foolish enough to nominate Perry, the contrast will only become starker.


Friday, September 16, 2011

In Defense of Crossing T’s and Dotting I’s

There is an emerging talking point among Republicans that the way to create jobs is not to spend government money on infrastructure projects or even to cut payroll taxes or give tax breaks to companies that hire new people. All of these things have been supported by Republicans in the past. But now they swear that the only policy worth pursuing is eliminating a wide range of existing regulations. I was watching CNN this morning as I ate breakfast and it is clear that American journalists are simply not equipped to report on this subject. Instead of engaging in a discussion of what regulations are and how they are enacted, CNN ran a human interest style story where they interviewed the owner of a small car painting business in California. He swore that he was personally committed to protecting the environment etc but that some regulations were simply unreasonable intrusions into his business. He described these as regulations that did nothing but force him to “cross t’s and dot I’s.” The point of the story was clear: Regulations are silly because they make well intentioned business owners waste their time filling out paper work instead of creating new jobs. This interview reminded me of a conversation I once had with a group of small business owners at a yacht club in Santa Barbara. They are standing around grousing about exactly this sort of regulation. They hated it and blamed “socialists” in Sacramento and Washington for the whole thing. Here is the gist of what I told them.

The complexity of the paperwork is not a result of “socialist” dominance. On the contrary, the excess of paperwork is a direct result of a regulatory system that depends overwhelmingly on self-reporting. The self-reporting approach was insisted upon by conservatives who were able to force it through the necessary compromises so common in American politics. In more centralized democracies, such as the UK, there is a good deal less paperwork to fill out. However, such countries have a good deal more inspectors barging into businesses and snooping around. I asked the cluster of businessmen at the yacht club if they would rather have paperwork or government inspectors and they all said, “Paperwork!” without hesitation.

Clearly the Republicans are trying to use the persistent economic troubles as an excuse to undo a century of regulations entirely. They want to return us to a Dickensian dystopia of the 1890s. If we eliminate the paperwork without hiring thousands of new inspectors at the state and federal agencies that enforce environmental, workplace safety and other regulations, we would effectively eliminate the original regulations. These regulations were not imposed to make life difficult for business. Rather they were put in place because businesses were making life unlivable (literally) for the workers who were getting sick and injured in dangerous workplaces, the neighbors who were being poisoned by industrial run off and the many species that were being driven to extinction by the same (such as the bald eagle that Republicans love to fetishize).


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Marketing the Presidency-There Danger Lies

Prepare for a rant. Today I was reading NBC's news blog. The headline was "Obama's Rough News Day". After describing why the day was tough, the article says, "All of these stories can be explained away via individual context. But taken together, they signal how Obama’s brand has taken a big hit." (Italics are mine")

It is no secret that we market celebrities, politicians, and ideas like candy and children's toys. The lines between simple advocacy and unadulterated celebrity have long been blurred. But I beat an old horse, already whipped by Noam Chomsky. The difference today is the ability to target specific people and to gather data using new technologies. The ability to hit smaller and smaller targets only increases with each passing day. And it segments and balkinizes the body politic. Marketing to a vast audience is now narrowed to brainwashing a specific piece of the electorate. And it plays with our minds. Politics is no longer a national discussion to be held above the din of marketing. We can now target the 10 people in Indiana who we need to convince to vote for us rather than the entire state.

We use to joke about the celebrity of Bill Clinton, or JFK for that matter. But the entire presidency? This NBC thing is the first time that I have seen such a blunt admission that the presidency is now a "brand". It'd be funny if it wasn't so disturbing. Palin is a brand. I haven't heard yet of the "Bachmann or Romney brand". That's just because they haven't yet been fully market tested. But they are working on it. They already know that the one line testing well for Bachmann is "“Make no mistake about it, Barack Obama will be a one . . . term . . . President!” (New Yorker: Leap of Faith). They can do this with audience response systems. And they ensure that her "Barbie Doll"(Mattel, slogan: "Creating the future of play") image is well honed and protected. To be fair, all candidates are doing the same thing.

We now live in a landscape where the nonsensical is standard for marketing. Can you tell me what "Natural French Fries" are? If they are now natural, what the hell have they been up until now? That ranks up there with Jumbo Shrimp and all natural flavor, which means what again? Chemistry meant to taste natural, or that they actually added a dab of real fruit juice to that high fructose corn syrup? Our politics are as nonsensical. "It's time for America to be America again" (Rick Santorum). What has it been up until now? Pseudo-America? The line is actually from a Langston Hughes poem- a liberal civil rights poem.

Gee, maybe we should just give up and go all the way. Let's cut the deficit by funding our government institutions like we do sports stadiums. After all, California was ready to sell off real-estate to close its budget gap. Maybe the Super Committee (reminds me of jumbo shrimp again- just a flavorless crustacean, higher in useless cholesterol and empty calories than the regular shrimp) should try this out. We can sell the White House to Proctor & Gamble and rent it back, calling it "The Gillette White House". We can do the same with Congress. I can see "The Coca Cola Capital Dome". And on the Old Executive Office Building, we can add a digital billboard with all sorts of great advert slots for sale. Before the opening speech at the next party caucus they can announce, "This caucus, hosted in Tazo Stadium, is brought to you by Pepsi co., a family of beverage firms bringing naturally refreshing ideas to you!" And we can digitally swap out the banner ads along the balconies of the convention center like they do at Pro tennis matches. (Maybe they are already doing this?) And we can employ Google technology to insure that if you check a candidate website every banner ad on your free e-mail engine will belong to that candidate or his friends. They can link it to the local party congressional candidate (thanks to that address you provided on your Facebook page) to ensure that you get the full party slate.

Then when we can overlay consumer buying patterns at Home Depot against voting tendencies and demographic data to identify the 10 those Independent voters in central Indiana to the exclusion of everyone else. And while we are at it, we can make sure to find clever ways to disenfranchise those 50 voters in county X who always vote for the wrong state assembly representative. We need wall-to-wall one party rule, you know. And we don't even need gerrymandering to do it anymore. Gerrymandering has gone they way of the filibusterer. All of this subverts the democratic process. Everyone of us becomes nothing more than a cog in the marketing wheel- divorced from the means of production. (Gee, can you say Carl Marx? Moment for thought. Hummmm.)

My favorite brand is "The American People". What a brand that is! I can see it now, "American People" bubble gum- light, airy, and full of hot air! The label can be emblazoned with eagles and flags. I just watched a movie the other day where Susan Hayward's character says, "Millions of dollars spent to sell the American culture to the world, and still no one knows what Root Beer is." We are bought, sold, and spent.

So, to end my rant, my dad use to shake his head and say, "you can't stop progress". And he is right. But you should be able to control it. The day we turn entire branches of government into nothing more than brands and commodities, we have lost as a citizenry. The technology has taken over and we don't matter to the process. Only the 10 people in some distant corner of the nation matter. And candidates will further lock themselves in DC while radicalizing their ideas and rhetoric to capture those 10 people. And in the process, the whole purpose of getting elected by a majority to genuinely to govern and serve, is lost.