Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lying Ryan

What the hell is wrong with Paul Ryan? He recently tried to blame President Obama for a GM plant closing in Janesville, Wisconsin, as if Republican obstructionism had no role. Worse, Ryan, Romney, and nearly everyone in their party said at the time that Obama was wrong to intervene to save GM. This was shortly after the Janesville plant closed. Romney also made it clear that government should let GM go bankrupt.

Ryan blamed the lost jobs at Janesville, which is in his congressional district, on Obama. Did Obama not intervene? Did GM not survive? Ryan wants you to ignore the fact that GM is still in business, meaning many plants are up, operating, and profitable, but attacks Obama for not saving that one plant that happens to be in Ryan's district.

Ryan wants it both ways. Government should not intervene in commerce; the free market has the solution. Yet he chides Obama because workers in Ryan's district lost their jobs precisely because, he says, Obama did not act to save that specific plant. I thought you guys loved the Randian free market rough and tumble; you know, creative destruction and all that? And is there any one out there who doesn't acknowledge that GM had no choice but to shed manufacturing output?

The final irony to this is that GM closed the plant in 2008, under George W. Bush. Ryan is so determined to score cheap political points that he got his story completely screwed up.

A more complete chronology, complete with video, can be found here.

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There is a small addendum to the Janesville plant story: it made SUVs. People are moving away from them for very rational reasons. Ryan and others want to blame the plant closing on Obama because of high gas prices, overlooking the fact that gas prices have been affecting sales of SUVs for years. They're also ignoring the intense market competition within the segment. This crap about high prices makes Americans look stupid; we have the lowest gas prices in the industrialized world. The real motivator in politics is that so many of us are addicted to the idea of perpetually cheap gas. We want a world where gas is so cheap we can drive gas-guzzling behemoths with impunity. The trend towards smaller, more fuel efficient cars, towards hybrids and, gasp, electric ones, towards the legitimacy of downsizing and public transportation, is inevitable.

Factor in global warming, pollution, and the growing role of solar and wind power. All of this has been embraced by liberals here as well as significant majorities in other countries, many of which have become demonstrably more fuel-efficient than the US, and environmentally cleaner to boot.

And it bugs the shit out of Republicans.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A $50 lesson?

I recently got a whiff of the story below on Facebook. I couldn't help but notice, to the point of nausea, how many others thought it was persuasive, reminiscent as it is of other calls to mindlessness, such as "god said it, I believe it, that settles it."

There is, I would argue, much cognitive processing in common between those who think the $50 lesson represents reality and those inspired by the above tautological hairball. Here, in its entirety, is what passes in Republican circles as political gospel.
The $50 Lesson 
Recently, while I was working in the flower beds in the front yard, my neighbors stopped to chat as they returned home from walking their dog. During our friendly conversation, I asked their little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said she wanted to be President some day. Both of her parents, liberal Democrats, were standing there, so I asked her, "If you were President what would be the first thing you would do?" She replied... "I'd give food and houses to all the homeless people." Her parents beamed with pride! "Wow...what a worthy goal!" I said. "But you don't have to wait until you're President to do that!" I told her. "What do you mean?" she replied. So I told her, "You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and trim my hedge, and I'll pay you $50. Then you can go over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out and give him the $50 to use toward food and a new house." She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, "Why doesn't the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?" I said, "Welcome to the Republican Party." Her parents aren't speaking to me anymore.
What is it with conservatives and their simplistic bromides? The underlying assumption at the end is that the liberal parents are at a loss of words, silenced by Republican wisdom. More likely it is because they realize their neighbors are freakin' idiots. There are entire books devoted to the harms of conservative economic dogma, such as outsourcing, deregulation, free trade, wage suppression, and, as always, another round of tax cuts for the wealthiest. Responding to the $50 lesson, from the standpoint of policy and that stuff they call data, is like picking low-hanging fruit. It is why progressives often consider conservatives to have low self-awareness, as personality inventories often show. Or to use technical jargon; "Are the actually persuaded by this tripe?"

That would be a fact-based approach, one that wonkish progressives are inclined to follow. But arguing the economic evidence, the way, say, Paul Krugman would, misses the point. Much of what pushes a conservative's button is piss poor economics; the mistake is in believing that a quest for good policy that benefits as many as possible is what motivates those on the right as it does for the left.

It doesn't. We are talking about how conservatives tend to interpret the world. They traffic in these asinine tales because they are starkly simple, comforting, and supportive of their identity, the same way they pound devotional material into their heads, or attach great importance to symbolic acts, such as flag-waving. The $50 lesson and other "just so" stories are a staple of the American right wing because they strike a moral note; usually with symbolism as blunt as a Disney movie. They are feel-good formulaic stories that moralize and reinforce biases through use of inane and unambiguous tales. They are usually not very accurate, sometimes insanely misleading, but accuracy--and fairness-- are not the objectives; moral reinforcement is.

The similarity to the religious right's jaw-dropping theological claims is not a coincidence. Televangelists never tire of saying evolution is a fraud, insisting, for example, there are no transitional fossils, even as evolutionists find them time and again. The evidence is ignored, explained away, or even, bizarrely, blamed on Satan.

Literate, scientifically minded, and modern Americans often have a difficult time confronting a reactionary right, one that is disproportionately powerful in government, business, and religion. Many of us fail to realize that for the religious right, just as it is for so many conservative Republicans, it is about perpetuating a belief system and the moral basis of an authoritarian culture; learning and accepting scientific realities is not the primary motivation, in church or in government.

Jesus and Mo are especially good at making my points.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Are You Experienced?

A number of Republican Senators were asked recently, "What are Mitt Romney's qualifications to be commander-in-chief?" The answers were either not very encouraging, if you are a Romney supporter, or hilarious, if you like stand-up comedy. According to, "The answers ranged from the fact that he had led the state national guard as governor of Massachusetts to his extensive travel abroad to his two years as a missionary in France and his all-around management ability."

This range of answers is fairly insipid (two years as missionary in France?) until you realize that the Senators had nothing else to say; Romney really doesn't have foreign policy experience.

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions did his best, claiming that Romney "seems to instinctively understand foreign policy and, of course, he was commander of the national guard." Arizona Senator John McCain declared of Mitt Romney, "He's got all the right instincts...To me, he's Reaganesque."

Good instincts? Really? Does Sessions honestly think Gov. Romney had any meaningful interaction as commander of the Massachusetts national guard during his one term? And have Sessions or McCain forgotten how incompetent Romney looked in Great Britain and Israel? The man the media in America and Europe are calling a wimp McCain thinks is Reaganesque? Ferchristsake, Senator, give your brain a chance. Whatever else you may like about Romney, his political instincts should not be one of them.

McCain slammed Romney in 2008 precisely because Mitt had no foreign policy experience. McCain's claim, as presidential candidate, was that he, McCain, had a more extensive background in foreign policy generally as well as in national defense, which is where the commander-in-chief issue becomes especially relevant.

It was a fair point at the time, Senator, but now you think Romney has "all the right instincts"?

Recall how Obama was also slammed for this very reason; he also had thin foreign policy experience. And Republicans lined up to tell voters how terribly important foreign policy experience is and how dangerous it would be to elect that inexperienced senator from Illinois. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Republican Senator Ron Johnson said, "Listen, you know what his experience is, and there are very few people who run for president who have all kinds of foreign-policy experience."

Obama also lived overseas, as well as Hawaii, where he experienced a diverse upbringing. That, of course, has often been used against him. Too exotic, you see. Not reliably American, which is code for not a white guy, not from the heartland.

The same people who attacked John Kerry in 2004 because he seemed "too French," and because he said he liked French cuisine are the same people are now saying Romney's missionary work in France, where he went to avoid military service in Vietnam, should be viewed as a foreign policy plus?

The same Republican senators who say foreign policy experience is very important, and then admit Romney has very little of it are compelled to ignore the obvious; the only candidate who has a great deal of foreign policy experience is President Obama, who enjoys the inherent advantage of every incumbent. Whatever arguments that could have been made against Senator Obama in 2008 about his limited experience are out the door and completely irrelevant in 2012.

Republicans are not going to make much of the presidential-executive-foreign policy-commander-in-chief experience factor now because only President Obama meets their criteria.