Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Bigotry After Brussels

ISIS has claimed responsibility for today's horrible terrorist attack in Belgium, followed by Islamic leaders throughout the world condemning this appalling crime, which in turn was ignored by the usual bigots demanding to know "Where's the Muslim outrage, huh?"

It's obvious that the only way to satisfy these people is for every individual Muslim to replace standard punctuation with condemnations of terrorism, as follows:

"Could you please pass the salt? I'm outraged by terrorist violence."

"Congratulations on the birth of your new baby! I say this as a Muslim who hates terrorist violence."

"Sorry, can't meet you for dinner tomorrow; I have to study for my math final and be outraged by terrorist violence."

"Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and I condemn terrorism too."

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why Sanders? Why Trump? It's The Economy, Stupid

I don't know if the media narrative has changed in the past week or if I'm just seeing a wider variety of headlines than I used to, but the old conventional wisdom “Trump supporters: 100% bigoted white folks” is now being supplemented by “Trump supporters: downwardly mobile Americans being left behind by the New Economy, and scared witless over it.”

Last week, Thomas Frank (of What's the Matter with Kansas? fame) wrote an article in the Guardian  pointing out that, while most media coverage of the Trump phenomenon focuses on his horribly bigoted soundbites, if you listen to his speeches in their entirety you'll mostly hear talk of economic matters:
... Last week, I decided to watch several hours of Trump speeches for myself. I saw the man ramble and boast and threaten and even seem to gloat when protesters were ejected from the arenas in which he spoke. I was disgusted by these things, as I have been disgusted by Trump for 20 years. But I also noticed something surprising. In each of the speeches I watched, Trump spent a good part of his time talking about an entirely legitimate issue, one that could even be called leftwing.

Yes, Donald Trump talked about trade. In fact, to judge by how much time he spent talking about it, trade may be his single biggest concern – not white supremacy. Not even his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border, the issue that first won him political fame. He did it again during the debate on 3 March: asked about his political excommunication by Mitt Romney, he chose to pivot and talk about … trade.

It seems to obsess him: the destructive free-trade deals our leaders have made, the many companies that have moved their production facilities to other lands, the phone calls he will make to those companies’ CEOs in order to threaten them with steep tariffs unless they move back to the US.

Trump embellished this vision with another favorite leftwing idea: under his leadership, the government would “start competitive bidding in the drug industry”. (“We don’t competitively bid!” he marveled – another true fact, a legendary boondoggle brought to you by the George W Bush administration.) Trump extended the critique to the military-industrial complex, describing how the government is forced to buy lousy but expensive airplanes thanks to the power of industry lobbyists....
Not that Trump's half-baked or quarter-baked ideas would actually do anything to solve the economic problems of the working and lower-middle classes, but at least Trump, unlike most Republicans (and most Democrats with the notable exception of Bernie Sanders) admits there's a problem.

I've complained for years now that the GOP is long overdue for a restructuring, or rethinking of what the party as a whole stands for: abandon the extreme socio-religious conservatism, and return to its alleged old-school standards of “small government, personal freedom and fiscal responsibility.” But seeing Sanders' rise in popularity makes me realize that the Democrats are due for a restructuring, too. When I was a kid, the difference between the two parties (at least in theory) could be summarized as: Republicans are the party of big business, and Democrats the party of the middle and working classes. But now, instead, the Democrats are the party of big business, and Republicans the party of extreme social or religious conservatism. Nobody in either party speaks for the poor and downwardly mobile—which is why Sanders is getting such support from Democrats while Trump sweeps up Republicans.

I don't agree with Sanders' proposal of free four-year college degrees for all, because I think the end result would be simply to make college degrees the new high school diplomas: a minimum educational credential that's not remotely enough to qualify one for a decent job, merely an entrance ticket to the next level of schooling required for a shot at a decent job and a decent life. At the same time, though, I completely understand why Sanders' proposal is so popular, especially among college students and graduates still weighed down by enormous (and bankruptcy-proof) student loan debt. Right now, the American job status quo can be summarized as “You must have a college degree if you want any shot at a decent life.” And for poor or middle-class kids – anyone whose parents can't or won't pay for that degree, in other words – that status quo means “If you want a decent job when you grow up, you must start your adult life weighed down under a hefty student debt load.”

Neither Sanders nor Trump are likely to fix the problems facing downwardly mobile Americans – but at least those two admit such problems exist, rather than gaslighting or handwaving those problems away.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Stupor Tuesday

Back in 2008, when I lived in Connecticut, I spent six days as a registered Republican solely so I could vote for Ron Paul in the primary. (And as soon as I cast my vote that Tuesday, I made haste to the registrar's office to change my party affiliation back to "independent," because I wasn't going to be a Republican one freaking nanosecond longer than I had to.)

This year I'm in Virginia, which lets people vote in primaries without registering as an official party member first. I was going to cast a Republican vote for not-Trump, but realized I could not in good conscience vote for any of his rivals, since all seek to use the power of the state to force pregnant women to remain so against their will. So I voted for a Democrat.

[Sings] ♫♩ I feel dirty, oh so dirty, I feel filthy, and slimy, and groooosss....♪ ♫ [/Sings]

For all that I'm horrified by the thought of what a President Trump would do to America, I highly doubt he'll have a chance of winning a general election, unless some left-wing/Democratic type runs a third-party campaign to split the not-Republican vote. I base this not on any faith in the alleged intelligence of the American electorate, but on simple demographics: back during the 2012 election, when Romney & Co. were convinced they'd win and win handily against Obama, I remember reading that a Romney adviser admitted Romney's campaign strategy was to focus exclusively on winning a supermajority of white voters whilst ignoring everyone else. However, the same adviser admitted that, due to demographic trends, 2012 would be the last year that the white vote alone would be enough to win the presidency (though in retrospect it clearly wasn't). But Romney merely ignored white voters, whereas Trump has actively insulted or threatened most of them.

With luck, a Trump candidacy (and subsequent electoral drubbing) will force the national GOP to rethink the extreme social conservative strategy it's pursued these past many years, and finally realize "Gay people and friends thereof, scientists, secularists, non-whites, and sexually active women [willing or otherwise] who don't want to be mommies yet" are voters to court, not threats to campaign against. 

EDIT: Oh, yeah, I forgot to identify which Democrat I actually voted for! I can't quite bring myself to do so; I'll say only that it's somebody who shares a name with a certain internationally famous seller of fried chicken. (Yes, I know, the bulk of his economic ideas are not merely bad, but downright hallucinatory. But every major-party candidate stinks regarding economic matters, albeit in different ways, and at least the not-Colonel admits that American police brutality is a serious problem, and doesn't share Clinton's foreign-policy hawkishness. Plus, Congress would block his worst economic proposals anyway.)
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