Sunday, February 27, 2005

A purely American Argument against SS Reform

American Exceptionalism is what has driven for all these decades America to be self-assured, confident, pompous, uncompromising and also (nasty word here) republican (lil' r). How is it republican? Well basic language enlisted during the age of revolutions brought with it a current of impressive considerations from men we now disdain, like Rousseau, and men we admire, like Tom Paine. They argued for the same thing as British Whigs in the mid 18th century, and American revoultionaries until the end of the century. Private Property is a right of all people. And, said John Madision, the only way to prevent the corruptive powers of the so-called factories being put up in British cities is to promote the westward expansion of our nation; placate all people through giving each person an opportunity to their own. Because nothing was more insulting in this time period than to be a dependent laborer. What makes you independent? Property. What is more degrading than being lets say a factory worker? Being a speculator. The scum of the earth! You know who we considered land speculators? The British government; just one of the reasons we wanted to break away. Ring a bell?

Social Security becomes probably one of the few signs of this kind of republicanism. Far less of a dream than the Townsend proposal, but unless you can't see the clear connection...the point of the program is two fold: 1) Government will undoubtedly be asked to provide for someone's health in future years, which makes it only logical that instead of raising taxes on something else it tax people's wages (as it being the logical foundation of their health; wealth to health). 2) Government does this not at the expense of republicanism, but rather as the child of republican values that aim to maintain the independence of the laborer and prevent the dependence of the person on any charity, private or public institutions. If this is what SS does, then it certainly looks to me to be a good child of the revolution. The spirit of the revolution to maintain independence, and also careful enough in its construction that it does not put in jeapordy the future health of a person. In case you were wondering: the republican doesn't care whether someone can retire like Warren Buffett with billions of dollars without ever raising a finger, this isn't republican, but rather they care about the wage laborer being able to maintain a proper proportion of their labor (to paraphrase the Knights of Labor).

The point being. The capitalist/market revolution was never a real challenging point in the framework of American debate in the 19th and early 20th Century. The United States could be one of the first truly capitalist countries where very little regulation went down against capitalist expansion mostly because of the burgeoning ability for there to be land; people being pushed out by gentrification (to be anachronistic) could move out west and start a comfortable lifestyle. It was not until mid-century when the corruptors of liberty began to speculate and make money off the labor of others, and the production of capitalists. Does anyone remember Andrew Jackson and the Bank? We wonder why he had a problem with it, well to make it simple (not to diminish other biases he may have had or may have happened) the ultimate republican in the 19th century had a problem with the speculation foundations of the Hamiltonian institution. Hell, he had a problem with bankers in general. (But please don't let me stop you from working in IB or Private Equities).

Does this make sense? Could you really make an argument against speculation? It is probably the most American argument out there. The core to having equal opportunity many would argue is to have a proper proportion to your labor, and thus if your wages and your profits are being cut into by land speculators (real estate) that own your land, and you have to pay money to them. This is a problem. It puts into the pockes of the idle-corruptor money they did not earn. And takes out of your pockets money you did earn.

So why should we build a system whose basis is just this? How could we turn a right (as we have ascribed it) to living healthy as an older adult and turn it into a corrupt system? And so when Republicans (big R) look at you with contempt at caring if Wall Street makes a buck on this. Tell them to change their party name. Because there is nothing republican about what they are saying! It ties itself into some of the most corrupt ideas you can imagine. Some guy in some building in Wall Street makes money off of my labor so that I can make a higher return for my retirement (a necessary retirement that government institutes understanding economic realities I could argue; I will let Nate argue them; or perhaps I can pull up my old Profe Xavier to help me out sometime in the future). It sounds ludicrous. And if anyone cared to wonder if America is acting American in creating a Bush ownership society: I hear John Madison laughing. I hear Thomas Jefferson rolling over in his grave.

Want to kill American republicanism? Put a trillion dollar program in the hands of speculators.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Seeing like a blind man

Wasn't planning on blogging again today, but I had to link to these two stories from The New Scientist. The first is a story about a blind Turkish painter. It reminds me of a story I read in the New Yorker last year about the visual cortex and visual abilities in the blind. One blind man had memorized the dimensions of his roof and could fix it, alone, at night. He had such powerful spacial reasoning, he always knew exactly where he was on the roof. It's intriguing stuff, and has some glorious sci-fi implications. For example, as we understand mind-machine interfacing better, could it be possible to train blind and sighted men and women to interpret radar or sonar signals as visual ones? Imagine a submarine guided by a sonar system hooked up to a blind pilot, so that he "sees" just as a while might. Or imagine a blind soldier "staring" at the sky with a powerful radar system.

The other story is a quick blurb about a British company that has offered to make wedding rings by growing partners' bone tissue. I haven't yet decided whether it's more cool than grisly. But it's definitely bizarre enough to become a good conversation-starter.

Happy belated V-Day

Must-read post here. It's not that the phenomena described in the post are unique, only that it's good to be reminded of what's out there. We're close to two weeks out from V-Day (Victory, Vagina, Valentines Day), and I thought I'd do my small (masculine) part as a "Vagina Warrior" (a woman or man committed to ending violence against women and girls).

I guess I owe you all (the loyal, um, three?) a post about seeing the Vagina Monologues on February 11th here at Yale. Eve Ensler, the playwright, came and spoke at the end of the performance. The performance itself was tremendous; it was deeply moving, hilarious, and very true. Eve Ensler herself was moved. She spoke about the other performances she'd seen, far more significant ones, like a performance in Islamabad, Pakistan, which invovled a word of mouth whisper campaign and took place in a secluded basement.

It was interesting to me to see how closely sex is linked with power in the Vagina Monologues. Though the play deals with sexuality, it's most often in a way that links sexual freedom to empowerment. Sex, as in real life, is never just sex. When, in one of the monolouges, the actress mimics a whole litany of different moans, there's the sense that these are really battle-cries.

I'm taking a Biology of Sex and Gender class, and it's clear from discussion sections that some Yale men and women, whether they know it or not, support the lessons of the Vagina Monologues to heart. In discussions about the female orgasm, it was obvious that women expected to have them and that their men were expected to help. Now that the female orgasm is not an object of such intense mystery and women are, at least in some places, allowed to be independent, assertive sexual agents, men are expected to be sensitive, effective lovers. This is something that some men understand, but that a couple members of the men's hockey team in the section didn't seem to quite grasp.

While there are some negative consequences of this development—a NYT story about young men using Cialis and Viagra in order to enhance performance details one new method of fighting performance anxiety—for the most part, this can only be good for society. As Eve Ensler would argue, when vaginas are free and able to express themselves, women will be more powerful and freer from violence.

I admit I'm a bit out of my element in all this. Ah well.

Friday, February 25, 2005

New Fog Walking?

I am The Columbian, a pretty bad epithet, but then again creating a name at 2am slightly inebriated will lend itself to such a mild, boring, a bit cliche appelation. It references my departure from Yale, at least, seeing as I do go to Columbia, but I know Nate from High School, so many of Pittsford kids will recognize me as Keith.

I've enjoyed posting comments on this page before, it is fun and great to engage in debate, so for any of my posts, I highly encourage you try to shut me down. But content wise, I probably will depart a bit from Nate; not just because if we both post on something it may just seem repetitive, but to most likely widen the scope of liberal topics. I, at least at this time, have a particular interest in cultural and social constructions. I like to talk about how people manifest truth, create that kind of truth and believe it to be real. It is a very elementary sketch, of course, I am not a Philosophy PhD, and in fact I will be coming at it from what I am...a history major. I think contextulalizing at a wider level the problems of any absolutist doctrine could perhaps elucidate the issues in contemporary politics, economics and society. Being held captive for no good reason is never something worth any of our time, and yet we are, and worse than that (from the perceivably minority end) we cannot rationalize why it is wrong. What does it mean for something to work, and something to be right, and something to be useful. All these crazy ideas sometimes intermix not because they are really there, but because people attribute them to being there. The Iraq situation both boggles the mind and warms the heart; when we get confused we tend to not know what to do, and side-step issues. How can someone come out against Iraqi "democracy?" How can someone also articulate that Iraqi democracy is but an intermediary for a wider plan without seeming conspiratorial? Could there in fact be no ulterior motives? Could this be paradise in government? That even if today's US government is the world's greatest friend abroad, does that excuse their malignancy to their own people?

As you can tell I write with a lot of questions, and I tend to end with a lot of questions. Mostly because I believe life to be too complex to ascribe a final point with a final nail in the coffin. Which I think is the problem with democrats/liberals today. The constant fear to ever acknowledge something as absolute kind of lends itself to ridicule. Incertainty is beautiful, accurate and true to life, I could argue. But it makes a bad ad campaign. That even with what I say, and how I say it I'll be treading the line between these kind of pompous self-confidence, and the more realistic notion that I don't know. I think as close as I can get to that point, along with good posts on mostly current events and my analysis of them, this should be a fun experience. I hope people read and enjoy.


Alright. So my frequency of posting pretty much sucks. So sue me. I'm a student + part-time job + community service gig. I don't have a lot of time to muck around. But I do have friends. And they do like to muck around. And I have somehow managed to rope one of them into this shindig. So look for his posts to start popping up sometime soon. He'll be posting under TheColumbian, at least at first. I'll let him introduce himself when he starts posting.

(It might be a bad idea to let the only person who reads this blog write for it, but whatever.)

(I'm excited.)

(Also, there's lots of other cool stuff I want to tell you all about. Like my revitalized interest in comic books. But that'll have to wait til later. Maybe this blog won't be soooo dry? God knows.)

An object at rest . . .

So it seems that, at least for now, the effort to privatize Social Security (read: gut SS) has stalled. And the question now must be, when will it start again? And, maybe more importantly, when it starts again, how will it get going?

The nature of political momentum seems to suggest that Bush will need to generate some external force from somewhere in order to get the death of SS rolling again. As a lame duck president, it's not entirely clear to me where he's going to get that from. Some have suggested that he'll look to another security crisis. I'm not sure how a security crisis that renews people's insecurity will give him momentum to eviscerate a program with the word "security" in it, but I guess if he can spin it well enough, anything's possible. Furthermore, word on the street is that Bush is talking "incentives" with the Europeans on Iran, though Scott Ritter, former weapons inspector, claims that Bush has plans to bomb Iran in the spring.

(Really quickly, let me just say that bombing Iran would be a monumentally stupid idea. One good reason, that might not be immediately obvious, is that the newly elected government of Iraq will most likely have a religious Shiite leader with, at least, religious sympathy for Iran. The new Iraqi government are not people we want to piss off. And any sort of Iran-Iraq entente is also something we don't want to see.)

So, where will Bush get his momentum from? I think, ironically, it could come from hints of weakness on Wall Street. Fund managers and stock traders would really like to see their coffers grow as millions of Americans channel funds into their hands, and it would do a lot to increase the demand for American shares. It might be that a wobbly stock market could bring about arguments that we need to inject the economy with more money for investment, through the privatization of Social Security accounts. Now, that argument is horribly wrong, since by most accounts our stock market, despite some declines, is still overvalued, and any influx of Social Security money would be a temporary, transitory, and ultimately counterproductive action.

Okay. So. Weak post after not posting for a while.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Iraqi constitution-making

. . . Or how the "values" debate comes to Iraq.

Just read this latest NYTimes article on the constitution-making process in Iraq.

The fact that religious Shiites won a resounding electoral victory has a number of implications for the future of Iraq. The Shiite victory really shouldn't surprise anyone, given that Iraq is predominantly Shiite, and many Sunni Arabs washed their hands of the election. But given this Shiite victory, further insurgent activity cannot be viewed as anti-American, anti-occupation. The Sunni insurgents will ultimately become warriors in an ethnic conflict between the Shiite majority and a militarized Sunni minority. How Shiites will effectively govern their country without a meaningful Sunni minority party remains to be seen. Many of the cities that proved difficult for the American military will prove just as problematic for a Shia government. Conservatives who looked to elections as yet another corner to turn in the fight against insurgents will be disappointed. The motives for the insurgency will not change—the Sunni rebels will still be fighting what they view as a non-representative and malicious government.

The other implication is that secular Iraqis may find themselves alienated and targeted by the resultant constitution. American conservatives who object to how religious the product of the constitution-writing will be, and many of them will react badly, since there are secular American conservatives, ought to remember their party's alliance with the Christian right. The resonance between the language of Shiite clerics who want to enshrine Islam as a source of law and the Christian conservatives who would like to do the same with Christianity is telling. A fundamentalist is a fundamentalist is a fundamentalist . . .

One could hope that this constitution-writing process in Iraq, and the inevitable complaints of too much religiosity, of too little democracy, will inspire Americans to take a more critical view of our own system. One could also hope that Americans will come to their senses in a myriad other ways, but one would be, more than likely in both cases, hoping in vain.

One other thing: All of those pictures of Iraqi women proudly raising their blue-stained fingers now have a distressing irony. The Shiite forces that have come to power thanks to that election are bent on reducing the rights of women, especially in marriage, divorce and inheritance. And if they allow women to vote, it's no doubt because they trust religious women to vote in line with their religious husbands, and not with feminist causes. So all of those pictures of women raising their fingers for democracy were also raising their fingers to the codification of anti-woman discrimination. Sigh.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

How not to handle incentives — EU-China arms embargo

The consensus among EU officials is that the arms trading ban that EU has had in place since 1989 and Tiananmen square will get lifted "soon." Despite the fact that the ban was put in place because of China's atrocious human rights practices, and China has made no effort to show any "verifiable" evidence of improved human rights conditions. So what exactly is the EU doing?

Obviously, the initial idea was to use arms trading as a carrot to induce China to improve its treatment of human rights. But Europe, fallen on hard economic times and committed to a "strategic partnership" with China, doesn't really want to wait for China to improve its human rights efforts anymore. It should have become clear to China by now that it really doesn't have to show the EU much of any improvement in human rights, since it is by now clear that the EU wants out of the weapons ban as badly as China does. The EU, though it has not abandoned the arms embargo yet, has essentially abandoned the arms-embargo-as-incentive approach by showing its hand, making it clear how strong the European pro-arms trade lobby really is.

To me, this is an interesting example of real politic concerns trumping ideology in Europe. For an international organization that makes such a big fuss out of following liberal ideology, promoting human rights, acting as a power with a conscience, the removal of the arms embargo against China before groups like Amnesty International have really been placated is a dramatic example of a new consciousness in Europe. Not only do the German, French, and, apparently, British now want to strengthen their economies by upgrading the Chinese military, but they also want to pursue a powerful "strategic partnership" with China, putting the EU in a very different political position than it has been.

After all, the removal of the arms embargo puts the future of NATO in serious doubt. The Bush administration and Congress will likely act to end the sharing of weapons technology with Europe, since that would be tantamount to sharing it with China. And NATO, which has long benefited from the trans-atlantic exchange of technology, will be hobbled. You generally don't want to have military allies that you worry will be stealing your technology to sell to a potential enemy whenever you perform joing military tasks. Thus, it might be that the EU decision to trade arms with China might also speed Europe along the path to an independent military. That would be a truly new development for the EU.

Another interesting thing to note is that Britain has now come down with France and Germany to support an end to the arms embargo. For the UK, this would be a stunning break from the US, given how strong American lawmakers feel about the arms embargo. It would mark, for the first time in recent history, that the UK has broken with the US and sided with the EU on a military issue.

This post does build on all of those posts about currency realignment because we may be seeing the development of a new global order, one that is far more multi-polar than uni-polar. While I take many of Matt Yglesias's points to heart about the gap between the American military and the militaries of China and India, it's not hard to imagine scenarios in which that gap might shrink not because of the Chinese and Indians gaining global militaries, but because of the United States losing its own. If NATO disintegrates, if Turkey gets pulled into nastiness in Iraq over the Kirkuk issue (Turkey mentioned because of US troops there), if the North Korea-South Korea détante deepens and becomes peace, and if the Europeans actually decide to try going it alone, if the Japanese decide to resurrect their military, a lot of countries will be less willing to tolerate American troops on their soil. Given the debacle in Iraq, Bush's gung-ho inaugural address, and his terrible popularity (or lack of it) abroad, foreign (democratic) governments may begin to find American bases a political liability. As the geopolitical situation changes, the very real negatives may truly outweigh the positives.

In any case, enough is enough. I'm all done for today.