Archive for March, 2005

Schiavo Schmiavo

March 24th, 2005  |  Published in Uncategorized

As Kevin Drum reports with glee, a vast majority of Americans think that the Republicans are using the Terry Schiavo case for crass political purposes. Unfortunately, I still don't think this is a strategic mistake by the President--on the contrary, it's quite shrewd.

This is one of those political situations in which simple poll numbers of the "yes/no" variety aren't particularly helpful. The important question is not how people feel about the Schiavo situation, but how much they feel it. Of the people who think the Republicans are engaged in petty grandstanding, I'd wager that few are going to change their votes over the issue. But the minority that approves of the Federal intervention in the case is made up largely of hard-core social conservatives. The Schiavo business is a sop to these people, who otherwise feel somewhat sidelined by the federal Republicans (see Marriage, Gay). This is particularly acute since, as Ed Kilgore points out, this whole case is really about anti-abortion politics by other means.

When all is said and done, most people will forget all about this case. But the ultra-right won't, and by intervening in this case the Republicans have firmed up the support of a key segment of their base.

What's wrong with MoveOn

March 12th, 2005  |  Published in Uncategorized

Around the time Howard Dean blew up, everyone got excited about Internet activism. Hey, who needs organizations with meetings, statements of principle, and ideologies? We'll just go to a meetup, and donate to our favorite candidates online!

Since the upsurge of activism around the 2004 election pretty much defined "wide but shallow" for our generation, the rapid deterioration of its political structures was hardly surprising. And yes, Democracy for America, I see your hand in the back of the room. It's rad how "DFA does not be having 'chapters', 'affiliates,' or 'branches'." Not just because it sounds all "street" and so on, but "because these terms imply a legal relationship and possible liabilities". Wouldn't want that. Wouldn't be prudent.

But seriously, can we talk about How they suck, I mean.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the bankruptcy bill. The short version: after you've been pre-approved for double-plus-free-credit-for-life, the credit card companies jack your rate to 30% because your brother missed a car payment. Then you can't declare bankruptcy. Or, to put it another way: this bill promises to lock generations of Americans into debt peonage to the credit card companies.

Republicans support it, natch. So do many Democrats, for two reasons. One, their corporate benefactors want them to. Two, they don't have a grassroots opposition pressuring them not to.

So where's the grassroots opposition? Well, here's what MoveOn's Eli Pariser said to Salon:

"Because of the solid Republican support for the bill, terrible though the bill is, it wasn't something that we could make a difference by weighing in on," Pariser told War Room by phone on Friday. He said that MoveOn's members had chosen to focus on two other "critical fights that we can win" -- namely Bush judicial nominations, and the battle over Social Security.

What, your members can't walk and chew gum at the same time?

Apparently not:

Pariser maintained that the group has not narrowed its focus since the presidential election: "We've always been a multi-issue organization and we always will be." But he says that members have indicated that they've been overwhelmed when asked to "track 16 different issues at once, so we've done our best to respect our members' attention and inboxes."

Live by the sword, and so on. The problem is that groups like MoveOn sell politics as a commodity. They present it to their customers this way: "rebuild the left in America, for only three clicks a month! From the comfort of your own home!" The similarity to late-night infomercials is not accidental, and it points up the limits of the genre. If you don't ask people to be part of a movement, to learn an ideology, to develop an analysis--if you don't do those things, small wonder no-one has the patience to pay attention to any issue which requires the least bit of thought. If you only conceive of politics as something you fit into your spare time, no wonder "16 different issues" is intimidating.

Blogs, the web, and related neat gadgets present interesting possibilities, but they are only technique, and they presuppose a political consisciousness which, judging by the silence over the bankruptcy bill, is still sorely lacking. I would venture to say that such consciousness cannot be built over the Internet. It requires stable, long-lasting social connections which are difficult to forge. More on that later. For now, read this rad dude for more on the commodified left.

Lights, Camera, Factions

March 12th, 2005  |  Published in Uncategorized

Salon had an OK article about the porn industry today. It's not especially notable, except that all semi-sane coverage of the sex industry is notable. The left seems to have a problem understanding how to deal with sex work. Either you condemn it as an exploitative abomination which must be done away with immediately, or you think it's everyone's right to do what they wish with their bodies. The first is puritan moralism; the second is individualist libertarianism. But whither socialism?

Certainly, sex work can be exploitative, degrading, and humiliating. But so can many other kinds of work. The problem is that we live in a sexist society which specially stigmatizes women who sell sex, in a way we don't stigmatize sweatshop workers, say. Rather than issuing moral condemnations of the sex trade, maybe we could try advocating for the decriminalization of sex work, and argue against the stigma around pornography. If we did that, we could then advocate for the rights of sex workers as workers. Then we could address the very real exploitation that happens in the sex trade, without implicitly condemning women who do sex work.

Thesis: sex work is bad!
Antithesis: women have the right to control their own bodies!
Synthesis: decriminalize prostitution, support sex worker rights! (Also, support this magazine).


The Arbitrariness of the Blog

March 5th, 2005  |  Published in Uncategorized

To paraphrase something Joseph Epstein once said about art, "good blogs refer only to other blogs." In that spirit, I offer my favorite blogs, with snarky comments and pithy summaries.

Talking Points Memo
Josh Marshall started out as a journalist, and he still actually does some journalism--you know, finding new information, rather than information somebody else already found. These days, he's pretty well obsessed with stopping Bush's Social Security phase-out scheme. But that's a fine obsession to have, and somebody's got to have it.

Max Sawicky is an economist at a lefty think-tank, the Economic Policy Institute. He's also an idiosyncratic lefty populist, and a pleasure to read. Most prominent liberal bloggers are centrist democrats like Josh Marshall and Brad Delong, but Max is decidedly to the left of them, even if he's not identifiably a socialist. I particularly appreciate Max's outspoken anti-imperialism, which comes more from the tradition of Mark Twain than that of VI Lenin.

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal
Brad DeLong is an economist at UC Berkeley. He's liberal only by comparison to the lunacy that passes for modern conservatism in this country--his fealty to the dogmas of neo-classical economics is absolute, and his incessant red-baiting is tiresome to no end. But he's good at the blog thing, at least when he's not bragging about how smart his teenage son is, and he's good at exposing the hypocrisy and outright mendacity of the right's house intellectuals. He generally gives the impression of being a super-intelligent, somewhat arrogant, thoroughly dorky teenager.

Informed Comment
Juan Cole, University of Michigan professor and middle east expert, mostly comments on events in Iraq and the rest of the Muslim world. He's both a lefty and someone who actually knows something about Islamic history and culture, which makes him the bane of the jinogist blogosphere's existence.
I feel like I have to read at least one conservative blog regularly, lest I completely lose touch with the reality of American politics. I started reading Drezner mostly because I took a course on foreign policy from him while I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago. He's a readable conservative, mostly free of the goonish machismo that characterizes a lot of the big right-wing blogs (Glenn Reynolds, Powerline, Little Green Footballs, etc.) His politics definitely tend toward the libertarian, so his thought tends to converge with that of pro-capitalist liberals like Brad DeLong.

The Washington Monthly
Kevin Drum started out with his personal site, Calpundit, before getting hired to write a blog for the Monthly, a wonky political magazine that covers the D.C. scene. He's basically a smart, middle-of-the-road liberal--nothing special, but his site is good for keeping track of what's going on in blog-land and in the real world.

Crooked Timber
CT is a bit different from the blogs above. For one thing, it's a group blog, and so it's inherently richer and more varied. It's also a very academic blog, not just because the contributors are mostly academics (most of the bloggers above are professors too), but because they're as likely to talk about Rawls or Derrida as they are to bash Bush's latest press conference. The politics of CT is still in the liberal-to-soft-left spectrum as academic politics go, stopping just to the right of the New Left Review. But it's a good read when you're starved for intellectual depth.

Scott McLemee
Scott is one-of-kind--a popular journalist who exclusively covers abstruse debates among academics. He writes a column for the new Chronicle of Higher Ed competitor Inside Higher Education, so he blogs less than he used to. But he's the source for the latest academic gossip. Plus, he shares one of my guilty obessessions, the history of the sectarian far-left--one of his first published writings was about the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA.

General Glut's Globblog
This is the blog of an economist, writing pseudonymously. He's one of those odd characters who seems like a radical leftist because he's so out of step with current intellectual fashions. Really, though, he's just some kind of Keynesian. But he writes often about the US current account deficit and the international monetary order, which is something I'm slightly obsessed with.

Stan Goff: Feral Scholar
Ah, now we get to the hard stuff. Stan's as hard as you get: hard-core Marxist-Feminist, and hard-ass former Special Forces officer. Stan's a great writer, but he hasn't really mastered the blog form, yet--his posts tend to be long-winded discourses on imperialism, thermodynamics, and other pet obsessions, and they lack the pithiness required of blogging. The comments sections are where the real action is, for the time being. Stan actively engages with his interlocutors, and he attracts characters you don't see much on lefty sites--in particular, former military people who are willing to have open, tough-minded arguments with leftists.

After reading all of these blogs, you should be able to figure out exactly who I am: the difference between all these other blogs.